Christmas celebration in the English-speaking World
Christmas Day in United Kingdom, in United States, in Canada, in Australia, in New Zealand. How do the British celebrate Christmas. Program of Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square. Background and symbols. The Christmas Stocking and Santa Claus.
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Christmas Day in United Kingdom
Christmas Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom on December 25. It traditionally celebrates Jesus Christ's birth but many aspects of this holiday have pagan origins. Christmas is a time for many people to give and receive gifts and prepare special festive meals.
How do the British celebrate Christmas?
Christmas is Britain's most popular holiday and features traditions that date back hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs that originated in Britain have been adopted in the United States.
The first-ever Christmas card was posted in England in the 1840s, and the practice soon became an established part of the build-up to Christmas. Over a billion Christmas cards are now sent every year in the United Kingdom, many of them sold in aid of charities.
Christmas decorations in general have even earlier origins. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are associated with rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. (The custom of kissing beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived from an ancient pagan tradition.) The Christmas tree was introduced into the royal household by Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, and popularized by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, in the 1840s.
Charles Dickens's short novel A Christmas Carol has prompted people the world over to associate Christmas with Victorian England. Originally published on 17 December 1843, the book was rapturously reviewed and became an instant success, the first 6,000 copies of its initial print-run being sold out by Christmas. Theatrical, television and movie adaptations of the book continue to be as popular in Britain as they are in the United States.
Every year since 1947, the City of Oslo in Norway has presented the City of Westminster with a large Christmas tree which stands in London's Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the Second World War.
There is also a program of Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square each year.
Another Christmas tree, presented by the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, stands outside the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.
Pantomimes are popular among British children at Christmas time. These are song and dance dramatizations of well-known fairy tales that encourage audience participation.
Carols are often sung on Christmas Eve by groups of singers to their neighbors, and children hang a stocking on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa Claus (also called Father Christmas) to fill. Presents for the family are placed beneath the Christmas tree.
Christmas Day sees the opening of presents and many families attend Christmas services at church. Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes. This is followed by mince pies and Christmas pudding flaming with brandy, which might contain coins or lucky charms for children. (The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made.) Later in the day, a Christmas cake may be served - a rich baked fruit cake with marzipan, icing and sugar frosting.
The pulling of Christmas crackers often accompanies food on Christmas Day. Invented by a London baker in 1846, a cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube, twisted at both ends, which contains a party hat, riddle and toy or other trinket. When it is pulled by two people it gives out a crack as its contents are dispersed.
Another traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the Queen's Christmas Message to the nation, broadcast on radio, television and the internet.
What do people do?
Prior to Christmas Day, people decorate their homes and gardens prior to Christmas Day. These decorations may include:
§ Christmas trees.
§ Small colored fairy lights.
§ Leaves and berries from holly trees and mistletoe bushes.
§ Various other decorations with rich colors that spark the Christmas mood.
In many towns and cities, the shopping streets are also decorated with lights and large pine trees, often specially imported from Norway. In some places a Nativity scene is arranged. This illustrates the story of Jesus' birth using statues or actors and live animals. Many churches hold special services in the night before Christmas Day.
Many people spend Christmas Day with family members, with whom they exchange gifts and cards. Many children wake up to find a sock or stocking filled with small gifts on their bed or somewhere else in the house. These have supposedly been brought by a mythical figure called 'Father Christmas' or 'Santa Claus', who lives for most of the year at the North Pole. He travels in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and enters houses by climbing down the chimney. He hopes to enjoy a small snack of mince pies and brandy at each house. He supposedly travels so fast that he can deliver presents to all children in one night, although some in some stories elves help him with his work.
Later in the day, people may attend special church services, even if they do not usually go to church. Nearly everyone prepares and eats a special meal. This often includes roast turkey, potatoes and parsnips, and other vegetables. After the main course, Christmas pudding is often eaten. This is a heavy steamed, dense, cake-like pudding filled with dried fruit and nuts. Burning brandy is often poured over it as it is served, giving a spectacular effect. Mince pies are also popular on Christmas Day. They are sweet pastry cases filled with a mixture of dried fruit, fat and alcohol.
Nearly all organizations, except hospitals and shelters for the homeless, are closed on Christmas Day. Some public houses and smaller stores selling food may open for a few hours in the middle of the day. Public transport services do not run to their normal timetables and may even not run at all. Public life closes down almost totally on Christmas Day.
Many churches hold special services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Some also organize shelter, company and food for the homeless or those who need help. Others hold events for people who wish to return to the spiritual aspects of Christmas and turn away from the commercial aspects of modern Christmas celebrations.
