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Have you ever dreamt about traveling the globe and seeing how other cultures celebrate the Christmas holiday?  Maybe you can not afford the price of the ticket, do not want the hassle of hustling throughout a busy airport during the holiday season, or you just do not have the time in your schedule.  Whichever may be your reason or excuse…no worries I, The Pilot,  will bring you the Christmas Around the World…Holiday of Lights!   As you may not know, “no one does the Christmas Holidays like the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI)” in Chicago.  The Museum of Science and Industry presents  a-one-of-kind seasonal celebration”.  This event runs from November 14, 2013-January 5, 2014, the Hours are from 9:30am-4:00pm and it is located at  5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637.  This is one of those “don’t miss events!”.

According to the MSI, this event “began in 1942 with a single tree dedicated to the Allies of world War II.”  Now it has developed into quite a dreamy celebration and can turn even the old curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, into a believer of the holidays without the visits (lol) {taken from the novel by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.}

FYI: Curmudgeon: “a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person (www.dictionary.com).”

FYI: A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens is the depiction of a crotchety stingy man who did not believe in the “holiday spirit”, so he was visited by the spirit of Christmas Past, Present and Future…the old grouch! (lol).  Later, through these introspective visits he transform into a kind, generous and loving person towards his fellow human and learns to LOVE the holidays!

Back in 1942, I am sure the lighting of the tree must have been some awesome affair but now the grand “45-foot Grand Tree with 30,000 lights and 1,000 ornaments; is surrounded by 50 smaller trees decorated by volunteers by the ethnic communities to represent their various cultures and holiday traditions”.  Have you ever wanted to see how other cultures danced to celebrate the holidays.   Yes, there will be Performers of Choral and Dancers performances on certain weekdays and on the weekends!

Today, I am sure the troops would be awed at this grand presentation…I have no doubt that the troops would love all of the tree displays from around the world and all of their cultures would feel appreciated.

FYI: The Allies was the name used by countries fighting in the Second World War (WWII) against the Axis. The Allies included Britain, France, Russia,  Poland, Nationalist China, Belgium (although it remained neutral), Canada, Finland, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, Norway, Denmark, Greece, the British commonwealth (Australia, New Zealand, India) and the USA.  The Axis included Germany (Austria) , Italy, Japan, Romania satellites (Hungary and Bulgaria).  Eventually over 50 countries fought on the Allied side. Thus making it a true World War (taken from various sites).

When people are asked what is your favorite holiday of the year, I am sure the majority of responses are “The Holidays”, of which we readily know to mean (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years).  However specifically most claim Christmas as their favorite time of the year!  Why not, with its festive foods, sparkling drinks, joyous music, decorative colors, and gift giving traditions–which makes it one of “the most wonderful time of the year”!

Well my visit to the Museum of Science and Industry definitely placed me into the holiday mood.   I realize, as I type this blog, there are some that do not care for the world “holiday”, and instead prefer for the world “Christmas”.  However, I make great attempts to be cognizant of different cultures and traditions and hope to be “inclusive” and not ethnocentric.  I have come to understand that fear-or xenophobia-makes holidays less “happy” for others if they are not recognized…after all it is about “peace on earth and goodwill towards men”–all men (and in men it meant humankind).

FYI:  According to the biblical scripture of the King James Version: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”, is what the heralding angels said to the shepherds tending their sheep on the day we celebrate the birth  (Luke 2:14).

FYI: Ethnocentrism: Belief in the intrinsic superiority of the nation, culture, or group to which one belongs with the tendency to evaluate other groups according to the values and standards of your own ethnic group; especially with the perception and conviction that your own ethnic group is superior to the other groups.

FYI: Xenophobic: hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers and of their politics or culture which may be different than yours.

After a bit of research I learned that “Beginning in the mid-20th century, as the Christian-associated Christmas holiday became increasingly secularized and central to American economics and culture while religio-multicultural sensitivity rose, generic references to the season that omitted the word “Christmas” became more common in the corporate and public sphere of the United States, which has caused a semantics ( the study of linguistics ) controversy, translation, a disagreement of meaning, that continues to the present.”

By the late 20th century, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the African American cultural holiday of Kwanzaa began to be considered in the U.S. as being part of the “holiday season”, a term that by the beginning of the 21st century would become equally or more prevalent than “Christmas season” in U.S. Sources, to refer to the end-of-the-year festive period. “Holiday season” has also spread in varying degrees to Canada and Australia, however in the United Kingdom, the phrase “holiday season” is not widely understood to be synonymous with the Christmas–New Year period, and is often instead associated with summer holidays.  I found this interesting to learn that in the world not everyone celebrates “Christmas” per say.  This could be due to the fact that not all of the world is “Christ”ian.

FYI:  Hanukkah: “The holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi’in from Syrian King Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for rededication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication.” When the sacred temple Menorah (candelabra) was relit, there was only enough sacred oil to burn for one day. Yet, according to tradition, the oil miraculously lasted eight days until more purified oil could be found.  A lesser known story from the Apocrypha tells of the beautiful widow Judith who plied enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with cheese and wine until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith beheaded the general in his sleep, and his soldiers fled in fear, thus saving her people from the Assyrians. This story is the subject of much renowned artwork.  In remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Children receive gifts of gelt (in remembrance of the coins minted by the new independent Maccabee state) or money and play games of dreidel (a spinning four-sided top.) The tradition of receiving a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah is fairly recent. Since Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes at the same time of the year (hanukkah-greeting.com)”.

TIP: You will also see this holiday spelled Chanukkah and perhaps even Hannukah due to different translations and customs.

FYI: Kwanzaa: “Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural holiday conceived and developed by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, was first celebrated on December 26, 1966. Kwanzaa is traditionally celebrated from December 26 through January 1, with each day focused on Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles. Derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”, Kwanzaa is rooted in the first harvest celebrations practiced in various cultures in Africa. Kwanzaa was born out of the whirlwind of social and political changes of the sixties decade. The sixties represent one of many eras during which the African and African-American struggle for freedom and self-identity reached its historical peak, spawning multiple revolutionary movements.  By creating Kwanzaa, African-Americans sought to rectify the cultural and economic exploitation perpetrated against us during the months of October, November, and December (the Christmas season). During this season, corporate America typically ignored the quality of life concerns of African-Americans, yet encouraged participation in the commercialism of Christmas (kwanzaa.123holiday.net)”.

TIP: Kwanzaa Seven Symbols: 1. Mazao: Fruits, Nuts, and Vegetables,  2. Mkeka: Place Mat,  3.  Vibunzi: Ear of Corn,  4.  Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles, 5.  Kinara: The Candleholder,  6.  Kikombe Cha Umoja: The Unity Cup,  7. Zawadi: Gifts.

