Holidays Around the World Christmas
Santa Claus • Santa Claus is a variation of a Dutch folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Turkey (then known as Myra), who gave presents to the poor. His charity became legend when a man lost his fortune and found himself incapable of supporting his three daughters, who would not be able to find husbands as they lacked dowries. This man was going to give them over to a life of prostitution; however, St. Nicholas provided them with gold, enabling them to retain their virginal virtues and marry. This inspired the mythical figure of Sinterklaas, the subject of a major celebration in the Netherlands and Belgium, Germany (where his alleged date of death, December 6, is celebrated the evening before on December 5), which in turn inspired both the myth and the name of Santa Claus (actually a mispronunciation of the Dutch word "Sinterklaas" by the English settlers of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York). Whilst in those countries Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a distinct character with a religious touch, Santa Claus is also making inroads as a symbol during Christmas. • He forms an important part of the Christmas tradition throughout the Western world and Japan and other parts of East Asia. • In many Eastern Orthodox traditions, Santa Claus visits children on New Year's Day and is identified with Saint Basil whose memory is celebrated on that day. • Depictions of Santa Claus also have a close relationship with the Russian character of Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). He delivers presents to children and has a red coat, fur boots and long white beard. Much of the iconography of Santa Claus could be seen to derive from Russian traditions of Ded Moroz, particularly transmitted into western European culture through his German folklore equivalent, Väterchen Frost.
Conventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round-bellied, merry, bespectacled white man in a red coat trimmed with white fur (perhaps remotely derived from the episcopal vestments of the original Bishop Nicholas), with a long white beard and green or white gloves. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. To enter the house, Santa Claus comes down the chimney and exits through the fireplace. During the rest of the year he lives together with his wife Mrs. Claus and his elves manufacturing toys. Some modern depictions of Santa (often in advertising and popular entertainment) will show the elves and Santa's workshop as more of a processing and distribution facility, ordering and receiving the toys from various toy manufacturers from across the world. His home is usually given as either the North Pole, in northern Canada, Korvatunturi in FinnishLapland, Dalecarlia in Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country. Sometimes Santa's home is in Caesarea when he is identified as Saint Basil. L. Frank Baum placed his home in The Laughing Valley of Hohaho.
Origins of Christmas • Although no one knows on which exact date Jesus was born, Christians have favored December 25 since ancient times. It is the date on which the Romans marked the winter solstice and it is nine months following the Festival of Annunciation (March 25). In ancient and early Medieval times, Christmas was either a minor feast, or not celebrated at all.
Other Dates? • Although Christmas may be celebrated on December 25 -31 in historically Catholic and Protestant nations, in eastern Europe it is often celebrated on January 7. This is because the Orthodox church continues to use the Julian calendar for determining feast days. • The Orthodox churches fast during the forty days before Christmas. Christmas is dubbed the "Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ." Armenian Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6.
Other Customs • Many Christmas practices originate in Germanic countries, including the Christmas tree, the Christmas ham, the Yule log, holly, mistletoe, and the giving of presents. The prominence of Christmas in Germanic nations may be a form of carryover from the pagan midwinter holiday of Yule. • Russia banned Christmas celebration from 1917 until 1992. Several Christian denominations, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, Puritans, and some fundamentalists, view Christmas as a pagan holiday not sanctioned by the Bible. • In the southern hemisphere, Christmas is during the summer. This clashes with the traditional winter iconography, resulting in oddities such as a red fur-coated Santa Claus surfing in for a turkey barbecue on Australia's Bondi Beach. Japan has adopted Santa Claus for its secular Christmas celebration, but New Year's Day is a far more important holiday. In India, Christmas is often called bada din ("the big day"), and celebration revolves around Santa Claus and shopping. In South Korea, Christmas is celebrated as an official holiday.
Twelve Days of Christmas • These are the twelve days beginning on night of Christmas (December 25) and ending on the day of 6 January as Epiphany begins on (January 6). In the Middle Ages this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season. • During the twelve days of Christmas, traditional roles were often relaxed, masters waited on their servants, men were allowed to dress as women, and women as men. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. Some of these traditions were adapted from older, pagan customs, including the RomanSaturnalia. Some also have an echo in modern day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or 'Dame' is played by a man. • Some people give gifts, feast and otherwise celebrate on each of the twelve days rather than just on one day at Christmas.
Twelve days of Christmas (Song) • On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me • Twelve drummers drumming, • eleven pipers piping, • ten lords a-leaping, • nine ladies dancing, • eight maids a-milking, • seven swans a-swimming, • six geese a-laying, • five gold rings; • four calling birds, • three French hens, • two turtle doves • and a partridge in a pear tree.
Christmas Tree • The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. In Romanmosaics from what is today Tunisia, showing the mythic triumphant return from India of the Greek god of wine and male fertility, Dionysus (dubbed by some modern scholars as a life-death-rebirth deity), the god carries a tapering coniferous tree. Medieval legends, nevertheless, tended to concentrate more on the miraculous "flowering" of trees at Christmas time. A branch of flowering Glastonbury thorn is still sent annually for the Queen's Christmas table in the United Kingdom. • Patron trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor's Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil) held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects. Among early Germanic tribes the Yule tradition was celebrated by sacrificing male animals and slaves by suspending them on the branches of trees. According to Adam of Bremen, in Scandinavia the pagan kings sacrificed nine males of each species at the sacred groves every ninth year. According to one legend, Saint Boniface attempted to introduce the idea of trinity to the pagan tribes using the cone-shaped evergreen trees because of their triangular appearance.
Christmas Stockings • A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that children in the United States and some other cultures hang on Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins, or other small gifts when he arrives. These small items are often referred to as stocking stuffers or stocking fillers. Tradition in western culture dictates that a child who behaves badly during the year will receive only a piece of coal. • By tradition, the stocking is hung on the fireplace, but, since many modern homes do not have fireplaces, stockings may be hung in almost any location.
One traditional practice is to reserve the stocking for five gifts that stimulate each of the five senses, for example: • Something to eat like fruit or candy • A toy or other item that makes a noise (this can even include nuts to crack) • An item that is visually pleasing in any way like jewelry, cuff-links or a coloring book. • Something that has tactile appeal such as modeling clay, a soft toy, lingerie or even a pair of novelty Christmas socks. • Any item with a distinctive scent such as bubble-bath, cologne, perfume, etc.