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UNITED STATES CHRISTMAS TIME

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UNITED STATES CHRISTMAS TIME

 

natale-negli-usaChristmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States. The Christmas and holiday season begins around the end of November with a major shopping kickoff on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, though Christmas decorations and music playing in stores sometimes extend into the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many schools and businesses are closed during the period between Christmas and the New Year’s Day holiday, which is a time commonly used to spend time with family, return unwanted gifts at stores, and shop after-Christmas sales. Most decorations are taken down by New Year’s or Epiphany.  Other observances considered part of the season (and potentially included in non-denominational holiday greetings such as “Happy Holidays”) include Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanza and winter solstice celebrations.

The interior and exterior of houses are decorated during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas tree farms in the United States and dsc_0412Canada provide families with trees for their homes, many opting for artificial ones, but many prefer real trees.  Many people that have farms make a special treat of going out in their forest and cutting down their own tree.   The Christmas tree usually stands centrally in the home, decorated with ornaments, tinsel and lights, with an angel or a star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem at the top.

Christmas Eve is popularly described as “the night before Christmas” in the poem actually titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Better known as Santa Claus, he is said to visit homes while children are sleeping during the night before Christmas morning. The fireplaces have been replaced in many homes with an electronic fireplace, but the yule log has remained a tradition. Christmas stockings are hung on the mantelpiece for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts (“stocking stuffers”). It is tradition throughout the United States for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus nearby.

10097091-sorridente-famiglia-decorare-un-albero-di-natalePresents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets. Friends exchange wrapped presents and tell each other, “Do not open before Christmas!” Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and occasionally guests from out of town are entertained in the home or else visited. Wrapped presents are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, other families choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved; for example, adults might open their presents on Christmas Eve and minor children on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. Others follow the tradition of opening family-exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve night, followed by opening of the presents Santa brought on Christmas morning. Children are normally allowed to play with their new toys and games afterwards.

The traditional Christmas dinner usually features roasted turkey with stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham or roast beef (sometimes all three) and Yorkshire puddings.  Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries.  A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe (usually kept a secret). Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.

Other traditions include a special church service on the Sunday before Christmas and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Candlelight services are held earlier in the evening for families with children. A re-enactment of the Nativity of Jesus called a Nativity play is another tradition.

Christmas-related attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Radio City Music Hall for their Christmas Spectacular and elaborate DSC01410animated department store windows in New York City are heavily visited by tourists from all over the world, as well as native New Yorkers, Christmas music can be heard in the background. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one whose annual carol singing is well-recognized; another example is the Boys Choir can be heard singing Christmas Time is Here, a song featured in the animated television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  Christmas symphony orchestra and choral presentation such as Handel’s Messiah and performances of The Nutcracker ballet are well attended. Local radio stations may temporarily switch format to play exclusively Christmas music, some going to an all-Christmas format as early as mid-October. A few television stations broadcast a Yule Log without interruption for several hours. News broadcasts and talk shows feature Christmas-themed segments, emphasizing fellowship and goodwill among neighbors.    Also on television, there are a plethora of holiday themed specials and movies.

While tradition holds that the official Christmas starts on Thanksgiving with the stores ready to receive the Christmas shopper the day after Thanksgiving, unfortunately more and more in recent years many stores are starting to push things for Christmas just as children are going back to school right after Labor Day.   There are even stores that open on Thanksgiving Day or that evening to get a jump on the competition.     This is so wrong and really ruins the spirit of the season.   Just to make extra dollars it would seem.

Kathy Kiefer

 

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CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS IN THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH

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CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS IN THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH

 

Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration on the calendar in Ireland and lasts from December 24th to January 6th, although many may view December 8th as being the start of the season; although schools used to close on this day, making it a traditional Christmas shopping time, this is no longer compulsory and many stay open.   Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve, or often a few days beforehand. Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day are public holidays, and many people do not return to work until after New Year’s Day. Irish people spend more and more money each year on celebrating Christmas.

It is extremely popular on Christmas Eve to go for “the Christmas drink” in the local pub, where regular punters are usually offered a Christmas drink. Many neighbors and friends attend each other’s houses for Christmas drinks and parties on the days leading up to and after Christmas Day. Although religious devotion in Ireland today is considerably less than it used to be, there are huge attendances at religious services for Christmas Day, with Midnight Mass a popular choice. Most families arrange for their deceased relatives to be prayed for at these Masses as it is a time of remembering the dead in Ireland. It is traditional to decorate graves at Christmas with a wreath made of holly and ivy. Even in the most non-devout of homes in Ireland the traditional crib takes centre stage along with the Christmas tree as part of the family’s decorations. Some people light candles to signify symbolic hospitality for Mary and Joseph. Therefore, it is usual to see a white candle, or candle set, placed in several windows around people’s homes. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus’s parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem. Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve or often a few days beforehand. It is traditional to leave a mince pie and a bottle or a glass of Guinness for Santa Clause along with a carrot for Rudolph on Christmas Eve.

Santa Claus, often known in Ireland simply as Santy, brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and a variety of potatoes, as potatoes still act as a staple food in Ireland despite the popularization of staples such as rice and pasta. Dessert is a very rich selection of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter.

Christmas celebrations in Ireland finish with the celebration of Little Christmas also known as Oíche Nollaig Na mBan in Irish on January 6th. This festival, which coincides with Epiphany, is also known as Women’s Christmas in Cork & Kerry.

