….what happened to the simple life we use to know?
I sit in solitude listening to my life that sparkles as our holiday season is upon us. Listening to the news as you do too, I ask myself, what happened to the simple life we use to know? Why have we made it so complicated? Staring at the marvelous decorating job my wife did, mom would be so proud–I wish she was watching. I watch the sun as it peeks through the blinds, shadows wave across the panes. Begging for a moment in time when youth and vitality could conquer the world, I reminisce with the tinsel and twinkling lights.
The world spins wildly, leaders and fires rage out of control. The headlines and frontlines go up in smoke and all I can do is ask God, “Why?” I remember when a home in the valley of California and an elected official were both a claim to fame. And now we run as the hot beds simmer, praying for a time when life was finding the best hill for sledding.
Looking at the tranquil snapshots friends send me from back home, the snow scenes of peace and harmony is the center stage as the joy of Christmas takes over. God so loves the world, though, so we hold hands in our hearts of the memories of life gone by. We capture a glossy glimpse to help us remember.
I truly am sorry this world is in such a sad state of affairs, Lord. What have we created to leave for our children? Like the Lord of the Flies, every child for themselves. I can hardly believe it’s what God intended!
How do we fix it, change the course, understand that without our Father, we are leaderless? How will banning the Bible instruct the homeless and lost? We all need church. We all need a place where the light of God shines, like peeking through my blinded panes….
This final part of Christians Far and Wide at Christmas: Part 2, concludes my list of interesting countries and their celebrations. I hope you have found them fun and fact-finding. But more than anything, beyond the customs, traditions, and superstitions, we must recognize the one thing we all have in common – the love of our families and friends and most of all, for the birth of Jesus. He enters our homes at Christmas with respect and the dignity He so righteously deserves – and not just at Christmas but all year long. Praise His name!
ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS SONG, “OH COME ALL YE FAITHFUL”, SUNG BY BONEY M.
Merry Christmas: Feliz navidad; Bon Nadal; Bo Nadal
Celebrated December 25
Christmas season begins in Spain on December 8, with a weeklong observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the celebration for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Many Christians, particularly of the Catholic faith, attend special church services for this occasion. Children visit homes reciting poems and singing carols for sweets, toys, or small instruments.
Christmas Eve is La Noche Buena, the Blessed Night. When the first star appears, people light bonfires in public squares and outside church walls. Traditional plays, called Las Pastores, depict the shepherds’ adoration of the Christ Child in Bethlehem.
Christmas Day is set aside for family reunions and the children sing and dance. Family members exchange gifts, and friends and neighbors exchange holiday sweets. Some families play the traditional Urn of Fate where names are written on cards and placed in a bowl. Then two names are drawn at a time. Those two people will be friendly to each other throughout the coming year. (I wonder if that would work here in the states??)
Children believe that on Epiphany Eve, January 5, the Three Kings travel through Spain on their way to Bethlehem. On that night, children set out their shoes filled with straw for the Three Kings’ camels. They believe the Kings will fill the shoes with gifts as they’re passing through their town at night.
In some villages on Epiphany, January 6, children march out to the city gates carrying special cakes for the Three Kings and other foods for their servants and camels. They hope to meet the Three Kings on their way to the Holy Land. Though always disappointed, the children eat the good things they have brought with them anyway. Then they are taken to the nacimiento in the village church where they will magically find the Three Kings presenting gifts to the Christ Child in a manger.
Merry Christmas: “god Jul”
Celebrated December 25
The Christmas festivities begin in Sweden on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day, which celebrates the patron saint of light. Saint Lucy was a Christian killed in by the Romans in 304 because of her religious beliefs. The eldest daughter gets up before dawn and dresses as the “Queen of Light” in a long white dress. Wearing a crown of leaves, she sings “Santa Lucia.”
Christmas trees are purchased just a day or two before Christmas. At lunch on Christmas Eve, families follow the tradition of “dipping in the kettle.” The family eats bread dipped into a kettle of thin broth as a dedication to a time when food was hard to find. After dinner, the Christmas tree lights are lit. Swedish children believe that Jultomten (shown below), a tiny Christmas gnome, comes on a sleigh drawn by the Christmas goat, Julbokar, to deliver toys on Christmas Eve.
Candles illuminate every window throughout Christmas Day and families go to churches glowing in candlelight. The following day is Second Day Christmas, a day of singing carols.
Merry Christmas: “Blithe Yule”
Celebrated December 25
Very similar to American traditions, nativity plays and the singing of carols are very popular at Christmas time in England. Children write letters to Father Christmas with their wishes. But they toss their letter into a fire, so their wishes can go up the chimney to him. After the children fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas comes to visit. He, too, wears a long, red robe, carries a sack of toys, and arrives on his sleigh pulled by reindeer. He fills the children’s stockings with candies and small toys.
In the UK, the main Christmas meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It’s normally roast turkey and all the fixings. Each plate comes with a colorful cracker. A Christmas cracker is a paper-covered tube and when the end tabs are pulled, there is a loud crack. A paper hat pops out to wear at dinner, small trinkets, and a riddle to read aloud to everyone at the table.
There are some holiday customs that only take place, or were started, in the UK such as Boxing Day (not related to the sport), on December 26. This is a very old custom that started in the UK and is now taken as a holiday in many countries around the world. It is traditionally a day off for servants and the day when they receive a ‘Christmas Box’, or Christmas present, from their master. The servants go home on Boxing Day to give their ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.