Background and symbols
Christmas Day is often seen as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago. However, many aspects of the celebration have their origins in the Pagan traditions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These include bringing pieces of evergreen trees into homes, lighting fires, holding parties and eating special foods. When missionaries converted the inhabitants of these countries to Christianity, many of these customs were included in the Christian celebrations.
There are many Christmas symbols. These include leaves and berries from the holly tree and mistletoe bush, pine trees, candles and small lights. Figures associated with the season are Father Christmas or Santa Claus, the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the other characters from the Nativity story. Presents and Christmas food, such as turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies also symbolize Christmas. A special mention should be reserved for the robin red breast. This small bird, with its red feathered breast, is at its most beautiful in the middle of the winter and is often seen as a decoration on Christmas cards, wrapping paper and cakes.
Christmas carols have their roots in medieval England, when minstrels traveled from castle to castle, today they would be called carollers. In addition poor people in England would go wassailing, they would bring their mugs to the door of rich houses hoping for a share of the wassail bowl. The drink in the bowl was called lambswool. It was a brew of hot ale with sugar, eggs, spices and roast apples floating in it.
The book "A Christmas Carol" was written by Charles Dickens. It is the tale of a miser called Ebeneezer Scrooge who is visited by four ghosts (Jacob Marley, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future). He was made to see the error of his ways and became a reformed character.
Today carollers generally collect money for charity. The 'Round Table' in England often sends a big sleigh with a Christmas tree and people singing and playing carols around the cities and towns of England. In Wales, each village may have several choirs which rehearse well in advance of the holidays and then go carolling collecting money for charity.
Christmas Crackers have been a part of the traditional British Christmas since1847, when almost by accident, Tom Smith invented the cracker. They are used to decorate the table at dinner.
In it's simple form a cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a brightly coloured twist of paper. When the cracker is 'pulled' by two people, each holding one end of the twisted paper, the friction creates a small explosive 'pop' produced by a narrow strip of chemically impregnated paper. Inside the cracker there is usually a tissue paper hat, a balloon, a slip of paper with a very corny joke on it (for example: "What does Santa call his blind reindeer?" "No-eye-deer!" / "Where do fish wash?" "In the river basin!" / "What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?" "A wooly jumper!" /" What lies in a pram and wobbles?" "A jelly baby!" ) and a small gift (usually a little cheap plastic thing e.g. a plastic ring or nail clippers).
The family will pull each other's crackers before the meal starts, this often involves crossing arms and pulling two crackers at once. The person who gets the "big end" keeps the plastic trinket. The paper hats are donned, and the jokes read out, accompanied by moans and groans at how awful they are. Then, and only then, can the meal begin.
Christmas trees are an integral part of the Christmas decorations in most British households. Although it was always traditional to bring evergreens into the house the Christmas tree is another tradition borrowed from Germany, where it is said that German Martin Luther was the first person to decorate a tree with candles and bring it indoors to show his children what stars looked like at night in the forest. It didn't become popular in Britain until the nineteenth century, when Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert introduced the custom from Germany.
Nowadays in the UK you will find a variety of trees, from real trees with roots that can be replanted after the festivities, to felled trees that get recycled, to plastic imitations that get unpacked every year. No one seems to be able to agree which is the most environmentally friendly option. The tree will be decorated with lights (candles are a rarity due to the risk of fire), tinsel, baubles, chocolate figures and coins, and the obligatory angel / fairy on the top.
Mistletoe was considered sacred by the people of ancient Britain. The Druid priests used it in their sacrifices to the gods.It was believed to have magical properties. People who met under a tree bearing mistletoe were forbidden to fight, even if they were enemies, and anyone who entered a home decorated with mistletoe was entitled to shelter and protection. Mistletoe may even have been part of Druidic wedding ceremonies. The Celtic people believed it had miraculous healing powers. In fact the name for mistletoe in the Celtic languages is all heal. mistletoe could cure diseases, render poisons harmless, make humans and animals fertile, protect the house from ghosts and bring good luck.
In eighteenth century England mistletoe was credited, not with healing power, but with a different kind of magic. It was the magic element in the kissing ball, a special decoration used at Christmas parties. The kissing ball had a round frame that was trimmed with evergreens, ribbons and ornaments. Tiny nativity figures were placed inside it. For the finishing touch, a sprig of mistletoe was tied to the bottom of the ball. It was then hung from the ceiling, and party goers would play kissing games underneath it. A kiss under the mistletoe could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and good will.