However, I do give fair recognition of the word Christmas, as well.  Did you know that Christmas meaning is “Christ’s Mass”?  Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus to the Mary as a fulfillment of the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecy. The Bible contains two accounts which describe the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Depending on one’s perspective, these accounts either differ from each other or tell two versions of the same story. These biblical accounts are found in the Gospel of Matthew, namely Matthew 1:18, and the Gospel of Luke, specifically Luke 1:26 and 2:40. According to these accounts, Jesus was born to Mary, assisted by her husband Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem.  According to Biblical research, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals. A manger (that is, a feeding trough) is mentioned in Luke 2:7, where it states Mary “wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (KJV); and “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (NIV). Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child. Biblical verses also holds that three kings or wise men (named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar) visited the infant Jesus in the manger, though this does not strictly follow all biblical account. The Gospel of Matthew instead describes a visit by an unspecified number of magi,  sometime “after” Jesus was born while the family was living in a house (Matthew 2:11), who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The visitors were following a mysterious star, commonly known as the Star of Bethlehem, believing it to announce the birth of a king of the Jews. The commemoration of this visit, the Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6, is the formal end of the Christmas season in some churches (wikipedia and other web research sites).

FYI: Feast of Epiphany “One of the oldest Christian feasts (celebrated since the end of the second century, before the establishment of the Christmas holiday), Epiphany (which means “manifestation” or “showing forth”) is sometimes called Twelfth Day, Three Kings’ Day, Día de los Tres Reyes (in Latin America), the Feast of Jordan (by Ukrainian Orthodox), or Old Christmas Day (The Free Dictionary).” “Christians celebrate 6 of January as Epiphany because it’s considered the day the three Wise men (Magi) visited Jesus in Bethlehem  The other reason it’s called Epiphany is because it signified the revelation of God to mankind in human form (Answers.com).”

The song: We Three Kings of Orient AreI shared with you the appropriate lyrics as each King presented their gifts to the baby Jesus!

FYI:  “The famous American carol We three Kings of Orient was written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins. The minister is reputed to have written the carol We three Kings of Orient are for the General Theological Seminary in New York City as part of their Christmas pageant. The lyrics of We three Kings of Orient are are extremely traditional which makes the latter day fashion of referring to the carol as We 3 Kings of Orient are quite bizarre! www.carols.org.uk

FRANKINCENSE

Frankincense to offer have I Incense owns a Deity nigh Prayer and praising, all men raising Worship Him, God most high”

MYRRH

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Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Breathes of life of gathering gloom Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying Sealed in the stone-cold tomb”

GOLD

“Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain Gold I bring to crown Him again King forever, ceasing never Over us all to reign”

The gifts that were presented to the baby Jesus by the Three Kings were a blessing, it is written that with those gifts the family of Jesus were able to flee from danger.

You may ask what is the difference with “gifts” and “presents” ?  Well according to an article I read.  “the word gift has a current common meaning of ‘something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance.’ It denoted a specific act of putting something in someone else’s hands, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  Later around the 1300s, the word began to assume a more general meaning of an object freely given to another person.”

Whereas, present  was imported was imported into English from Old Norman also called Old French). Present originally meant the same thing as the adjective present , ‘being there.’ It was used in the French phrase mettre en present, to mean ‘to offer in the presence of.’  By the early 1300s, it became synonymous with the thing being offered. (Present did not acquire the sense of ‘the present time’ until the 1500s.)

Now, we have other terms used from gift giving in the modern era.  For example “re-gifting” is almost akin to recycling a gift, instead of returning a gift to the merchandiser, you instead would gift it to another person…hopefully not the same person which presented you the gift in the first place (lol).

FYI: “Re-gift. A more recent evolution of the term came in the popular word regift.  The word refers  to the common practice of giving away a gift that you received from someone else, like candles, bubble bath, “and ugly sweaters (lol)! dictionary.com

FYI:  In other countries, secular processions or parades featuring Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held. Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season.

When can you open the gifts?!

Gift giving takes place on Christmas Day in most countries. Others practice gift giving on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day; and January 6, Epiphany; or the day before Christmas, December 26.

How do you say Merry Christmas in…

Season’s Greetings كل عام وأنتم بخير  – Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese) –  祝聖誕節快樂 Chinese (Mandarin) –  祝圣诞节快乐 Danish – Glædelig Jul og Godt Nytår Dutch – Prettige feestdagen Fijian – Bula Vinaka Finnish – Hyvää Joulua ja Onnellista Uutta Vuotta French – Joyeuses fêtes German – Frohe Feiertage! Hindi – uoo”kZ dh ‘kqÒdkeuk;sa Icelandic – Gleðilega hátíð Italian – Buone Feste Japanese – メリー クリスマス Korean –    즐거운 연휴 되시길 바랍니다. Lithuanian –  Linksmų švenčių! Norwegian – God Jul og Godt Nytt År  Persian (Farsi) تبریکات فصلی  Portuguese – Boas Festas Romanian – Crăciun fericit Spanish – Felices fiestas Swati –  Tilokotfo taKhisimisi Swedish – God Jul och Gott Nytt År, Maligayang Pasko in the Philippines   – See more at: http://www.lingo24.com/useful-phrases-seasons-greetings.html#sthash.0hABZfvH.dpuf

Ways to say “Merry Christmas” or “Season’s Greetings” in such languages    as Afrikaans, Danish, Hindi, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Swahili, Thai, and more.

Language Merry Christmas
Afrikaans Gesëende Kersfees
Czech Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny          Novy Rok
Danish Glædelig Jul
Esperanto Gajan Kristnaskon
Finnish Hyvää Joulua
French Joyeux Noël
German Froehliche Weihnachten
Greek Kala Christouyenna
Hawaiian Mele Kalikimaka
Hindi Bada Din Mubarak Ho
Icelandic Gledileg Jol
Irish Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Italian Buon Natale or Buone Feste          Natalizie
Japanese Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu          Omedeto
Korean Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Latin Natale hilare
Lithuanian Linksmu Kaledu
Maori Meri Kirihimete
Norwegian God Jul
Polish Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
Portuguese Feliz Natal
Russian Srozhdestovm Kristovim
Spanish Feliz Navidad
Swahili Kuwa na Krismasi njema
Tagalog Maligayang Pasko
Thai Suksun Wan Christmas
Vietnamese Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh Nadolig Llawen

Happy Holidays[edit]

For other meanings of “Happy Holidays”, see Happy Holidays (disambiguation).