This is a tradition that started when sailing ships would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. If their voyage was a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor.
Merry Christmas: “Shub Naya Baras”
Celebrated December 25
Christian households in India prepare for Christmas at least a month in advance. They get their homes whitewashed and a sort of spring cleaning of the house takes precedence. Women start preparations for the popular, traditional Christmas cake. Food is the focus on this holiday. A favorite dessert is the rose cookie made with maida or rice flour.
On the eve of Christmas, December 24 to New Year’s Day is the Christmas festival, the largest Christian celebration. In several parts of India, especially in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, Christmas Festival has assumed secular overtones and is celebrated by people of all religions and communities. In South India, for instance, Christians light clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses. In some areas of India, a popular custom is to decorate banana or mango trees instead of traditional pine tree. In northwest India, the tribe, Christians of the Bhil, go out night after night for a week during Christmas to sing their version of carols all night long. In Mumbai, there is a tradition to display nativity scenes and decorate their homes with big stars. In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show their neighbors that Jesus is the light of the world.
Most people eat just one vegetarian meal on Christmas Eve. Just as in the U.S., fasting is a way to prepare your body and soul for the birth of Christ.
Christmas Day, also known as Bada Din (Big Day) in Hindi, is a national holiday and people from all religions have family reunions. Christians attend special masses organized in churches and then gifts are exchanged within each family unit.
Merry Christmas: Joyeux Noel or Fröhlichi Wiehnacht
Celebrated December 25
The Swiss celebrate Christmas very similar to the U.S. and other western European countries. Customs vary because there are German, French and Italian areas in the country. The Christmas tree is usually decorated here on Christmas Eve evening. It is set up by the adults and decorated with small ornaments, candles or electric lights. Gifts are placed underneath as well as a creche, complete with little figures from the Nativity scene.
In Switzerland, Christmas dinner also occurs on Christmas Eve. Afterward, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and sings songs or hymns. Some read the passage concerning Jesus Christ’s birth from the Holy Bible. Gifts are also exchanged. Many Swiss families go to church for a Midnight Mass. After the service, families share hot chocolate and huge homemade doughnuts called “ringli”.
Traditionally, children in Catholic areas believe in “Christkind” or “Le petit Jésus”, as the bringer of their presents. This figure is said to be a representation of the little Jesus. It is also believed to be the symbol of the angel in charge of the guiding star of Bethlehem.
Christmas Day, depending on the region, Christmas gifts are usually exchanged. Other days may be January 1 or January 6 (when the three Magi were said to have visited the Christ child). In the German-speaking region of the country, St Nicholas is thought to be the gift-bringer. He is believed to appear on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day), and he fills shoes with mandarin oranges, nuts and cookies.
Merry Christmas: Frohe Weihnachten
Celebrated December 25
Christmas season in Austria begins late November with Advent. Austrians create Advent wreaths using evergreen twigs, ribbons and candles. These are hung on main doors and are prominently visible during the festive season. The Advent period is marked by extravagant shopping activities.
On Christmas Eve, December 24th, about 7 p.m., the tree is lit for the first time by adults. Santa Claus does not exist here. Gifts are placed under the tree and young children believe that the Christ Child (Christkind) brought them as a reward for good behavior. It is him that their wish list is sent to each Christmas season. They also believe that Christkind decorates the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. A beautiful manger is also arranged on Christmas Eve to display the ‘Nativity Scene’. Most families use mangers that have been passed down from one generation to the other. The ‘showing of the Christ Child’ is an old Austrian custom where people sing Christmas carols, while a manger is carried from one house to another.
Also, farmers chalk the initials of the Three Wise Men on the archway of their stable doors: C for Caspar, M for Melchoir, and B for Balthazar, to protect the herd from sickness in the coming year.
After attending church services on Christmas Eve, dinner is served at home, often with “Gebackener Karpfen” (fried carp) as the main course. Then a bell ringing signals the time to open the door for children to see their decorated Christmas tree. Gifts are exchanged.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Natal or Boas Festas
Celebrated December 25
On Christmas Eve, Portuguese families gather around the Christmas tree and the Crèche (manger scene) to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They sing songs praising God. More than 94% of Portuguese are Catholic so the Crèche is a very important part of their celebration.
On Christmas Eve, as per tradition, children write letters to ‘Pai Natal’ or Infant Jesus, asking for presents, rather than writing letters to Santa Claus. They attend Masses at church, particularly, the Midnight Mass known as Missa de Gallo. Christmas carols are sung by women and children on the streets. Supper is served later in the day and consists of codfish with boiled potatoes and cabbage. After the meal, people eat traditional fried desserts.
Some families will open the presents on Christmas Eve around midnight. Others open them on Christmas Day. Some families put one shoe of each child next to the chimney (since most of the kitchens in Portugal have one) or next to the fireplace instead of a stocking.
Christmas morning, children open their presents and stay indoors after attending morning Mass at church. Christmas lunches are less elaborate affairs than Christmas Eve dinners. On this day, people usually have Porto wine, stuffed turkey and traditional desserts. To add to the celebration, the local town hall organizes competitions every year on the best traditional Creche designs. The making of creches is an important part of Portuguese culture.
Merry Christmas: Milad Majid
Celebrated December 6
Ten percent of the population of Syria are Christians and they follow their Christmas traditions conscientiously. They begin a kick off on December 6th by attending a special Mass that is dedicated to St. Nicholas, in honor of Saint Nicholas Thaumaturgus whose legend is similar to those of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus.