The mistletoe's kissing tradition, according to one account, comes from the Norse myths. Friga, one of the gods, gave her son, Balda, a charm of mistletoe to protect him from the elements, but because mistletoe grows neither from the water or the earth, nor from fire nor air, it grows on trees, it held the power to harm Balda. One of the other god's arrows made of mistletoe struck Bolda down, and his mother cried tears of white berries. She brought her son back to life, and vowed to kiss anyone who rested beneath the plant. Thus the kissing tradition began.
There is a limit to how much you can kiss under one sprig of mistletoe though. For each kiss a berry must be removed and once all the berries are gone - no more kissing!
The Holly and the Ivy
Holly, with its dark green spiky leaves and red berries, was also believed to have magical powers and the ability to drive demons away. In Germany holly was considered to be a good luck charm against the hostile forces of nature.
In old England, unmarried women were supposed to tie a sprig of holly to their beds, to guard them against ghosts and devils. the In medieval times, when people were genuinely afraid of ghosts and demons, supernatural creatures were believed to be especially active at Christmas time.
For the Northern Europeans, Christmas came in the middle of winter, when the nights were very long, dark and cold. The voices of Ghosts and demons, witches, goblins and werewolves could be heard screaming out in the winter winds and storms. So the magical powers of mistletoe and holly were taken quite seriously. In Roman times ivy was the ancient symbol of Bakus, the god of wine and revelry. Due to its association with pagan festivals, for a long time, ivy was banned from the inside of Christian homes, and used only to decorate the outside. Not so any more. Its green has become part of the traditional Christmas
Other Christmas Decorations
Along with a tree, and bits of tree, holly, ivy and misteltoe, a lot of other materials are used to decorate the house at Christmas. Some people don't even stop inside the house and the most amazing displays of lights and various inflatables decorate their front gardens. Wonder round urban areas of the UK you can spot the houses that have entered into the "competitive" spirit of seeing who can cram the most stuff into the smallest space.
Inside the house you will typically find garlands, fake snow, nativity sets, candles, window decorations, and row upon row of Christmas cards. The table will be set (probably the only time in the year when the whole family sits down together to eat) with the best table cloth, glasses, crockery and cutlery.
In the past some very strange things were eaten around Christmas. At lavish Christmas feasts in the Middle Ages, swans and peacocks were sometimes served "endored". The flesh was painted with saffron dissolved in melted butter and the birds were served wrapped in their own skin and feathers, which had been removed and set aside prior to roasting.
Around Victorian times another traditional Christmas feast was roasted goose or roasted turkey. In Victorian times, most Londoners would have been familiar with the "goose club", which was a method of saving to buy a goose for Christmas. Goose clubs were popular with working-class Londoners, who paid a few pence a week towards the purchase of a Christmas goose. The week before Christmas, London meat markets were crammed with geese and turkeys, many imported from Germany and France, although some were raised in Norfolk, and taken to market in London. The birds were walked from Norfolk to the markets in London, to protect their feet the turkeys were dressed in boots made of sacking or leather and geese had their feet protected with a covering of tar. The traditional Christmas goose was featured in Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'.
Nowadays, if you sit down with a typical British family on Christmas day, the starter is probably going to be prawns or smoked salmon. The main course is more than likely to be turkey, often free-range and the bigger the better, although goose has been making a bit of a comeback, and for the vegetarian in the family (there's always one) a nut roast, this is normally served with potatoes (roasted, boiled, mashed, or maybe all three), vegetables (including the devil's veg - brussel sprouts) roasted parsnips, and stuffing with gravy and bread sauce. This is usually followed by Christmas pudding; a rich fruit pudding served with brandy sauce or brandy butter.
christmas santa claus symbol
The forerunner of the Christmas pudding (aka. plum/figgy pudding), a rich fruit pudding, was called Frumenty, it was served in Medieval times. Frumenty was a spiced porridge, enjoyed by both rich and poor. It has its origins in a Celtic legend of harvest god, Dagda, who stirred a porridge made up of all the good things of the earth.
The pudding became specifically associated with Christmas, rather than merely any festive occasion, when it was introduced to the Royal Christmas dinner table by Prince Albert.
Plum puddings are a very rich, dark pudding made with all sorts of dried fruits, nuts, spices, black treacle and lots sherry or brandy. They are made well before Christmas as it takes time for the alcohol to soak into the dried fruit, however nowadays most people buy them from a supermarket. They are steamed when first made, and re-steamed on Christmas Day before being served with a sweet white sauce or brandy butter. If the pudding is made at home, everyone in the household must take it in turns to stir the pudding and make a wish, the mixture should be stirred from east to west, in honour of the three wise men.