In the United Kingdom Christmas decorations are put up in shops and town centres from early November. Many towns and cities have a public event to mark the switching on of Christmas lights. Decorations in people’s homes are commonly put up from early December, traditionally including a Christmas tree.   Christmas decorations are traditionally left up until the evening of January 5th (the night before Epiphany) and it is considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations up after this date.

Mince pies are traditionally sold during the festive season, and are a popular food for Christmas celebrations. It is common in many UK households for children to put up advent calendars in their homes, which may either contain chocolates or Christmas scenes behind their doors. A common feature of the Christmas season is the Nativity play which is practiced in most primary and some secondary schools across the UK, this practice is becoming less common, and Christmas pantomimes may be performed instead. Midnight Mass is also celebrated by Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations and services take place in nearly all Church of England parishes on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, presents are supposedly delivered in stockings and under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas, who previously had been something like The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but has now become mainly conflated with Santa Claus. The two names are now used interchangeably and equally known to British people and some distinctive features still remain. Many families tell their children stories about Father Christmas and his reindeer. One tradition is to put out a plate of carrots for the reindeer and mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas to help him on his way.

The majority of families open their presents on the morning of Christmas Day, the Royal family being a notable exception, opening their gifts on Christmas Eve, following German tradition introduced by the Hanoverians. Queen Victoria as a child made note of it in her diary for Christmas Eve 1832; the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, “After dinner…we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room…There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…” Since the first commercial Christmas card was produced in London in 1843, cards are sent in the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of which contain the English festive greeting Merry Christmas.

On Christmas Day, a public holiday in the United Kingdom, nearly the whole population has the day off to be with their family and friends, so they can gather round for a traditional Christmas Dinner, which is usually a turkey, traditionally with cranberries, parsnips, and roast potatoes, quite like the Sunday roast, and traditionally followed by a Christmas pudding. During the meal, Christmas crackers, containing toys, jokes and a paper hat are pulled. Attendance at a Christmas Day church services is less popular than it used to be with fewer than 3 million now attending a Christmas Day Church of England service.   Other traditions include carol singing, where many carols are sung by children on people’s doorsteps and by professional choirs, and sending Christmas cards. In public, there are decorations and lights in most shops, especially in town centres, and even in Indian and Chinese restaurants. Churches and cathedrals across the country hold masses, with many people going to midnight mass or a service on Christmas morning. Even though church attendance has been falling over the decades some people who do not go to church often think it is still important to go at Christmas, so Church attendance increases. Most theatres have a tradition of putting on a Christmas pantomime for children. Television is widely watched: for many television channels, Christmas Day is the most important day of the year in terms of ratings.

Christmas in Scotland is traditionally observed very quietly, because the church never placed much emphasis on the Christmas festival; although in Catholic areas people would attend Midnight Mass or early morning Mass before going to work. This tradition derives from the Church of Scotland’s origins including St Columba’s monastic tradition, under which every day is God’s day and there is none more special than another. Christmas Day was commonly a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960s, and even into the 1970s in some areas. The New Year’s Eve festivity, Hogmanaym, is by far the largest celebration in Scotland. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were traditionally held between December 11th and January 6th. However, since the 1960s, with increased influences from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, Christmas and its related festivities are now nearly on a par with Hogmanay and “Ne’erday”. The capital city of Edinburgh has a traditional German market from late November until Christmas Eve and on the first Sunday in Advent a nativity scene is blessed by the Cardinal Archbishop in the main square.

In Australia, as with all of the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas occurs during the height of the summer season. Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 25th-26th) are recognized as national public holidays in Australia, and workers are therefore entitled to a day off with pay. The Australian traditions and decorations are quite similar to those of the United Kingdom and North America, and similar wintry iconography is commonplace. This means a red fur-coated Santa Claus riding a sleigh, carols such as Jingle Bells, and various snow-covered Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations appear in the middle of summer. As novelties, some Australian songwriters and authors have occasionally depicted Santa in “Australian”-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and riding in a Ute pulled by kangaroos, but these depictions have not replaced mainstream iconography.

The traditional Christmas tree is central to Christmas decorations and strings of lights and tinsel are standard. Decorations appear in stores and on streets starting in November, and are commonplace by early December. Many homeowners decorate the exterior of their houses. Displays range from the modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Particular regions have a tradition for elaborate displays, and attract a great amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the Christmas season.

Most workplaces conduct a “Christmas Party” sometime during December, but rarely on Christmas Eve itself. As many people take their holidays between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and many workplaces completely close for that period, these parties are effectively an end of year or break-up party and frequently feature little or no reference to Christmas itself. Often they will not even be named the “Christmas Party” but called the “end of year party” or a “break-up party”.       Likewise, schools, TAFE (vocational training), and universities break for summer holidays. Schools typically end in the week before Christmas, to recommence in late January or early February. Following Christmas, many churches will change their evening meetings to a less formal format, while many hobby clubs also suspend or alter their meetings in this period. These holidays allow many to travel very significant distances to visit relatives.   The tradition of sending Christmas cards is widely practiced in Australia. The price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter; senders are required to mark the envelope “card only” when using the lower priced stamps.