Syrian Christians perform various Christmas rituals as a part of the celebrations. On Christmas Eve, Syrian Christian families lock the gates of their homes, to serve as a reminder of their persecutions during the old times, when Christianity was forbidden. The youngest child in the family recites the Gospel story of the Nativity aloud, after which, a family member is expected to light a bonfire in the courtyard. The family gathers around the bonfire with candles in their hands and psalms are recited until the fire lasts. Then they leap over the hot charcoal embers and make their wishes. Syrians believe that the flames of the bonfire bring good luck and prosperity to the house.
According to Syrian legends, the camel is believed to bring gifts. Legend states that, the youngest camel carrying the ‘Three Kings’ or ‘Magi’, who followed the star to search for Baby Jesus, was exhausted by the long journey and fell. Jesus Christ is said to have blessed the camel with immortal life.
On the Christmas morning, every family goes to church to attend the mass. Here, another bonfire is lit and, while it burns, hymns are sung by the congregation. Someone is elected to hold the figure of the Christ Child and walks around the building. At the end, he touches the hand of the person next to him who, in turn, passes this torch further, to every person who is a part of the procession. This touch is the blessing called the ‘Touch of Peace’.
Merry Christmas: Craciun Fericit or Sarbatori Fericite
Celebrated on December 25 and 26
Christmas is celebrated in Romania from mid-December all the way to the 7th of January and is quite a unique experience. The customs that existed long before Christianity in Romania, overlaps the traditions that have stemmed from Christianity. Beginning November 14th, no dairy or meats can be consumed in honor of Saint Andrews day. It is believed that during this time, vampires may attack at night, which is why all the households in Romania hang garlic on their front doors and even attach crucifix’s all around the house to keep evil spirits and vampires at bay. This is one of the first preparations for Christmas. Once this night has passed, people start preparing for Christmas from the very next day.
Five days before Christmas, St. Ignatius Day rituals occur, and a pig is slaughtered, washed, stuffed with hay and covered in cloth. The sign of the cross, marking the arrival of Jesus Christ, is made on the pig’s forehead. This is followed by a grand feast.
On Christmas Eve, a tree is decorated in the evening and the children go out carol singing and dancing from house to house. They get sweets, fruit, traditional cakes, and sometimes money for singing well. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.
Another Christmas Eve tradition is a drumming band, including a saxophone and violin, made up of unmarried men. They practice for about a month before Christmas, until they are really good, and then they parade through the streets and are given presents for their performance.
Christmas Day is the typical exchanging of gifts and church services.
Merry Christmas: Veseloho Vam Rizdva
Celebrated on January 7
Ukraine Christian customs are based not only on Christian traditions, but to a great degree on those of the pre-Christian, pagan culture and religion. Christianity was introduced into Ukraine in 988 A.D and the Church has adopted a policy of tolerance toward most of the ancient customs and accepted many as part of Christian holidays.
The first big day of celebration is on Christmas Eve. Ukrainians begin the day by cleaning the whole house to get rid of all the negativities and to begin a fresh year with positivity. They prepare and indulge in a massive feast known as Sviata Vechera, or Holy Supper, with twelve dishes, dedicated to the twelve months of the year. This meal is an important aspect of Christmas celebrations therefore served on the dinner table with embroidered cloth and decorated with wisps of hay to reflect the theme of the Nativity Scene. However, this feast doesn’t begin until the children view the first star that appears in the evening sky. This practice is based on the journey of the ‘Three Wise Men’, who followed the evening star to find baby Jesus. Now, they sing Christmas carols all night.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Ukrainians attend a serene and peaceful Mass in the morning which takes place all night long. This is a day for the entire family to get together and cherish fond memories. People don’t exchange gifts often but if they do it is usually on the New Year. Gifts are not expensive because it is the act of giving the gift that is important to Ukrainians — a symbol of friendship.
Merry Christmas: “Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ur”
Celebrated on December 25
The tradition of celebrating Christmas in Scotland was banned for nearly 400 years – until the 1950’s. Even today, it is a low-key event. It is believed that the Vikings came to Scotland during the 8th century, and when they departed, they left behind a few traditions and festivities called Christmas. Before the birth of Christianity, these traditions were given the name of ‘Yule’ or ‘Yuletide’, since it was celebrated mid-winter, during the solstice. It is said that on Christmas, a long time ago, the Lord and the Lady of Scotland gathered all their staff and gave out gifts in accordance to their status in society. These gifts were presented to their servants in boxes, now known as Boxing Day. Just as in England, it has become an inherent part of Scottish Christmas customs ever since.
In Scotland, families get together, open presents and feast over an eloquent lunch, with the Yule Log cake being central to the feast. According to age-old customs, Scottish people wear gold, paper crowns on their heads and narrate stories of their ancestors over dinner.
A popular tradition on Christmas Eve is burning the branches of a rowan tree which means that any ill feelings between friends or relatives, have been put aside for the Yuletide. If the fire should go out on Christmas Eve, the whole house will have bad luck in the following year.
The children in Scotland do believe in Santa Claus and it is he who brings them their gifts. Gift exchanging is done on Christmas morning. By mid-morning, and after a light lunch, everyone usually gathers around the TV to watch The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, or The Queen’s Speech. It is here that Scots finish their holiday celebration of Christmas.
