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Christmas Celebrations Around the World


RUSSIA (Day 1)
Christmas in Russia

"The Legend of the Snowmaiden"

In Russia, the tradition goes that Babushka (whose name means grandmother) decided not to go with the wise men to seek the baby Jesus because it was too cold! Soon after, though, she regretted staying behind and hurried to catch up, bringing lots of gifts in her basket. But she never found the wise men and began to look for Jesus on her own. Legend has it that she continues looking for Him and leaves presents behind at the homes of good children where she seeks.

CANADA (Day 2)
Canada shares many holiday traditions with both its Southern neighbor, the United States, and the French who explored and settled there. In different areas of Canada, Christmas trees are grown and exported to America and South America. But many Canadians choose to purchase potted Christmas trees for their homes and then plant them after the holidays.
Christmas in Canada

SWEDEN (Day 3)
Christmas in Sweden
Christmas in the Old Days (Sweden)
Christmas Nowadays (Sweden)
In families that still celebrate St. Lucia's Day in Sweden, the oldest daughter wakes up early and dresses in a white robe, red sash, and a wreath hat adorned with candles. She brings coffee and Lucia buns (Lussekatter) to her parents and then other family members while they are still in bed. Read more about St. Lucia (December 13).

NORWAY & FINLAND (Day 4)
Christmas in Norway
Christmas in Finland, Christmas With Virtual Finland (Finnish Christmas food, festivities, history and more.)

GERMANY (Day 5)
Christmas in Germany, A German Christmas, Christmas in German Europe, Christmas in Germany
Germany is the source of many Christmas traditions, including the Advent Calendar! Every year in early December, the Nuremberg "Christkingdlesmarkt", or Christ Child Market, opens to offer delicious sausages, spiced cookies (Lebkuchen), fruit breads, Christmas decorations and the famous "prune men and women"! Children write letters to the Christ Child and leave them on windowsills. They leave straw and carrots outside for St. Nicholas' horses with the hope that he will leave gifts in their places. Germany is also thought to be the origin of the Christmas tree with Lutheran minister, Martin Luther, as the originator of lighting the trees with candles.

One of the delicious German traditions at Christmas is marzipan! Click here to learn how to make Marzipan Fruit Candies! It requires only almond paste, corn syrup, confectioner sugar and food coloring.

POLAND (Day 6)
Christmas in Poland Did you know that Father Christmas in Poland is called the Starman? Read at the link about more interesting Christmas traditions in Poland!
More Polish Christmas Traditions

The children in Poland look for the first star, which they call Gwiazda, on Christmas Eve. Most people refer to Christmas itself as Gwiazda, too. Families gather together on Christmas Eve (called Wigilia) and decorate their homes. They share sacred wafers similar to those used in communion to celebrate the season and also remember family members who are no longer with them. Even the animals receive a special wafer because animals attended the birth of Jesus! Families sometimes feast on a special 12-course Christmas meal, and later that evening everyone attends a midnight mass.

Christmas carolers sometimes go from house to house carrying a gold star on a stick. Here are 2 more Polish traditions you can share at your house!

GREAT BRITAIN (Day 7)
Between the years of 1643 and 1660, English Puritans outlawed the practice of celebrating Christmas because they believed it was too similar to many of the pagan rituals held in the winter. But by the time Queen Victoria came to rule in 1837, many new traditions were appearing in Great Britain!

Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, brought the tradition of the Christmas tree with him from Germany. As we read above, Christmas cards were becoming popular. And the special feasts and customs of modern English Christmases were taking shape in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

At the family Christmas dinner, everyone receives a "Christmas cracker". These are long tubes wrapped in colorful paper and tied off at each end so that it looks like a big piece of candy! Everyone takes the package and pulls the ends--when they do, a "popper" inside explodes, breaking the tube in half. Inside are NOT crackers, but candy, jokes, riddles and other messages, perhaps a tissue paper hat and a small gift! This tradition was taken from the French (who filled their "crackers" with sugar-coated almonds) by an English candymaker named Thomas Smith in 1844.