Some people like to hide a coin or trinket in the Christmas pudding. This may have originated in the ancient custom, in Rome and elsewhere, of concealing a particular object in food. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a dried bean would be hidden in the food. Whoever found it was then "master of the revels" - a king for the holidays. Even a slave could be the lucky one. In medieval times, a cake was eaten on Twelfth Night (January 6), during the most boisterous party of the year. The "King of the Bean" ruled the whole party. Nowadays people put in a silver coin and eat carefully. Whoever gets the piece of pudding with the coin in on Christmas day is especially lucky and their "pudding wish" (made when the pudding was stirred) will come true!
Christmas cakes are also very rich and dark and contain just about every dried fruit you can think of, nuts (usually blanched almonds) glace cherries, candied peel and once again, sweetened with black treacle. They are covered with a layer of marzipan or almond paste and then thick white "Royal" icing made with icing sugar and egg whites.
It was introduced as a custom by the Victorians. Prior to that period, cake was eaten during Christmas, but without the toppings. The idea of using marzipan is thought to be linked to the Tudor Marchpane an iced and decorated cake of marzipan that acted as the table centrepiece during banquets and festive occasions. They should be made about six weeks before Christmas and are usually decorated with ribbons and images of Santa Claus or robins with holly.
Mince pies were often known as Christmas pies, they were banned in the seventeenth century by that killjoy Cromwell but eventually came back into existence after the Restoration. They are made with mincemeat - which doesn't contain meat at all. The sweet, rich and fruity pies that we are now accustomed to developed early in the twentieth century when the meat content was removed for good and now the "mincemeat" is a mixture of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, candied peel, etc.,) apples, spices, sugar and suet, often moistened with brandy or sherry, and baked in small pastry cases.
If the mincemeat is home made everyone in the household should stir it as it is considered to be lucky. The cases should be oval in shape, to represent the manger, with a tiny pastry baby Jesus on top, but as very few people have tins that shape they are nearly always round now.
The Christmas Stocking and Santa Claus
The Story of St Nicholas (the original Santa Claus)
The real St. Nicholas lived in Turkey, he was bishop of the Turkish town of Myra in the early 4th century. It was the Dutch who first made him into a Christmas gift-giver, and Dutch settlers brought him to America where his name eventually became the familiar Santa Claus.
However, he is a very popular saint in England where there are almost 400 churches of St. Nicholas, more even than churches of St. George, England's patron saint. Many different stories are told to British children about Saint Nicholas, here is just one:-
Long long ago, in the days when Saint Nicholas was alive, there lived a kindly nobleman. He had a beautiful wife and three pretty young daughters, and all the money his family would ever need. But one day, the mother of the family, who was a sweet gentle woman, became very ill. The nobleman was frantic! He summoned the town's only doctor, a very old, very wise woman, who knew all there was to know about herbs and magic.
The old woman tried all the cures she knew, but she could do nothing to save the poor woman. Finally he called for the priest to come, but by that time his poor wife had passed away. The nobleman was in despair! He missed his wife so much that he lost his head. He wasted all his money away on silly projects and useless inventions. He became so poor that he had to move his family out of their castle and into a little peasant's cottage. Meanwhile his daughters were growing up. Poverty was difficult for them, but they remained cheerful and strong. They soon learned to do their own cooking, cleaning and sewing, and they took care of each other.
All three girls were very pretty. In time each of them fell in love and wanted to get married. But they couldn't because their father was so poor. He had no dowry (a sum of money or some valuable property) to give to the prospective husband's family. He felt he had failed his own children, and he became even more sad and gloomy.
Now, Saint Nicholas happened to live in the same area. The kindly saint had dedicated his whole life to doing good deeds, and was always on the lookout for someone in need. One night the saint came riding through the town on his white horse looking for the house of the nobleman and his three daughters. He rode up to the cottage and peeked in through a chink in the wall. That same night, the daughters had washed out their clothes by hand, and hung them up in front of the fireplace to dry. There were the stockings, three pairs, hanging right on the chimney. Inspiration struck Saint Nicholas. From his pouch he took out three little bags filled with gold coins. One by one he threw the bags down the chimney, so they landed in the stockings of the three daughters. The nobleman, worried about his daughters' futures, had terrible trouble falling asleep a night and was still awake. He heard the clip clop of the white horse as the saint was leaving, and peeked out of the door. He called out to Nicholas, but he had already disappeared into the dark night.