Merry Christmas: S rozhdyestvom Hristovym
Celebrated on January 6
Being part of the communist regime in Soviet Union, Christmas and other religious festivals were banned in Siberia until 1992. Today, there are some people who observe fasting on Christmas Eve until the first star appears on the sky. Then, the prominent Christmas food meal served is beetroot soup (borsch), vegan potluck (solyanka) which is served with vegetable pies made of cabbage, potato or mushroom. Sauerkraut is a main dish in a Christmas meal which is served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. Salads also form a major food item. An exclusive dish namely, Vzvar is served at the end of the meal. This is a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water and it means the birth of a child at Christmas. There are some Orthodox Christians who don’t eat meat or fish during Christmas dinner.
After the meal, people attend church services at midnight which is continued until morning. For Siberians, New Year is even more important than Christmas and so, on New Year’s Eve, the Father Frost visits homes. Once they appear, the stars on the Christmas tree lights up. As Christmas trees were banned in Soviet Union, people decorate New Year trees.
One of the most popular things about the Christmas in Siberia is the legend of Babushka which means grandmother or old woman in Russian. It’s the story of an old, lonely woman who lived in Russia and she met the Three Wise men who invited her to join them on their journey to meet the baby Jesus. Though she declined, she repented in the decision and decided to go to meet the baby Jesus herself and collected some gifts. She couldn’t meet the child and it is said that the old woman is looking for the child even now and whenever she meets a baby, she gives them presents.
Merry Christmas: Idah Saidan Wasanah Jadidah
Celebrated on December 25
In 2008, the Iraqi government announced Christmas as a national holiday for the first time in Iraqi history. Only a small population of the entire nation of Iraq consists of Christians and they are called Assyrians. Christmas celebrations are quite different but by nature – subdued, serene and peaceful. It is known only as a religious and family holiday. Christmas trees are a rarity and lit-up houses, excursions, even fireworks or feasts during Christmas are hand to find. People spend the day meeting relatives and friends.
Assyrians enjoy Christmas by performing various customs. One such popular custom is the lighting of the bonfire, on Christmas Eve, using dried thorns in the courtyards of houses. Children in each family follows the tradition of reading the Nativity story from the Arabic Bible while other family members hold lit candles. The Iraqi people say they can predict the future of their household in the coming year by just watching the way the fire burns in the bonfire. For them, if the dried thorns burn to ashes, the family will be blessed with good fortune.
Gift giving is also a part of Christmas Eve. Here, Papa Noel brings gifts and presents for the kids.
On Christmas Day, another bonfire is lit by men inside the church, followed by a procession led by a Bishop, who is carrying the infant, which is placed on a red cushion. After the procession, the bishop touches the hand of one person and the touch is passed on to all those present in the ceremony. This custom is known as the Touch of Peace. Then, as the bonfire burns out and the thorns become ashes, the members of the family leap over the ashes three times and make wishes. The Christmas service for the day ends and all the people in the church are blessed.
Merry Christmas: Veselé Vánoce
Celebrated on December 25
Decorating the Christmas tree forms an integral part of Christmas. In Czech, traditionally, Christmas trees were embellished with apples, sweets and many traditional ornaments. Today, you will see new Christmas ornaments have taken over the traditional elements. Many customs are associated with the Christmas dinner, which if not followed, are thought to be bad luck. Some unique customs observed at the time of Christmas dinner are: Only after the appearance of the first star, will dinner be served. The table should be set for even number of people, as odd number brings bad luck. The legs of the table should be tied with a rope to protect the house from being robbed. No one should sit with their backs towards the door. The Christmas dinner should consist of soup, bread with honey, carp, salads, potato, fruits and dessert. Alcohol is strictly prohibited on Christmas Eve. Everyone should get up at the same time after dinner. Also, no one is to leave food on their plates. Any leftovers are to be buried around the trees and if there are any pets, they should also be fed.
Christmas Eve in Czech Republic, is celebrated with a lot of feasting, as traditionally Christmas is an occasion of fasting. The entire day is spent in fasting, and then in the evening, rich foods are prepared and eaten with merriment.
Gifts are offered by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. They are given to children that are notified of their arrival upon the ringing of a bell (usually by their parents). The Christmas tree is decorated and kept in a separate room, which is left closed, until the morning.
However, some people believe in a different custom called Czech Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. This Svaty Mikul wears a white robe like a bishop and usually appears with an angel and a devil. This is done on Christmas Eve, December 5.
The traditional Czech Christmas begins four weeks ahead of 25th December. St. Barbara’s Day is celebrated on the 4th of December. People collect branches from cherries or morrello trees and place them in a corning. If they bloom by Christmas Eve, it is a symbol of happiness and prosperity for the family.
Czech Christmas traditions are characterized by many superstitions and followed by a lot of families even today. Tiny boats are made from empty walnut shells and candles are placed in them, which are then left in a bowl of water. If the candle floats across the bowl, it suggests a long and healthy life for the head of the family. If it sinks, it is a bearer of bad news.
Many traditions foretell young girls about their marriages. According to the custom, if a young girl places a cherry twig in water on December 4th, St. Barbara’s Day, and if it blooms by Christmas Eve, she is likely is get married sometime in the year. Throwing a shoe over her shoulder towards door is also another way of judging her marriage time. If the shoe lands with its toe pointing towards the door, her marriage will be held within a year.