British families serve plum pudding or Christmas pudding after a large meal (usually turkey) and sometimes place a foil-wrapped gold coin inside for good luck! Another sign of good luck is when the very first Christmas guest comes into the home bearing a gift. Later in the day or in the following days, the leftover mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts are fried into a crisp cake called "bubble and squeak"! Sound yummy? After the meal, most families listen to or watch the annual message from the monarch.

On December 26, the British celebrate Boxing Day. On this holiday in years' past, the alms given to the poor at churches were distributed to the needy. Today, similar gifts are offered and families also bless the service people in their lives, like postmen, police or firemen, teachers and newspaper vendors, with financial gifts. Christmas pantomimes--more often plays or skits nowadays--are also held on Boxing Day. They depict classic children's stories like "Jack in the Beanstalk".

These are just a few of the neat British Christmas traditions. If you'd like to learn more about Christmas in England, please take the time to visit this wonderful site!
Christmas Archives: A Great British Christmas! There is so much to learn at this site, so take your time. You can also read William Shakespeare's Christmas a historical tale by Maria Hubert, owner of Christmas Archives.

Have a taste of England in your house this Christmas! Here is an easy recipe for Wassail, a traditional holiday drink. Wassail is an Old English word for "to your health!" or a similar greeting/blessing. It is always associated with caroling, BUT it does not mean caroling (as in "wassailing"). So, cheers to you and good health this coming year!

BETHLEHEM (Day 8)
Christmas in Modern Bethlehem: In Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations on every Christmas. On Christmas Eve natives and visitors alike crowd the church's doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the dramatic annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by a solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the Church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus.

Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door and each home displays a homemade manger scene. A star is set up on a pole in the village square.
(From Santa.net)

Tour of Bethlehem (And other parts of the Holy Land) Here is a very interesting gallery of photos of modern Bethlehem.
Bethlehem Here is an excellent site about the history of the famous little town of Bethlehem!

SOUTH AFRICA (Day 9)
In South Africa, Christmas comes in the middle of summer! Children are on vacation from school for 5-6 weeks and families spend much of their time together outdoors. Inside the home, children make crepe paper chains to hang all around. If they are lucky enough to have fir trees nearby, they will use branches to decorate as well.

On Christmas Eve, carolers can be found strolling through the neighborhoods and along the beaches. Music and dancing continues well into the night. There are candlight celebrations with singing and special performances of all kinds, too. Children hang stockings out for Father Christmas, who will arrive by donkey to fill them with gifts. In Westernized families, children receive presents under the Christmas tree as they do in England or America. But many traditional Christian families view the feasts that are held the next day and the gathering of family and friends as gift enough! In one family tradition I learned of, a string is hung from one corner of the ceiling to another and Christmas cards are hung over top (with the string in the crease of the card) so that family members can pass underneath and reread them all season.

Early on Christmas day, Christian families attend a church service before opening their gifts. After the Christmas service young people receive special gifts such as special imported chocolate, special cookies, and special crackers. They are told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, (a carry over from the colonial days). The young may also receive new clothes and perhaps new shoes or a diary or a book.

Then, all of South Africa is outside for the traditional Christmas Braai! The Braai is South Africa's version of a barbecue. (You can use the word "braai" as a noun: Having a Christmas Braai; or as a verb: Let's braai these chicken kebobs!) Everything is thrown on the grill or over coals...meats, vegetables, fruits (grilled bananas!), and even breads. Friends visit one another and exchange boxes of food which are seen as special, personal gifts. The Braai is held as a large open-air lunch rather than a dinner and families feast on leftovers and other food gifts for days to come!

Voices From Around the World
The Voices of Christmas Listen to audio files of people from around the world wishing Christmas greetings! Some are more clear than others, but this is very neat!
How Merry Christmas is Said Around the World Even if you don't get the pronunciations right, it's interesting to see how different the languages of the world are.


COSTA RICA (Day 11)
Christmas Around the World Scavenger Hunts Now that we're approaching the halfway mark through the season of Advent, take some time to test your knowledge of worldwide Christmas traditions with these internet scavenger hunts! Lots of good "Christmas Around the World" links, too.

