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Christmas Around The World
There is summer-like weather during December in Australia, and Christmas dinner may be a picnic in the woods or on the beach. Australians also sing carols by candlelight and decorate their homes with flowers and other plants. Generally, Christmas is celebrated along traditional lines and families often travel great distances to be together. Church is attended in great mass on Christmas Day. Services are often held very early in the morning.
Many carols sung are Australian, celebrating Christ's birth with imagery drawn from the Australian Christmas Bush, which flowers at Christmas. Other songs sung and listened to are about Snow and Snowmen.
Due to the multiculturalism in Australia food can vary. But meals mainly centre on the traditional Hams, Turkeys and Plum Pudding. Often these dishes are cooked earlier and served cold. Salads and other summer foods are present as well as food from other cultures.
The Christian village men cut down banana trees and replant them in pairs along the paths to churches and outside their homes, for Christmas in Bangladesh. They bend over the huge leaves to make an arch, and then make small holes in the bamboo poles, fill them with oil and tie them across the arches. When the oil is lit the way to church is bright.
Some who celebrate Christmas in China do so after having spent time in Japan where the holiday is becoming a booming business. The small percentage of Chinese who do so, erect artificial trees in their homes decorated with lights. Christmas trees are called "trees of light" and are also decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Children hang up stockings in hopes that Dun Che Lao Ren (China's Santa) will fill them with presents. Shops have men dressed as Santa Claus handing out sweets and waitresses with Santa hats.
Although Christianity is unsanctioned in China, there are an estimated 10 million baptised Christians (about 1 percent of the population) who celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time. The popularity of midnight mass has grown swiftly over the past few years on Christmas Eve. The ministers believe it's a positive step toward the spread of Christianity throughout China. Naturally, they take the opportunity to tell the story of the baby Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem.
When the Christmas tree first came to England in 1841, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, Germany decorated it for his wife Queen Victoria in the German fashion. But, soon English customs arose. For example, Christmas cards were hung from the tree as decorations. Tiny candles placed among the branches, tiny gift packages wrapped in brocade and velvet with colourful satin ribbons, silver-filigree baskets, red-golden swags and an angel on top make up the traditional English tree.
The traditional Christmas meal is roast turkey and plum pudding, not the boar's head and roasted peacock seen in some old pictures.
Two weeks before Christmas, towns and cities across England host pantomime plays Audiences are then treated to performances of such favourites as Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Puss in Boots. Male roles are often played by women and female roles by men. In Cinderella, the wicked step-sisters are almost always play by male actors.
Boxing Day is also a national holiday in England. It is celebrated on December 26th. Legend tells that on this day the noblemen "boxed up" gifts for their servants. It is also called Saint Stephen's Day. Saint Stephen was a martyr who was stoned to death. Boxes that have been placed in the church all through the year are opened on this day. Payment for special services that were done during the year are distributed on this day.
Father Christmas delivers the presents, which are not opened until Christmas afternoon. Letters to Father Christmas are not sent by mail, instead, the letters are thrown into the back of the fireplace, and if they are drawn up the chimney by a draft, it is said that the letter has reached Father Christmas. If the letter is burned up in the flames, another try is made.
In Ethiopia Christmas celebrations take place January 6, following the ancient calendar. In Addis Ababa, the capital city, Christmas begins at four in the morning, when church bells ring for early service.
There is a game played in Ethiopia that is believed to be connected to Christmas. Sometime during the end of November, boys go into nearby forests and hunt for special sticks. It's usually a sapling, that has to be dried, scraped, and oiled so it won't break. To play the Ko-lee game, a ball is formed out of wood, too. The game rules resemble the rules in ground hockey. The games begin a few weeks before Christmas. So, what is the connection to Christmas? As the story goes, the shepherds that were watching their flocks the night of Jesus' birth were playing this game. So, without knowing it, the boys of Ethiopia may be keeping the memory of those shepherds alive.
Christmas preparations start early in Finland with 'Little Christmas'. Little Christmas or "pikkujoulu" means pre-Christmas celebration.
There are three other Advent Sundays before Christmas. One candle is lit and put either in a special candlestick that holds four, or as the first of the four candles on the Christmas tree. Other times, the four candles of Advent are placed in the home often near a window where they can be plainly seen. Children get their first Christmas present then. Small children get an Advent Calendar with a window to open each day before Christmas.
