Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Christmas From Around the World

Christmas is both a relhgious holiday and increasingly a secular holiday heavily influenced by local culture. As a result, Christmas traditions are as diverse as the world is diverse culturally.
In the United States, for example, Christmas traditions are a literal potpourri of the Christmas traditions brought by immigrants, mostly European. For example, Yule log (English), Christmas tree (German), carols or noels (France), Santa Claus (Dutch). In more recent times, newer Christmas traditions have arrived with the most recent immigrants such as luminaries (Mexico) and "Feliz Navidad!" greeting (Latin America generally).
The following is a whirlwind tour of some of the fun and different Christmas traditions around the world.
Christmas traditions in Africa are culturally rich and diverse. In Ghana, Christmas Eve is marked by the children parading through the streets singing Christmas songs and shouting "Christ is coming, Christ is coming! He is near!" Church services are held both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Following Church services, family and close friends celebrate a meal of fufu, a past made from rice and yams, with stew or okra soup, porridge and meats.
In Liberia, oil palms decorated with bells are used for a Christmas tree. On Christmas Day, simple gifts are exchanged among friends and family, such as cotton cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, and books are exchanged. Church services on Christmas morning usually have a reenactment of the first Christmas. Christmas dinner, which consists of rice, beef and biscuits, is held outdoors. Friend and family enjoy games and night fireworks.
While the peoples and cultures of Asia are far removed from Christianity and its Christmas traditions, the local Asian Christians have uniquely blended their Christian faith with their local cultures. For example, Christmas in China (the Holy Birth Festival) has many of the traditional Christmas symbols. Chinese Christian families decorate Christmas trees, or Trees of Light, with red paper chains (red is the color of happiness in Chinese cultures), lanterns and flowers. The children anxiously await the arrival of Dun Che Lao Ren which in Chinese means "Christmas Old Man.". When permitted by local law, Asian Christians do gather in churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Even though the vast majority of Asians are not Christian, the secular aspects of the Western Christmas traditions (Christmas trees and gifts) have become fashionable among many of the Asian middle and upper classes. Throughout Asia at Christmas time, you can find large department stores decorated with Christmas trees, Christmas lights and the occasional Santa Claus.
An American would find him or herself quite at home with the Christmas celebrations throughout Europe since so many of America's Christmas traditions originated in Europe. Of course, many Christmas traditions in England have been adopted in America - mistletoe, Yule logs, Christmas hymns ("Hark! The Herald Angel Sings", "Deck the Halls" ), carolers, Christmas stories (Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"), roasted chestnuts, wassail, hanging stockings by the chimney.
But even in England, there are unique Christmas traditions - Christmas dinners with turkey with chestnut stuffing, roasted goose with currants, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas cake. On Christmas Day, the Queen delivers a Christmas greeting by radio and television. Perhaps the most puzzling for their American cousins is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas when people give small gifts to service provides and merchants with whom they associate during the year.
Every European country has its unique Christmas traditions as well as traditions that are shared with other Western cultures. In Germany, the children excitedly count the days before Christmas with an Advent calendar. In Holland, the children anticipate the arrival of Sinterklaas on St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and it a letterbanket, a cake shaped in the form of the first letter of the family's last name. In Sweden, In Sweden, the Christmas festivities begin on December 13 with St. Lucia's Day, the patron saint of light. Early in the morning of St. Lucia's Day, the oldest daughter in a Swedish family dresses as the "Queen of Light" (wearing a long white dress and a crown of leaves). She enters the bedroom of each family member to serve them treats.
Latin America
La Navidad (Christmas) is a colorful, exciting holiday throughout Latin America. While the celebrations vary widely, the religious significance is still the focal point for the celebration. Mexico is a typical example of the focus on the original Christmas story. In Mexico, Las Posadas, the nine days reenactment of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem begins on December 16th. For the next 8 evenings, the celebrants reenact Mary and Joseph's search for lodging by going door to door with two costumed children carrying images of Mary and Joseph. On Christmas Eve (Buena Noche), the children lead the procession to the local church and place Mary and Joseph in the nacimiento (crèche or manger). Mass is held at midnight followed by church bells and fireworks.
Poinsettias, piñatas, farolitos (luminaries) and tamales are all a joyous part of the Christmas season in Mexico. Poinsettias, with their red star-shaped flowers, decorate Mexican homes and serve as a reminder of the boy who was going to church to see the nativity scene but had no gift for the Christ child. On his way, he found some small green branches which he brought and laid by the nativity scene as his gift. Some people laughed at his sincere, but humble gift. However, these small branches soon blossomed with the beautiful red poinsettias blossoms.
During the Christmas season and on Christmas Day, pinatas, papier-mache Christmas figures and symbols, are filled with candy and suspended in the air by a rope while blindfolded children try to break them open with a stick. When the piñata is broken, the candy spills on the floor and the children scramble to retrieve as much as they can.