Still want to keep learning about more countries? Take some time to read about the Christmas holiday as it is celebrated in Costa Rica! (Information courtesy of www.twighlightbridge.com )

As in other parts of the world, Christmas in Costa Rica is a time for celebration and parties, sharing and reflecting. The month of December is electric with thoughts of the season, and busy with preparations for festivities, family get togethers and vacations. In late November decorations begin to appear in downtown shops, and by the second week of December everybody has lights strung, cypress wreaths hung and Christmas trees decorated. And you can be sure that here, too, stockings are carefully in place awaiting the arrival of the Baby Jesus.

The traditional Christmas tree in Costa Rica is a big evergreen branch, a small cypress tree, or dried coffee branches. The "tree" is decorated with white paint and brightly colored strips of paper. Lights and small colored balls, a variety of small figures and lace are also used to adorn the greenery. A gold star is placed on top as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem.

A very popular Latin American tradition--the portal--is a nativity scene constructed of mosses and grass, colored sawdust, cypress twigs, black paper, silver glitter and figurines representing the birth of Jesus in the manger. Along with the traditional figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepards, the three wise men and the ox and mule, Costa Ricans commonly add extra embellishments like dolls, little farm animals, tiny toys, fruits and berries, and lights.

While Costa Rican families spend a great deal of time arranging their portales just right, tradition says that families who don't own a home must use a portal that has been received as a gift--then the holy family will help them get a house of their own. The portal is often placed under the tree (along with the presents) but may sit on a table, platform or on the floor in a corner of the living room. Wherever it is, it occupies a position of honor and is a point of pride in the home. The people put a lot of effort into making each year's portal better than the last and the displays frequently outgrow the space under the tree or on the table and begin to monopolize a large part of the living room.

The figure of Baby Jesus is placed in the portal at midnight on December twenty-fourth. That's also when the adults open their gifts. The children are told that the Baby Jesus brings their gifts while they are sleeping. Nowadays, Saint Nicholas has also become an important part of the custom and his rotund presence is everywhere.

Posadas take place during the nine days before Christmas. Originating in Spain and Mexico, the posada consists of a group of neighbors getting together at a different neighbor's house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. This is accompanied by singing and praying, snacks of the season, and lots of tamales.

The Misa de Gallo, Christmas Mass, takes place at midnight on December twenty-fifth. That is the night that many families enjoy their traditional Christmas dinner.

GREECE (Day 12)
There are many interesting Christmas traditions shared by the people of Greece. In many homes there is no Christmas tree, but they are becoming more popular and cities in Greece are influenced by the West. The traditional symbol of Christmas in the Greek home is a wooden bowl with a wooden cross wrapped with fresh basil hanging down into the water. Water is always in the bowl to keep the basil alive. Once a day, a family member dips the cross and basil into holy water and sprinkles each room of the house. Greek families usually open their Christmas gifts on January 1st, which is St. Basil's Day! On this day, many people have a "renewal of waters" tradition of replacing all the water jugs in the home with fresh St. Basil's water. (Many Christmas traditions in Greece contain both Christian and pagan aspects--during the renewal of waters, some families make an offering to the naiads, or nymphs of springs and fountains.)

Greeks have an old tradition that mischievous elves called the Killantzaroi leave the center of earth where they live and enter people's homes to cause trouble. People believe that the sprinkling of holy water will keep them away. Some families keep a fire burning in their fireplace straight through the twelve days of Christmas (from Dec. 26 to Epiphany) to keep the sprites away.

Another important figure in Greek Christmases is St. Nicholas. Because he is the patron saint of sailors, many Greeks never leave port without a symbol or image of St. Nicholas with them. Their image of the saint is a strong man with saltwater in his beard and clothes drenched in brine because he is out on the waters saving sailors and guiding ships to shore.

As Christmas approaches, children go house to house singing "Kalanda" which are their Christmas carols. Neighbors are prepared to give out candies, dried fruits or coins to the singers. Everyone looks forward to the huge Christmas Feast because everyone has been fasting for 40 days! Pigs are roasted and special loaves of "christopsomo", or Christ bread, are baked with special symbols engraved in the crust to represent the family's profession(s). Or, the sweet bread will simply bear a cross. Kala Christouyenna! (Merry Christmas!)

