Finland: 'Hyvää Joulua!'Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve--which sounds like a great idea to me! Families gather and listen to the national "Peace of Christmas" radio
broadcast. Another charming custom is to visit the grave sites of departed family members.
Norway: 'Gledelig Jul!'
Ever wonder where the Yule log originated? Norway! The word "yule" came from the ancient Norse word "hweol, meaning wheel. They believed the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled away and towards the earth, causing the seasons to change, and used in in their celebration of the return of the sun at the winter solstice.
decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South
American nations is a manger scene. The first living
nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers was created by St. Francis of Assisi.
Greece: 'Kala Christouyenna!'In Greece, many people believe in kallikantzeri, goblins that appear to cause mischief during the 12 days of Christmas. Gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil's Day.
The kallikantzaroi spend most of their time in a kind of subterranean limbo chopping away at a tree that only has the job of holding up the entire world. There must be something about the spirit of Christmas that drives the kallikantzaroi crazy because during the 12 Days of Christmas these goblins rise above the surface of the Earth. Oddly, this takes place just about the time that they are almost about to slice through that tree and it is this nearly fortnight-long celebration of the birth of Christ that actually renews the tree! A Christmas baby for the Greeks meant that conception occurred around March 25. March 25 is the Day of Annunciation or when the angel appeared to the Virgin Mary to inform her she would be bearing Jesus. They believed there was a very distinct danger that a child born on Christmas could become a kallikantzaroi. Extreme steps were taken to protect the baby unfortunate enough to be born on the Day of Annunciation. Greek parents actually strapped down their newborn babies with garlic cloves tied together, and then singed their toenails to obstruct their infants from turning into a kallikantzaroi. Well.......that would be enough for me to move to another country!
Ukraine: 'Srozhdestvom Kristovym!'In the Ukraine, families prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. A family's youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.
Germany: 'Froehliche Weihnachten!'A part of the German winter solstice tradition has always included decorating evergreen trees. The first "Christmas trees" explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. Once Germany's Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. Finally, in 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.
Mexico: 'Feliz Navidad!'An American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America in 1828 . The new holiday plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. Because of their red flower and dark green leaves, they quickly became a universal symbol of the holiday by 1900. Paper mache sculptures called pinatas are filled with candy and coins and hung from the ceiling throughout Mexico. Children then take turns hitting the pinata until it breaks, sending a shower of treats to the floor. Children race to gather as much of of the loot as they can.
England: 'Merry Christmas!'England is a country known for it's long standing traditions. Americans have adopted many of them.
- An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s.
- During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.
- Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are "plum," meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.
- Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.
- In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.
In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means "the good news" and refers to the gospel. In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year's harvest.
Italy: 'Buon Natale!'Italians call Chrismas Il Natale, meaning "the birthday." Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) gives presents on the main day for gift giving which is Epiphany on January 6, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. Presents are brought by La Befana, who arrives in the night to fill children's stockings. A long standing Italian tradition is a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed in many places by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In many parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is the tradition served on Christmas Eve. Bonfires are often held on Christmas Eve in the main square of town, especially in mountain areas. Dinner on Christmas day is usually meat based.
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