When the daughters woke in the morning, they found their stockings filled with plenty of money for their dowries. When they went to tell their father, they found him sleeping peacefully with a smile on his face. Saint Nicholas had taken care of all his worries. And so, through the goodness of Saint Nicholas the three daughters were able to marry the men they loved, and the nobleman lived on to be a happy grandfather.
St. Nicholas is a very hard-working saint, being the patron saint of children, merchants, apothecaries, pawnbrokers, scholars and mariners. He is reputed to be able to calm storms and rescue sailors. Even pirates have been known to claim his protection. Over the years he has become known as Santa Claus and even his now traditional red costume can be traced to Coca Cola advertising in America!
The tradition of hanging up the stocking is still followed in the British Isles. It is left out on Christmas Eve, along with mince pies, sherry and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, and even today most children are in bed way before midnight waiting for Santa to visit.
The stocking is opened by excited children on Christmas morning. Nowadays the gifts Santa Claus brings can be quite elaborate, in Victorian times it was traditionally fruit, nuts, sweets and coins.
Christmas Day in United States
Many people in the United States celebrate Christmas Day on December 25. The day celebrates Jesus Christ's birth. It is often combined with customs from pre-Christian winter celebrations. Many people erect Christmas trees, decorate their homes, visit family or friends and exchange gifts.
What do people do?
People celebrate Christmas Day in many ways. In the days or even weeks before Christmas Day, many people decorate their homes and gardens with lights, Christmas trees and much more. It is common to organize a special meal, often consisting of turkey and a lot of other festive foods, for family or friends and exchange gifts with them. Children, in particular, often receive a lot of gifts from their parents and other relatives and the mythical figure Santa Claus. This has led to Christmas Day becoming an increasingly commercialized holiday, with a lot of families spending a large part of their income on gifts and food.
Many Sunday schools, churches and communities organize special events. These can include decorating the neighborhood or a shopping mall, putting up a Christmas tree and planning a Nativity display, concert or performance. A lot of plays and songs have a aspect of Christmas as a theme. Some groups arrange meals, shelter or charitable projects for people without a home or with very little money.
Government offices, organizations, businesses and schools are closed, almost without exception. Many people visit relatives or friends and are out of town. This may cause congestion on highways and at airports. Public transit systems do not run on their regular schedules. In general, public life closes down completely.
The original meaning of Christmas is a special church service, or mass, to celebrate the birth of Christ. The story of the Nativity, or the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, are particularly important in religious celebrations of Christmas. However, many traditions that are around today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and tree, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was held. This was a relaxing time with a lot of parties and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar. In Scandinavia, a festival called Yule and lasting up to twelve days was held in late December and early January. In this time people burnt logs and held parties. These customs have influences how Christmas Day is celebrated today in the United States.
The Bible does not give a precise date for the birth of Jesus. It is also unclear when December 25 became associated with the birth of Jesus, although it may have been around two hundred years after his birth. In the early centuries of Christianity, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus was not a cause for celebrations. The idea of turning this day into a celebration started in the early Middle Ages in Europe.
During Reformation and up until the middle of the 1800s, Christmas was often not celebrated because partying and merry making was seen as unchristian. From about 1840, celebrating Christmas became more widespread. December 25 was declared a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Since then Christmas Day has become a steadily more important holiday.
A wide range of people and objects represent Christmas. These include baby Jesus, the Nativity and the Three Kings, but also Santa Claus, reindeer and elves. Common objects at this time of year are pine trees, holly, decorations, fairy lights, candles and presents. Christmas Day is now truly a mix of religious celebration and commercial interests.
Many families also decorate outside of the home with regional traditions and according to the weather. Some form of lighting are often used on the homes and in the yards during the holidays. There are snowmen, Santas, manger scenes, snowflakes, reindeer, and other lighted displays in many neighborhoods. Others outline the architectural features of their homes in lights. There is sometimes a creche placed that represents the stable wherein the Christ child was born and has Mary, Joseph, the Child and various animals in attendance.
Food plays an important part in the American Christmas. It is often a time of an extended open house with friends dropping by to bring gifts or just to wish everyone a happy holiday. At this time it is appropriate to offer these guests food and beverage, so many homes have a variety of treats prepared in advance for these occasions. Although many families serve a variety of menus for Christmas dinner, the standard fare seems to include turkey, dressing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables, a salad and some sort of dessert.