EAST ASIA (Day 13)
Christmas in East Asia After looking on another site for Christmas information on Japan, I came across the startling statistic that less than 1 percent of all people in Japan are Christians! Most of the Christmas celebrating that occurs is geared towards commercialism and taking advantage of a fun Western "tradition" rather than the birth of Christ. Perhaps a new Advent tradition for our family could be to pray for a different country each day!

PHILIPPINES (Day 14)
In the Philippines, there is no mistaking when Christmas is coming! Beginning in late October, entire towns begin to decorate with lights and flashy signs, play Christmas music and are well into the work of making the famous Christmas "parols" which are paper lanterns in the shape of a star. Families pass down the tradition of parol-making from generation to generation and nearly all homes hang them outside or carry them in the streets at Christmas. Parols are made from bamboo frames. Usually the men in the family cut and shape the star frame while the women and children cut and paste colored paper onto it. Then, paper shapes, pom-poms and other decorations are added and tassels are hung from the points of the star.

The Philippines is the only Asian nation in which Christianity is the religion chosen by most people. Nine days before Christmas, the real celebration starts with a special Misa de Gallo mass where the story of Jesus' birth is told. The next day, parols are seen all over the town and firecrackers explode every night! Serenading "cumbancheros", or strolling minstrels, play on instruments made of coconut shells, split bamboo and even tin cans. They sing happy songs while playing on their homemade banjos and tambourines, finishing with "Maligayang Pasko" (Merry Christmas) sung to the tune of "Happy Birthday" (to Jesus, of course!).

Each year, in every church congregation, a couple is chosen to play Mary and Joseph in the annual Panunuluyan pageant (say that 3 times fast, haha!). They dress in costume and reenact the trip to Bethlehem that Mary and Joseph made, stopping at doors along the way. Of course, even though they are turned away as Mary and Joseph were, families join the couple as they make their way to the church. Everyone carries their parols to light the way! After the Christmas Eve mass, everyone goes home for the feast known as Noche Buena, a meal of thanksgiving and prayer...and ham or roasted pig, meats and salads, cheeses and beans!

On Christmas day, mass is held every hour of the day so that everyone will be able to attend. Many services include a "pastore", or play, based on the Christmas story. Finally, when the play is over, a star will come down on a wire to rest above the manger!

ETHIOPIA (Day 15)
Ethiopia has been the source of spices, incense and myrrh for centuries. Ancient Egyptians called Ethiopia Punt, or the land of God, and their ships sailed there to bring back the precious spices.

Since the 4th century A.D., Ethiopia has accepted Orthodox Christianity as a religion alongside Islam. Its roots are believed to be in Judaism as well because many traditionally Judaic practices are still in place. A replica of the Ark of the Covenant is inside a Holy of holies at each church and only the priest may touch it. They follow certain eating restrictions as well and name/baptize children only a particular number of days after the child's birth. (80 days for girls and 40 days for boys!) The Orthodox Church in Ethiopia celebrates approximately 150 religious festivities each year!

Christmas is celebrated on January 7th in Ethiopia. It is called "Ganna" (or "Genna" or "Gena"...I found these slightly different names in all of the many sources I checked!) There are two types of churches in which people attend the Christmas mass. The first are the rectangular churches which were carved from solid volcanic rock over 800 years ago. The other more modern churches in Ethiopia are round and are made of 3 concentric circles. In the outer circle is the choir; in the middle circle, or holy place, is the congregation with men and boys separated from the women and girls; and the center circle is the sanctuary where Holy Communion is served. Everyone fasts for 40 days before Christmas, however most are used to this practice because fasting is observed by Christians on every Wednesday and Friday of the year! On those days, only one meal in the evening is allowed, no meat or dairy being served.

Early on Christmas morning, everyone attends mass dressed all in white. Each person lights a candle as they enter, circles the inside of the church three times and finds their place. There are no seats in Ethiopian churches so everyone stands for the mass, which can last for up to three hours! That day, boys play a special game like hockey which is called "Ganna" (the same name for Christmas). It is only played on Christmas and can get quite rough because no one wears padding or protection from the woodens sticks and puck! Christmas evening, families feast on a spicy chicken stew called "doro wat" which is served on "injera". "Injera" is a sourdough pancake bread that serves as both plate and spoon. The stew is served on the round bread and a piece of the bread is broken off to use as a scoop to eat the stew with.

