25 Days of Christmas: Day 23 ~ Christmas Around the World, Part III

Christmas in Central America and the West Indies

Honduras

Hondurans have their own version of posadas. For nine days before Christmas, the faithful act out Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging. Once house in the village is chosen to be the place of shelter, where people go to sing and pray. Tamales are served, dances and firework displays are held, and people visit each other’s creches.

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the Nativity scene is given its own room, not just a spot in a corner or on a table. In accordance with the climate, the decorations consist of brilliantly colored flowers and wreaths of cypress leaves and red coffee berries. Children put out their shoes for the Christ Child to fill, as their parents did, but Santa is beginning to show up more and more.

Nicaragua

By late November, festivities have started in Nicaragua. Children gather in the streets with bouquets to honor the Virgin Mary with song. This portion of the holiday ends on December 8, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On December 16, the Novena to the Holy Child begins; another kind of posada, it concludes on Christmas Eve at midnight Mass. Children receive gifts from the Three Kings on January 6.

Panama

Schoolchildren in Panama emerge in pre-Christmas activities much like the ones enjoyed by American children. Decorations and cards are made, gifts are exchanged, and there are plays. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are celebrated, with the meal including chicken with rice and tamales. Once again, children receive gifts on Epiphany, King’s Day.

Puerto Rico

Understandably, there is a large American influence on the Puerto Rican Christmas, which features a mixture of Spanish and American traditions. Puerto Ricans have Santa Claus and a tree, but received gifts on both Christmas and Epiphany. A fun pre-Christmas tradition is Asalto, in which a band of people appear on someone’s lawn to shout, sing carols, and plead for goodies. The owner usually opens up his or her home to them; after a small party, the group moves on to another house. Generally Christmas in Puerto Rico lasts from early December to Las Octavitas, which is eight days after Epiphany.

 

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

Garland1-1

25 Days of Christmas: Day 13 ~ Gift Giving

The Giving of Gifts

The giving and receiving of gifts has become one of the central themes of the modern American Christmas. Indeed, a strong holiday selling season often means the difference between a good and a bad year for retailers. There was, however – not so long ago – a time when Christmas involved no gift exchange whatsoever, and in some countries that remains the case today. The union of Christmas and gift giving was a gradual one, and, in fact, the full story of the bright packages beneath the tree begins in the days before the birth of Christ.

Gifts and Celebrations, Old and New

In ancient Rome, gifts were exchanged during the Saturnalia and New Year’s celebrations. At first these gifts were very simple – a few twigs from a sacred grove, statues of gods, food, and the like. Many gifts were in the form of vegetation in honor of the fertility goddess Strenia. During the Northern European Yule, fertility was celebrated with gifts made from wheat products, such as bread and alcohol. As time went on, gifts became more elaborate and less edible.

Like many customs, gift exchange was difficult to get rid of, even as Christianity spread and gained official status. Early church leaders tried to outlaw it, but the people cherished it too much to let it go. So instead, as with other custom, church leaders sought a Christian justification for the practice. They found it in the Magi’s act of bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, and in the concept that Christ was a gift from God to the world, bringing in turn the gift of redemption and everlasting life.

Festive Fact

While most giving was done on a voluntary basis, some leaders did their best to ensure a plentiful season for themselves. One year, Emperor Caligula of Rome declared that he would be receiving presents on New Year’s Day; he then ridiculed gifts he deemed inadequate or inappropriate. And Henry III closed down the merchants of England one December because he was not impressed with the amount of their monetary gifts.

After Christianity had established itself throughout Europe, Christmas celebrations were quiet common; gift giving as a component of Christmas Day, however, was not. The concept of a gift exchange on the holiday itself remained more the exception than the rule, and much of the gift giving at that time was confined to New Year’s, as in the days of the ancient Romans. Some countries, particularly those under Spanish cultural influence, saved gift giving for Epiphany (January 6), the day marking the visit of the Magi to Jesus.

England Leads the Way

Even through roots of the Christmas present extend to ancient times, the gift-giving tradition of today owes perhaps the most to Victorian England. The Victorians, who brought a renewed warmth and spirit to Christmas after it had experienced a long period of decline, made the idea of family (and particularly children) an integral part of the celebration. Also important to them was the act of helping the less fortunate in society. Friendliness and charity filled many hearts during their Christmas season, so giving gifts was a natural.

No one personifies “It’s the thought that counts” more than the Victorians. To them, the act of giving was far more important than the present, and the ultimate reason for giving a gift was as an expression of kindness, a sentiment that tied in nicely with the historical tradition of the holiday.

Accordingly, Victorians surrounded the act of gift giving with a great deal of ingenuity and merriment; simply tearing into a cache of wrapped boxes would have been to miss the point. Far more thought and preparation were in order during the holiday season.

Cobweb parties, for instance, were lots of messy fun. Each family member was assigned a color, then shown to a room crisscrossed with yarn of various colors. They then had to follow their assigned color through the web of yarn until they reached the present tied to the end. Yarn was also used to wrap small gifts; The ball was unwound, then rewound to conceal the present.

Holiday Helper

EnglandChristmas1800sThe Christmas pie was another favorite diversion, although it was not exactly edible. Small gifts were concealed in a large bowl of grain. After Christmas dinner, everyone gathered around the pie and took turns taking a spoonful. Whatever treat was in your spoonful was yours to keep.

Though Victorian gift-giving was filled with the spirit of Christmas, much of the actual exchange was still done on New Year’s Day. It was only in the late 1800s that the custom was finally transferred to Christmas.