Various churches play an important part in the American Christmas. Many families feel that it is important to go to church on Christmas. There are also a variety of associated activities such as church dinners, live Nativity scenes, choir concerts, special church services, and a fostering of the spirit of giving to those less fortunate.
Christmas in Canada
Many Christians in Canada mark the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25, which is known as Christmas Day. It is a day of celebration when many Canadians exchange gifts and enjoy festive meals.
What do people do?
Many Canadians have a day off work on December 25 and many spend the day with close relatives or friends. It is customary to exchange gifts, enjoy a special festive meal and, perhaps, attend a special church service. However, some people, particularly in Quebec, do some or all of these things on Christmas Eve as well as, or instead of, on Christmas Day.
The traditions centered on Christmas gifts in Canada vary a lot between families. In some families, a mythical figure called Santa Claus brings gifts. He travels on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, enters homes via the chimney and leaves presents and candy in Christmas stockings or in a pile under the Christmas tree. In other families, individual members exchange carefully selected gifts. Popular gifts are toys, games and candy for children and clothes, music, alcohol and practical or luxury items for adults. Canadians may open their presents on Christmas Eve after a special church service or during the morning or after lunch on Christmas Day.
Some people consume large quantities of food and drinks on Christmas Day. The day may start with a cooked breakfast, such as ham and eggs or pancakes. Lunch is often a very large meal with a stuffed or dressed roast turkey, potatoes, a selection of vegetables and cranberry sauce and gravy to add flavor. After the savory part of the meal, plum or Christmas pudding is traditionally eaten. Some families also eat a large evening meal, perhaps based around a leg of pork or ham, or re-heat the leftovers from the lunch. During the day, many types of sweet and savory snacks are served, including candy, oranges or mandarins, nuts and butter tarts or shortbread.
Christmas Day is a national public holiday in Canada. Schools, post offices and many businesses and organizations are closed on Christmas Day. Some stores may be open. Many public transport services are closed or offer a reduced service. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday or Saturday that is a non-working day, workers are entitled to a holiday with pay on the working day immediately preceding or following the general holiday.
Many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem on December 25, although the true date and year of his birth is unclear. The tradition of celebrating his birth at the end of December may come from the widespread European tradition of celebrations around the winter solstice. Christians who follow the Eastern Orthodox tradition celebrate the birth of Jesus on January 7, while it is marked on January 6 by the Armenian Apostolic Church.
There are many symbols of Christmas. These include images of baby Jesus and the Holy family in the stable, stars and Christmas trees. Another important symbol of Christmas is Santa Claus. This is a mythical figure with origins in European, particularly British, Dutch and German, cultures. He is a jolly man who wears a red suit, has a long white beard, lives at the North Pole and travels in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. On Christmas Eve, he travels to the homes of children and leaves them presents in Christmas stockings or under the Christmas tree.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which monitors and controls the aerospace above the United States and Canada, even "monitors" Santa's movements during November and December. Images and models of Santa Claus and actors playing his role can be seen in many places in the lead up to Christmas.
Canadian christmas traditions
The influence of Europe in the Christmas traditions of Canada can be seen in the celebrations and the various customs and traditions of the holiday. The midnight mass is the central celebration of French Canadians on Xmas eve, where they display a nativity scene beneath a Xmas tree. After the mass, the family has a huge banquet as part of the Christmas traditions of Canada. Gift-giving occurs on New Year's Day.
For the English Canadians, the Christmas traditions of Canada feasts usually include a roast goose or beef and plum pudding. The homes are decorated with pine bough and kissing balls. They also sing the ancient carols during the period.
The German Canadians have the Tannenbaum in the place of honor in their homes. The children await the Christkindl, a messenger from the Christ child while the mothers make stolen and Xmas cookies. Xmas trees, ancient carols, gingerbread houses, and advent calendars are part of their tradition.
The various Canadians of Indian heritage have a different set of the Christmas traditions of Canada for each Indian nation, including gift-giving, feasts, singing, dancing, drumming and games, which were part of their ancient winter celebrations. The Cree children visit the homes of their relatives to collect their gifts. The Inuit hold feasts of caribou, seal, raw fish, and turkey.
Ukrainian immigrants celebrate the feast of Saint Philip by cleaning their homes, bodies and souls. The Eastern Orthodox religious influences in Christmas traditions Canada blend with pagan agrarian customs. They hold a day of fasting that ends on Xmas Eve when the hold the Holy Supper with twelve dishes. The astrological symbolism is evident in the combination Christian motifs and agrarian practice which are shown in the twelve dishes representing the twelve lunar cycles of the year and the twelve Disciples of Christ. No meat and milk is served with the dishes because emphasis is placed on the field, garden, and orchard during the celebration.