In the United States, “Happy Holidays” (along with the similarly generalized “Season’s Greetings”) has become a common holiday greeting in the public sphere of department stores, public schools and greeting cards. Its use is generally confined to the period between United States Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. American use of the term “Happy Holidays” to replace “Merry Christmas” dates back at least to the 1970s[53] and was a common phrase relating to the Christmas season at least going back to the 1890s.[54] The term may have gained popularity with the Irving Berlin song “Happy Holidays” (released in 1942 and included in the film Holiday Inn).

A Jerusalem bus wishing pedestrians a Hanukkah Sameach, a Happy Hanukkah, in December 2010.

In the United States, it can have several variations and meanings:[citation needed]

  • As “Happy Holiday”, an English translation of the Hebrew Hag Sameach greeting on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot.
  • As “Happy Holiday”, a substitution for “Merry Christmas”.
  • As “Happy Holidays”, a collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day (St. Stephen’s Day), the New Year and Epiphany.

Which should I say, that will not offend anyone?

As “Happy Holidays”, a shortened form of the greeting “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

The increasing usage of “Happy Holidays” has been the subject of some controversy in the United States. Advocates claim that “Happy Holidays” is an inclusive greeting that is not intended as an attack on Christianity or other religions, but is rather a response to what they say is the reality of a growing non-Christian population.

Show me the money…when should I start spending?

In the United States, the Christmas/holiday shopping season, during which a quarter of all personal spending takes place, is traditionally considered to commence on the day after American Thanksgiving, a Friday colloquially known as either Black Friday or Green Friday. This is widely reputed to be the busiest shopping day of the entire calendar year.

FYI:  However, in 2004 the VISA credit card organization reported that over the previous several years VISA credit card spending had in fact been 8 to 19 percent higher on the last Saturday before Christmas Day (i.e., Super Saturday) than on Black Friday.

A survey conducted in 2005 by GfK NOP discovered that “Americans aren’t as drawn to Black Friday as many retailers may think.”, with only 17% of those polled saying that they will begin holiday shopping immediately after Thanksgiving, 13% saying that they plan to finish their shopping before November 24, and 10% waiting until the very last day before performing their holiday gift shopping.

According to a survey by the Canadian Toy Association, peak sales in the toy industry occur in the Christmas and holiday season, but this peak has occurred later and later in the season every year.

In 2005, the ceremonial kick-off to the Christmas and holiday season for online shopping, the first Monday after US Thanksgiving, was named Cyber Monday. However, although it was a peak, that was not the busiest on-line shopping day of that year. The busiest on-line shopping days were December 12 and December 13, almost two weeks later; the second Monday in December has since become known as Green Monday. Another notable day is Free Shipping Day, a promotional day that serves as the last day where a person can order a good online and have it arrive via standard shipping (the price of which the sender pays) prior to Christmas Eve; this day is usually on or near December 16.Four of the largest 11 on-line shopping days in 2005 were December 11 to 16, with an increase of 12% over 2004 figures.In 2011, Cyber Monday was slightly busier than Green Monday and Free Shipping Day, although all three days registered sales of over US$1 billion, and all three days registered gains ranging from 14% to 22% over the previous year. Analysts had predicted the peak on December 12, noting that Mondays are the most popular days for on-line shopping during the holiday shopping season, in contrast to the middle of the week during the rest of the year. They attribute this to people “shopping in stores and malls on the weekends, and […] extending that shopping experience when they get into work on Monday” by “looking for deals, […] comparison shopping and […] finding items that were out of stock in the stores”.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Christmas shopping season starts from mid November, around the time when high street Christmas lights are turned on. In the UK in 2010, up to £8 billion was expected to be spent online at Christmas, approximately a quarter of total retail festive sales.  Retailers in the UK call Christmas the “golden quarter”, that is, the three months of October through December is the quarter of the year in which the retail industry hopes to make most money.

In France, the January sales are restricted by legislation to no more than four weeks in Paris, and no more than six weeks for the rest of the country, usually beginning on the first Wednesday in January, and are one of only two periods of the year when retailers are permitted to hold sales.

In Italy, the January sales begin on the first weekend in January, and last for at least six weeks.

In Germany, the Winterschlussverkauf (winter close-out sale) was one of two official sales periods (the other being the Sommerschlussverkauf, the summer sales). It began on the last Monday in January and would last for 12 days, selling left-over goods from the holiday shopping season. However, unofficially, goods were sold at reduced prices by many stores throughout the whole of January and by the time that the sales officially begin the only goods left on sale are low-quality ones, often specially manufactured for the sales. Since a legislative reform to the corresponding law in 2004,season close-out sales are now allowed over the whole year and no more restricted to season-related goods. However, voluntary sales still called “Winterschlussverkauf” take place further on in most stores at the same time every year.

In Sweden, where the First of Advent marks the start of the Christmas and holiday season, continuing with Saint Lucy’s Day on December 13, followed up by Christmas before the Mellandagsrea (between days sell off) begins on December 27 (nowadays often December 26 or even December 25) and lasts during the rest of the Christmas holiday. It is similar to Black Friday, but lasts longer. They last 34–35 days In Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, holiday sales starts in the middle of December and last for at least one month. (wikipedia.com).

Why do we meet under the mistletoe for that  K I S S ?

The mistletoe is a seasonal costume plant by the Gauls. The Druids — for thusly are their priests named – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, as long as that tree be an oak…. Mistletoe is very rarely encountered; but when they do find some, they gather it, in a solemn ritual….”After preparing for a sacrifice and a feast under the oak, they hail the mistletoe as a cure-all and bring two white bulls there, whose horns have never been bound before. A priest dressed in a white robe climbs the oak and with a golden sickle cuts the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then they sacrifice the victims, begging the god, who gave them the mistletoe as a gift, to make it propitious for them. They believe that a potion prepared from mistletoe will make sterile animals fertile, and that the plant is an antidote for any poison. Such is the supernatural power with which people often invest even the most trifling things” (Natural History, XVI, 249-251; translation by David Beaulieu).
There is another take that “The variety common in Europe was imbued with religious significance by its ancient denizens. We find the source of “kissing under the mistletoe” in Celtic rituals and Norse mythology. In Gaul, the land of the Celts, for instance, the Druids considered it a sacred plant. It was believed to have medicinal qualities and mysterious supernatural powers. The following reflections from the Roman natural historian, Pliny the Elder is part of a longer Latin passage on the subject, dealing with a Druidic religious ritual:The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.”  We moderns have conveniently forgotten the part about plucking the berries (which, incidentally, are poisonous), and then desisting from kissing under the mistletoe when the berries run out!