On Christmas Eve, the children are told, Santa Claus visits houses placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Snacks and beverages (including liquor) may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit. The gifts are opened the next morning, on Christmas Day.     On December 25th, extended families traditionally gather for a Christmas Day Lunch similar to the traditional Christmas meal in England and America that includes decorated hams, roast turkey, roast chicken, salads and roast vegetables, accompanied by Champagne, and followed by fruit mince pies, trifle, and plum pudding with brandy butter. Christmas crackers are a feature of the meal. Candy canes are a popular confectionery in Australia in the Christmas period. More recently, as appropriate to the sometimes hot weather on the day, lighter meals featuring fish and seafood may be served, along with barbecue lunches. However, the typical roast remains popular.

Two major sporting events traditionally commence on the day after Christmas Day in Australia: the Boxing Day Test cricket test match and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.       A popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000 people. Begun in 1933, the pageant is staged in early November every year, usually on a Saturday morning, marking the start of the Christmas season. It comprises a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus. At the terminus of the pageant Santa proceeds to the Magic Cave in the David Jones department store where he can be visited by children. Smaller scale pageants are also held in regional centres.

Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that started in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia and the world. At the event people gather on Christmas Eve, usually outdoors, to sing carols by candlelight in a large-scale concert style event. The Vision Australia’s Carols by Candlelight which takes place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, is televised nationwide and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance.   Carols in the Domain takes place in Sydney the Saturday before Christmas.

In New Zealand Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both holidays. While Boxing Day is a standard statutory holiday, Christmas Day is one of the three-and-a-half days of the year where all but the most essential businesses and services must close. Many of New Zealand’s Christmas traditions are similar to those of Australia in that they are a mix of United Kingdom and North American traditions conducted in summer. New Zealand celebrates Christmas with mainly traditional northern hemisphere winter imagery, mixed with local imagery. The Pohutukawa is often used symbol for Christmas in New Zealand, and has become known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.   Traditional winter-styled hot roast food is served for Christmas dinner and Christmas crackers are pulled before eating. Traditional Christmas desserts of Christmas pudding, trifle, Christmas cake and mince pies are consumed, along with the traditional New Zealand dessert of pavlolova. Several Christmas themed parades are held in New Zealand. The most popular is Auckland’s Santa Parade down Queen Street. This features numerous floats and marching bands and attracts large crowds every year. It is held late November to accommodate holidaymakers and is seen as the preamble to the later festivities. The Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight is popular in New Zealand, especially in Auckland and Christchurch, where there is usually a large outdoor carol-singing gathering known as Christmas in the park.

Kathy Kiefer

NORTH AMERICAN CHRISTMAS

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NORTH AMERICAN CHRISTMAS

What makes Christmas in North America unique and different from other locations?   Or is it similar?

In North America Christmas is widely observed on December 25th. Governments recognizing the holiday include those of: the United States, where it is a federal holiday for federal employees and a legal holiday in the respective States; Canada, where it is a nationwide statutory holiday;  and in Mexico, where it is also a nationwide statutory holiday.

In the Canadian provinces where English is the predominant language, Christmas traditions are largely similar to those of the United States, with some lingering influences from the United Kingdom and newer traditions brought by immigrants from other European countries. Mine pies, plum pudding and Christmas cake are traditionally served in English Canada as Christmas dinner desserts, following the traditional meal of roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes and winter vegetables. Christmas table crackers are not uncommon in English-speaking Canada. In some parts of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Christmas traditions include mummers.

North American influences on Christmas are evident in the hanging of stockings on Christmas Eve, to be filled by Santa Claus. However, Canadian children believe that the home of Santa Claus is located at the North Pole, in Canada, and through Canada Post address thousands of letters to Santa Claus each year, using the postal code designation “HOH OHO”, a play on Canada’s six digit postal code that includes letters and numbers. Decorated Christmas trees, either fresh cut or artificial, introduced to Canada in 1781 originally by German soldiers stationed in Quebec during the American Revolution, are now common in private homes and commercial spaces throughout most of Canada.

As Canada is a cold, dark country in winter, lights are often put up in public places and on commercial and residential buildings in November and December. Many communities have celebrations that include light events, such as the Cavalcade of Lights Festival in Toronto, the Montreal Christmas Fireworks or the Bright Nights in Stanley Park, Vancouver. A national program, Christmas Lights Across Canada, illuminates Ottawa, the national capital, and the 13 provincial and territorial capitals.

In the east-central Canadian province of Quebec and other French-speaking areas of North America, Christmas traditions include reveillon, Pere Noel (“Father Christmas”) and the Yule log, among many others. A traditional dish for the reveillon is tourtiere, a savory meat pie, and gifts are opened during reveillon, often following Midnight Mass.

The Royal Christmas Message from Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada is televised nationwide in Canada, the occasion being an observance which unites Canadians with citizens of the other Commonwealth countries worldwide. The observation of Boxing Day (which coincides with the Christian Feast of St. Stephen) on the day following Christmas Day, December 26, is a tradition practiced in Canada, as it is in many other Anglophone countries, although not in the United States. In Canada Boxing Day is a day (or the beginning of a few days) of deeply discounted sale prices at retail stores which attract large numbers of shoppers in search of bargains.

Christmas is a statutory holiday in Mexico and workers can have the day off with pay. Mexico’s Christmas is filled with over 30 traditions found only within Mexican Christmas. Over nine days, groups of townspeople go from door to door in a fashion of when the parents of the unborn baby Jesus Christ looked for shelter to pass the night when they arrived at Bethlehem, and are periodically called inside homes to participate in the breaking of a candy-filled piñata.

