Christmas Customs

Many Christmas practices originate in Germanic countries, including the Christmas tree, the Christmas ham, the Yule log, holly, mistletoe, and the giving of presents. The prominence of Christmas in Germanic nations may be a form of carryover from the pagan midwinter holiday of Yule.

Russia banned Christmas celebration from 1917 until 1992. Several Christian denominations, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, Puritans, and some fundamentalists, view Christmas as a pagan holiday not sanctioned by the Bible.

In the southern hemisphere, Christmas is during the summer. This clashes with the traditional winter iconography, resulting in anachronisms such as a red fur-coated Santa Claus surfing in for a turkey barbecue on Australia's Bondi Beach. Japan has adopted Santa Claus for its secular Christmas celebration, but New Year's Day is a far more important holiday. In India, Christmas is often called bada din ("the big day"), and celebration revolves around Santa Claus and shopping. In South Korea, Christmas is celebrated as an official holiday.

Santa Claus and other bringers of gifts

Gift-giving is a near-universal part of Christmas celebrations. The concept of a mythical figure who brings gifts to children derives from Saint Nicholas, a bishop of Myra in fourth century Lycia, Asia Minor. He made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine in his youth and soon thereafter became Bishop of Myra. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian and released after the accession of Constantine. He may have been present at the Council of Nicaea, though there is no record of his attendance. He died on December 6 in 345 or 352. In 1087, Italian merchants stole his body at Myra and brought it to Bari in Italy. His relics are preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari. An oily substance known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from his relics.

The Dutch recognized a Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, who gave gifts on the eve of his feast day of December 6. He became associated with Christmas in 19th century America and was renamed Santa Claus or Saint Nick. In the Anglo-American tradition, this jovial fellow arrives on Christmas Eve on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and lands on the roofs of houses. He then climbs down the chimney, leaves gifts for the children, and eats the food they leave for him. He spends the rest of the year making toys and keeping lists on the behaviour of the children.

One belief in the United Kingdom, United States, and other countries passed down through the generations is the idea of lists of good children and bad children. Throughout the year, Santa supposedly adds names of children to either the good or bad list depending on their behaviour. When it gets closer to Christmas time, parents use the belief to encourage children to behave well. Those who are on the bad list receive a booby prize, such as a piece of coal or a switch with which their parents beat them, rather than presents.

The French equivalent of Santa, Père Noël, evolved along similar lines, eventually adopting the Santa image. In some cultures Santa Claus is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, or Black Peter. In other versions, elves make the holiday toys. His wife is referred to as Mrs. Claus. Many shopping malls in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia have a Santa Claus children can visit to ask for presents.

The current tradition in several Latin American countries (such as Venezuela) holds that while Santa makes the toys, he then gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one who actually delivers them to the children's homes. This story is meant to be a reconciliation between traditional religious beliefs and modern day globalization, most notably the iconography of Santa Claus imported from the United States.

In many countries, children leave empty containers for Santa to fill with small gifts such as toys, candy, or fruit. In the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada children hang a Christmas stocking by the fireplace on Christmas Eve because Santa is said to come down the chimney the night before Christmas to fill them. In other countries, children put their empty shoes out for Santa to fill on the night before Christmas, or for Saint Nicholas to fill on December 5, the eve of his saint's day. Family members and friends also bestow gifts on each other.

In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas's Day remains the principal day for gift giving while Christmas Day is a more religious holiday. In much of Germany, children put shoes out on window sills on the night of December 5, and find them filled with candy and small gifts the next morning. In Hungary Santa Claus (Hungarian: Mikulás) or for non-religious people Father Winter (Hungarian: Télapó) is often accompanied by a black creature called Krampusz. The main day for gift giving in Germany is December 24, when gifts are brought by Santa Claus or are placed under the Christmas tree. It is the same in Hungary, except that the Christmas gifts are usually brought by little (child) Jesus (Hungarian: Jézuska), not by Santa Claus. In Spain, gifts are brought by the magi on Epiphany (January 6), although the tradition of leaving gifts under the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve (December 24) for the children to find and open the following morning has been widely adopted as well. In Poland, Santa Claus (Polish: Święty Mikołaj) gives gifts on two occasions: on the night of December 5 (so that children find them on the morning of December 6) and on Christmas Eve, (so that children find gifts that same day). In Finland, Joulupukki personally meets children and gives gifts on December 24. In Russia, Grandfather Frost brings presents on New Year's Eve, and these are opened on the same night. In Scotland, presents were traditionally given on Hogmanay, which is New Year's Eve, but many Scots - especially since the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal holiday in 1967 - have adopted the English tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas morning.

The song "Twelve Days of Christmas", celebrates an old English tradition of gifts each day from Christmas to Epiphany. In most of the world, Christmas gifts are given at night on Christmas Eve or in the morning of Christmas Day. Until recently, the British gave gifts to non-family members on Boxing Day.

Declaration of Christmas Peace

The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland from the Middle Ages every year, except in 1939 due to the war. The declaration takes place on the Old Great Square of Turku, Finland's official Christmas City and former capital, at noon on Christmas Eve. It is broadcast on Finnish radio and television.

The declaration ceremony begins with the hymn Jumala ompi linnamme (a translation of Martin Luther's Ein` feste Burg ist unser Gott) and continues as the Declaration of Christmas Peace

Decorations

In the Western world, rolls of paper with secular or religious Christmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. Common motifs include Christmas trees, holly, poinsettias, mistletoe, swags, wreaths, Santa Claus, the Nativity, angels, carolers, nutcrackers, toy soldiers, sleighs, sleds, drums, drummer boys, bows, reindeer, Christmas tree ornaments, gingerbread people and gingerbread houses, candies, stars, snowflakes, snowmen, and penguins.

Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments. The interior of a home may be decorated with garlands and evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe. In Australia, North and South America and to a lesser extent Europe, it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Christmas figures.

Since the 19th century, the poinsettia has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus.

Municipalities often sponsor decorations as well. Christmas banners may be hung from street lights and Christmas trees placed in the town square. In the U.S., decorations once commonly included religious themes. This practice has led to many lawsuits, as some say it amounts to the government endorsing a religion. In 1984, the US Supreme Court ruled that a city-owned Christmas display, even one with a Nativity scene, does not violate the First Amendment.

Although Christmas decorations, such as a tree, are considered secular in many parts of the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bans such displays as symbols of Christianity.

Social aspects and entertainment

In many countries, businesses, schools, and communities have Christmas parties and dances in the weeks before Christmas. Christmas pageants may include a retelling of the story of the birth of Christ. Groups may visit neighborhood homes to sing Christmas carols. Others do volunteer work or hold fundraising drives for charities.

On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, a special meal of Christmas dishes is usually served. In some regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, these family feasts are preceded by a period of fasting. Candy and treats are also part of Christmas celebration in many countries.

Many people also send Christmas cards to their friends and family members. Many cards are also produced with messages such as "season's greetings" or "happy holidays", so as to including senders and recipients who may not celebrate Christmas .

Because of the focus on celebration, friends, and family, people who are without these, or who have recently suffered losses, are more likely to suffer from depression during Christmas. This increases the demand for counseling services. It is widely believed that suicides and murders spike during the holiday season. However, the peak months for suicide are May and June. Because of holiday celebrations involving alcohol, drunk driving-related fatalities increase. Text Credit To WikiPedia