Starting with Australia, (yes, I'm going alphabetically), Australians truly are a fun group; full of merriment, mirth and always with mischievous twinkle in their eye. They love life, live it with gusto and work hard to enjoy it. Christmas is special to the majority of Australians for it is their Summer Holiday season and students especially, are 'wrapping' up their school year. For the majority of Australian students this means Sun, Surf and Shopping!
being hung in homes, though fireplaces are in short supply. It must also be mentioned that with all the glitter, tinsel and razzamatazz, Australians consider Christmas a time for remembering the true spiritual meaning. For most, Christmas will begin with families attending a midnight mass. After the midnight Mass, a little sleep is attempted. Usually,children in various households, wake up the family at dawn. Gifts are unwrapped and the joy of Christmas begins.
Many of our current American ideals about the way Christmas ought to be celebrated derive from the English Victorian Christmas, such as that described in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Caroling, gifts, the feast and the wishing of good cheer to all, these are ingredients that came together to create that special Christmas atmosphere. The custom of gift giving on Christmas dates only to Victorian times. Before then it was more common to exchange gifts on New Year's Day or Twelfth Night. Santa Claus is known by British children as Father Christmas. Father Christmas, these days, is quite similar to the American Santa, but his direct ancestor is a certain pagan spirit who regularly appeared in medieval Mummer's plays. The old-fashioned Father Christmas was depicted wearing long robes with sprigs of holly in his long white hair. Children write letters to Father Christmas detailing their requests, but instead of dropping them in the mailbox, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draft carries the letters up the chimney, and theoretically, Father Christmas reads the smoke. Gifts are opened Christmas afternoon.
From the English we get a story to explain the custom of hanging stockings from the mantelpiece; Father Christmas once dropped some gold coins while coming down the chimney. The coins would have fallen through the ash grate and been lost if they hadn't landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Since that time children have continued to hang out stockings in hopes of finding them filled with gifts. The custom of singing carols at Christmas is also of English origin. During the middle ages, groups of serenaders called waits, would travel around from house to house singing ancient carols and spreading the holiday spirit. The word carol means: song of joy. Most of the popular old carols we sing today were written in the nineteenth century. The hanging of greens, such as holly and ivy, is a British winter tradition with origins far before the Christian era. Greenery was probably used to lift sagging winter spirits and remind the people that spring was not far away. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe is descended from ancient Druid rites. The decorating of Christmas trees, though primarily a German custom, has been widely popular in England since 1841 when Prince Albert had a Christmas tree set up in Windsor Castle for his wife, Queen Victoria, and their children.
In Canada, from 1875 onwards, Christmas lost its essentially religious character, at least for Anglophones and the upper middle class. Little by little it became a community festival which gave rise to much family merry-making. New customs began to take root. Henceforth, the decorated Christmas tree, gifts and the Christmas reveillon (waking up) became part of family tradition.
Canadians decorate a pine tree with ornaments representing Christmas, buy or make each other presents that get wrapped in wrapping paper to be put under the tree so they can be opened on Christmas Day. Santa Claus is the person who brings the presents. On Christmas Eve, December 24th, there is usually a turkey dinner and in the middle of the night, Santa Claus is said to come down the chimney and place the presents under the tree. Then he goes back up the chimney (he is magic after all) and flies to the next house in his sleigh with nine reindeer pulling it through the air. On Christmas Day, all the presents are opened.
Noël à Québec
The jolly bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back.
He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics. Children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding for them and are delighted to find the food gone on Christmas morning.
They carry long pole on top of which is attached a holly bush. The bush supposedly contains a captured wren, and for whose sake the young men beg for money. The lighting of candles in Ireland also has a religious significance. Some people would light candles (or one large candle) to signify symbolic hospitality for Mary and Joseph. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus' parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem. Some people even set extra places at their tables as a preparation for unexpected visitors. Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. They also make three puddings, one for each day of the Epiphany such as Christmas, New Year's Day and Twelfth Night.
