Monday, January 25, 2010

World Festivals Demystified: All about Christmas / Xmas

Christmas, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.It is celebrated on December 25. Christmas Day is an annual holiday is a fascinating miscellany of traditions: one that combines pre-Christian pagan rituals with modern traditions. Every family that celebrates Christmas has its own customs--some surprisingly universal, others entirely unique--but all comfortably familiar in their seeming antiquity.

Scroll down till end of this article and briefly see the headings to understand what different terms means with respect to Christmas celebration worldwide and locally. Read what is interesting and informative for you!

Why Christmas is also known as Xmas? The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038."Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century.Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.

Thanks Giving Day
Fourth Thursday in November in the United States; second Monday in October in Canada; commemorates a feast held in 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Normally, this kickstarts the mega sales and winter shopping period till Christmas and New year. 

Boxing Day: 
First weekday after Christmas.Boxing Day is a bank holiday or a public holiday in the United Kingdom, US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Greenland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and countries in the Commonwealth of Nations with a mainly Christian population. In South Africa this public holiday is now known as the Day of Goodwill. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon tradition giving seasonal gifts to less wealthy people and social inferiors. Until their distribution, these gifts were stored in a "Christmas box", which was opened on December 26, when the contents were distributed. In the United Kingdom, this was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.

Epiphany/Three Kings' Day/Twelfth day: 
Twelve days after Christmas; celebrates the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus. Celebrated on January 6th.

Yuletide /Christmastide: 
Period extending from December 24 to January 6.

Xmas in Russia
Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on January 6, Christmas Eve. The church in Russia still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore their Christmas celebration is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that we useXmas in Russia: In pictures

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful honey harvest.

For many Russians, a return to religion represents a return to their old roots and their old culture. Throughout Russia, after Christmas Eve services, people carrying candles, torches, and homemade lanterns parade around the church, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents did long ago. After the procession completes its circle around the church, the congregation re-enters and they sing several carols and hymns before going home for a late Christmas Eve dinner.

Popular Greetings in different languages
  • English: Merry Christmas
  • Finnish: Hyvää Joulua
  • French: Joyeux Noel 
  • German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
  • Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År 
  • Spanish/Chile/Argentine: Feliz Navidad
  • African/ Eritrean/ Tigrinja: Rehus-Beal-Ledeats
  • Arabic: Milad Majid
  • Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Natal
  • Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
  • Brazilian: Feliz Natal
  • Chinese: (Mandarin) Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
  • Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast
  • Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
  • Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi
  • Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
  • Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
  • Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
  • Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
  • Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
  • Latin: Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
  • Maori: Meri Kirihimete
  • Philippines: Maligayang Pasko!
  • Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
  • Portuguese:Feliz Natal
  • Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
  • Malayalam: Kristhumas Mangalangal!

Christmas : Religious - economic -social impact
December 25 is chosen as Jesus Birthday to correspond with either the day exactly nine months after some early Christians believed Jesus had been conceived, a historical Roman festival,or the date of the northern hemisphere's winter solstice, as rightly mentioned in online Wiki.Christmas is central to the Christas and holiday season, and in Christianity marks the beginning of the larger season of Christmastide, which lasts twelve days.

Although traditionally a Christian holiday, Christmas is also widely celebrated by many non-Christians, and some of its popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift-giving, music, an exchange of greeting cards, church celebrations, a special meal, and the display of various decorations; including Christmas trees, lights, garlands, mistletoe(see picture of the plant leaves in the christmas holly below), nativity scenes, and holly. In addition, Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in some areas, including North America, Australia and Ireland) is a popular mythological figure in many countries, associated with the bringing of gifts for children.

It is traditional in Finland to bring candles to the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve and All Saints Day.In Finland people usually take a Christmas sauna. The tradition is very old. Unlike on normal days, when going to sauna is in the evening, on Christmas Eve it is before sunset. This tradition is based on a pre-20th century belief that the spirits of the dead return and have a sauna at the usual sauna hours.
Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity among both Christians and non-Christians, the holiday has become a significant event and a key sales period for retailers and businesses. The economic impact of Christmas is a factor that has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world.