Most types of mistletoe are classified as hemiparasitical (i.e., partial parasites). They are not full parasites, since the plants are capable of photosynthesis. But these mistletoe plants are parasitic in the sense that they send a special kind of root system (called “haustoria”) down into their hosts, the trees upon which they grow, in order to extract nutrients from the trees.

Therefore, forget about creeping on the stairs to take a peek to seeing “mommy kissing Santa Claus“…kiss all year round sans the plant! (lol).

FYI: I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus (This Christmas song by by Tommie Connor was first recorded by Jimmy Boyd and hit the top of the charts in 1952.)

What about the trees!

No one for sure knows when and where the first Christmas tree was created. However the origin of Christmas tree can be traced back to 16th century Germany. From there it spread to Eastern Europe and then to the United States and then soon all over the world (hubpages).

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.”

A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine, or fir traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas. If real trees are using for decorating purposes care should be taken to look it fresh all time. For this, the cut portion of the Christmas tree should be kept in water.  An artificial Christmas tree, usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is a man-made replication of such a tree and is often used instead of a live tree in order to retain the Christmas spirit and decorations without the care and maintenance of a cut tree.  Artificial Christmas trees are suitable for both indoor and outdoor decorations (wikipedia.com).

The tree was traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts or other foods. In the 18th century, it began to be illuminated by candles, which with electrification could be replaced by Christmas lights. Today, there are a wide variety of traditional ornaments, such as garland, tinsel, and candy canes. An angel or star might be placed at the top of the tree to represent the angel Gabriel or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity.

Alternatively, it is identified with the “tree of paradise” of medieval mystery plays that were given on 24 December, the commemoration and name day of Adam and Eve in various countries. In such plays, a tree decorated with apples (to represent the forbidden fruit) and wafers (to represent the Eucharist and redemption) was used as a setting for the play. Like the Christmas crib, the Paradise tree was later placed in homes. The apples were replaced by round objects such as shiny red balls.

MSI: BRINGS YOU AROUND THE WORLD IN LESS THAN 80 DAYS! (LOL)

Now back to the trees at the museum…when I visited the MSI, I saw so many trees that I wondered if I was in a beautiful magical forest !

I decided to take photos of the representing country and a special ornament on that tree!  Afterall the trees were all the same size and color’ but what stood out were the unique ornaments on those trees!  I also decided to fastidiously search through copious interesting facts and information about each representing country to supplement the photos.

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(DYK): In India, Christian households, preparations for Christmas begin at least a month in advance. People get their homes whitewashed and indulge in spring cleaning of the house to give it a fresh new look. Ladies start preparations for the traditional Christmas cake which is anxiously awaited not just by the entire family but also by the neighbors!! Christmas Day called ‘Bada Din’ (Big Day) in Hindi is a national holiday in India and people from all religions join their Christian friends to make the most of the joyous celebrations. Instead of having traditional Christmas Trees, a banana or mango tree is decorated. Sometimes people use mango leaves to decorate their homes. Customs for Christmas celebrations vary in the vast expanse of India.

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(DYK):  In Sweden, the Swedish Christmas celebrations begin with the first of Advent. Saint Lucy’s Day (locally known as Luciadagen) which is the first major Christmas celebration before Christmas itself. Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.   Electric candles and glowing stars are placed in almost every window in December month in Sweden. Families sometimes have goats made of straw in the house to guard the Christmas Tree! Straw is used as a decoration in homes, to remind them that Jesus was born in a manger. Christmas Tree decorations that are made of straw are also very popular.  Although December 25 (juldagen) is a Swedish public holiday, December 24 is the day when Santa Clause Jultomte (or simply Tomte) brings the presents.

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(DYK): In the Netherlands (also called Holland) on December, 5th children leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’s horse, they will be left some sweets. Children are told that Zwarte Piet keeps a record of all the things they have done in the past year, in a book, and that good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will get chased by Zwarte Piet with a stick! They organize their St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas) festival: the old bearded man traveling by boat and accompanied by many black aids, who distributes gifts to good children. Dutch people reserve the big gifts for Kerstmis Time because they profit for some great bargains after Sinter Klaas.  The Christmas season wraps up after the new year with Epiphany, or “Driekoningen”, on January 6. Children dress up as the Three Wise Men and travel in groups of three carrying lanterns, re-enacting the Epiphany and singing traditional songs for their hosts. In return they are rewarded with cakes and sweets.

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(DYK):  Christmas in Puerto Rico is  the period is quite long as  it extends from early December to mid-January. The air is filled with typical songs such  as the Aguinaldos ..People visit friends and family in the asaltos in which they go from house to house singing and partying. Typical instruments such as the guiro,  the cuatro and the guitar are used to make lovely music.The hosts lavish their visitors with food and drinks and later join the group as they move to another house.  Puerto Ricans usually put up a nice Christmas Tree with all the trimmings–a custom  obtained from American influence. As in most things, Puerto Ricans have adapted American  customs while keeping their own in typical celebrations, For the next 5 days Puerto Ricans and children in particular prepare for another festivity of Puerto Rican  culture…The Three Kings’ Day on the 6th of January…the Feast of the Epiphany,  celebrating the visit to the Christ Lord by the Magi bringing presents from the Far  East..The kids will cut some grass and place it in a small box and put it under the  Christmas Tree waiting for the Kings to bring them presents –the Camels will need a lot  of grass to feed after their long trip from the Orient.

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(DYK): In Canada houses, shops and streets are decorated with lights. Canadian people decorate their house with a Christmas tree, a Christmas wrap, a Christmas Crib… After the “Midnight Mass” people have a Christmas Eve with their family. Turkey and the Christmas log are the essential ingredients of a Canadian Christmas Dinner.   At Christmas Canadians eat sweets called Barley Candy and Chicken Bones! They are really sweets made by local candy companies. Barley Candy is usually on a stick and is shaped like Santa, reindeer, snowmen, a tree and other symbols of Christmas. Chicken Bones a pink candy that tastes like cinnamon. You melt them in your mouth and once melted, they reveal a creamy milk chocolate center. “Sinck Tuck” is a festival started by the Inuit that is celebrated in some provinces of Canada. Many Canadian families have cookie-baking parties. They bring a recipe for Christmas cookies, bake them and then exchange them with the members of their family. At the end of the party, each family goes home with a variety of different cookies to enjoy over the Christmas season. This celebration consists of dancing and gift exchanging. They send greeting cards to their friends and family who live far away. Many Canadians open their gifts on Christmas Eve. Some only open their stocking on Christmas Eve. Others choose one gift to open, then save the rest until Christmas Day.