Merry Christmas: Milad Majeed or Eid Milad Majid
Celebrated on December 25
In Lebanon, 35% of the population follow a form of Christianity called Maronite Catholic. They build manger scenes in their homes or outside called a Nativity Crib. It is more popular than a Christmas Tree because it’s considered to bless the home and family and the place where the rosary prayer is held for the more religious. Homeowners sow seeds of chickpeas, sprouts, grains, lentils and beans on wet cotton wool, not soil. They do this so by the time Christmas arrives, there will already be a small bud. These plants are watered regularly for fourteen days and by Christmas, the plant’s buds will already be six inches long. This marks the birth of the Lord.
Gift giving is done by Papa Noel, and around the Christmas tree, on Christmas Eve.
Following a hearty lunch of the traditional kibbeh pie (minced meat and burghul), families relax or go to church, depending on the agenda for the day. Christmas Mass is still a tradition in Lebanon just as the traditional dance, dabkeh. People join hands to form a circle or semi-circle and stamp along to native tunes of percussion. In the evening, friends and relatives gather outside the houses with big backyards, and light a bonfire. It is customary to dance around the bonfire, recite tales of past relatives and remember the Lord. Singing folk songs is also a common practice.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Navidad
Celebrated on December 25
Argentina is a country greatly influenced by Italian and German cultures. Christmas celebrations are derived from the Catholic roots of the country. Its decorations form the most important aspect of Christmas celebrations in Argentina. Homes are decorated with garland, wreaths, electric lights and native flowers of the season since Christmas arrives during the summer. Christmas trees are often decorated by December 8th (the feast of the Immaculate Conception), with baubles, small figurines of Christmas characters and cotton balls to represent snow.
The Nativity scene or ‘pesebre’ is also an important Christmas decoration in Argentina. The pesebre is put near the Christmas tree.
On Christmas Eve, children await the arrival of Papai Noels for gifts. Their gifts are placed under the Christmas tree and opened at midnight as a part of their customs. Some people give and receive presents, but it’s normally only between close family and friends.
Fireworks go on Christmas Eve until early morning and floating paper balloons, called Globos, are lit with candles too and released into the sky.
A magnificent Christmas dinner is then served about 10 or 11 p.m., comprising of the country’s favorite dishes of ‘parrillada’ and ‘ninos envuettas’. Argentines prefer their Christmas dinner outside in gardens. Families then attend a midnight Mass held at church.
On Christmas Day, families attend church services all day. Groups go from one house to another, singing Christmas carols. Some people stay awake all the night chatting and seeing friends and family and then spend most of Christmas Day sleeping.
The ‘Three Kings Day’ is celebrated on January 6th, which is the day when children expect to receive gifts from the ‘Magi’ or the ‘Three Wise Kings’. As per tradition, children in Argentina leave their shoes outside with some hay and water for the Magi’s horses. By the next morning, the shoes are filled with gifts from the Magi. More recently, the children have begun to leave their shoes under the Christmas tree.
Merry Christmas: Geseënde Kersfees or Happy Christmas
Celebrated on December 25
South Africa is in the summertime at Christmas so many people go on holiday, to the ocean or camping inland.
Catholic, Protestant, and most Orthodox churches in this country commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The story of Christ’s birth has been handed down for centuries, based primarily on the Christian Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
In South Africa, families typically eat braai for Christmas dinner to salute their colonial British heritage. This usually comes along with paper hats, mince pies and turkey.
Those who can afford it will generally give gifts at Christmas. The emphasis is more on the religious celebration of the birth of Jesus than it is on gift giving. The most common gift bought at Christmas is new clothes, usually intended to be worn to church. In poorer communities, they usually take the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods. On Christmas Eve children hang their stockings for Father Christmas to fill with fruit, nuts, sweets, and other goodies as well as toys in the homes of more well-to-do families.
Most people have a Christmas tree, a green artificial one, and decorate it with baubles, tinsel and handmade decorations. Only some houses are made up with lights. There are plenty of Nativity shows where the kids can participate too. Houses are decorated with pine branches.
From the beginning of December, “Carols by Candlelight” nights are held by various institutions and churches. Some gatherings are charity-oriented, so you have to bring food or toys as an entrance fee.
On Christmas Eve, carolers make their rounds. Church services are held on Christmas morning.
On Christmas Day, many attend church services before beginning Christmas celebrations at home. Then, children and adults, representing the angels in the fields outside Bethlehem, go from house to house singing. A church service is held where they dress in their native attire or Western costumes. A huge feast, sometimes outside, follows shortly thereafter and relaxing with family and friends. Wherever the Christmas dinner is served the following foods are usually found: turkey, roast beef, mince pies, suckling pig, yellow rice with raisins, vegetables, and plum pudding.
Enjoy our world tour of Christmas! Part 1 of 2. Countdown to Christmas Blog!
Globally, Christians far and wide, center their Christmas around the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. As a result, the birth of Jesus has been made to fit with the culture of their own country. After some extensive research, I’ve decided to use this Countdown to Christmas blog to expose the fun and festive traditions of Christians worldwide during the holiday season. This blog is Part 1 of a two-part blog to conclude on December 14. Have fun on your trip around the world!
ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS SONG, “JOY TO THE WORLD”, SUNG BY JEWEL
Merry Christmas: “Счастливого рождества”
Celebrated on January 7
Christmas became an official holiday in Russia in 1991. The feast of St. Nicholas begins on December 6. Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, so it is customary to fast until after the first church service on January 6, which is Christmas Eve. After Christmas Eve services, people parade around their church carrying candles, torches, and homemade lanterns.
