CHRISTMAS

Christmas In BRITISH ISLES

Many of our current American ideals about the way Christmas ought to be derive from the English Victorian Christmas, such as that described in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The caroling, the gifts, the feast, and the wishing of good cheer to all – these ingredients came together to create that special Christmas atmosphere.
The custom of gift-giving on Christmas dates only to Victorian times. Before then it was more common to exchange gifts on New Year’s Daay or Twelfth Night. Santa Claus is known by British children as Father Christmas. Father Christmas, these days, is quite similar to the American Santa, but his direct ancestor is a certain pagan spirit who regularly appeared in medieval mummer’s plays. The old-fashioned Father Christmas was depicted wearing long robes with sprigs of holly in his long white hair. Children write letters to Father Christmas detailing their requests, but instead of dropping them in the mailbox, the letters are tossed innto the fireplace. The draft carries the letters up the chimney, and theoretically, Father Christmas reads the smoke. Gifts are opened Christmas afternoon. From the English we get a story to explain the custom of hanging stockings from the mantelpiece. Fa

ather Christmas once dropped some gold coins while coming down the chimney. The coins would have fallen through the ash grate and been lost if they hadn’t landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Since that time children have continued to hang out stockings in hopes of finding them filled with gifts. The custom of singing carols at Christmas is also of English origin. During the middle ages, groups of serenades called “waits” would travel around from house to house singing ancient carols and spreading the holiday spirit. The word “carol” means “song of joy.” Most of the popular old carols we sing today were written in the nineteenth century.
The hanging of greens, such as hoolly and ivy, is a British winter tradition with origins far before the Christian era. Greenery was probably used to lift sagging winter spirits and remind the people that spring was not far away. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is descended from ancient Druid rites. The decorating of Christmas trees, though primarily a German custom, has been widely popular in England since 1841 when Prince Albert had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle for his wife Queen Vi
ictoria, and their children.
The word “wassail” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase waes hael, which means “good health.” Originally, wassail was a beverage made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, eggs, and spices. It was served for the purpose of enhancing the general merriment of the season. Like many of the ancient customs, “wassailing” has a legend to explain its origin. It seems that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words “Waes hael.” Over the centuries a great deal of ceremony had developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl is carried into a room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink is sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage is served.
For many years in England, a roasted boar’s head has been associated with Holiday feasting. The custom probably goes back to the Norse practice of sacrificing a boar at Yuletide in honour of the god Fryer. One story tells of a student at Oxford’s Queen College who was attacked on Christmas Day by a wild boar. All he had in his hand to use as a weapon was his co
opy of Aristotle, so he shoved the book down the boar’s throat. Wanting to retrieve his book, the student cut off the animal’s head and brought it back to the college where it was served for Christmas dinner with much pomp and ceremony.
The celebration of Boxing Day, which takes place on December 26 – the feast of St. Stephen, is a part of the holiday season unique to Great Britain. Traditionally, it is on this day that the alms box at every English church is opened and the contents are distributed to the poor. Also, this is the day that servants traditionally got the day off to celebrate with their families. It became traditional for working people to break open their tip boxes on this day. Boxing Day began in the mid-nineteenth century when the custom of tipping by rich persons to persons in service positions had apparently gotten out of hand. Children and others pretended to be in the trades and solicited tips. The custom was expanded to giving to anyone and everyone who had less money than you did, and soon the streets at Christmastime were full of aggressive soliciting of tips. To contain the nuisance “Boxing Day” was de
esignated as the one day for giving to the less fortunate.