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(DYK):  In Thailand It is true to say that no nation likes to celebrate more than the Thais and so it didn’t take long for the seasonal celebration to take hold, this may come as a surprise to some, particularly as over 90% of the population is Buddhist and Christmas is a Christian festival. However, it is worth remembering that the Christmas celebration has ancient roots in the winter solstice, and revelries involving holly, mistletoe, candles, feasts and gift-giving existed long before the Christian tradition.For the Thais, December 25th is not a public holiday and so school and work life will continue on as normal. Some Thai families will give their children gifts on Christmas morning and share a celebratory evening meal – although, this is more likely to be a Thai curry rather than the traditional Christmas fare of roast turkey.

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(DYK): In Greece the Christmas period begins on Christmas Eve and ends at the Epiphany. Christmas is less important than Easter.  On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes the will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.  If the children sing well, they might be given money, nuts, sweets and dried figs to eat.  Christmas Trees are becoming more popular in Greece, but they aren’t traditional. Instead most houses will have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.  The main Christmas meal is often Lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit. It’s often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables. Other Christmas and new year foods include ‘Baklava’ (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry). A traditional table decoration are loaves of ‘christopsomo’ (Christ bread). It’s a round sweet loaf and the crust is often decorated with what the family do for a living (if you’re a fisherman there would be fish, etc.).

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(DYK): In Columbia, while Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November. The unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7, Día de las Velitas, or “Day of the Candles.” At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8. In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual “tunnels of light.” Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event.

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(DYK): In Finland the Christmas season starts from December or even in late November, when shops began advertising potential Christmas gifts.  Christmas decorations and songs become more prominent as Christmas nears, and children count days to Christmas with Advent calendars. Finnish people clean their homes well before Christmas and prepare special treats for the festive season. A sheaf of grain, nuts and seeds are tied on a pole, which is placed in the garden for the birds to feed on.  Animals are given their own Christmas in Finland, with farmers sometimes hanging a sheaf of wheat on a tree to be eaten and pecked at by the birds. Nuts and pieces of suet are also hung on trees in bags from the branches.Spruce trees are cut or bought from a market and taken to homes on or a few days before Christmas Eve and are decorated.  Christmas gifts are usually exchanged after Christmas Eve dinner. Children do not hang up stockings in Finland but Joulupukki visits the household, maybe with a tonttu to help him distribute the presents.

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(DYK): In Romania Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is when people celebrate St. Ignatius’s Day. It is traditional that if the family keep pigs, one is killed on this day. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals., on December 24th, there is a Christmas candle burning until the morning of December 25th. The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible. Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and coloured ribbons. An image of the Nativity is painted on the star’s centre, and this piece of handiwork is attached to the end of a broom or other long stick.

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(DYK): In Lebanon, over 30 percent of the population follows Christianity, and Christmas is an anticipated affair every year. People decorate their houses and malls with Nativity Cribs and also attend Midnight Mass across various churches in Lebanon. People celebrate Christmas Eve by lighting firecrackers, ringing church bells, and shooting guns off into the air (for similar customs, see shooting in Christmas. Many attend special religious services, such as Midnight Mass. Some churches also hold special concerts featuring Christmas carols on this evening. On the morning of the festival, families get together and meet up for a brunch or lunch. Common elements present at the feasting table are coffee liquor, traditional coffee, mezze platters, sugared nuts and dates are kept on the table as a part of the Christmas feast. Before the meal commences, the young and old sit at the table, join hands and chant a small prayer for the Lord’s wellbeing before beginning to eat.

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(DYK): In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents.Christmas is merely commercial significance in Japan. Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and people can place orders at their local fast food restaurant in advance! The traditional Japanese christmas food is christmas cake, but it’s not a rich fruit cake, but is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Parties are often held for children, with games and dancing. Japanese Christmas Cake is a sponge cake decorated with trees, flowers and a figure of Santa Claus.This festival represents Saint Nicholas and it is an opportunity to offer gifts to small children.  Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, so schools and businesses are normally open on December 25th.

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(DYK): In Belgium there are two main languages, Flemish and Walloon (a version of French). The two languages are spoken in different regions of the country. In Flemish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest’ and in Walloon ‘djoyeus Noyé’.  Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond’ in Flemish and ‘le réveillion de Noël’ in Walloon), a special meal is eaten by most families. It starts with a drink (apéritif) and ‘nibbles’, followed by a ‘starter’ course such as sea-food, and then stuffed turkey. The dessert is ‘Kerststronk’ (Flemish) or ‘la bûche de Noël’ (Walloon) a chocolate Christmas Log made of sponge roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and made to resemble a bark-covered log. Small family Christmas presents are also given at Christmas too, under the tree, or in stockings near the fire-place, to be found in the morning or opened on Christmas Eve.  The traditional Christmas breakfast is the same as the normal Sunday breakfast eaten throughout the year. This is freshly baked crusty rolls (bakeries do their best trade on Sundays in the Flanders region) with butter & cold meats and/or jam, followed by pastries (like Danish pastries) called “koffiekoek(en)” (meaning coffee cake(s) as they are normal eaten with a cup of coffee!). In Walloon districts (the south of Belgium), a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’ made in a shape that is supposed to be like baby Jesus is eaten for Christmas breakfast.

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(DYK): In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from the December 12th to January 6th.   Mexican Christmas festivities start on December 12, with the feast of La Guadalupana (Virgin of Guadalupe), and end on January 6, with the Epiphany. Mexico’s Christmas traditions are based on Mexico’s form of Roman Catholicism and popular culture traditions also called Las Posadas. Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging. There are nine Posadas. These celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for a room in an Inn. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns.  Since the 1990s, Mexican society has embraced a new concept linking several celebrations around Christmas season into what is known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon.  At midnight on Christmas, many families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nacimientos (Nativity scenes), as the symbolic representation of Christmas as a whole. In the center and south of Mexico, children receive gifts on Christmas Eve and on 6 January, they celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when, according to tradition, the Three Wise Men (3 Wizard Kings) brought gifts to Bethlehem for Jesus Christ. Santa Claus (or Santo Clos, as he’s known in Mexico[38]) is who brings the children their gifts, but traditionally the Three Wise Men will fill the children’s shoes with candies, oranges, tangerines, nuts, and sugar cane, and sometimes money or gold. For the Three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus Gold for his future.