Everyone helps to make "piparkakkuja" or gingerbread, shaping it into stars, hearts, moons, pigs and other figures. Cold ham, salted meat and pickled herrings are also eaten, as is herring salad with chopped carrots, turnips or salted cucumber. Very few Finns eat Christmas turkey.
Tulips, hyacinths or poinsettias or gifts are given to friends. Families gather at home around the tree and drink a cup of glögi, made of red wine, spices and raisins.
The main Christmas celebration starts at twelve o'clock on December 24th. The churches are lit with candles at all the pews. When the snow is extremely deep, the service is watched on television.
The midnight service on Christmas Eve is traditionally followed by a meal called 'le reveillon'. Cafes and restaurants are open all night serving reveillon. Reveillon means to wake up, or first call of the day. So, Reveillon is a symbolic spiritual awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth. The meal can consist of oysters, sausages, wine, baked ham, roast fowl, salads, fruit and pastries. In Alsace, a roasted goose has pride of place. In Brittany there are buckwheat cakes and sour cream. In Burgundy, turkey and chestnuts are eaten. In the Paris region oysters are the favourite dish, followed by a cake shaped like a Yule log. After the festivities, it is customary to leave a candle burning just in case the Virgin Mary passes that way. In northern France, children are given their gifts on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas Day, instead of Christmas Day.
Many Christmas traditions practised around the world today started in Germany. It has been long thought that Martin Luther began the tradition of bringing a fir tree into the home. One legend says, late one evening Martin Luther was walking home through the woods and noticed how beautifully the stars shined through the trees. He wanted to share the beauty with his wife so; he cut down a fir tree and took it home. He placed small lighted candles on the branches and said that it would be a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky.
Another legend says that in the early 16th Century, people in Germany combined two customs that had been practised in different countries around the globe. The Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. The Christmas Light, a small pyramid-like frame, usually decorated with glass balls and tinsel and with a candle on top, was a symbol of the birth of Christ as the Light of the World. Changing the tree's apples to tinsel balls and cookies; and combining this new tree with the Light placed on top, the Germans created the tree that many of us know now.
When Christianity arose in Germany, St. Nicholas became popular. He was known for his miracles and generosity and became a saint to children. He became the Santa Claus figure and the feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated on December 6. St. Nicholas rode a white horse and of course carried gifts to all the good little children.
Today, the Germans still celebrate St. Nicholas Day and make it a point to attend church on Christmas Eve where the church is lit by candles held by the worshipers. The Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) is traditionally decorated in secret with lights, tinsel, and ornaments by the mother and is lit and revealed on Christmas Eve with cookies, nuts, and gifts under its branches. But the speciality is the Lebkuchen, a spicy, tasty cake made in shapes and hung on the tree.
Near Thule in Greenland, the Polar Eskimos do much visiting of families, drinking coffee and eating cakes and giving of brightly wrapped parcel, that may hold a model sledge, a pair of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone receives a gift and the children go from hut to hut singing songs.
Christmas trees are imported, as no trees live this far north. They are decorated with candles and bright ornaments. Lots of dancing goes on most of the night and after the coffee, cakes and carols, mattak, whaleskin with a strip of blubber inside, is passed around. Another festive food is kiviak. This Eskimo delicacy consists of little auks which have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition. Christmas is the one night in Greenland when the men look after the women, serving them coffee and stirring it for them.
The people of Iceland believe in thirteen Santas, said to be descendants of a mythological figure known as Gryla the Ogre. Each begins visiting Icelandic homes on December 12th and, by Christmas Day, they've all arrived. Each makes his presence felt in mischievous ways. Door Slammer awakens sleepers by slamming doors. Candle Beggar snatches candles. And Meat Hooker tries to run off with the roast.
Because of international influence on her people, India, perhaps, has the most cosmopolitan Christmas in the world. Just to name a few: Christmas trees from Germany, ornaments from America, greeting cards from England, creche from France, books from Greece. Children in brightly coloured dresses, accompanied by an orchestra of drums and cymbals, perform group dances, using coloured sticks as they do their native dances.