Gifts are a very small part of Christmas in Ethiopia. Children may receive clothing or one small toy or no gift at all. The religious celebration is at the heart of Christmas to most families.

On January 19th, "Timkat", similar to Epiphany, starts! It marks the celebration of the baptism of Jesus and St. Mark. On "Timkat", adults wear a special shawl called a "shamma" to the church procession while the children wear crowns and robes. The priests are dressed in red and white robes, turbans and carry colorful embroidered umbrellas. A pear-shaped instrument called the "sistrum" is played, the tinkling music accompanying the chants of the church officials who conduct the outdoor procession.

BRAZIL (Day 16)
In Brazil, it is the custom to make a nativity scene called the "presépio", which is from the Hebrew word "presepium" meaning the bed of straw that Jesus slept upon after his birth. These nativity scenes can be found in many homes, businesses and churches all through the Christmas season. Often they are so large that they take up an entire room.

Christmas comes in a very hot month in Brazil, so families may decorate trees with white cotton to resemble snow. The red and green colors of Christmas are provided by eucalyptus leaves and red flowers or berries. Many homes and stores are decorated simply with bright colorful fruits and flowers. Children make and carry tissue paper flowers--read below in our crafts section to learn how to make these!

The country of Brazil does not have a national religion and the vast majority of its citizens are Roman Catholic. They celebrate Christmas with a Misa de Gallo mass at midnight. Before leaving their homes for the mass, though, families leave their prepared Christmas feast on the table so that while they are gone the Holy Family can have some! The midnight mass is a more traditional service and some families now choose to go to an earlier service and then eat their meal later at midnight.

A beautiful custom adapted from an old practice of charity takes place at the midnight mass. Long ago, missionaries would bring foods that are white in color, such as potatoes, rice or bread, to the church to leave them for the poor who did not have food for Christmas dinner. Today, in remembrance of this sacrificial gift-giving and to represent the gift of everlasting life that Christ brings, those who attend mass bring a small gift wrapped only in white paper and place it in a manger at the altar.

One tradition that is followed by many people is the equivalent of a "secret Santa". They call it "amigo secreto", or secret friend, and everyone enjoys trying to find out who will be giving them the small special gift. Those participating will send notes with fake names to their secret friend to throw them off track!

Papai Noel is the one who brings gifts to the little children in Brazil. Many families are too poor to gift gifts, but usually a child will receive at least a piece of fruit in the shoes he or she has left out for Papai Noel. Other small gifts may be hidden all over the house as well. Families also enjoy the reenactment of Mary's donkey ride through Bethlehem, parades and large Christmas "trees" made of stringed lights attached to a tall pole in their villages. A game called "Ferol Bola", which is like badminton, is played with 2 large wooden paddles and a cork decorated with feathers (like the "birdie" in badminton) is a favorite of Brazilian children and many other outdoor games are played at Christmas because of the sunny weather!

MEXICO (Day 17)
Christmas Traditions in Mexico This page, written in both English and Spanish, gives a wonderful overview of the Christmas celebration in Mexico!

HOLLAND (Day 18)
NORAD Tracks Santa A fun site that "tracks" Santa as he makes his deliveries around the world.

Holland
The Christmas season in Holland, where the legendary Santa Claus comes from, begins in early December on the eve of the true St. Nicholas's day. Many families in Holland, or the Netherlands as it is also called, will celebrate Christmas twice: once on St. Nicholas Day on December 6th and on December 25th to celebrate Christ's birth.

Most families get their Christmas trees in late November to be sure that it is decorated and ready for the arrival of "Sinterklaas" on December 6th. Because homes can be very small in this densely populated country, many people have begun leasing a Christmas tree from local garden centers! They lease a tree with its roots still intact and then after the holidays it is returned to the garden center to be replanted or sold. In the windows of many homes can be found the "Advent Star" which is a 3-dimensional star light.