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(DYK): In the Czech Republic Christmas Eve (24 December) is celebrated as Štědrý den, which means “Generous Day”, when the gifts are given in the evening. The 25 and 26 December are Public holidays in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, but Vánoce (Christmas), is most commonly associated with the 24th.  According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek, or “baby Jesus”. Fish soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad are a traditional dish for the dinner. The gifts are surreptitiously placed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce or pine), usually just before or during dinner. Children have to wait for the ringing of a Christmas bell (one of the decorations on the Christmas tree) – the sign that Ježíšek (little Jesus) has just passed by – to run for the presents. That happens at the end of their Christmas dinner. There is a rich tradition of hard baked Christmas sweets (Cukroví).  Other Czech and Slovak Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are always cut crosswise: if a perfect star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, distorted star means a bad year or illness, while a cross may suggest death. Girls throw shoes over their shoulders – if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married soon. Another tradition requires pouring some molten lead into water and guessing a message from its shapes.

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(DYK): In Bulgaria, Christmas (Bulgarian: Коледа, Koleda or more formally Рождество Христово, Rozhdestvo Hristovo, “Nativity of Jesus”) is celebrated on 25 December and is preceded by Christmas Eve (Бъдни вечер, Badni vecher). Traditionally, Christmas Eve would be the climax of the Nativity Fast, and thus only an odd number of lenten dishes are presented on that evening. On that day, a Bulgarian budnik is set alight. On Christmas, however, meat dishes are already allowed and are typically served.  Among the Bulgarian Christmas traditions is koleduvane, which involves boy carolers (коледари, koledari) visiting the neighbouring houses starting at midnight on Christmas Eve, wishing health, wealth and happiness a. Another custom is the baking of a traditional round loaf (пита, pita). The pita is broken into pieces by the head of the family and a piece is given to each family member, a valuable possession, and a piece for God. A coin is hidden inside the pita and whoever gets the coin, he or she will have the luck, health and prosperity in the coming year.

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(DYK): In Ireland it is extremely popular on Christmas Eve to go for “the Christmas drink” in the local pub, where regular punters are usually offered a Christmas drink. Many neighbours and friends attend each other’s houses for Christmas drinks and parties on the days leading up to and after Christmas Day. Santa Claus, often known in Ireland simply as Santy or Daidí na Nollag in Irish, brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and a variety of potatoes, as potatoes still act as a staple food in Ireland despite the popularisation of staples such as rice and pasta. Dessert is a very rich selection of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter. Christmas celebrations in Ireland finish with the celebration of Little Christmas also known as Oíche Nollaig na mBan in Irish on 6 January. This festival, which coincides with Epiphany, is also known as Women’s Christmas in Cork & Kerry.

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(DYK): St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on the 6th December. In Hungary he is known as ‘Mikulás’. Children leave out shoes or boots on a windowsill to be filled with goodies! Presents might also be brought by Télapó (Old Man Winter).In Hungary, celebrations begin with Christmas tree decoration and gift packaging during daytime on 24 December, then comes a family dinner with traditional Christmas meals. The day is otherwise a fast-day. In the evening (Christmas Eve, in Hungarian: Szenteste) the Angel or the Little (Baby) Jesus (Hungarian: Kisjézus or Jézuska) delivers the presents.  In some parts of Hungary, a traditional supper called fish soup halászlé is served at Christmas Eve meal, although it is also consumed at other times of the year.  The main Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas eve, consists of fish and cabbage and a special kind of poppy bread/cake called ‘Beigli’.  In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and is called ‘Szent-este’ which means Holy Evening. The Midnight Mass service is very popular in Hungary. Most people go to Church after their Christmas meal.People spend the evening with their family and decorate the Christmas Tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), so when children come in and see the tree, it’s a great surprise and they are told that angels brought the tree for them!  On Christmas Day people visit their families.

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(DYK):  In Lithuania Christmas Eve (Kūčios) is a more important day than Christmas Day. Kūčios is also the name of the big Christmas Eve meal which families have together during the evening of Christmas Eve. Kūčios is also the last day of Advent, so it is important and special. But before the meal can be eaten, lots of preparations have to take place. The whole house is cleaned, the bedding is changed and everyone washes and puts on clean clothes ready for the meal. Many Lithuanians used to go to the bathhouse to be cleaned before the meal. Some people thought being clean helped to protect them from evil or diseases during the coming year. During Christmas Eve, working men would put away their tools and clean the cattle pens and farmyard, etc.   Stra is a traditional decoration. Is it normally spread on the table top and then covered with a clean, white tablecloth. The table is then decorated with candles and small branches or twigs from a fir tree. The straw reminds people of the baby Jesus lying in a manger. A superstition says that if you pull a piece of straw from under the tablecloth and it’s long, you will have a long life; but if it’s short you will have a short life; and a thick straw means a rich and happy life!

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(DYK):  In Denmark most people go to a Church Service on Christmas Eve about 4.00pm to hear the Christmas Story. When they get home the main Christmas meal is eaten between 6.00pm and 8.00pm. It’s served on a beautifully decorated table. Most people, after dinner, dance around the Christmas Tree before they open their presents.  Most families have a ‘ris á la mande’ (a special kind of rice pudding, made of milk, rice, vanilla, almonds and whipped cream) for dessert. All but one of the almonds are chopped into pieces. The person who finds the whole almond gets a present. On Christmas day people meet with their family and have a big lunch together with danish open-faced sandwiches on rye-bread. In Denmark, children believe that their presents are brought by the ‘Julemanden’ (which means ‘Christmas Man’). He looks very similar to Santa Claus and also travels with a sleigh and reindeer.  He lives in Greenland, likes rice pudding and is helped by ‘nisser’ which are like elves.  Christmas Parties are held from 1st November to 24th December where a good time is has by all.

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(DYK): In Kenya, as in most of Africa, Christmas is celebrated in the traditional style on December 25, and this is a holiday along with December 26. The Kenyans call Christmas ‘Krismasi’ and decorating churches, stores and homes is a highlight along with shopping and gift exchanges. The religious part of Christmas is stronger in Kenya, most people go to church this day. The churches are decorated so, the most used decorations in the country are flower, green plants and balloons. Of course there aren’t too much pine trees in the country, so there aren’t so much Christmas trees, and these some are fake (from plastic) of course. Even where you can see a plastic tree, you will see a few plastic snow too. Houses are decorated with flowers and green plants just like the churches. After going to church, the second important is to have a big dinner with family and friends, roasted goat meat must be eaten this evening. And giving gifts is just the third in Kenya On Christmas Eve there are carolings and church services and children visit homes to perform and are given gifts of goodies or money. The traditional Christmas dinner consist of pilau, puddings and cakes. Look here for more information: http://travel.mapsofworld.com/kenya/christmas-in-kenya.html

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(DYK) In China Christmas Day is not a holiday, Christmas is celebrated in Chinese cities. This festival was imported into this country by foreign missionaries. For the Chinese people who celebrate it, Christmas is a religious event.  A tradition that’s becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (which means quiet or silent night) and the word for apple in Chinese is ‘Ping Guo’ which sounds similar.One a few people have a Christmas Tree (or celebrate Christmas at all!). If people do have a tree it is normally a plastic one and might be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns (they might also call it a tree of light). The Christmas Trees that most people would see would be in shopping malls!

