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Christmas Customs and Traditions

Christmas is a wonderful time of year and is celebrated all over the world as a time of sharing, giving and love. Christmas Customs and Traditions may vary around the world but the sentiments are the same. Many Christmas customs and Traditions began long before the birth of Jesus and came from earlier festivals held in mid-winter when days were at their shortest, it was believed that the celebrations would give strength back to the sun and hasten the arrival of Spring. For example the Romans celebrated the Festival of Saturnalia around the 25th December and they decorated their homes with evergreens at this time to remind them of Saturn, their Harvest God and it was a time of feasting and parties. In the northern countries of Europe was the festival of the Yule, great logs were burnt and danced around while they called for Winter to end. Although Christmas is a Christian Holiday, many other faiths celebrate the secular aspects of the holiday season, such as decorating their houses, the giving of gifts and putting up of Christmas trees. It is the feeling of love that ties the people of the world together at this time. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the festival of light, is celebrated around this time. Hanukkah last for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kivlev. The Jewish calendar is lunar and the month of Kivlev is roundabout the same time as December. Hanukkah is also a time for the giving and receiving of gifts and the bringing together of families. In Africa and African culture the seven day festival of Kwanzaa is celebrated. Kwanzaa begins on the 26th of December and lasts up to 1st January. During Kwanzaa coloured candles are lit each night in a holder called a kinara, similar to the menorah in the Jewish , Hanukah, and again the theme of Kwanzza is unity and bringing together of people.

As people travel more widely these days and settle in other countries they bring their own customs and traditions with them which are then adopted and used in the new countries. We are not losing our customs but are enjoying new ones that we will pass on. Christmas cards are sent world wide, Christmas trees are decorated in most lands. Candles light up houses and bring a special warmth all over the world. Churches are filled with people celebrating midnight mass and carols are sung in all the tongues of the earth., and whether it is Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Weihnachtsmann, Sinterklass, Saint Nicolaus, Dun Che Lao Ren, Julemanden, Pere Noel or Tomte, he certainly puts a lot of smiles on the faces of children everywhere, so a very big THANK YOU whoever you are.

Christmas Customs and Traditions in the U.K.

As in most places, the lead up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year. Shops are packed with people looking for gifts and butchers and greengrocers shops are bursting at the seams with all the special things that we all ‘need’ to have for the festive season. At the beginning of December children start the big count down by opening the Advent calendars, which normally contain a small chocolate behind each day’s window. Christmas cards are written to just about everyone we know and letters to Father Christmas are written and sent with their wishes for special presents and promises that they will be good, ALL year next year, and that they are sure that they have been ‘quite ‘ good this year. The children are also kept busy in school learning lines for the Nativity play normally put on and practicing for carol concerts which they hope all their family will attend! After all the baking has been done and all the presents are wrapped and the last shop has shut it is CHRISTMAS EVE!!! Hurrah! excited children hang up their stockings, the bigger the better! and are then ushered up to bed because if Father Christmas sees that they are still awake NO presents, so for once off they go leaving their parents to enjoy a well earned drink in front of the lit up Christmas tree and put their feet up before the hectic, early start that tomorrow will surely bring. The main day arrives and still tired parents are awoken to the squeals and screams of their offspring opening their presents at the end of the beds. Cooking the Christmas dinner normally begins even before breakfast. Huge turkeys are stuffed into ovens and heaps of vegetables are prepared, and Christmas puddings are steaming away for hours, there is enough to feed the five thousand, just in case anyone ‘ drops in’ unexpectedly. Adults exchange gifts at a more reasonable hour and wrapping paper fills every bin available. Christmas dinner is normally early afternoon, either before or just after the Queen’s speech at three o’clock. After a’ heaving table full of food’ mum is back in the kitchen warming mince pies and making sandwiches of cold turkey and pickle. It is lots of work but Oh so worth it!! Boxing Day is a quieter affair watching old films on the T.V or visiting relatives and mainly recovering from the activities of the last month, only another eleven months before we do it all again.

Happy Christmas!

Germany, Switzerland and Austria

German, Swiss and Austrian Christmas customs and traditions. Many of the Christmas traditions that are enjoyed throughout Europe stem from Germany such as the all important Christmas tree – Tannenbaum – that takes pride of place in our living rooms and which we take great care to decorate with trinkets, baubles, tinsel and lights. From Austria we have the most well known of all Christmas Carols, Silent Night, without which Christmas would not be complete. In German and Austrian households the Christmas season begins with the start of Advent at which time the Advent wreath is made from pine branches and then decorated before adding the four candles, usually three white and one red. A candle is lit each week until the last one at Christmas. A lot of baking goes on throughout the lead up to Christmas, Stollen, Lebkuchen biscuits and an array of biscuits made with spices or ground nuts. Beautifully ornate gingerbread houses are baked and decorated with sweets and icing.. In towns and cities throughout Germany and Austria there have long been the special Weinhachtsmarkt, Christmas Markets, at which the decorated wooden stalls sell a great variety of gifts, foods, and novelties to the sounds of Christmas music and the smell of grilled bratwurst and the spicy aroma of Gluhwein which is served to keep out the cold on a snowy winter evening. The 6th of December sees the arrival of Sankt Nicolaus with his friend the ‘Krampus’. Sankt Nicolaus brings sweets, fruits and nuts for children who have been good and fills their shoes with these goodies but if they have not been exactly ‘good’ then the Krampus will leave a bunch of twigs to remind them to try harder! Children open the windows of their Adventskalender each day looking forward to Christmas Eve and the coming of the Christkindl who will bring presents for all good children. Traditionally the door of the main living room will remain locked until after the family meal of Christmas Eve when a bell will sound heralding the arrival of the Christkind. Children excitedly go and see what has been going on behind locked doors, there is the Christmas tree and presents which they can now open.

 Frohe Weihnachten!

Holland

Dutch Christmas Customs and Traditions. In Holland the day the children most look forward to is St.Nicolaus Day when Sinterklaas will reward them for being good all year! or they will receive a rod from his companion Zwarte Peit -Black Peter. Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Madrid, where he lives, dressed in his red bishop’s robes trimmed with white fur and travels into the city or town leading a great procession on his white horse. Sinterklaas arrives in a different city each year so that as many children as possible will get to see him although he will also be helped by friends dressed in the same clothes as himself . On the night of the 5th December children leave their shoes or boots out to be filled with presents. Many people hold parties on St.Nicholaus Eve and special biscuits and cakes are baked in honour of the occasion. On the 6th December there is the exchanging of gifts, these are often disguised so that the contents are not known until they are opened, larger presents will be hidden and can only be found with the aid of clues. Christmas Day is a much quieter affair with families attending mass and singing carols. Children hope that maybe the Christmas Man from Lapland will also bring them something on this day.

Gelukkig kerstfeest!