Christmas Day in Australia
Christmas Day falls on December 25 and is an occasion for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many people, even if they are not Christian, give each other gifts, prepare special meals and decorate their homes at this time of year. Many aspects of the Christmas celebrations originated from winter celebrations in Europe. However they are increasingly influenced by the Australian climate and wildlife.
What do people do?
People often spend Christmas Day with family members or close friends. Christmas Day falls in the middle of the summer school holiday and both December 25 and 26 are public holidays. Hence, many people celebrate the event away from home, in holiday parks, on camp sites or at relatives' homes.
In the weeks before Christmas Day, many people decorate their homes with Christmas decorations. These often include a Christmas tree, candles or small electric lights, glass baubles, tinsel, snowmen, fake snow and figures of Santa Claus in his red fur-trimmed outfit. Typically Australian decorations are also used. These are glass baubles or wooden ornaments decorated with images of Australian wildlife, such as bilbies, koalas, king parrots, Waratah flowers, or Australian landmarks. Small statues of native animals dressed in 'Santa' hats and sleighs pulled by groups of six white kangaroos are also popular, as are figures of Santa Claus in beach clothing.
On Christmas Day, children hope to receive gifts in a stocking or under the Christmas tree from the mythical figure Santa Claus. In the weeks before Christmas, they write letters to him so that he knows what they want. In some stories, Santa Claus wears a thick red, fur-trimmed suit and travels in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. In others he wears shorts and a loose, brightly colored shirt and his sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos. In some families, individual members also exchange gifts.
Many people eat a special meal on Christmas Day. Traditionally, the main meal was similar to the Christmas meals served in Europe. They consisted on roast meats and vegetables and heavy fruit cakes and steamed puddings. A small coin was often baked inside a steamed pudding, which was doused with burning alcohol before being served. Whoever found the coin in his or her portion, would have a lucky year. However, now many people choose to hold a barbecue at the beach or a picnic in a park or prepare a meal of cold meat and seafood followed by Pavlova, a soft meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.
Christmas Day falls in the summer school holiday. All schools and other educational establishments, many businesses and many stores are closed on Christmas Day. Some public transport systems close down and others offer only a limited service. If you wish to travel by public transport, it is a good idea to check the services before you make your plans.
Background and symbols
On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Different denominations have a range of traditions and types of Church service around Christmas Day. Catholics often attend midnight mass, which starts at midnight as Christmas Eve leads to Christmas Day. Other denominations attend special church services during the day on December 25.
There are a number of native Australian plants that include “Christmas” in their popular names. This is usually because they flower during the Christmas period. Examples include: Christmas bells, Christmas Bush, the Christmas tree and the Christmas orchid.
There are many native Australian plants in flower over the Christmas season. A number of these have become known as 'Christmas plants' in various parts of the country, including Christmas bells, Christmas bush and the Christmas orchid.When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were delighted that they could pick wildflowers resembling bells and bright green foliage covered in red or white flowers to use as Christmas decorations. This was a huge contrast to the bare trees and dormant gardens they had left behind in Europe.
Christmas in Australia comes at the beginning of summer and many people no longer serve a traditional hot roast dinner. Cold turkey and ham, seafood and salads are often served instead. It has even become acceptable to serve the traditional Christmas plum pudding with cold custard, ice cream or cream.Pavlova, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit, and various versions of the festive ice-cream pudding have also become popular Christmas desserts.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Coles company are engaged in a project to cultivate native foods. They are working with Mandawuy Yunupingu (of the band Yothu Yindi) and Aboriginal communities to grow sufficient quantities for sale in supermarkets across Australia. The aim is to offer all Australians a Bush Tucker Christmas.
Film and television
The films Bush Christmas (1947) starring Chips Rafferty and the remake Prince and the Great Race in 1983 (with Nicole Kidman), and Miracle Down Under starring John Waters (telecast as Bushfire Moon) are insights into the early Australian Christmas culture. Many television series have used Christmas episodes to explore the changing culture of Christmas in Australia.
Australian children grow up enjoying traditional Christmas stories such as Clement Clarke Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but children's authors and illustrators are beginning to create truly Australian children's Christmas literature. One favourite is Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, while a more recent addition is Aussie Night Before Christmas by Yvonne Morrison.