Christmas In Canada

In Canada, from 1875 onwards, Christmas lost its essentially religious character, at least for Anglophones and the upper middle class. Little by little it became a community festival which gave rise to much family merry-making. New customs began to take root. Henceforth, the decorated Christmas tree, the crčche with its santons or plaster figures, gifts and the Christmas “réveillon” became part of family tradition.
We decorate a pine tree with ornaments representing Christmas, buy or make each other presents that get wrapped in wrapping paper to be put under the tree so they can be opened on Christmas Day. Santa Claus is the person that little kids believe who brings the presents. You aren’t supposed to know what you’re going to get, so that is part of the fun of Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, December 24th, there is usually a turkey dinner and in the middle of the night, Santa Claus is said to come down the chimney and place the presents under the tree. Then he goes back up the chimney (he’s magic) and flies to the next house in his sleigh with 9 reindeer pulling it through the air (it flies). On Christmas Day, all the presents are opened.
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In our family we get a Christmas tree just before Christmas and the next day we decorate it. For Christmas Eve we usually eat duck and then rice pudding with almonds. Afterwards we open the presents from our family – and the next morning we open the ones from Santa Claus. Then my sister and I play with our presents and my parents read the newspaper. For Christmas dinner we have nutloaf and Christmas pudding with custard.
In Québec the end of Christmas is called La féte du Roi (on the 6th of January). For this you make a cake which has a bean inside it. The person who gets the bean is the king (or queen).

Christmas in the United States

Christmas, that wonderful time of the year when joy, hope, generosity, goodwill, and fellowship abound, is America’s most exciting and festive holiday. It is also a unique holiday, for it is both sacred and secular in nature: a Christian holy day commemorating the birth of the Christ Child, and a social and family holiday with family gatherings, gift giving, entertainment, and feasting.
Christmas has not always enjoyed popularity in New England. At one point in time it was not celebrated at all. The stern Pilgrim Fathers passed a law banning the observance of Christmas and all other holidays. They believed that only the Sabbath should be observed. The law was repealed in1681; nevertheless, December 25th continued to be a work day well into the second half of the nineteenth century; and as late as 1870, public schools in Boston held classes on that date.
It is interesting to note that, while not a holiday in the New England colonies, Christmas was always celebrated in the other colonies; and later, in 1831, Louisiana and Arkansas would become the first states to decree Christmas a legal holiday, and by 1890 all the states and territories would do so.
The celebration of Christmas in the United States is a blend of customs and traditions from many parts of the world. No other nation has such a variety. This is a legacy from not only the various nationalities who settled the country, but also from the different immigrant groups who came later to these shores. Each section of the United States has its own distinct regional Christmas customs, however, there are many customs that are national.
Placing a wreath on the front door is a custom brought to America by the Scandinavians who settled in Delaware. To them it was a sign of welcome as well as a good luck symbol.
Displaying a lighted candle in the window as a sign of welcome was brought by the Irish. From this custom is derived the tradition of decorating our homes, both inside and out, with lights
The Germans who settled in Pennsylvania contributed the tradition of trimming the Christmas tree, lighting the advent wreath, making cooking, and displaying the creche or Nativity scene.
Caroling, hanging mistletoe and holly, and stockings, as well as a more recent custom, sending Christmas cards, are only a few of a long list of customs from England. Many of our Christmas foods, including that delicious concoction the fruit cake, are from there.
The Dutch, who settled in New York, brought their legend of Saint Nikolaas or Sinte Klaas, from which our Santa Claus is derived. However, that jolly, rotund fellow with a long white beard, who climbs chimneys and stuffs stockings, and drives a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer is an American invention. Clement Moore created him in 1823 in his poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas”, later known as “The Night Before Christmas”. Borrowing elements from the Dutch St. Nikolaas, and from various other sources, Moore made his St. Nicholas very different from the European version. In 1863, Thomas Nast, an artist, gave the definitive appearance to Santa Claus, and referred to him by that name. His pictures showed Santa dressed in a red fur trimmed suit. Nast also added the North Pole workshop where toys are made, a huge book in which Santa Claus records the good and bad deeds of all children, and the idea that children could write letters to Santa.
These are but a few of the components which make up our celebration of Christmas They and a host of other customs and traditions all contribute to that sense of wonder and excitement which characterizes the Christmas holiday season in America.