Indian Christians do not believe in short services. The main service on Christmas Day is a midnight one which lasts from two to three hours, with hundred of communicants and many children all massed together on the floor.
In south India, Christians fill little clay lamps with oil and put a piece of twisted cotton in them for wicks. Towards the evening they light these lamps and place them along the edge of the low flat-roofed houses and along the walls outside, so that the houses twinkle with light. When non-Christians ask about this, it presents an opportunity to share the Christmas story.
An Irish Christmas lasts from Christmas Eve until January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, which Irish people call 'Little Christmas'. On Christmas Eve, the father of the house puts a tall candle on the sill of the largest window. It is usually lit by the youngest child in honour of the Baby Jesus. It is left to burn all night to light the way for any wanderers who are in need of shelter, like Mary and Joseph were long ago. The women bake round cakes, full of caraway seeds, for each person in the house.
The children enjoy the Wren Boy Procession. Young men and boys (sometimes girls also) are up early, dressed in bright clothes. In the southern districts they have home-made hoods over their heads with eyes cut out or masks of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. They march and sing with violins, accordions, harmonicas and horns accompanying them and carry a long pole with a holly bush tied to the top. This is supposed to have a captured wren in it. In earlier days the bird has actually been killed and carried in the procession. The reason for this custom goes backs to the time when, during a rebellion against English rule in the North a group of English soldiers were being surrounded while they slept. But the wrens pecked on their drums and woke them, allowing them to escape. The wren was called ' the Devil's bird' in Ireland.
Christmas in Bethlehem attracts thousands of pilgrims of a variety of religions to the church built on the spot where it is believed that Jesus was born. The Church of the Nativity has a silver star to mark the place, and above it fifteen silver lamps always burn. Around the star is the inscription 'Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born'.
On Christmas Eve a service is sung in Latin, at the end of which a model of the Baby Jesus is laid in a manger by the star. After the service many pilgrims then go out to the fields around Bethlehem to sit where the shepherds heard the news. These fields have changed very little; shepherds still graze their flocks there today.
Each year in mid-December, Jews all over the world celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Lights which commemorates a Jewish victory over the Greeks 2000 years ago. Upon reclaiming the Temple, the Jewish people lit the temple lamp. Although there was only enough oil for one day, it lasted eight days. Jewish people today celebrate this holiday by lighting one candle on the menorah each night until all nine are lit. (The centre candle is used for lighting the other candles.) Each evening while the candles are burning, the family eats, sings and plays games. Although Jews do not celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah coincides with it.
Italian traditions in Italy are based heavily on the religion of Christianity. Christmas starts eight days before Christmas and lasts till after the Feast of Epiphany. Eight days before Christmas, a special Novena of prayers and church services begin. It all ends on Christmas Day. On December 23rd, sometimes earlier, children dressed as shepherds with sandals, leggings tied with crossing thongs, and wearing shepherds' hats, go from house to house playing songs on shepherds' pipes and giving recitations. They receive money to buy Christmas treats. In cities like Rome real shepherds sometimes carry out the performance. A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas after which a meal with many dishes (but no meat) is served. The traditional Christmas dinner, Cennone, is made up of spaghetti and anchovies, an assortment of fish, fresh broccoli, tossed salad, fruits, and sweets.
A Yule log, the Appo, is burned, and toasts in wine and wishes for the future are expressed. The Urn of Fate, an old Italian tradition, is a large ornamental bowl that holds wrapped gifts for members of the family. When the family gets together, each member takes his turn at drawing a gift from the urn until all the presents are distributed. The presepio (manger or crib) represents in miniature the Holy Family in the stable and is the centre of Christmas for families. The presepio figures are usually hand-carved and very detailed in features and dress. The scene is often set out in the shape of a triangle. It provides the base of a pyramid-like structure called the ceppo. This is a wooden frame arranged to make a pyramid several feet high. This frame supports several tiers of thin shelves. It is entirely decorated with coloured paper, gilt pinecones, and miniature coloured pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides. A star or small doll is hung at the apex of the triangular sides. The shelves above the manger scene have small gifts of fruit, candy, and presents. The ceppo is in the old Tree of Light tradition which became the Christmas tree in other countries. Some houses even have a ceppo for each child in the family.
