CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
Many English Christmas customs traveled to the United States with the English immigrants. Both countries share the hanging of stockings and mistletoe. People in both countries decorate with holly and ivy. While not as popular today, both the English and the Early Americans burned a Yule log,saving the remains for starting the next year's fire.
There is no Santa Claus in England. Instead, children receive gifts from Father Christmas.
At Christmas dinner, plum pudding is the dessert of choice. Coins are hidden in the pudding bringing good luck to those that find them.
Actors known as Christmas mummers present plays during the Christmas season to the delight of persons both young and old.
In some villages, churches "toll the Devil's knell" on Christmas Eve. The church bell is rung once for every year since Christ's birth; ending at midnight. The ringing is said to keep the Devil away from the village.
The English celebrate Boxing Day on December 26. On this day they give gifts to persons in service jobs, such as shop clerks or maids.
In Mexico, the Christmas celebration begins nine days before December 25 with Las Posadas. During this time the people in the town go to a different home each night. At each home the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter at the inn is acted out.
Piñatas are a fun part of the Christmas celebration. Piñatas are figures made out of clay or paper-mache decorated with paper. Children use a stick to try to break the pinata. When one child breaks the piñata, all the children are rewarded with a "rainfall" of candy and small toys.
During Christmas time the poinsettia flower is very popular. There is a legend that the poinsettia plant formed miraculously one Christmas Eve from a little girl's only gift to the baby Jesus at her church's midnight service; a bunch of weeds. Also popular, are luminarios. These are small, decoratively cut paper bags lit with small candles.
Santos or creche figures are an important part of a Mexican Christmas. The figures are used to recreate the nativity scene at the town's church. At midnight, on Christmas Eve, all the people in the town make a grand procession to the church to lay gifts before the manger and to celebrate Midnight Mass.
In the Seventeenth century the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas. December 25 was a workday.
In the late 1700's, Christmas was once again a happy holiday. The Colonists decorated their fireplaces with greenery, sung carols, and feasted. No one, however, had a Christmas tree.
In 1823 Clement Moore wrote the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas." Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus began to play a big part in the celebration of Christmas.
In the 1840's. German immigrants introduced the Christmas tree. This decoration became a major part of the Christmas tradition.
In the 1890's, Victorians decorated their trees and homes with lots of lace, flowers, and glass ornaments. Sending Christmas cards became popular during this time.
Today, we combine old and new traditions to celebrate Christmas in a way that is meaningful to our family and friends.
In France, religion is a very big part of the Christmas holiday. A crèche or manger scene plays an important role. In addition to the customary figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the Wisemen, the French crèche also includes common village figures such as a man selling kindling or a woman selling herbs. The making of these figures, or santons, is a very important art form.
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is an important French tradition. After church people feast at a large late supper or réveillon. A traditional dessert at this supper is a bûche de Noel, a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and shaped in the form of a Yule log.
Children receive gifts on December 6 and/or December 25 depending on which section of France they live. Instead of stockings, children leave out their shoes to be filled with goodies by Père Noel.
In Germany, the Christmas tree is a popular tradition. This tradition began in the Middle Ages when folks would decorate evergreen boughs with apples. As time passed, candles, cookies, blown glass ornaments, and paper cornucopias were added to the decorations.
On December 6, Weihnachtsmann walks the streets on the night of the 6th and leaves presents in the children's shoes which they have left "outside" their door. If they were bad he leaves switches or coal. If they were good he leaves candy and goodies.
On Christmas Eve Mothers and Fathers decorate the tree. The children then come into the room to open their presents. December 25 is a family day.
In Sweden, the celebration of Christmas lasts almost two months. The fun begins with Advent. Each Sunday before Christmas a candle is lit on an advent wreath made of a stick that is decorated with white lichen and paper-mache mushrooms or red berries.
December 13 is St Lucia's Day. On this day, the eldest daughter in a family wears a white robe and a head wreath with candles. All dressed up, she serves the family St. Lucia buns (Lussekatter) and coffee in bed. A big event is the Lucia choir show. Young girls portray Lucia and "terns" (tärnor). Boys take part as starboys, tomtenissar (Jultomten's helpers) or ginger cookie characters.
Christmas ornaments might be made of straw. Animals, especially goats, are popular ornaments for the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is also decorated with lights, glass ornaments, and tinsel.
On Christmas Eve, a large dinner or smorgasbord is served. Desserts include a rice pudding. An almond is hidden in the pudding. The person to find the almond is said to be the next to marry in the next year.
Another important Christmas Eve tradition is somewhat American! At three o'clock in the afternoon all the children stop to watch the Disney special "From All Of Us To All Of You." Dinner and presents must sometimes wait until after Kalle Anka (Donald Duck).
Children in Sweden look forward on Christmas Eve to gifts brought by Jultomten (today a cross between a little gnome and the German/British Santa Klaus). They make sure to leave him a bowl of porridge. They also put candles in the windows so he can find his way to the children's homes.
Christmas Day in Sweden is spent in church. December 26 is St. Stephen's Day (Staffen) in honor of the patron saint of animals. An old tradition on this day was to give the farm animals extra food to eat.
The holiday season concludes on January 13 or the 20th day Knut. On this day the Christmas tree is taken down and Christmas is over for another year in Sweden. Though a famous song in Sweden says that "Christmas lasts until Easter - no, not true, we have the fast in between."