January 6th ( the Day of the Three Kings or Wisemen) marks the end of the almost month-long Christmas celebrations throughout Latin America. In Mexico, on the eve of January 5th, the children leave their shoes on the windowsill and find them filled with candy and small gifts the next morning. In Venezuela, the children leave straw next to their beds on January 5th and the next morning find that the straw has been replaced with gifts.
No matter where in the world one visits, joyous and colorful Christmas celebrations await. Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Froehliche Weihnachten, Mele Kalikimaka!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top 50 Christmas Quotations

  1. "Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world of the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years... Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart." -- George Matthew Adams
  2. "The rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting." -- Louisa May Alcott
  3. "Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart... filled it, too, with a melody that would last forever." -- Bess Streeter Aldrich
  4. " The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!" -- Charles N. Barnard
  5. "Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas." -- Peg Bracken
  6. "The earth has grown old with its burden of care But at Christmas it always is young, The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair And its soul full of music breaks the air, When the song of angels is sung." -- Phillips Brooks
  7. "I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never aone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the word seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses." -- Taylor Caldwell
  8. "Remember, if Christmas isn't found in your heart, you won't find it under a tree." -- Charlotte Carpenter
  9. "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." -- Calvin Coolidge
  10. "Christmas, in its final essence, is for grown people who have forgotten what children know. Christmas is for whoever is old enough to have denied the unquenchable spirit of man." -- Margaret Cousins
  11. "Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'." -- Bing Crosby
  12. "Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again." -- Grace Noll Crowell
  13. "It is the personal thoughtfulness, the warm human awareness, the reaching out of the self to one's fellow man that makes giving worthy of the Christmas spirit." -- Isabel Currier
  14. "Something about an old-fashioned Christmas is hard to forget." -- Hugh Downs
  15. "They err who thinks Santa Claus comes down through the chimney; he really enters through the heart." -- Mrs. Paul M. Ell
  16. "Christmas, my child, is love in action." -- Dale Evans
  17. "Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal." -- Lenore Hershey
  18. "My first copies of Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn still have some blue-spruce needles scattered in the pages. They smell of Christmas still." -- Charlton Heston
  19. "At Christmas, all roads lead home." -- Marjorie Holmes
  20. "My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?" -- Bob Hope
  21. "The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others' burdens, easing other's loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas." -- W. C. Jones
  22. "A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, But softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small." -- Eva K. Logue
  23. "Were I a philosopher, I should write a philosophy of toys, showing that nothing else in life need to be taken seriously, and that Christmas Day in the company of children is one of the few occasions on which men become entirely alive." -- Robert Lynd
  24. "Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." -- Hamilton Wright Mabi
  25. "The merry family gatherings-- The old, the very young; The strangely lovely way they Harmonize in carols sung. For Christmas is tradition time-- Traditions that recall The precious memories down the years, The sameness of them all." -- Helen Lowrie Marshall
  26. "There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions." -- Bill McKibben
  27. "I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month." -- Harlan Miller
  28. "Christmas is the keeping-place for memories of our innocence." -- Joan Mills
  29. "Christmas is, of course, the time to be home - in heart as well as body." -- Garry Moore
  30. "What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." -- Agnes M. Pharo
  31. "Mankind is a great, an immense family... This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas." -- Pope John XXIII
  32. "One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly." -- Andy Rooney
  33. "Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." -- Augusta E. Rundel
  34. "Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone." -- Charles Schulz
  35. "As long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, Christmas is." -- Eric Sevareid
  36. "Christmas is the day that holds time together." -- Alexander Smith
  37. "Christmas renews our youth by stirring our wonder. The capacity for wonder has been called our most pregnant human faculty, for in it are born our art, our science, our religion." -- Ralph Sockman
  38. "Christmas ... is not an eternal event at all, but a piece of one's home that one carries in one's heart." -- Freya Stark
  39. "Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends." -- Margaret Thatcher
  40. "At Christmas play and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year." -- Thomas Tusser
  41. "What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus? Claustrophobic." -- Unknown
  42. "Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles." -- Unknown
  43. "If there is no joyous way to give a festive gift, give love away." -- Unknown
  44. "Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display--so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn't the holly, it isn't the snow. It isn't the tree not the firelight's glow. It's the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again." -- Unknown
  45. "Many banks have a new kind of Christmas club in operation. The new club helps you save money to pay for last year's gifts." -- Unknown
  46. "Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world - stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death - and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas." -- Henry Van Dyke
  47. "Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts." -- Lenora Mattingly Weber
  48. "Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance - each beautiful, unique and too soon gone." -- Deborah Whipp
  49. "Somehow, not only for Christmas, But all the long year through, The joy that you give to others, Is the joy that comes back to you. And the more you spend in blessing, The poor and lonely and sad, The more of your heart's possessing, Returns to you glad." -- John Greenleaf Whittier
  50. "Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall." -- Larry Wilde
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