Mexican Christmas festivities start on December 12th, with the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and end on January 6, with the Epiphany. Since the 1990s, Mexican society has embraced a new concept linking several celebrations around Christmas season into what is known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon. At midnight on Christmas, many families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nacimientos (Nativity scenes), as the symbolic representation of Christmas as a whole. In the center and south of Mexico, children receive gifts on Christmas Eve and on 6 January, they celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when, according to tradition, the Three Wise Men (3 Wizard Kings) brought gifts to Bethlehem for Jesus Christ. Santa Claus (or Santo Clos, as he’s known in Mexico) is who brings the children their gifts, but traditionally the Three Wise Men will fill the children’s shoes with candies, oranges, tangerines, nuts, and sugar cane, and sometimes money or gold. For the Three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus Gold for his future.

Christmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States. The Christmas and holiday season begins around the end of November with a major shopping kickoff on Black Friday, the day after the United States holiday of Thanksgiving, though Christmas decorations and music playing in stores sometimes extend into the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many schools and businesses are closed during the period between Christmas and the New Year’s Day holiday, which is a time commonly used to spend time with family, return unwanted gifts at stores, and shop after-Christmas sales. Most decorations are taken down by New Year’s or Epiphany. Other observances considered part of the season (and potentially included in non-denominational holiday greetings like “Happy Holidays”) include Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanzaa and winter solstice celebrations.

The interior and exterior of houses are decorated during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas tree farms in the United States and Canada provide families with trees for their homes, many opting for artificial ones, but some for real ones. The Christmas tree usually stands centrally in the home, decorated with ornaments, tinsel and lights, with an angel or a star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem at the top.

Christmas Eve is popularly described as “the night before Christmas” in the poem actually titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. Better known as Santa Claus, he is said to visit homes while children are sleeping during the night before Christmas morning. The fireplace has been replaced in many homes with electric fireplaces, but the yule log has remained a tradition. Christmas Stockings are hung on the mantelpiece for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts (“stocking stuffers”). It is tradition throughout the United States for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus nearby.

Presents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets. Friends exchange wrapped presents and tell each other, “Do not open before Christmas!” Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and occasionally guests from out of town are entertained in the home or else visited. Wrapped presents are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, other families choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved; for example, adults might open their presents on Christmas Eve and minor children on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. Others follow the tradition of opening family-exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve night, followed by opening of the presents Santa brought on Christmas morning. Children are normally allowed to play with their new toys and games afterwards.

The traditional meal for Christmas consists of turkey and stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham or roast beef, and Yorkshire pudding. Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries. A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe. Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.

Other traditions include a special church service on the Sunday before Christmas and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Candlelight services are held earlier in the evening for families with children. A re-enactment of the Nativity of Jesus called a Nativity play is another tradition.

Christmas-related tourist attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and elaborate animated department store Christmas windows in New York City are heavily visited by tourists from all over the world. Christmas music can be heard in the background. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one whose annual carol singing is well-recognized; another example is the Boys choir heard singing “Christmas Time is Here”, a song featured in the animated television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  Christmas symphony orchestra and choral presentation such as Handel’s Messiah and performances of The Nutcracker ballet are attended. Local radio stations may temporarily switch format to play exclusively Christmas music, some going to an all-Christmas format as early as mid-October. A few television stations broadcast a Yule Log without interruption for several hours. News broadcasts and talk shows feature Christmas-themed segments, emphasizing fellowship and goodwill among neighbors. Of particular note is the observance of Christmas for military families of soldiers and sailors serving abroad, on both sides of the Canadian-United States Border.

 Kathy Kiefer

SIGNS AND SYMBOLS OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON

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SIGNS AND SYMBOLS

OF

THE CHRISTMAS SEASON

Christmas is celebrated all over the world with great fervor marking the birth of Jesus Christ. The traditions differ in different parts of the world, but there are some common symbols which are closely associated with this festival.

Although we are familiar with most of these symbols, few of us actually know the significance and symbolism behind them. There are various activities that are carried out during the Christmas celebrations like preparing mouth-watering sweets, sending greetings to near and dear ones (handmade greeting add a personal touch though), spreading the good news caroling, packing and presenting gifts to kids, decorating the house and Christmas tree, reuniting and feasting with family/relatives to celebrate the birth of Christ, and much more.

Christmas Tree – The meaning of the Christmas tree can be interpreted in many ways. The most popular beliefs are that the needles of the tree point towards heaven symbolizing man’s connection with the Lord, and since it is an evergreen tree it signifies abundant life throughout the year.

Christmas Bells – Christmas bells are believed to announce the arrival of baby Jesus and mark the beginning of the holiday season. The tinkling sound of bells guide the lost sheep back to the fold, just like the Lord would guide us to walk in His ways.

Christmas Star – The Christmas star, also known as the Star of Bethlehem revealed the birth of Jesus to the three wise men and also guided them to Bethlehem. It is also used as a popular Christmas decoration.

Angels – In Greek, the word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’. According to the popular belief, the angels had an important role to play in Christmas, as they brought the news of the birth of Christ child to the shepherds.