Christmas Crib
It is the custom in many churches to set up a Crib (or Creche) scene of the Nativity or birth of Jesus. The first scene of this type was set up by St. Francis of Asissi in the 13th century. They have been very popular in Italy ever since then, and the custom has spread to other countries.Nativity scenes can be large with life-sized statues, or they can be tiny enough to fit in a matchbox. They are made of many different things including carved and painted wood, brightly coloured ceramics (pottery), painted paper glued to boards, and mixtures of material with clay, wood, cloth, straw and metal used for different parts.

Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree, real or artificial, and a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas or the original name Yule. The Christmas tree is often brought into a home, but can also be used in the open, and can be decorated with Christmas lights (originally candles), ornaments, garlands and tinsel during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

Ginger Bread House
 To the days following Christmas, Christmas decoration are put up, and gingerbreads and saffron buns are baked, often homemade. Many people also make gingerbread houses out of lebukchens. Christmas dishes and meals are always served on Julbord (Christmas table).

Lebukuchen(german for love+ cake) is a hard, chewy or brittle Christmas cookie, usually flavored with honey and spices and containing nuts and citron.

Christmas Star
From December 1st onwards, christians will have a star lit infront of their houses. The age old custom is based on the The Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, which is a star in Christian tradition that revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the magi were men "from the east" who were inspired by the appearance of the star to travel to Jerusalem. There they met King Herod of Judea, and asked where the king of the Jews had been born. Herod then asked his advisers where a messiah could be born. They replied Bethlehem, a nearby village, and quoted a prophecy by Micah. While the magi were on their way to Bethlehem, the star appeared again. Following the star, which stopped above the place where Jesus was born, the magi found Jesus with his mother, paid him homage, worshipped him and gave gifts. They then returned to their "own country".

Santa Claus and north pole address Rovaniemi
Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas/Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or simply "Santa", is a legendary figure who, in many Western cultures, brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24 or on his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day).The legend may have part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of gift giver Saint Nicholas. A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek and Byzantine folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil's feast day on January 1 is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.

While Saint Nicholas was originally portrayed wearing bishop's robes, today Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, and films. In the United Kingdom and Europe, his depiction is often identical to the American Santa, but he is commonly called Father Christmas.

One legend associated with Santa says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus says that he lives at his house on the North Pole, while Father Christmas is often said to reside in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland. Santa Claus lives with his wife Mrs. Claus, a countless number of magical elves, and eight or nine flying reindeer. Another legend of Santa says that he makes a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other gifts to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.

Writing letters to Santa Claus has been a Christmas tradition for children for many years. These letters normally contain a wishlist of toys and assertions of good behavior. Some social scientists have found that boys and girls write different types of letters. Girls generally write longer but more polite lists and express the nature of Christmas more in their letters than in letters written by boys. Girls also request gifts for other people on a more frequent basis.

Many postal services allow children to send letters to Santa Claus pleading their good behavior and requesting gifts; these letters may be answered by postal workers or other volunteers. Canada Post has a special postal code for letters to Santa Claus, and since 1982 over 13,000 Canadian postal workers have volunteered to write responses. His address is: Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, H0H0H0. (This postal code, in which zeroes are used for the letter "O" is consistent with the alternating letter-number format of all Canadian postal codes.) Sometimes children's charities answer letters in poorer communities or from children's hospitals in order to give them presents that they would not otherwise receive.

In Britain it is tradition to burn the Christmas letters on the fire so that they would be magically transported by the wind to the North Pole. However, this tradition is dying out in modern times with few people having true open fires in their homes. Recently however, national postal service Royal Mail revived the tradition by giving "Santa Claus" a special address: Santa/Father Christmas, Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, SAN TA1.Father Christmas, North Pole, SAN TA1.

For 2009, an alternative has been used:
Through the years Santa Claus of Finland has received over eight million letters. He gets over 600,000 letters every year from over 150 countries. Children from Great Britain, Poland and Japan are the busiest writers. The Finnish Santa Claus lives in Korvatunturi but Santa's Official Post Office is situated in Rovaniemi at the Arctic circle. His address is: Santa Claus, Santa Claus Village, FIN-96930 Arctic Circle, Finland.
Children can also receive a letter from Santa through agencies such as Santa ThePenPal. Parents can order a personalized "Santa letter" to be sent to their child, often with a North Pole postmark. The "Santa Letter" market generally relies on the internet as a medium for ordering such letters rather than retail stores. 