Across the pond, Christmas was taking a similar shape in America, where the Victorians greatly influenced the American Christmas, including a gift giving America expanded on the concept with the addition of Santa Claus, however, whose forerunner, St. Nicholas, was legendary for his generosity. The association with gifts was a natural one, and soon, Santa or one of his earlier incarnations became responsible for the presents left in an ever-increasing number of stockings.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

Garland1-1

Hello Autumn

Autumn is a season filled with change, days become shorter and although it is often warm and sunny during the daylight hours, evenings can get a bit chilly.  Corn is one of the major crops you will see swaying in the fields waiting to be harvested; and this is the season when animals prepare to hibernate by storing fat that will sustain them through the winter months.

Whether you refer to this time of the year as “Fall” or “Autumn” it conjures up the same visions of trees changing into beautiful shades of red, gold, yellow, brown, green, and orange and the fallen leaves will soon be covering your yard (or your neighbors).  On the way are cool and crisp nights, bonfires, camping, hot cocoa, pumpkins (and all the wonderfully fabulous drinks and dishes made with them), and fires in the fireplace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Not only is Autumn my favorite time of the year, but it is also the start of all the really neat festivals in my neck of the woods; and, October is usually the start of my Christmas shopping frenzy.  I begin thinking about my Thanksgiving menu and pulling the seasonal decorations out of the attic.  This is the time year when I reminisce about seasons from long ago and all the big family meals we would have together when we traveled near and far to spend the holidays together.

New Seasons, New Beginnings

This year I have a new man in my life to share the holidays, the laughter, and adventures…my fourth grandchild Baby “X.”  He is only seven weeks old and has already added so much joy to our home and family.  He is beginning to respond to the googly faces Nona does for him and the raspberry kisses lovingly shared.  I am blessed to have two of my three children and their family living near and life would be complete if my eldest and his family could be closer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we ready for the cooler days and chilly nights, below are some Autumn fun facts and trivia for you to enjoy and share.

  • Maples, Oaks, Elms, Birch & Ash trees are just a few of the trees that give spectacular colors during the autumn season.
  • September, October, and November are the best months for “Fall planting.”
  • The pumpkin is a member of the gourd family.
  • The Autumn/Fall season runs from September 21st through November 21st.
  • Why is the season called “Fall”? What happens in the natural world during this season? The leaves on many trees die and fall to the ground. About five hundred (500) years ago, when Middle English was spoken, expressions like “fall of the leaf” and “fall of the year” were quite common, and the season name “Fall” comes from them.
  • Autumn marks the end of baseball season and the start of football.
  • In Greek mythology this was supposed to be the time when Persephone rejoined Hades in the underworld.
  • The Chinese celebrate the Moon Festival around this time of the year with particular emphasis on being thankful for the success of the summer harvest.
  • One of the visible signs of fall is the changing color of the leaves. This happens because photosynthesis stops during this period so leaves do not stay green.
  • Favorite fall fruit and vegetables include apples, spinach, squash, bell peppers and, of course, pumpkin.
  • The custom of bobbing for apples originates from Roman times.
  • Evergreen trees remain green through the winter because they have waxy leaves which do not freeze.
  • Autumn’s full mood is called, The Harvest Moon. Long ago farmers would take advantage of the Harvest Moon’s light to “harvest” their crops because in late summer and early autumn many crops would ripen all at once. This made farmers have to stay in the fields long after sundown to harvest them and the moonlight became essential to their harvest.

Below are links to some area festivals and other fun things to do in the Fall in major cities.

Cincinnati         Seattle               Tampa          Atlanta            Dallas

Birmingham      Nashville           Miami           Los Angeles    Cleveland

Charlotte           Indianapolis     Knoxville       Sioux Falls      Rapid City

Fargo                 Boise                Little Rock    Wichita            Denver

Portland            Billings             Philly              Charleston      Grand Rapids

 

May 21st Observances

Take A Memo Please

downloadToday is National Memo Day; so grab a pen and paper, find a post-it note, or stand ready to take a memo in observance of this wacky holiday.

I found many sources that reference today’s memo day observance, however none identified where or how it started.

National Server’s Day

serversMay 21st is the day earmarked to recognize our dedicated waiters and waitresses (servers) as they depend on tips to make a living and are a valued contributing member to society.  If while dining out you receive great service, let it reflect in your tip as your tip should be commensurate with the quality of the service you received.

Should you dine out tonight, you could consider leaving a little something extra on the table for your server or perhaps a verbal recognition to the server and their employer.

How can a girl be so stinkin’ happy…

…about a mixer?

Potato Masher For someone who has been using the old fashion hand masher and whisk for the last five or six years, it was a huge surprise to open the heavy over-sized box and find my brand spankin’ new KitchenAid Mixer.

I immediately started thinking about what I was going to make that would “require” me to break out the new gift toy kitchen helper (toy).  Needless to say my train of thought on this topic did not last long as my attention quickly returned to the festivities of the day, watching family open their gifts and enjoying everyone’s company.

When the presents were opened and everyone was enjoying their gifts and visiting others, I retreated to the kitchen to prepare our Christmas meal.  About an hour into the preparations I reached into the utensil drawer and pulled out the tater masher…THEN IT HIT ME!  I can use my new mixer to mash the sweet potatoes and mix the squash casserole ingredients, so I quickly called to my son for assistance. After enduring a few minutes of excited anticipation, there she was sitting tall on the counter, shining in all her glory and waiting to assist in preparing our Christmas meal.

KitchenAid Mixer

KitchenAid Mixer

Maybe it was me, maybe it was because of the mixer, but on that Christmas day I felt the food tasted a little extra delicious.

Thanks dad for the great Christmas gift. I love it and look forward to preparing many tasty dishes with it.