Christmas Eve dinner is meatless, so kutya is served instead which is made of wheatberries or other grains. It symbolizes hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. The meal may be made up of twelve dishes to represent the twelve apostles.
A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed.
Christmas Day, January 7th, children go caroling round the homes of friends and family and to wish people a happy new year. They are normally rewarded with cookies, sweets and money.
Merry Christmas: “Merry Christmas”
Celebrated on December 25
Christmas Day in Australia, falls during summer vacation, so many of the country’s Christmas festivities take place outdoors. The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. People gather at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols in this beautiful outside concert.
On Christmas Eve, the father in each family sets a large candle in a front window of the home which signifies the welcoming of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. The youngest child usually lights the candle.
The family goes to midnight mass and attends church on Christmas Day, as well. Later, there are parties and festive visits with family, friends, and neighbors.
Merry Christmas: “Shèngdàn jié kuàilè”
Celebrated on December 25
There is a very small number of Christians in China. Those natives call Christmas, Sheng Dan Jieh, which means Holy Birth Festival. During this holiday, they decorate their homes with evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The family’s Christmas tree, called a “tree of light,” is decorated with beautiful lanterns, flowers, red pagodas and red paper chains all of which symbolizes happiness.
On Christmas Eve, some people enjoy a big Christmas dinner at a restaurant and some give large parties. Christian children in China hang up their muslin stockings that are specially made so Dun Che Lao Ren, or “Christmas Old Man,” can fill them with gifts. However, many people exchange gifts at the New Year. Very expensive presents are given only to close family members.
Santa Claus is a popular good-luck figure.
Merry Christmas: “Melkam Genna”
Celebrated on January 7
Christmas is not commercialized in Ethiopia. The focus is more on the family gatherings and the spiritual aspects of the festival. Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7 where the Orthodox Church’s celebration is called Ganna. It is a day when families attend church and people fast all day. Everyone dresses in a traditional white shamma (worn like a toga). It is a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends.
Early mass begins at four o’clock in the morning. Several days later, the priests don turbans and red and white robes as they carry ornately embroidered fringed umbrellas.
In modern churches, the choir assembles in the outer circle as seats are not found in Ethiopian churches. Each person entering the church is given a candle and they walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. Then they gather into a second circle where they will stand throughout the long mass. Male genders are separated from the female genders. The center circle is the holiest space in the church. It is here that the priest serves Holy Communion.
The Christmas celebration ends on January 19, and they begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, which commemorates the baptism of Christ. It is a three-day long festival. Children walk in a procession to attend the church services wearing robes and crowns, depending on the church groups they belong.
Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Christmas.
Merry Christmas: “Joyeux Noël”
Celebrated on January 7
The Christmas season in France begins on December 5, which is St. Nicholas Eve. It is a day for gift-giving between friends and relatives. At night, children leave their shoes by the hearth so Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, will fill them with gifts.
A few days before Christmas, each family’s home is set up with a nativity scene, called a creche, on a little platform in a corner of the living room. Figures are usually molded from clay.
Christmas Eve, January 6th, is the most special time in the French celebration of Christmas. Church bells can be heard ringing and French carols are sung. Yule logs made out of cherry wood are often burned in French homes at this time. They are sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out, in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
On Christmas Day, January 7th, families go to church in the early morning hours and then come home to enjoy a huge feast of French dishes. The traditional buche de Noel, a rich buttercream-filled cake, shaped and frosted to look like a Yule log, ends the Christmas dinner.
Merry Christmas: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Celebrated on December 25
German families prepare for Christmas all throughout December. Four Sundays before Christmas, they make an Advent wreath of fir or pine branches adorned with four colored candles. They light a candle on the wreath each Sunday, sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas cookies. Plenty of baking and cooking is also done at this time.
St. Nicholas Day is December 6. Many German children write letters to St. Nicholas (just like Santa in the states) asking for presents. Other German children write their letters to the Christ Child. In some areas of Germany, oddly, the Christ Child brings gifts to children on St. Nicholas Eve and in other areas on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve is the most important time of the Christmas season for families. Some say it’s magic allows animals to speak. The tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany, so it is a main part of the holiday. Grown-ups decorate evergreen trees with ornaments of colored glass and carved wood, silver stars, and strings of lights. A golden angel is normally placed at the very top of the tree. A manger scene is placed under the Christmas tree to depict the stable that Jesus was born in. Parents also carefully lay presents from the Christ Child beneath it. Just after dark, a bell rings, and the children run into the room to see a beautiful lighted tree! Families exchange gifts, read poems, and sing Christmas carols.
The white candle of the Advent wreath is lit on Christmas Day. This day is focused on family where they attend church together, and then eat a delicious Christmas dinner together.
Merry Christmas: “Zalig Kerstfeest”
Celebrated on December 7
Dutch children in Holland, or the Netherlands, eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas on St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Sinterklaas is a bishop, patron saint, of children and sailors. He travels by ship from Spain to Amsterdam’s harbor every winter, bringing his white horse and gifts for the children. Millions of people come out to see his arrival and his parade through the streets of the city. The rest of the country watches on TV. Special songs and pastries are made in honor of his arrival. This is the celebration where good children are crowned Kings and Queens for a day and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of year. Each child is then asked to tie 3 wishes onto a branch of their tree at home—one for family, for community and for the World.
