Exploring the Holidays Around the Globe
by Amy Lignor
Thanksgiving has been had. Games have been watched and the golden turkey has caused a great many belts to be loosened. So…here it comes!
From hanging the stockings on the chimney with care to the red-nosed reindeer who had to be there; from Santa heading down that chimney just right to lovely sleigh bells ringing softly in the night, the holiday season is a truly wonderful thing for all ages. And, no, it’s not the high-tech new smartphone or laptop that is as skinny as Twiggy was in the 60’s that makes this time of year the best; it’s the feeling of joy, laughter, spending time with family and the kindness that suddenly descends even on the worst of mankind. Well…maybe not the worst. But definitely that next door neighbor that seems to always be crabbing about your cat having the nerve to “water” his rose bushes.
We all have our own traditions, and even share some with other countries around the world. However, there are a lot out there that are cool to not only learn about, but also, perhaps, to add to our own little family fun time.
Many of the Christmas traditions we celebrate date only as far back as Victorian times, where most of it was “invented” during the early 1860s. Odd, aye? After all, our country was fighting a war against ourselves at the exact same time that this truly awe-inspiring event was being “brought together” with several well-known traditions coming into being.
In Sweden, the people actually honor a saint. Celebrated every December 13, St. Lucia (AKA: St. Lucy) has her day. Most of Scandinavia considers this to be the beginning of the Christmas fun, sometimes addressing it as the “little Yule.” So, what occurs? It may seem odd, but a family’s oldest daughter gets up early, dresses in a white gown complete with a red sash, and puts a crown made of twigs holding nine lighted candles on her head. (You definitely want to make sure you don’t trip wearing this outfit or “little Yule” could end up sparking a massive conflagration.) This is a day of pure light – from candles illuminating all the rooms and windows in the home, to a parade of torchbearers, ending in a celebratory night where everyone who carries torches throws them on a large pile of straw and a bonfire is had by all.
Norway is actually where the Yule log came into being. It was the ancient Norse who utilized the special log when they celebrated the return of the sun at winter solstice. “Yule” is actually derived from a Norse word meaning “wheel.” You would think it would mean light or fire of some kind, but this group believed that the sun was a great ‘wheel of fire’ that rolled toward and then away from the earth.
Germany gets a big round of thanks for the beauty of the Christmas tree. They were all about decorating those evergreen lovelies, ever since the beginning of the 17th century. German immigrants that came to the U.S. in the 1820s were the first to decorate Christmas trees, in the state of Pennsylvania. Another little known fact is that the first American newspaper, in 1848, actually printed a pic of a Christmas tree which caused the tradition to go countrywide in only a few short years.
Our friends in Mexico added the well-known decoration, the Poinsettia, to the holiday and an Englishman named John Horsley brought about greeting cards. Hallmark definitely owes this man a great deal. Back in the 1830s when he began creating small cards with holiday scenes on the outside and blessings written inside, he ended up laying the foundation for what would become a billion dollar industry.
Celtic people actually hung Mistletoe in their homes for good luck, but the English hung it from ceilings and above doorways in order to be the first to “sneak” a kiss without having to apologize for their ungentlemanly behavior. It worked, and definitely spread to the U.S. And when it comes to Christmas carols, it was also in England where musicians would travel to the richest of homes (hitting all those castle along the way), and perform some unforgettable Christmas songs, hoping to receive some gratuity in exchange.
In France, where Christmas is referred to as “Noel,” a log will burn in some fireplaces from the Eve of Christmas right through New Year’s Day in order to gain good luck for the harvest. Italians call Christmas “The Birthday” (Il Natale), and Eskimos in Canada celebrate a festival called “Sinck Tuck” that includes dancing and gifts.
When it comes to the nativity, it was St. Francis of Assisi who actually created the first “living” nativity scene back in 1224, in order to better explain the birth of Jesus to one and all of his followers.
In the end, whatever traditions you may celebrate this time of year, always remember this one very important thing: Never fail to experience the incredible magic that comes along with the holiday season.
Source: Baret News