On Sinterklaas Eve, children will attend special parties where they play treasure hunt games and have sweet treats. Often they will give surprise presents in a "secret Santa" type of swap to their friends, usually gifts that are suited to the friend's hobbies or other interests. When they are home with their families that evening, children leave their shoes or clogs out to be filled with presents and also leave hay and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse. Farmers in certain areas of Holland blow their long, wooden horns each evening in a special Advent ceremony to announce the coming of the Christ child. (Think the Alpenhorn of the Ricola commercials!)

Sinterklaas is a serious tradition in Holland! Children have believed for years that he lives in Spain with his special helper, "Black Pete"--"black" because he is a Moor and has a dark complexion!--who records in great detail every child's behavior for the year. Sinterklaas is dressed in his bishop's robes and rides a white horse. Children really believe in the gift-giver and know that when he uses several helpers who dress like him and can attend the St. Nicholas day processions around the country. After all, Sinterklaas can't be in two places at once, right? ;o) The men who act as his assistants during the traditional procession will wear "blackface" to imitate Black Pete (not exactly PC, huh?).

On December 6th, Sinterklaas arrives by steam boat to nearly every major port in Holland and most other cities, too. The main celebration is in Amsterdam where he rides on his white horse in a huge procession. As he rides along, children swarm the streets to see him and he will ask them about their behavior and may even ask them to recite Bible verses! Sinterklaas is known to make appearances at individual homes as well...his body double, I mean! Hehe. Everyone opens their gifts and has a special meal.

Then, Christmas Eve arrives on the 24th! Christian families will go to an evening church service and everyone wraps their gifts for one another. They enjoy wrapping them in funny ways or adding jokes or rhymes to the package and hiding them around the home. Children hang their stockings like they do in America, but in Holland they do it because of a traditional story. The legend goes that a very poor widower could not give his daughter any gifts for Christmas and when Sinterklaas arrived at their home, he took pity on them and left a bag of gold in the girls stockings which were hanging at the fireplace to dry.

On Christmas morning, the family will have a breakfast of "kerststol", a white bread filled with raisins and candied fruit with a sugar glaze on top, and other favorite family dishes. Children open their gifts which are usually only small items because they have received most of their goodies on St. Nicholas Day! At noon, the family stands around table for 3 minutes of total silence to pray or meditate on the meaning of Christmas before starting their meal. Sometimes on December 26th, families will have a 2nd (or technically 3rd!) Christmas when they travel to see family that lives far away.

INDIA (Day 19)
Less than 1 percent of the population in India is Christian. In late October/early November, the Festival of Lights or "Diwali" is celebrated by Hindus and has the country in a festive mood with colorful dances and parades in the street, music, lights and firecrackers each night. When the Christian celebration of Christmas comes in December, many people of other religions continue to keep their special lamps lit during the season and take part in some of the more commercial, Westernized practices of Christmas. The reason behind Christmas is known to all and respected.

Christian families begin to decorate in early December, but because no pine trees can be found, mango or palm trees are adorned with lights. The poinsettia plant which grows wild in India begins to bloom and turn red during the Christmas season! Families begin to do a thorough cleaning of their homes and churches as well as doing repairs so that everything is in tip-top shape by the time Jesus' birthday arrives! Some Christians will gather to raise the Christmas flag, which is white with a red cross in the center.

On Christmas Eve, Christian families will attend a late service which lasts 2-3 hours long and has many speakers, songs and sometimes pageants or plays. Many times they will bring non-Christian friends and neighbors with them to church. They also line the roofs of their homes with the "dipa" lamp--a small clay lamp with a wick and oil which are from the Diwali festival. When non-Christians ask why they use the lamp in December, it serves as an opportunity to share about Christ!

After the late church service, parties begin with games and refreshments. Gifts are given to children and servants. Servants in some areas will present the head of the household with a fresh lemon, which is seen as a sign of respect and a wish for prosperity and long life.

The Christians in India live as a light to those around them at Christmas. They use the season to share the light of Christ around them and provide services to the community so that they have opportunities to share the Gospel.