Christmas In RUSSIA

St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost.
Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babouschka would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy’s La Befana, the story is that Babouschka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babouschka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their “New Year’s” trees.
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.

Christmas In MEXICO

The first thing to know about celebrating Christmas in Mexico is that most everybody takes off the last two weeks in December – to party, spend more time with the family, visit with old friends, even make new friends. One of the biggest fiestas of the year – in small towns, big cities, the beach resorts, everywhere – Christmas in Mexico is celebrated in a variety of ways. A common denominator is the posada, a recreation of Mary (on donkey) and Joseph searching for a “room at the inn.” Accompanying them is a choir of small children who knock on doors asking for lodging for the weary couple. By previous arrangement, there are no takers.
The procession, which takes place during the 12 days before Christmas, moves along, growing in numbers until it reaches the church, where mass is held. After the service, the children get to enjoy a festive piñata party.
Even though variations of this tableaux are repeated throughout the country, you can expect to find some regional differences, which makes a Mexican Christmas not only a cross cultural mix, but a varied and interesting experience. Year after year. Region after region.For example, in the Ajijic area, a “riviera resort community” suburb of Mexico City, in the little village of San Antonio, the posada is a most moving and spiritual experience. Same for Taxco and Querétaro. Catch the event in these areas if you can. Also in Querétaro, there’s a huge parade on December 23.In the town of Cajititlán (near Guadalajara), as in many other places in the Hispanic world, they celebrate the holidays on Three Kings Day (Epiphany), which falls on January 6th. In fact, this was the traditional time to celebrate the gift-giving aspect of Christmas throughout Mexico. But in most parts of the country, the holiday now coincides with the day of celebration north-of-the-border: December 25. Many children now expect gifts on both days.
The ritual often begins in the afternoon or at dinner time when the family shares a rosca or two (a rosca is a sweet, ring-shaped loaf with a ceramic muñeca (doll) representing the Christ child baked inside). Unlike a cracker-jack box where the winner takes all, whoever is unlucky enough to get the doll has to throw a party on February 2 (Día de Candelaría) for all the others present. In this case, the “winner”, who has to foot the time and expense, is often the loser. (Note: on the afternoon of Día de Candelaría, dancers gather for a performance in the churchyard. Sometimes as many as six different dance groups perform at the same time. The dancers are divided among those portraying Christians and Moors, each competing for the most attention. Other groups are represented as well. In small towns where this festival is held, there’s also a special market on that day.) The party itself usually includes some favorite dish spiced with a zesty regional molé sauce.
The fiesta for the Virgin de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca, December 16-18, signals the beginning of the navidád festivities. The highlight, again, is the posada, held at a different church each night from December 18-24. On December 23, the annual Noche de los Rábanos takes place. This is a very festive time when booths are set up along the length and breadth of the zócalo. The focal point of each booth is an exhibit of hand-carved, giant radishes. Most often, these sculptures carry a religious theme. But this is not necessarily so. The subject could be comical, a scene from a bullfight or anything that strikes the fancy of the sculptor. On Nochebuena, processions from various churches fan out to the zócalo. There are also colorfully-decorated floats, music, traditional dancing, and piñata prizes. The crowning glory of this fiesta is a mammoth fireworks display.
On Christmas Eve, in Santiago Tuxtla (Veracruz), everybody assembles in the zócalo for an evening of dancing the huapango to the accompaniment of a jarocho band.
In Quiroga (Michoacán), villagers present Nativity plays (Pastorelas) at churches on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.
Even the capital México City, takes on a festive air with the famed zócalo (or sometimes called the Plaza de la Constitución) ablaze with a sea of colorful lights festooning this ancient square. The festival of lights goes on throughout the Christmas/New Year’s period. In addition, there’s a colorful flag-raising/lowering ceremony every morning and afternoon during the holidays. The rest of the city is similarly decorated. And, of course, traditional services are held in the city’s many churches.

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