Major sporting events
The Christmas break is an opportunity for sports fans to enjoy two major sporting events. The 26 December is the opening day of the 'Boxing Day Test' between the Australian Cricket Team and an international touring side at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This has been well attended since the first match in 1950, and watched by many others on television. In Sydney one of the world's most prestigious ocean races, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, starts on Boxing Day from Sydney Harbour.
Christmas Day in New Zealand
Christmas Day is a day off for many New Zealanders on December 25 every year. It is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
What do people do?
Christmas Day is a time for families and friends to share presents, spend time together and wish each other a Merry Christmas. Some people go to a special Christmas Day church service. Many children receive presents from Santa Claus and people exchange Christmas cards. Christmas meals may include a Christmas ham, roast vegetables, homemade gravy and roast turkey. It is summer in New Zealand in December so pools or beaches can be popular places to visit on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day is a statutory public holiday in New Zealand, so schools, government offices, and many private businesses are closed. New Year's Day is also in the middle of the school summer holidays in New Zealand.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the son of God. His birth date is unknown because there is little public information about his early life. There is disagreement among scholars on when Jesus was actually born. Many Christians celebrate Jesus' birthday on December 25. Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7.
When European settlers arrived in New Zealand, they brought with them various traditions, including the tradition of celebrating Christmas. It is now a public holiday in New Zealand.
Christmas traditions in New Zealand
A Christmas celebration Downunder brings together the traditional and the Kiwi. Christmas trees and lights, gifts and Christmas stockings, carols and church services are all part of teh celebration, along with enjoyment of the summer season - barbeques in the backyard, long days at the beach and picnics in the park.
· Gifts - The giving of Christmas presents is a popular aspect of this time of year. Gifts are usually wrapped in red, green or festive wrapping paper and placed under a Christmas tree, to be opened on Christmas morning. For children, a Christmas stocking is an early-morning treat; filled with small gifts from Father Christmas, the stocking is traditionally hung at the end of the child's bed or from the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Shopping for Christmas presents and the quest for the perfect gift can be a time-consuming business, so many Kiwis hit the shopping circuit as early as October.
· Cards - If friends and family can't be near, Kiwis send season's greetings with Christmas cards, showing Northern Hemisphere 'White Christmas' images or Kiwi Christmas images of pohutukawa trees in flower.
· Family - Universally, Christmas is a time to gather and connect with family, both immediate and extended. New Zealand families often travel long distances to be together at this time of year and according to a recent study, spending time with family is the most important part of celebrating Christmas!
· Christmas trees - Putting a Christmas tree up in the home, and decorating it with bright hanging decorations, tinsel, Christmas lights and a star on top, is part of almost every family's Christmas celebration. Some families also hang fairy lights around the home, light Advent or Christmas candles, display Christmas cards throughout the home or hang a wreath on their front door. There are many Christmas shops that open during the months preceding Christmas - they're filled to the brim with decorations, artificial trees and Christmas lights for homes and businesses.
· Christmas Eve and Boxing Day - Christmas lasts for more than one day in New Zealand; the day itself is preceded by Christmas Eve on the 24th of December and followed by Boxing Day on the 26th of December. Boxing Day is also part of Christmas celebration in the United Kingdom and many countries within the Commonwealth. In New Zealand, Christmas Eve sometimes involves a midnight church mass or a round of Christmas carols, while Boxing Day is traditionally a family day and a continuation of the relaxation and family festivities of Christmas Day.
· Food - Christmas Day celebrations are focused on festive fare. A Christmas Day menu in New Zealand (for either lunch or dinner) can consist of a traditional roast - Christmas ham, roast vegetables, potatoes and homemade gravy, followed up with steamed Christmas pudding and Christmas cake. While this winter fare appeals to many, some families prefer a lighter feast of barbequed meats, salads and a light pavlova or berry dessert. New Zealand Christmas lunches are often enjoyed Kiwi-style - at the beach, outdoors or by the pool.
· Summer holiday - As Christmas falls during summertime in New Zealand, many families choose to have fun in the sun, spending time over the holiday season enjoying the outdoors, staying at a bach (holiday house) or relaxing at the beach. Many businesses close for two weeks over the Christmas period, so this is a popular time for a holiday getaway, long holiday break or extended Christmas holiday.
· Festive Christmas carols - You may tire of hearing Christmas carols, but singing Christmas songs is enjoyed by both children and adults. There are many Christmas carol events in New Zealand cities and towns, where hundreds of people gather to sing carols by candlelight.
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