Christmas Candles – The candle is used as a popular Christmas decoration which is said to bring light and warmth in the cold winters. Some also believe that it is customary to light a candle to represent the star of Bethlehem.

Christmas Wreaths   – Just like the Christmas wreath does not have an end, it symbolizes the eternal love of the Lord. Christmas wreaths are an indispensable part of Christmas decorations. You could always purchase one from the market, but there is a different feel to the ones that you make at home. If you have the time, use your creative skills and come up with some unique wreath ideas.

Santa Claus – St. Nicholas, popularly known as Santa Claus, is a legendary figure who brings gifts for children at Christmas Eve. It is believed that he lives in the North Pole where he makes the gifts assisted by a group of elves.

Reindeer and Sleigh – “Rudolf the Red nose reindeer” – Isn’t that the first thing that comes to your mind when we think of Santa and his reindeer? Reindeer are Santa’s chosen animals to pull his royal sleigh on which he makes his journey from the North Pole and brings lots of gifts for little children. The story has it that, there are totally nine reindeer pulling the sleigh, Rudolph being their leader guiding them through foggy nights.

Snowman – The snowman is a figure carved out of snow used as a popular decoration and has become an icon of Christmas in recent times. Building a snowman could be a fun-filled activity for you and your family. So, those who live in cold countries with abundant snowfall must try building one this winter.

Poinsettia –   Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations having deep red colored, star shaped leaves. Due to its shape, it is commonly associated with the star of Bethlehem. It was brought to the United States by Dr. John Poinsett, United States Ambassador to Mexico. Legend has it that a few poor children from Mexico wanted to give Jesus a gift. As they could not find any other gift, they picked up some weeds and presented it to Him. Miraculously, the bright red poinsettias bloomed out of these weeds and thus the poinsettias became an integral part of the Christmas tradition

Mistletoe – The Mistletoe is a parasitic plant believed to have life giving properties and considered as an aphrodisiac. It is also believed to provide protection against poison and evil spirits. There are also some interesting traditions about kissing under the Mistletoe. During Christmas time, a young lady standing under the Mistletoe cannot refuse to be kissed. If a couple in love kisses under the Mistletoe, it is considered as a promise to marry and a long life filled with happiness.

Holly – The holly is believed to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Christ during crucifixion. It is a religious symbol and is used as an offering to God. It is normally used along with the wreaths and mistletoe as a decoration during Christmas.

Manger – The Manger is popular Christian Christmas symbol depicting the birth scene of the Lord. Hay, grass, figurines of baby Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph, angels, animals, and the Three Wise Men are used to recreate the scene of Christ’s birth.

Christmas Colors – Red and green are the two main Christmas colors. The blood shed by Jesus Christ during his crucifixion is symbolized by the color red while green symbolizes the eternal life of Christ.

Snowflakes – Snowflakes are Christmas ornaments widely used in decorations and are symbolic of the cold winter season. You can add a personal touch to your Christmas decorations by making some snowflakes at home. They add a unique charm and glamor to the overall decorations.

Christmas Carols– Christmas carols are basically Christmas songs based on the Christmas theme. Carol singing is an old custom wherein people sing carols during the period before Christmas. It is a tradition loved by all and the best way to spread the Christmas spirit.

Christmas Stockings – Christmas stockings are empty socks hung by children in hope that Santa will fill it with gifts and goodies. There is a popular legend associated with this custom of hanging stockings. Supposedly one Christmas Eve Santa came across a poor family and wanted to help them out. He wanted to remain anonymous and so he dropped in a few gold coins from the chimney. The coins fell into the stockings that were hanging there to dry.

Christmas Cards and Gifts – Christmas cards and gifts are the best way to wish your loved ones. The first Christmas gifts were given by the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus, thus giving rise to the custom of exchanging gifts.

Christmas Candy Cane – They are cane shaped sticks which are traditionally striped in red and white colors. It is believed to symbolize the shepherd’s hook used to bring the lambs back to their fold. In modern times, people believe that is represents an inverted “J” of Jesus Christ.

Christmas Cookies – Christmas is incomplete without the Christmas cookies as they add sweetness to the overall celebrations. The mouth-watering cookies are carved into various shapes related to Christmas. They are also popular Christmas gifts

Wassail – Originating from the old English words “waes hael” which means “be-well” the wassail is a traditional drink toasted as symbol of best wishes and good health

Icicles – Baby Jesus had taken shelter under a pine tree. When the tree realized that it was giving shelter to the Lord, it let out tears of happiness which froze to form icicles. They are now used as a popular tree decoration during Christmas.

Christmas Seals – In 1904 a Danish postman called Einar Holboell introduced the custom of Christmas seals. More popular as Christmas stamps or Cinderella stamps, they are stickers or labels placed on the mail during the festive season, in order to raise funds for charity. Indeed a noble cause!

Kathy Kiefer

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS GLOBALLY

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CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS GLOBALLY

Christmas is a public holiday in Singapore, and is widely celebrated.   The famous Singaporean shopping belt Orchard Road and Marina Bay area will feature lights and other decorations from early November till early January.   The Christmas light-up and decorated shopping malls along Orchard Road often attract numerous visitors, locals and tourists alike. Other than the light-up, other activities such as caroling, concerts and parades can also be experienced in Orchard Road. In addition, companies in Singapore usually arrange gift exchange programs on the last working day before Christmas.