After the parade for Sinterklaas, the beginning of the Christian Sabbath starts with the Living Nativity at the Reformed Church. Families celebrate at home with lots of good food, hot chocolate, and a letterbanket, a “letter cake” made in the shape of the first letter of the family’s last name. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve.
In the eastern part of Holland, families that live on farms in rural areas, announce the coming of Christmas from the first Sunday of Advent, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until Christmas Eve by blowing a horn made from hollow elder-tree branches. Families go to church together on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning.
Merry Christmas: “buon Natale”
Celebrated on December 25
The official start of the Christmas season in Italy begins on the first Sunday of Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. During this festive time, Christmas fairs feature fireworks and bonfires along with holiday music. Families go to the Christmas markets to shop for gifts and for new figures for the manger scene. Some families set up Christmas trees and decorate them.
Families set up their presepio, or manger scene, on the first day of the novena – a nine day period of constant prayer for all special needs in the Catholic churches. During novena, the nine days before and including Christmas Day, children go from house to house reciting Christmas verses for coins. Every family sets lighted candles in their windows to light the way for the Christ Child as well as around their presepio where they pass the figure of the Baby Jesus from person to person, finally placing it tenderly in the manger.
Then a lavish, meatless supper featuring seafood, vegetables, salads, antipasto, bread, pasta, and sweets is enjoyed by all. Later that night, everyone goes through the torch-lit streets on their way to Christmas Eve mass.
During the Christmas season, Italian families sing a special song called Shepherds’ Carol in honor of real shepherds who come to town at Advent and go from house-to-house playing bagpipes and singing songs about the birth of Jesus. In some towns, bagpipers dressed as shepherds still play and sing in front of the neighborhoods’ presepios.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Navidad
Celebrated on December 25
The Mexican celebration of Christmas is called las posadas which begins on December 16 and continues for nine days. Families shop for gifts, ornaments, and good things to eat in the market stalls. Homes are decorated with lilies and evergreens. Family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns, and then place a candle inside them to be set along sidewalks, on windowsills, and on rooftops and outdoor walls to illuminate the community with the spirit of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, Buena Noche, children lead a procession to church where they place a figure of the baby Jesus in the nativity scene. It is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Everyone attends midnight mass and a fireworks display lights up the skies. Many Mexican children receive gifts from Santa Claus on this night.
Christmas Day is a time for church and family. After church services, Christmas dinner begins with oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, followed by roasted turkey and a special salad of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Many children receive gifts as well on the eve of Twelfth Night, January 5, from the Reyes Magos, the Three Kings who pass through on their way to Bethlehem. Children leave their shoes on the windowsill and find them filled with gifts the next morning.
I give God the glory and celebrate a commemorative birth. Countdown to Christmas Blog!
ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL VERSION OF “OH COME ALL YE FAITHFUL”, SUNG BY CELINE DION
The muddy slush piles up against the curb and trampled footprints scatter about as the sidewalks are covered in our first snow. Storefronts capitalize on impending Christmas shopping; windows are thoroughly decorated by professionals. Full of alluring ideas that tax the mind where wallets won’t permit, it’s hard to swallow at times. Comparing prices, we shop online, frustrated, then wait in lines. Is it really worth it? Paying for overnight delivery, we have ran out of time….
Though our hearts are consumed with love, we are obsessed with not wanting to forget a single person. So, checking our list, we seem to lose sight of what this holiday represents. It’s sad that the birth of Jesus may be categorized as a pagan (non-Christian) taboo holiday. We come together bearing gifts to commemorate what Christ stands for on the 25th day of December, even though there is no specific date given in the Bible for his birth. But there was a time when celebrating Jesus’ birthday was taboo. For hundreds of years, He went unnoticed and today I sit and wonder, is Christmas really blasphemous? Is decorating your church really sacrilegious?
In regards to paganism, Christmas isn’t religious. It is their belief that Jesus had never existed as a man, only as a sort of spiritual entity. (And by the way it was thought to celebrate any birthday was paganism as well. Let that soak in while you wrap yourself around the holiday season.)
Giving credit in the 1600s, Rome was the birthplace of Christmas as we know it; so, it’s a fairly new celebration! Stephen Nissenbaum, author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist for “The Battle for Christmas” (Vintage, 1997) stated, “If you want to show that Jesus was a real human being just like every other human being, not just somebody who appeared like a hologram, then what better way to think of him being born in a normal, humble human way than to celebrate his birth?”
Protestants (the Puritans) hated this holiday and actually banned it in 1644. They believed it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism. Christmas trees and decorations were considered to be unholy rituals, and they also banned traditional Christmas foods such as mince meat pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remained open all day on Christmas. The ban on the holiday was ultimately lifted in 1660, when Charles II took over the throne.
Churches may worship differently but they still hang wreathes on their doors and maybe mistletoe in the hallways. Due to a lack of timekeeping in biblical times, Christmas became a commemoration of the birth of Jesus. This is what Christians celebrate today. To call Christmas blasphemous or churches sacrilegious? Are you kidding?
Starting out on the virgin snow, the foliage dons a winter coat and a pristine aroma filters in the pains. Alone in my thinking, I give God the glory and celebrate a commemorative birth. It should be celebrated every day and not just in December!
I thank God for all of my friends and followers – each and every one of you. My heart is a Christmas card spreading good cheer! May your Yule tidings comfort you in the oncoming year. Feeling so blessed, God rest ye all this time of year. Merry Christmas!!!