Children in Italy hang up their stockings on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. They celebrate the visit of the Three Kings to Bethlehem. Instead of Santa Claus, children are expecting Befana. She is a witch-like character who rides around on a broom. The legend is that the Three Wise Men stopped at Befana's hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and asked her to join them. She said no, she was too busy. Later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Baby Jesus. Again, Befana said no. Later when it was dark and she saw a great light in the skies, she thought perhaps she should have gone with the Wise Men. So, she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own baby, who had died, and ran to find the kings and the shepherd. But Befana could not find them or the stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. And each year since she can not find him, she leaves the gifts for the good children of Italy and pieces of charcoal for the bad ones.
On December 16, Mexican homes are decorated for the upcoming holiday with flowers, evergreens, and coloured paper lanterns. Traditionally, Christmas has been celebrated with replicas of the manger scene called the presebra rather than the Christmas tree.
The pinata is a delightful treat for the children of Mexico. During the nine days before Christmas, parades lead the townspeople to one neighbour's house. There is much celebrating and fun. The children are anxious to break the pinata. It is usually a clay pot decorated to look like a bird or other animal. But best of all it is filled with candies and goodies. The pinata is hung from the ceiling and the children take turns swinging at it while blindfolded. When it breaks, all the children race to the falling goodies.
Also in Mexico, Santa Claus is less popular than the figure of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of the sun. He is an old man with a long white beard and flowing white robes. Before Christmas arrives, children write letters to the Christ Child listing what they want. And on the eve of the Epiphany, January 6, they place their shoes at the foot of their beds for the Three Magi (the Three Wise Men) to fill.
Papua New Guinea
New Guinea's Christmas association is derived from a custom of the Sawi tribes of West Irian. Cannibalism and head hunting was at one time the order of the day in New Guinea. The only way to gain peace was for a chief on each side to exchange an infant son as a 'peace child'. Each tribe looked after the adopted child most carefully, for if the child died the peace treaty would be broken and the fighting would resume.
A young Canadian missionary, Don Richardson, and his wife Carol told the Sawi that God had sent His only son to be a 'peace child' who would never die. After overcoming fear of their demons' reactions, many Sawi became Christians, gave up their head hunting and cannibalism, and spread the new idea of a permanent peace child among their people.
One Christmas morning Richardson and his family held a large service-cum-feast to which Sawis invited their enemy tribesmen to come in their canoes. The Sawis gave them food, gifts and sang carols. A Sawi preacher read a verse from the Bible, Isaiah: 'Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.' The visitors could see the change in the faces of the Sawi and knew that the old ideals of treachery were gone forever.
December 25th is a public holiday in Pakistan, but it is in memory of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. In Christian homes, cards and gifts are exchanged, new clothes are worn and friends' houses are visited. Christmas Day service is filled with Christians. In the villages of Urdu and Punjabi, it is called Bara Din, the Big Day. The villagers wear bright clothes because it is a happy occasion. People embrace and greet each other with 'Bara Din Mubarrak Ho', 'the blessing of Christmas on you'.
The Russian Winter Festival is celebrated for twelve days between December 25th and January 5th. It is similar to Christmas, although Christmas is not officially recognised. Evergreen trees are decorated and called New Year's trees. Grandfather Frost, Dyed Maroz, looks like Santa Claus with his long red robe, white beard and black boots. He has a helper called Snow Girl and comes shaking his jingle bells on New Year's Day, the most important day during the festival. Grandfather Frost gives toys to the children along with spicy ginger cakes dolls nested inside each other. The Nutcracker ballet is associated with Russia at this time of the year.
Some Russians fast during the time before Christmas Eve. But at the sight of the first star in the sky, a twelve-course supper begins. There is one course for each of the twelve apostles. Fish takes the place of meat and their borsch (beet soup), cabbage stuffed with millet, and cooked dried fruit. The speciality of Christmas Eve is kutya, whole-wheat grains soaked for hours, seasoned with honey and crushed poppy seeds.
Since the days when Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, the people of Scotland have celebrated New Year's Eve almost as much as Christmas. In fact many of the traditions associated with Christmas were moved to New Year and stayed there. The celebration is called Hogmanay and thought to have originated from the ancient Greek word 'Hagmena', which meant Holy moon, and was used to describe the Druid ceremony of cutting the sacred mistletoe.