AMERICA (Christmases past!) (Day 20)
Today we're going to read a little bit about what Christmas was like in bygone years in America!
An American Christmas Decade by Decade From the Herbert Hoover Library & Museum.
Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg Christmas traditions from Colonial times at the official Colonial Williamsburg site.

UKRAINE (Day 21)

Ukrainian Christmas Traditions Read about Christmas in the Ukraine!

Ukrainian Christmas Spider Story & Ornament Read about the legend behind using tinsel on the Christmas tree in Ukraine and make one of the spider ornament ideas listed!

Creches Around the World
Creches from Around the World This is an amazing collection of Nativity scenes by the University of Dayton (Ohio).
I wasn't sure where to put this, soooo...be sure to check out Animal Planet's "Animals of the Nativity" section! Read about how Francis of Assisi, a lover of all animals, was the founder of the creche or nativity. View a gallery of nativities in art and take a nativity animals quiz! Very interesting site!

ITALY (Day 23)
In Italy, Christmas Eve is filled with many traditions and each city or village has its own way of celebrating. Many families do not put up a Christmas tree and focus instead on the "presepe" or nativity scene, both in the home and at church. Many cathedrals feature a life-size presepe, casually called a Crib by some, that includes real animals or large animated figures. One famous Christmas tree in Italy, however, can be seen in Bussero, a small town near Milan. They call it the Joyful Tree and is an enormous artificial tree with thousands of lights, moving ornaments and figures. Each year the Joyful Tree gets bigger and better. It has made the Guiness Book of World Records three times! Take a look: L'albero del sorriso--The Joyful Tree. In mountainous regions of Italy, "zampognari" (bagpipers) dress as if they are from Biblical times and travel through the towns playing special hymns and traditional folk songs. The zamporgnari make appearances in Rome, as well, and are represented as figurines in many of the nativity scenes.

Every family has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas. Families pass down these cherished traditions from generation to generation and many survive even when members move to America or other countries.

Many families, particularly Roman Catholic ones, may fast for the entire day on Christmas Eve up until a large feast that evening. There are a few popular ways of feasting on Christmas Eve in Italy. For all, only meatless dishes are prepared and many consist of fish and shellfish. A very traditional dish is baked EEL (sometimes it must be only a female eel!). The number of dishes prepared has a special significance depending on where a family lives and what tradition they are following. Some families celebrate with 7 fish courses because 7 is thought to be a holy number associated with God or to represent the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit or the 7 Sacraments. Families honoring this tradition may attend 7 different churches or cathedrals during the day on Christmas Eve before returning home to their feast.

In another custom, families will prepare 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. (Or, 11 dishes for the apostles MINUS Judas...or, 13 dishes for the 12 apostles plus Jesus!). Many people attend church, pray and light candles for the 9 days leading up to Christmas. These days are special because they represent the 9 days that it took for Joseph and Mary to make their way to Bethlehem.

In each home, the presepe holds a special place. Sometimes they are displayed on a "ceppo", or Christmas tree-shaped shelf. The presepe is on the bottom and gifts, flags, angels or other decorations go on the other shelves. Sometime before Christmas Eve, children may write a special letter to their parents that promises good (or better!) behavior in the new year and wishes for a Merry Christmas. These are read aloud at the Christmas Eve dinner and sometimes burned in the fireplace so that any special wishes or prayers will be whisked up to heaven!

Children in Italy open their gifts on either Christmas Day or January 6th (Epiphany), depending on the tradition of their church and family. The night before Epiphany, some will leave their shoes by the fireplace in hopes that a traditional Christmas figure known as Befana will leave gifts in them. Befana is similar to the Russian Babushka and is an old woman who missed her chance to travel to see the baby Jesus with the magi and now, in regret, she leaves gifts for children since she cannot give them to the Christ child. Some children believe that Befana leaves their presents at Christmas and others believe that it is Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) or Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). Finally, on Christmas day, families will eat a large lunch or dinner with meat!

The wide variety of Christmas traditions in Italy are a testament to the importance of faith and family to the people there. While Italians observe one of the least "flashy" Christmases around the world, they honor it more than most with their love of family tradition and reverence for the first Christmas!

HAWAII (Day 25)
Christmas in Hawaii!

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