Welcome to Christmas!
The story of Christmas begins with a meeting
between a young maiden named Mary, and an
angel. The angel informed Mary that she
would have a son, who was to be named
Jesus. His father would be God, in
the form of the Holy Spirit. Later,
the Romans took a census. All locals
were required to go to the town where
their families were originally from. Joseph,
who was engaged to Mary, was a descendant
of a Jewish King named David. Bethlehem
was David's city, so Joseph and Mary
went there. Bethlehem was very
crowded, so when Mary had her baby,
there was no room at the inn for them to stay.
She was forced to put the baby Jesus into a
manger, which is a trough that contains hay
for cattle to eat. Shepherds watching their sheep saw an angel
who told them of the birth of Christ. Three wise men
from the East saw a bright star and followed it to
Bethlehem. Finally, they found the barn where
Jesus, Joseph, and Mary were staying. After the shepherds and wise men had worshiped and given gifts to the young lord, they departed.
Christmas is the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth. However, since no one really knows when Christ was born, Christians celebrate some holidays, such as Christmas, to coincide with traditional pagan and Roman rites. Christmas was long ago decided to be celebrated on December 25th.
Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world. Below are some ways Christians might celebrate Christmas in some major countries.
United States of America and Canada
In the weeks before Christmas, kids might write letters to Santa Claus, asking him for presents. Santa Claus is said to live in the North Pole, and makes presents all year long. On Christmas Eve, which is the night before Christmas, he delivers presents in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer! He also puts small gifts or candy in stockings that hang above fireplaces. Houses and apartments are decorated with Christmas trees, wreaths, and ornaments. Multi-colored lights cover many homes and businesses. Traditional Christmas Eve meals include turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, egg nog, and stuffing. Either that night, or on Christmas morning, Christians receive gifts under a Christmas tree decorated with lights, tinsel, and ornaments, from family members, friends, and Santa too! Many Christians go to church, and to parades.
Many traditions that are celebrated in the United States originated in the British Isles. Santa Claus is the U.S. and Canadian version of Father Christmas. Another tradition that is similar are the many carolers that roam the towns singing Christmas carols. Many adult carolers ask for money to go to charity. A long standing tradition is when someone is standing underneath mistletoe, anyone is allowed to kiss that person. This also has carried over to the U.S. and Canada. Christians in Ireland put lighted candles in windows on Christmas Eve to welcome travelers. There are caroling contests in Wales. The Scottish, however, have their main celebrations on New Years day.
French Christians place their shoes in front of their fireplaces so that Pere Noel can fill them with gifts. A common thing in many French homes is nativity scenes. Nativity scenes are clay figures that form a picture, such as the birth of Christ. Some families buy more figures every year.
German children get candy from Saint Nicholas on December 6. St. Nicholas was a Christain bishop who died around 300 AD. Christkindl, or Christ Child, collects lists from children and sends Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man to deliver presents.
Spanish Christians sing and dance in the streets after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Kids may place their shoes near a window to be filled with gifts on January 5. The next day celebrates the coming of the Magi to visit baby Jesus, and is called Epiphany. The wise men arrived the night before Epiphany to fill Jesus's shoes with gifts.
Benelux includes the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Saint Nicholas comes on a boat from Spain, then rides through the towns on a white horse on the eve of December 6. His servant Swarte Piet or Black Pete rides with him. Wearing a red robe, Saint Nicholas goes down the chimney and leaves gifts in the shoes laid out by the fireplace.
Scandinavia includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. An interesting tradition Scandinavian Christians have is to make a rice pudding called julgrot that has 1 almond in it. Whoever gets the almond will have good luck for the next year. A lively elf brings gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve. The elf's name is Jelenissen, or as the Swedish call him, Jultomten. The Swedish Christmas season begins on December 13, on Saint Lucia day. On this day, the oldest daughter in the household dresses in white and wears a wreath with 7 lighted candles on her head. She then serves the other family members coffee and buns in bed. In Norway, on Christmas Eve there is a celebration called "Ringe in Julen" or ringing in Christmas. On this day, church bells ring all over the country at 5:00 PM. In Denmark, Christians decorate Christmas trees with paper cones and candy. Kids are not allowed to see the tree until Christmas Eve.
Australia and New Zealand.
In these countries, December is in the summer. There is a 6 week summer vacation for Christmas. During this time, people go to beaches and picnics. There is caroling, and a favorite Christmas meal which includes turkey and plum pudding. In these countries, both Father Christmas and Santa Claus are thought to exist.
The 9 days before Christmas are called "posadas," or lodgings. Every day Mexicans reenact Mary and Joseph's search for lodging. Two children carry figures of Mary and Joseph to a house, then knock and ask for lodging. At first they are refused, but finally, they are allowed in. There is a great feast and celebration, where children break a pinata, which is a paper mache figure with candy inside. In Venezuela, there is a late supper after a midnight mass. Christians in some countries give gifts. One of the many traditional food items to eat is called hallacas, which are corn meal pies stuffed with chicken, pork, and beef slices.