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah falls at approximately the same time, but it has not undergone the same osmosis of Christmas-like practices that the holiday has in the United States and Europe. Christmas is not a public holiday in Israel. Most Israelis are Muslim and do not celebrate Christmas either, but there is a minority of Christian Israeli Arabs who do celebrate Christmas. Although Christianity is a minority in Israel, Christmas is important in both areas due to the region’s significance as the place where Jesus lived, and as a destination for Christian pilgrims around the world, especially during Christmas time. Bethlehem, with the Church of the Nativity (where Jesus was born) being a prominent symbol of the city for Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as a site of pilgrimage for thousands annually. Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown and another pilgrimage site, is a mixed Jewish/Israeli Arab city lying in northern Israel.

Christmas is observed as a holiday across Jordan where governmental bodies, banks, and other institutions take the day off to observe the holiday. Christian families exchange visits and gifts on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas is an official holiday in Lebanon. All Lebanese celebrate Christmas on December 25th. On Christmas Eve, Christian Lebanese attend midnight mass. Santa Claus is known by the French, Papa Noël. Gifts are either dropped off at church or Papa Noël makes a personal appearance at the home.   Lebanese place Christmas trees in their homes. They place a nativity scene as well, usually below it or next to it. On Saint Barbara’s Day, which falls a couple of weeks before Christmas, the Lebanese plant seeds, like chickpeas, wheat grains, beans and lentils in cotton wool, and water them every day. By Christmas time, the seeds have sprouted, and the Lebanese use them to decorate the manger in the nativity scenes.

Christmas in Greenland is a particularly festive time of the year. Greenlanders celebrate Christmas with lots of candles and masses of red and orange Christmas stars, which are so characteristic of Greenland. You can see them hanging in the windows of people’s homes. In the towns the Christmas tree lights are lit on the first Sunday of advent. For most families this means a cozy time with Christmas decorations, mulled wine and Christmas goodies. Most towns put up a Christmas tree. The trees are ordered many months in advance and are shipped over to Greenland from Europe. People come out to see the Christmas lights being switched on and to sing Christmas carols. It is customary for children – and young people particularly in the villages – to go out on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols outside people’s homes. People will then come out and give them Christmas goodies.   The sky in Greenland at Christmas time is often full of the beautiful northern lights. St. Lucia’s day is celebrated on December 13th, and is the day when children in schools and youth clubs take part in a traditional procession in which they sing, carry candles and wear wreaths on their heads. The Greenlanders celebrate Christmas on the evening of Christmas Eve by dancing round their Christmas trees, and some of the children start opening their presents in the morning.

Singing, communal singing and choral singing are a big part of Christmas. Greenlanders listen to Christmas carols and Christmas music in church, on the radio and on television. You can often hear 2-3 part choral singing on church pews as many Greenlanders are regular churchgoers and singers.   People will spend Christmas with family and friends. They like to arrange spontaneous coffee gatherings which compete with traditional family Christmas dinners. For many Greenlanders, Christmas is not complete without attending a Christmas service. One of the old favorite Christmas carols is called ‘Guuterput’ (‘Our Lord’) which seldom leaves a dry eye in the house.  Christmas in Greenland is always white. The churches in all the towns and villages are packed in the days over Christmas. Greenlanders sing carols in Greenlandic and Danish and vicars preach their sermons. It is traditional to take down the Christmas stars and other Christmas decorations on the 6th of January (Epiphany),  but before this happens the words ‘Juullimi Pilluarit’ (‘Merry Christmas’) will have sounded many times throughout Greenland.

In El Salvador, children celebrate Christmas by playing with firecrackers, fountains, such as small little volcanos and sparklers shaped as little stars. Teenagers and young adults display bigger fireworks or Roman Candles. Families also have parties in which they dance and eat. At 12:00 a.m. on December 25th everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and opens their presents.

Christmas Day on December 25th is a national holiday in Brazil. The small cities in the entire country, as well as in the largest cities, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Brasília, Manaus, Belém, Natal and Belo Horizonte, the celebrations resemble in many ways the traditions in Europe and North America, with the Christmas tree, the exchanging of gifts and Christmas cards, the decoration of houses and buildings with electric lights and the nativity scene. Despite the warm tropical summer weather, some incongruences such as decorations with themes of winter and snow are not uncommon. In some cities that have decoration contests, when judges go to houses to look at the decorations, inside or outside of the house, and decide the most beautiful house. Christmas Eve is the most important day. Unlike in the North American and Anglo-Saxon tradition, Christmas takes action mainly near midnight, usually with big family dinners, opening of gifts and the celebration of the “Missa do Gallo” (the rooster’s mass) in churches throughout the nation.

Christmas is a public holiday in Columbia and is primarily a religious celebration. Presents are brought by the Baby Jesus or Santa Claus. While Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November, the unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7th, Day of the Candles. At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8th. In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual “tunnels of light.” Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event. Activities such as musical events and firework displays are planned by cities and held during this time. Individually launched fireworks were a common item during the Christmas season in Colombia, often going on at any time of the day in many cities. However, a recent ban has decreased the individual use of fireworks, and now only cities or towns are able to hold firework displays.

December 16th is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Catholic Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a manger scene, sing religious Christmas carols that are accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. Novenas serve as beautiful religious gatherings as well as learning environments for young children since kids have a central and active role in the celebration of the Novenas (they read prayers, sing, and play instruments guided by their family). Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Families gather around meals, music, and singing. Because Christmas Eve is the most important day, little occurs on December 25th. Families join Christmas Day mass although it is not nearly as festive as Christmas Eve.