Santa Claus and his reindeer 'Rudolf':
Santa Claus's reindeer are a team of flying reindeer traditionally held to pull the sleigh of Santa Claus and help him deliver Christmas gifts. The commonly cited names of the reindeer are based on those used in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, arguably the basis of reindeer's popularity as Christmas symbols, where they are called Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Dunder and Blixem.Dunder was later changed to Donder and — in other works — Donner, and Blixem was later changed to Blitzen.The subsequent popularity of the Christmas song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has led to another reindeer name joining the popular roll-call.

According to this story, Rudolph's glowing red nose made him a social outcast among the other reindeer. However, one Christmas Eve Santa Claus was having a lot of difficulty making his flight around the world because it was too foggy. When Santa went to Rudolph's house to deliver his presents he noticed the glowing red nose in the darkened bedroom and decided it could be a makeshift lamp to guide his sleigh. He asked Rudolph to lead the sleigh for the rest of the night, Rudolph accepted and returned home a hero for having helped Santa Claus.Rudolf 

In Finland, one of my favourite dishes is Rudolph meat :)

Nativity Story: The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels and in various apocryphal texts.

Apocrypha:14 books of the Old Testament included in the Vulgate but omitted in Jewish and Protestant versions of the Bible; eastern Christian churches (except the Coptic Church) accept all these books as canonical; the Russian Orthodox Church accepts these texts as divinely inspired but does not grant them the same status.

Advent: Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming") is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday.The Eastern churches' equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on 1 September. Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming. Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting of Christians for the second coming of Christ. 

Advent Calendar:The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive. 25 days of fasting or abstinence from one's lavishness or addictions say Drinking, smoking, non-vegetarian food. Normally the money saved will then be used for charity.Many churches make use of Advent wreaths during this season, with one candle representing each of the four Sundays of Advent. The rose candle is lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent. During Christmas Day, four white candles are used.

Advent Calendar is a gift with 25 small surprise pockets numbered 1 to 25, each with a different shaped chocolate.Children open each box and get the surprise from Dec 1 to 25.

Christmas Special Food
  • Christmas Cakes
  • Christmas Puddings
  • Christmas Bird - Chicken,Duck or Turkey
  • Christmas cookies - Ginger cookies
  • Christmas Mince Pies
  • Christmas Chocolates
  • Christmas Wine and Drinks
  • Christmas Candles(for candle lit dinner :)
Christmas Carol: Joyful religious song celebrating the birth of Christ. Children from different wards of a parish church gather to form a team to go around houses, singing christmas carols.One of them acts as Christmas Father (Santa Claus) or take turns to act as one.Offerings will be given by parishioners and usually children on christmas nights eagerly look forward to this.

Christmas Gifts: One of the things that make Christmas special is the spirit of giving. As children we can’t wait for Christmas morning to open presents. Men look for just the right gifts for women. Women usually shop for men, their own children as well as others, and for family and friends.

You could buy Advent Calendars with chocolates, Christmas decorations, souvenirs, Christmas Cakes and Wines for your family, relatives, colleagues, friends and children.

Christmas activities for Parents and Children:
  • Decorating the house and yard with christmas light and star
  • Buy or Gift an 'Advent Calendar' with chocolates for kids - 1 surprise a day till Dec 25
  • Decorating the Christmas tree with family and children
  • Send a Letter to Santa and other activities:
  • Prepare and decorate the Christmas Crib with family and children
  • Send christmas greetings to personal & official network - email/sms/e-greeting
  • Christmas party for children and friends - gifts are kept below the Christmas tree
  • Christmas Carol - participating and receiving the carol home
  • Midnight mass for December 24th night
  • Santa's surprise gifts for children when they wake up on Xmas morning
  • X'mas special food together with all family
Merry Christmas!

Enjoy and spread cheer!  Recollect about learnings and good memories from past year. Spend a relaxed vacation and cheerful time with family. Get rejuvenated and ready for a happy and prosperous new year!

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