Christmas is a summer holiday in South Africa. It is a day of contradictions - the windows are draped with sparkling cotton wool and tinsel, yet it is an out-of-door day when people go to the beaches, the rivers, and shaded mountain slopes.
For native Africans, Christmas Day is a day of good eating and a lively exchange and enjoyment of gifts. The festival is a carnival-like week of singing, dancing and feasting.
English-speaking children hang up their stockings, feeling certain Father Christmas will fill them with gifts and goodies. Carol singers make their rounds on Christmas Eve to celebrate "Carols by Candlelight."
Swedish families celebrate Saint Lucia Day on December 13th. The oldest daughter wears a white robe, a red sash, and a crown of lighted candles as she serves coffee and buns to other members of the family. Communities celebrate with Saint Lucia parades. Carols are sung in praise of the Queen of Light, who is said, brought hope at a dark hour.
Following Saint Lucia Day, everyone starts Christmas preparations. The house is cleaned and gingerbread is made. Bundles of wheat are tied and placed outside for the birds. Holiday breads and cakes are baked. Candles are plenteous for they represent the desire for the return of light. On December 22nd, the darkest, shortest day of the year, candles are even placed in the churchyards. Their Santa is a little dwarf-like person known as Jultomten, who delivers presents on Christmas Eve. Long ago funny little gifts called julklappar, were given by a secret rap on the door. Many families attend a pre-dawn church service celebrating the birth of the Christ child.
Special Christmas foods are lute fish, a dried cod fish that is boiled and eaten with melted butter. Kringle, sandbakkels and krumkake are favourite Christmas sweets.
The celebration of Christmas begins in Switzerland with the "pursui of Saint Nicholas" - Klausjagen. On December 5th in the village of Kussnacht near Lake Lucerne, 200 or so marchers carry huge bishops' hats (about six feet tall) cut out of cardboard and decorated to look like lace patterns. Inside is a lighted candle. Originally wore by men, today both men and women wear the hats and participate in the parade, escorting Saint Nicholas the town. Heavy bells are carried or worn by strong men and echo through the streets. Horn blowing and brass bands add to the festivities. At the head of the parade are the whip crackers who announce, with the cracking of their whips, the arrival of the procession.
On December 6th in the city of Fribourg, Saint Nicholas rides through town on a donkey. When reaching the town square, he gives a speech about the events of the past year and then everyone goes to the town school for a festive meal.
The Christmas celebration ends on December 24th. In the village of Hallwil, Wienectchind (Christ Child) walks through the town wearing a white robe and carrying a lantern. Six girls wearing rose-colored dresses accompany her. They visit families, sing carols together and give cakes and cookies to children. Merry Christmas is wished in four different languages in Switzerland: Weinhnachten- German; Noel- French; Natale- Italian; and Nadel -Romansh.
Perhaps Saint Nick's reputation for bearing gifts comes from an old Turkish legend. In the fourth century, the Turks told of his saving three impoverished girls from being sold into slavery. According to the legend, on three consecutive nights he left each girl a sack of gold.
One of the highlights of the Welsh's Christmas is the choir contests. Christmas is sometimes called Nadolig. In days gone by, before dawn on New Year's Day, the children would draw water from a well and sprinkle everyone they meet while roaming the village, wishing them well. They would also wake their neighbours and sing an ancient song known as the "New Water" carol.
Fellowship is a big part of Christmas Day in the southeastern corner of Zimbabwe. Kisimusi, or Christmas is celebrated December 25, during their summer. Fathers give gifts to their children and wives, usually consisting of clothes and candy. Starting weeks in ahead, everyone starts to gather loaves of bread, jam, tea, and sugar for the Christmas dinner.
At the early morning church service, the children sing the songs that they have practised for this special day. Sometimes a feast is held for the members of the church. This meal is served at one home. The women take turns preparing the food so that they all have a chance to attend the service. It can consist of fresh roast ox or goat, cornmeal porridge, bread, jam, tea, and sugar. After the dinner, they all sit, relax, and sing gospel songs. As the sun goes down, herd boys return to their flocks and children play games around the fire. After the sun sinks in the west, Christmas is officially over.
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