The Day of the Innocents falls in the Christmas season, on December 28th. The day commemorates the innocent infants (called the innocent ones) who were said to have been killed by King Herod in fear of the power of the newborn baby, Jesus. January 6th, the day of the Revelation of the Magi (Epiphany), is called “Reyes Magos” (from The Three Magi), used to be a day of gift giving, but is celebrated less now since gifts are given mostly around Christmas Eve today. Some families still give presents, and it is also the day when godparents give Christmas presents.

In Venezuela, Christmas is celebrated as a religious occasion. As in Colombia, the presents are brought by Baby Jesus instead of Santa Claus that still has an important role during this season.   The unofficial start of the Christmas festivities is after the celebrations of “Feria de la Chinita,” the second half of November. The origin of this festival is the cult to Virgin Mary of Chiqunquira, when various religious activities, processions, and music in the typical “Gaita style” to honor “La Chinita” (nickname of this Virgin). This event takes place in the Zulia Region, specifically in Maracaibo (the regional capital). After this, other cities join in the festivities and many activities take place including musical events and firework displays.

In many cities, small rural towns and neighborhoods get together for the “patinatas” night festivals where children go and play with skateboards, roller blades and bicycles. These events are usually sponsored by the local church, where neighbors organize themselves and sell typical Christmas food, hot chocolate, cookies, etc. Also still in some neighborhoods there is the “Parranda” where people go from one house to house with music and Christmas songs. The singers stop at neighbors’ houses to get some food and drinks. Also in the Venezuelan Andes there is the same tradition of this kind of event but they carry an image of “baby Jesus” and this is called “Paradura Del Nino.” Children write request letters to Baby Jesus. The presents are sent by Baby Jesus at midnight, and most people have a party, which goes on until sunrise.

In countries of Central Europe (roughly defined as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and possibly other places) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve (December 24th). The day is usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they’ll see a golden pig if they hold fast until after dinner. When the evening comes, preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, for example, in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish (or cabbage) soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes. This in fact reveals that when Christmas comes around all the kids get presents from neighbors and house guest. Even the house pet gets a little something to gnaw on.

After dinner comes time for gifts. Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas tree, with name stickers. An interesting example of complicated history of the region is the “fight” between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional “Grandfather Frost” in the place of Little Jesus won. Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production. Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic midnight mass celebration.

Other common attributes of Christmas in Central Europe include Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas garlands, and Bethlehem cribs.   In many areas of Central Europe, St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, does not come for Christmas. He visits families earlier, on the dawn of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th, and for the well-behaved children he has presents and candy-bags to put into their well-polished shoes that were set in the windows the previous evening. Although he neither parks his sleigh on rooftops nor climbs chimneys, his visits are usually accompanied by a diabolic-looking servant named Krampusz (in Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia: Krampus, in Czech and Slovak regions he is simply devil, without any name) who gives golden coloured birches for so called badly behaved children. Actually all children get both gifts and golden birches in their shoes, no matter how they behaved themselves

Kathy kiefer

MUSIC AND TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS

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MUSIC AND TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS

 

imagesThere are some programs that dedicate the entire month of December to only playing traditional holiday music. What songs bring back childhood memories for you or memories with family and friends? What songs will you play during this holiday season with your friends and family?

Millions of people will celebrate Christmas on December 25th, and is the most widely celebrated religious holiday around the world. Over the next few weeks, people around the world will begin preparing for Christmas.   People have been or will be buying gifts to give to family members and friends. They will be filling homes and stores with evergreen trees and bright, colored lights. There will be parties to host and attend as well as preparing special Christmas foods. Many think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year

Most church services will feature Advent wreaths and candles and a recreation of the nativity scene. Some churches hold a Midnight Mass. Services will not only celebrate the story of the nativity but the overall significance of Jesus Christ, as it is viewed as the coming of the Savior, a very joyous event. Passages from the nativity story will often be read along with the singing of the many religious songs and hymns associated with the holiday. Songs will often feature themes from the nativity story, such as the messenger angels and stable.    There are many songs associated with religious tradition, as Christmas music has become a major musical genre in both secular and religious traditions.    It is believed that Jesus was born sometime between 7 and 2 BC. Two of the four canonical gospels mention his birth, although it is not believed to have actually taken place on the date of Christmas. Rather, the holidayarticle-2070269-039E91400000044D-207_468x286 began to take place during the time of the winter solstice in order to distract from and absorb the pagan festivals associated the time of year. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy. The two biblical accounts from Luke and Matthew have evolved into a popular tradition of the tale, stating that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey in order to take part in a census. The couple approached an inn, but there was no room, so the couple stayed in a stable with a manger and farm animals. The baby Jesus was born and placed in the manger. Jesus was visited first by shepherds in surrounding fields having been told by angels of Jesus’s birth and to go see the child. Jesus was also visited by three wise men, guided to the nativity with a star, followed by other astrologers and scholars who had noticed the star.

Many Christians will go to church the night before the holiday or on Christmas Day. They will celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christian ministers will speak about the need for peace and understanding in the world. This is the spiritual message of Christmas. Church services will include traditional religious songs for the holiday.    One of the most popular is “Silent Night.” Yet there are others that will celebrate Christmas as an important, but non-religious, holiday.