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(DYK): In Wales Christmas is celebrated over a twelve day time period (the twelve days of Christmas). Some of the celebrations were religious and others were secular. Before Christmas the tradition was to decorate homes with fresh mistletoe and holly; mistletoe to protect the home from evil and holly as a symbol of eternal life.   The custom in many parts of Wales was to attend a very early church service known as “Plygain” (daybreak), between 3am. and 6am. Men gathered in rural churches to sing, mainly unaccompanied, three or four part harmony carols in a service that went on for three hours or so. The custom managed to survive in many country areas, and because of its simplicity and beauty is being revived in many others. This is also the time of wassailing. A huge bowl would be filled with hot apple cider, mulled wine, spices, beaten egg whites, sliced apples, oranges and currents. To the greeting, “Good Wassail” A mug of Wassail is served to all who enters the house during this time. It is considered bad luck to refuse a mug of wassail.

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(DYK): The Christmas in Belarus is celebrated actually twice since it’s a Catholic country, on the 25th of December and on the 7th of January respectively. Christmas in Belarus is in the middle of winter and therefore the people of Belarus have a traditional white Christmas. Christmas in Belarus has been celebrated in their traditional ways since immemorial times. Christmas tree is decorated in a traditional manner and the various ornaments are gorgeous. Some of them are even hand crafted. Minsk is beautifully adorned with various Christmas lights and other ornaments. There are innumerable Christmas trees with red five-armed stars at the top decorated the streets named after the political leaders. Christmas gift giving is not common. During Christmas festive season in Belarus there are elaborate feasts where boiled rice is taken with raisins and honey, several pies as well as gammon and a goose. Along with these, dishes are also made out of mushrooms; the herring, vereschaka, boiled fruits, oats kissel are the other traditional items in the Christmas feast and to make it more taster nuts and raisins mixed are added to the several dishes. Christmas in Belarus today, is quite an elaborate affair. Kaliady is a pagan festival celebrated at the end of the year. People dress as animals and other beasts carrying the sun and the goat’s head in their hands,  The master of the house visited during Kalyadavanne is supposed to treat the group with sausage, snacks, and sweets.  But today, Christmas in Belarus has come back to stay as many young adults are finding solace in Orthodoxy, Catholic and Protestant belief.

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(DYK):  In Finland, Christmas is celebrated from 24th to 26th December. It is a major festival of the country and people celebrate it on a grand scale. As per the Finnish people, Santa Claus lives in Korvatunturi (Lapland), located in the north part of the country. Talking about other Christmas traditions in Finland, they begin much before the actual date of the festival. First Advent i.e. the first Sunday in December marks the beginning of the Christmas season.  The day before Christmas, people clean their homes and prepare special dishes for the festival. They cut the fir trees and take it to home, by sleds. They decorate the fir beautifully, using several decorative ornaments. Finnish people have a tradition of tying a sheaf of grain, seeds and nut on the pole. These things are placed in the garden, for the birds to feed on them.  They also lit candles on the Christmas tree and decorate it with paper flags, tinsel, fruits and candies. On the Christmas Eve i.e. 24th December, Finish people prepare a sumptuous meal. Their main traditional dish for the day is boiled codfish, served snowy white and fluffy. They also have roasted fresh ham and vegetables and roast suckling pig. Some of their other special dishes are kinkku (ham), riisipuuro (rice pudding), piparkakut (ginger bread cookies), kalja (Christmas brew), joulupulla (braided sweet white braid), porkkanalaatikko (carrot casserole), lantuulaatikko (rutabaga casserole) and joulutortut (pastry with cooked prunes).Another popular tradition associated with Finnish Christmas celebrations is the singing of Christmas hymns. People exchange gifts and cards on the festival and wish each other by saying ‘Hyvaa Joulua’, meaning Merry Christmas.

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(DYK): In the Ukraine the central tradition of the beautiful Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes. The dinner table sometimes has a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem.  In the Ukraine, Father Frost visits all the children in a sleigh pulled by only three reindeer. He brings along a little girl named Snowflake Girl. She wears a silver blue costume trimmed with white fur and a crown shaped like a snowflake.  An interesting aspect of Christmas in Ukraine is the bringing of a wheat sheaf into the house as a reminder of ancestors and the long tradition of agriculture in Ukraine. The sheaf is called a didukh. Those who are familiar with Ukrainian culture will understand the importance of grain to Ukraine – even the Ukrainian flag, with its blue and yellow colors, represents golden grain under a blue sky. Christmas is a joyous day which opens for Ukrainian families with attendance at Church. Ukrainian Churches offer services starting before midnight on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning. Christmas supper, without Lenten restrictions, does not have as many traditions connected with it as Sviata Vechera. The old tradition in Ukraine of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day, December 19th, has generally been replaced by the Christmas date.

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(DYK): In Italy, Natale lasts three days, from December 24th till 26th. However, Natale traditions vary from one region to another one and, depending on the region it is Babo Natale (Father Christmas) or the “Gesu Bambino” (Little Jesus) who brings gifts on December 25th. The Italian Christmas dessert is “Panettone”. Having cribs in your own home became popular in the 16th century and it’s still popular today (before that only churches and monasteries had cribs). Cribs are traditionally put out on the 8th December. But the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t put into the crib until the evening/night of December 24th! One old Italian custom is that children go out Carol singing and playing songs on shepherds pipes, wearing shepherds sandals and hats. Christmas lasts from Dec.16th- Jan. 6th. People do all kinds of things. At first they have a cannon fired in Rome from the Castle of Saint Angelo. They have a large ornamental bowl which is filled with wrapped gifts, and when the families get together they take turn getting a gift until there is none left.