Countdown to Christmas! The Evergreen Fir and the Biblical Significance of Christmas Decorations –
ENJOY “OH CHRISTMAS TREE” SUNG BY BONEY M.!
This Christmas, let us be reminded of the fact God has provided us with the original tree of life through our Lord Jesus Christ. With God’s tree comes the imperishable, eternal, and unbelievable gifts of God’s grace. It symbolizes the love, hope and eternal life in Christ.
The evergreen fir became the initial Christmas tree of Christianity by Saint Boniface in 722. He was the first person responsible when he left England to convert the Germans to Christianity. A story states that he is said to have come across a group of pagans about to sacrifice a young boy while worshipping an oak tree. In anger, and to stop the sacrifice, St. Boniface is said to have cut down the oak tree and, to his amazement, a young fir tree sprang up from the roots of the oak tree. He took this as a sign of the Christian faith and his followers decorated the tree with candles so that St. Boniface could preach to the pagans at night.
In the 16th century, Martin Luther brought a tree indoor and decorated it with candles and apples in honor of Christ’s birth. There is a story told that prior to Christmas, he walked through a forest and witnessed the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.
Christmas trees were originally topped with a figure of the Baby Jesus but later changed to angels because they told the shepherds about Jesus.
Whatever legend you wish to pass on, remember that Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus! Have a blessed Christmas and let’s continue to remember what this holiday is really about…..
BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS:
Tinsel: Legend says a poor family wished to decorate their Christmas tree in honor of Jesus, but had nothing to do so. During the night, a spider spun webs across the tree, and the Christ Child turned those threads into silver, to honor the family’s faith.
Bells: Represents joy of Christmas Day. In Christianity the ringing of a bell is a sacred announcement to the presence of Christ at mass.
Candy canes: Shaped like a shepherd’s crook, it symbolizes that Christ is the Good Shepherd; invented by Father Keller using the Keller Machine that automated the process of shaping them.
Poinsettia flowers: Through their shape, reminds all of the Star of Bethlehem; some cultures consider it a symbol of purity.
Wreaths: Just as a wreath is a never-ending circle, so too is the eternal love of the Lord.
Mistletoe: It is neither shrub, nor tree and it grows suspended in the air – a powerful symbol of freedom. It’s considered a sacred plant of peace and a symbol of fertility.
Holly: A symbol of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the cross. The berries portray the blood he shed for all our sins.
Christmas colors of red and green: The color red symbolizes the blood shed by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion; the color green symbolizes the eternal life of Christ.
….and Biblical Facts About Snow. Countdown to Christmas Blogs Sliding Along….
ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC TOO!
It’s Christmas eve and the homes in our neighborhood are all decorated with lots of creative ideas. In the cold and dreary dark, almost on cue, a flurry falls. So together, standing with our arms around each other, a light on ready for bed, you and I watch as it begins to snow. Excited it’s our first snow, you look up at me, smile and say, “Let’s go for a walk”. Racing to get layered up, I helped you with your new suede boots with furry collars and little gold bells attached to the outside. With two pair of leggings and three different tops, I think it’s safe to say you’ll probably stay warm.
So I wrapped a scarf around my neck, stuck a knit-y on my head, grabbed my black goose down and headed out. Do you know how hard it is to hold someone’s hand with mittens on? Scuffing the snow as we walked through the neighborhood, I see we are not alone; we have company as others thought the same as us. It’s amazing how much better the decorations look covered in white. I love this time of year! We must have walked a mile, I guess, both our noses were blood red, frozen, as the snow was accumulating on our clothing.
I looked at my watch, it’s 12:03. MERRY CHRISTMAS, my love! What a wonderland worth falling in love in for in this season. Frozen to the bone, we rush inside, strip in the foyer and ran to shower in an attempt to thaw. The tree is loaded with, “I love you” gifts under it. I smell the effervescence of freshly cut pine. It’s as though we had just cut the forest.
A good night’s sleep, listening for Santa, we rose the next morning to a glimmering sunrise. It’s as though the Lord had sprinkled star dust all over the snow sometime in the middle night. With carols filling the airwaves in the living room, and the sound of shovels scraping the walks in the background, it is Christmas morning – a time to rejoice! “Wow honey,” I see you moved the angel from the top of tree. “No”, I said , “I thought you did. Well then please tell me how it got on the mantle…..??” It’s the magic of Christmas!
Biblical Facts About Snow:
The word “snow” (Hebrew sheleg, Greek chion) appears 23 times in the Bible.
“Driving snow” is an analogy for God’s judgment found in Ecclesiasticus 43:13:
By his commandment he maketh the snow to fall apace, and sends swiftly the lightnings of his judgment
In the bible, snow generates fruitfulness, wherever it falls. As noted in Isaiah 55:10:
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry.”
Snow was used in the bible as an analogy of purity and cleanness. Each time we see snow, we should be ever mindful to strive to live clean, pure and holy lives, just the same way that Christ was pure and sinless. Psalms 51:7:
“Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow”
The whiteness of leprosy is compared to snow in Exodus 4:6.
Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous[a]—it had become as white as snow.
Snow is used to describe the color of Christ’s hair in Revelation 1:14:
“The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.”
In biblical times, snow that fell from the higher elevations, was stored deep in the mountains to be used in the summer months to cool off a drink. Proverbs 25:13:
“Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master.”