In Rome, cannons are fired from Castel St. Angelo on Christmas Eve to announce the beginning of the holiday season. A 24-hour fast ends with an elaborate Christmas feast. The main exchange of gifts takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration in remembrance of the Magi's visit to the Christ Child. Children anxiously await a visit from La Befana who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad. According to legend, the three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for food and shelter. She refused them and they continued on their way. Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone. La Befana, which means Epiphany, still wonders the earth searching for the Christ child. She is depicted in various ways: as a fairy queen, a crone, or a witch.
Christmas was introduced in Japan by the Christian missionaries and for many years, the only people who celebrated it were those who had turned to the Christian faith. But now the Christmas season in Japan is full of meaning and is almost universally observed. The idea of exchanging gifts seems to appeal strongly to the Japanese people.The tradesmen have commercialized Christmas just as our western shops have done. For several weeks before the day, the stores shout Christmas. There are decorations and wonderful displays of appropriate gifts for men, women, and children, especially children. Many western customs in observing Christmas have been adopted by the Japanese as well. Besides exchanging gifts, they eat turkey on Christmas Day and in some places, there are even community Christmas trees. They decorate their houses with evergreens and mistletoe and in some homes, Christmas carols are sung. In Japan, there is a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles our Santa Claus. He is always pictured as a kind old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head. It is well for the children to be good when this all-seeing gentleman is about.
An editors aside: New Year's Day is the most important day of the whole calendar in Japan. On New Year's Eve the houses are cleaned thoroughly from top to bottom and are decorated for the morrow. When everything has been made clean and neat, the people of the house dress themselves in their finest clothes. Then the father of the household marches through the house, followed by all the family and drives the evil spirits out by throwing dried beans into every corner, bidding the evil spirits to withdraw and good luck to enter.
forbidden by the Church and the state. In more recent times the goat has emerged in the tamer form of Julebukk. In Norway, most everyone has either a spruce or a pine tree in their living room, decorated with white lights, tinsel, Norwegian flags and other ornaments for Christmas. The children make paper baskets of shiny, colored paper and the baskets can be filled with candy or nuts. Chains made of colored paper are also very popular. Colored lighting is becoming popular, but the white lights are still the norm, as they are more like the candles they are supposed to represent. Christmas trees became common in Norway from around 1900. Norwegians are very close to the North Pole, and they strongly hope for the magic of snow for the holidays! Christmas in Norway begins with the Saint Lucia ceremony on December 13th. At the crack of dawn, the youngest daughter from each family puts on a white robe with a sash, a crown with evergreens and tall-lighted candles and accompanied by the other children, the boys dressed as star boys in long white shirts and pointed hats. They wake their parents and serve them coffee and Lucia buns, lussekatter. The custom goes back to a Christian virgin, Lucia, martyred for her beliefs at Syracuse in the fourth century. The Saint Lucia ceremony is fairly recent, but it represents the traditional thanksgiving for the return of the sun.
children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babouschka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babouschka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees.
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
boys. It is a series of precise movements and gestures and is said to be quite moving and beautiful. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or 'the Good Night.' It is a time for family members to gather together to rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes that are present in nearly every home. A traditional Christmas treat is turron, a kind of almond candy. December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents. Young boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform civic chores such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration. As in many European countries, the children of Spain receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It is believed that they travel through the countryside reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time. Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with straw, carrots and barley for the horses of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar, who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.
gives the children a ride through the city, singing songs with them and sharing a basket full of sweets. The Swiss wait for the Christ child called Christkindli, to arrive with gifts for all in his reindeer-drawn sleigh.
While I could not bring you every country around the globe, I hope that you enjoyed this tour of "Christmas Around the World". My wish for you, whatever your specific holiday traditions, or wherever this celebratory time of year may find you, is that you be healthy, happy and surrounded by those you love.
Bon Appetit and Happy Holiday's