The Holiday season is filled with good times with friends and family, good food, timeless traditions, and amazing music. Traditional holiday music has the power to bring back memories from family generations and bring together the old and young. Two holidays during the winter that have timeless, classic, and century old music is Christmas and Hanukkah. These holidays have songs that make our all-time favorite music lists.    Another important Christmas tradition involves food.   Families prepare many kinds of holiday foods, especially sweets. They eat these foods on the night before Christmas and on Christmas day.   For many people, Christmas means traveling long distances to be with their families.     To all, however, it is a special day of family, food, and exchanging gifts.

chrimbo-dinnerChristmas is probably the most special day of the year for children. One thing that makes it special is the popular tradition of Santa Claus.    Young children believe that Santa Claus is a fat, kind, old man in a red suit with white fur. They believe that — on the night before Christmas — he travels through the air in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He enters each house from the top by sliding down the hole in the fireplace. He leaves gifts for the children under the Christmas tree.    In America, Santa Claus is a Christmas figure that brings toys to children on Christmas Eve. He is stationed in the North Pole, where he works all year with his elves as helpers to make toys to bring boys and girls on Christmas Eve. Many children will send Santa a list of things they want for Christmas or visit Santa at the mall.   On Christmas Eve, Santa loads up the toys in a red sack into his sleigh, which is pulled by twelve reindeer. The reindeer are led by Rudolph, a reindeer with a bright red nose that can guide the reindeer throughout the world at night. Rudolph used to be teased by the other reindeer for his red nose, but this stopped when it was put to good use on Christmas Eve.  Santa visits each child’s house on Christmas Eve, leaving their gifts under the tree or by the fireplace. He also stuffs stockings that each child hangs over the fireplace with treats, trinkets, and other goodies. Many children leave out cookies and milk for Santa to enjoy as he leaves presents.    On Christmas morning, children will joyfully awaken and make their way to the fireplace and Christmas tree in order to see what Santa brought them. Many families open Christmas presents on Christmas Day but some may exchange gifts of Christmas Eve.   In other areas, Santa Claus has another name such as Kris Kringle or St. Nicholas.

People spend a lot of time and money buying Christmas presents. There are those that object to all this spending and say it is not the real meaning of Christmas. So, they celebrate incensky-toys-r-us6.top other ways. For example, making Christmas presents; instead of buying them (sometimes homemade/handmade is much better). Or they volunteer to help serve meals to people who have no homes. Or they give money to organizations that help poor people around the world.

Home and family are the center of the Christmas holiday. For many people, the most enjoyable tradition is buying a Christmas tree and decorating it with lights and beautiful objects. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, people gather around the tree to open their presents.
Another Christmas tradition is to go caroling. A group of people walks along the street at each house, they stop and sing a carol, groups also go caroling at schools, hospitals, shopping centers and more.

imageNot everyone celebrates Christmas. Members of the Jewish and Muslim religions do not. Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. And others observe, Kwanzaa. Yet many take part in some of the traditional performances of the season.   One of the most popular is a story told in dance: “The Nutcracker” Ballet. The music was written by Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in 1891.   The ballet is about a young girl named Clara. Clara is celebrating Christmas with her family and friends. One of her Christmas presents is a nutcracker and is designed as a toy soldier. She dreams that the nutcracker comes to life as a good-looking prince.      Professional dance groups perform the ballet at this time of year. They often use students from local ballet schools to dance the part of Clara and the other children in the story. This affords parents an opportunity to see their children perform.

There are so many classic Christmas songs that have been around for many years. A lot of artists today make modern renditions of some of our favorites. It seems like every top rock, country, or pop artist has a Christmas album. Their albums include some of our old time favorites and new hits. Traditional Christmas songs range from carols, to ballads, to instrumental, to classic songs. Some of our favorite Christmas carols have been around for centuries. Some songs that may sound familiar are “Angels We Have Heard on High” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” More modern Christmas tunes are songs such as “White Christmas,” “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Silent Night.”   Traditional Christmas music can be found in some of our favorite movies as well.

Hanukkah songs are beautiful and rich with tradition. The songs are not only about the holiday itself, but go along with lighting candles on the menorah. A famous comedian, Adam White_Christmas_forweb2_400_267shar_s_c1Sandler, wrote a comical song about Hanukkah to bring a modern touch to the holiday. A very eloquent and traditional song, “Mi Y’ maleil,” is song in Hebrew and was written about spiritual victory. It has also been translated into an English version, and the titled is translated as “Who Can Retell.” Another classic song about Hanukkah is called, “Light One Candle.” This was written about the Maccabees’ and the struggle for equality and justice and about Judaism through the ages. A common image representing Hanukkah is the dreidel. A song that teaches about the dreidel is called, “I have a Little Dreidel.”

Before the Christian festival, a large pagan celebration of the time was Yule. Yule was a twelve day festival observed by Northern Europeans that was mostly absorbed into Christmas celebrations. The celebration’s theme was the cycle of life given by the sun and observers lit fire to symbolize this. The Yule log was burned to honor Thor, a Scandinavian god. Many observers burned the log until it was ash or until only a little piece was left, which was kept for good luck. In Poland, the solstice was observed with themes of forgiveness and selflessness, often marked with sharing food or giving to the needy.

KATHY KIEFER

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