Christmas looks a lot different around the world, but some things we all have in common.
Variety of Traditions
Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday among the nations of the world, and there are as many different traditions as there are nations that observe it. For example the poinsettias were embraced by America when their Mexican representative, Joel R. Poinsett, brought back a green and red plant that blooms in the winter, but in America, Christmas as we know it today, is largely a product of the Victorian Age in the 1860s, but sadly, it has become far too commercialized. There are a lot of different customs from around the world, so after reading these traditions, see if you can find those that have ended up being embraced by Americans or by the nation in which you live.
Santa Clause, or more specifically Saint Nicholas, was Europe’s most popular image of Christmas. By the end of the Renaissance he was Europe’s most endeared saint. His benevolence was primarily directed toward children and providing for their necessities of life. Originally, it wasn’t about toys or other gifts. It was about survival. For example, finding a lump of coal was not something you got for being bad. In the winter, a lump of coal was something of value and considered practical. A lump of coal could be a source of heat for a family for a few days, but don’t pout children. In time, the custom grew to include other trinkets and toys in stockings, but by the time the Industrial Revolution came, even a lump of coal was not enough.
Gifts for the Good
Swiss and German children were among the first recipients of “Christmas gifts,” but only if they were well-behaved. Only “good children” were said to be deserving of Kris Kringle’s gifts. If you have the opportunity to be in Italy for Christmas, you’ll probably see the friendly witch, La Befana as she rides her broom down Italian chimney’s to stuff children’s stockings with toys. In Scandinavia, it was Jultomten who brought presents in a goat-powered sleigh. Hey, if reindeers can fly, why not goats? As for the British, it was Father Christmas who brought surprises, and over in France, it was Pere Noel who was the French version of the children’s stocking stuffer. So far, have you read anything here that you practice in your home during Christmas?
In Russia, and many of the nations in the former Soviet Union, they have the tradition of Babouschka leaving gifts. Many years ago, it was thought that Babouschka gave the Three Wise Men wrong directions to Bethlehem in their search for baby Jesus. To make amends, Babouschka leaves presents by Russian children’s bedsides in the hopes that one of them would be the baby Jesus. In the Nordic countries, the people observed this time of the year, from December 21st (the Winter solstice) through January. For hundreds of years, it was simply a celebration of the sun’s beginning its trek from the shortest daylight period of the year, which also happens to be the darkest day of the year, to increasingly longer days. For them, that was their reason to celebrate.
The Finns thoroughly enjoy “Hyvää Joulua!” or the “Peace of Christmas” on Christmas Eve, but they don’t spend it inside in front of a fireplace or in front of a Christmas tree listening to Christmas carols. Most of the nation resides in a sauna on Christmas Eve while listening to a national broadcast, but on Christmas day itself, tradition holds that this is a day of observation for departed friends and family and the gravesites are visited of those who have passed away. Perhaps this is where their “Peace of Christmas” comes from.
Norway is the birthplace of the Yule Log, which is the Norse word for “wheel,” but this is not a wheel as we know it. This “wheel” refers to the annual circuit the sun takes with Christmas being near the beginning point of its circuit. Amazingly, during the 17th century in early America and England, it was actually illegal to observe Christmas, but ironically, that’s where many of the Christmas traditions came from. For example, the candy cane was a disguised reference to Jesus Christ. The red strips represented the bloodied strips He received, and the white strips declared His purity. The J-shaped candy was not shaped to hang on a Christmas tree but it was obviously symbolic of Jesus’ name.
Your Christmas Tradition
We have looked at the traditions of Christmas past; now as for Christmas’ future is concerned, you and your family have yet to fulfil it. You may already have your own traditions or you might want to start your own traditions like many families do who put up their Christmas tree (from the Germans) on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Whatever your nationality, Merry Christmas in English is a lot different than it is in other nations in the world. For example:
Finland – Hyvää Joulua!
France – Joyeux Noël!
Germany – Froehliche Weihnachten!
Greece – Καλά Χριστούγεννα
Italy – Buone Natale!
Mexico – Feliz Navidad!
Norway – Gledelig Jul!
Sweden – God Jul!
Ukraine – Srozhdestvom Kristovym!
United States, England and parts of Canada – Merry Christmas
With the politically correct society we live in today, many are turning away from Merry Christmas and using Happy Holidays. Much of this is being done by businesses who want to distance themselves from Christianity, and having anything to do with Jesus Christ. They want consumers to think it’s all about getting, when the message of the Bible is that it’s all about giving. Jesus Christ gave the most (John 3:16), and it was a free gift from God (Eph 2:8-9), although it was infinitely costly to Jesus Christ Who gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), so if someone says Happy Holidays to you instead of Merry Christmas, tell them, “Happy Holy Day to you too,” because the meaning of the root word for holiday is “holy day,” and so it’s not really Happy Holidays but Happy Holy Days. Either way, Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Faith in the News, and, may God richly bless each and every one of you.
May God richly bless you
Pastor Jack Wellman
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