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(DYK): In Guatemala, Most Guatemalans, like other Latin-American counties, plan and build, with the entire family, a Nativity Scene called a “Nacimiento” or “Belen”. Although it is originally a Spanish tradition, many indigenous (Guatemalan) elements are now used in the design and construction of the Nativity scenes. The “Nacimiento” is normally put under the Christmas Tree. One unique characteristic of Guatemalan Nativity scenes is the use of sawdust dyed in many bright colors.On Christmas Eve families celebrate together and eat the main Christmas meal. It is made of several traditional dishes, but it always includes some Guatemalan tamales. In some regions they are made of corn and other of rice or potatoes. They can be sweet or not, and have several different ingredients inside like olives, prunes, peppers, chicken or pork.  Everyone waits until midnight to light hundreds of fireworks or firecrackers to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A family prayer is said around the tree and it is the custom to open the presents shortly after midnight.

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(DYK): Weinhachten in Germany lasts two days. On December 26th they visit their family and their friends. Christ-Kind offers gifts to the children on December 24th families and friends. In some parts of Germany, children write to the ‘Christkind’ (‘The Christ Child’ in English) asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.Germany has also a Saint Nicholas festival on December 6th.  Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.  Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents on December 24th. December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December.

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(DYK):  In South Korea, although  Christians today comprise only around 25% of its population, South Korea  recognizes Christmas as a public holiday.  Korean non-Christians who otherwise  go about their daily routine on December 25 may engage in some holiday  customs such as gift-giving, sending Christmas cards, and setting up  decorated trees in their homes; children, especially, appear to have  embraced Santa Claus, whom they call Santa Grandfather. The Christmas carols are the same as those in the United States, only that  they are sung in Korean.  Local dishes such as ddeok guk (rice-cake soup),  bulgogi (barbecued beef), naeng myeon (clear noodles made from  sweet potatoes or green mung beans), and the ever-popular gimchi (spicy pickled Chinese  cabbage) may be served for Christmas dinner along with fruit and assorted  sweets.  Korean Christians celebrate Christmas similar to the way it’s celebrated in the West, but since it’s primarily a religious holiday in Korea, there is considerably less fanfare and presents. Some families do put up Christmas trees, people exchange presents, and stores do put up holiday decorations, but the festivities start much closer to Christmas day. Grandpa Santa is popular with kids in Korea (Santa Harabujee) and he wears either a red or blue santa suit. Kids know him as a happy grandfather figure who gives out presents, and stores employ Santas to greet shoppers and hand out chocolate and candies. People in Korea usually exchange presents on Christmas Eve and instead of piles of presents, one present (or a gift of money) is customary All in all,  there is definitely a strong American influence behind the Korean celebration  of Christmas.

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(DYK)) In Egypt, most Egyptians today are Muslims therefore they do not celebrate Christmas as such although they do commemorate the birth of Jesus, but they celebrate the festivals Eid – ul – Fitr and Eid – Ul – Adha.  On Christmas Eve, Egyptians go to church wearing new clothes and Mass goes on until midnight. Bells are rung to mark the end of the service and people go home after they receive the special bread called ‘qurban’ (meaning sacrifice) at the end of the service. This bread has a Holy Cross in the middle and 12 dots to represent the 12 apostles.  Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday, especially for the Christians. Since Christians believe that Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt for fear of Herod’s plan, the Coptic churches are decorated with candles and lamps on Christmas to remind the Coptic Christians of when Joseph lit candles to keep Mary warm during the birth of Jesus.  Then they eat a special Christmas meal at home called ‘Fata’. This meal uses bread, rice, garlic and boiled meat as its main constituents. In the morning, people visit their friends and neighbors and exchange ‘kaik’ (a type of shortbread) that is eaten with a drink called ‘shortbat’.

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(DYK): In Iceland, there are lots of customs and traditions about Yule in Iceland. The Yule season consists of the following traditions.  In Iceland there are 13 santa clauses called the Jule Lads: Stekkjastaur, Giljagaur, Stúfur, Þvörusleikir, Pottasleikir, Askasleikir, Hurðaskellir, Skyrgámur, Bjúgnakrækir, Gluggagægir, Gáttaþefur, Ketkrókur and Kertasníkir. So Icelandic kids get 13 little presents. One other big Yule custom is the coming of the ‘Jólasveinarnir’ or Yuletide Lads. These are magical people who come from the mountains in Iceland and each day from December 12th to Yule Eve a different Jólasveinn (Yuletide lad) comes. Jólasveinar first came to Iceland in the 17th century as the sons of Grýla and Leppalúði, a couple of child-eating, bloodthirsty ogres!  The Jólasveinar are thought of as playful imps or elves who like lots to eat and playing little tricks on people. They leave little presents for children in shoes placed on the windowsill. If children have been naughty, they might leave a potato or little message telling them to be good. They start going home on Christmas Day, with the last one leaving on Þrettándinn. Presents might also be brought by Jólasveinn (Yule Man). Finally, Icelanders open their Christmas presents on the 24’th not the 25’th.

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(DYK) In the United States, the traditional Christmas tree is held in high regard. It is beautifully bejeweled with Christmas ornaments, candies and a star tree topper that corresponds to the star of Bethlehem. The other things that are used in the Christmas decorations are sprigs of holly and mistletoe, Christmas lights and Santa idols. There is also an exchange of gifts and chocolates between people on this occasion. An exclusive Christmas Day parades with colorful display of bands and dancers makes Christmas special in the country. The carols and are also an inevitable part of the celebrations.  Also, there are several traditions that are uniformly followed by all the Americans. These comprise of the traditional Christmas tree, Santa Claus with this reindeers, Christmas cards, Yule log, and mistletoe.  Christmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States. The Christmas and holiday season begins around the end of November with a major shopping kickoff on Black Friday, the day after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving, though Christmas decorations and music playing in stores sometimes extend into the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many schools and businesses are closed during the period between Christmas and the New Year’s Day holiday, which is a time commonly used to spend time with family, return unwanted gifts at stores, and shop after-Christmas sales. Most decorations are taken down by New Years or Epiphany. Other observances considered part of the season (and potentially included in non-denominational holiday greetings like “Happy Holidays”) include Hanukkah, Yule, Epiphany, Kwanzaa, and winter solstice celebrations. No matter what country, nationality, tribe or kinship the holidays is wonderful for family, friends and mere acquaintances.  My childhood memories about the holidays are warm and happy.  I remember bumbling into the family room Christmas morning with a big smile, yelps, and laughter.  Below is a decorated tree, not as grand as by the Museum of Science and Industry; but just as lovely!

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I KNEW THAT IT WAS OFFICIALLY THE CHRISTMAS SEASON ONCE WE AS A FAMILY WATCHED THE FAMILY CLASSIC STORY TIMEMeet me in St. Louis” with Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien.

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