What is Christmas

What Is Christmas?

From Creation to Bethlehem

by Ken Ham on November 27, 2013; last featured December 8, 2016

What is Christmas? This article shows the surprising connection between Christmas and the creation of the world.

Note: This article is featured in this booklet, which shows the surprising connection between Christmas and the creation of the world.

In December, many Christians celebrate a holiday called Christmas.1 What is Christmas? During this season, there is particular emphasis on an event that occurred around 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem in Judea (today called Israel).

Christmas commemorates the birth of a baby—an event recorded in the Bible in such New Testament passages as Luke 2:1–20 and prophesied about in Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 7:14. The name given to this baby was Jesus.

During Christmas time, many churches display nativity scenes. These exhibits show the newborn Jesus in a stable surrounded by various animals, shepherds, and Mary and Joseph. Such nativity scenes traditionally have also been displayed in public places (shopping centers, public schools, parks, etc.) in much of our Western world.

Also at Christmas, people sing special songs known as “carols.” The words of many of these carols outline the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Because of the influence of Christianity and the birth of baby Jesus, history is divided into two basic divisions—AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord,” Jesus) and BC (“before Christ”). As evidenced by the fact that Western calendars and historians count the number of years from this time, this was a very significant event even apart from religious aspects.

Christmas Is Changing

Live Nativity

The Creation Museum features a Live Nativity at the annual Christmas Town.

In much of the Western world today, nativity scenes are no longer displayed in public places. Such displays are now banned from many public parks and schools.

Whereas Christmas carols used to be sung in public (i.e., government) schools, many times such songs have been replaced by ones that do not mention anything about Jesus and His birth.

Furthermore, more and more people are now calibrating their calendars with BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era), rather than “before Christ” and “in the year of our Lord (Jesus).” The year-counts are the same, but the name of Christ has been removed.

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White House

–>In public schools in America, teachers and students are being urged or required by administrators and lawyers fearful of lawsuits to use phrases like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas.”

Many advertising pieces during the Christmas season now delete the “Christ” part of the word “Christmas.”

Why was the birth of the baby Jesus considered so significant in the first place? And why is Christmas being viewed differently today? What has happened to cause an event which has so influenced the modern world to be slowly erased from people’s thinking?

The History

Bible

To understand the significance of the birth of this baby, we need to understand the history that led up to this event. The only compilation of books in the world that gives a detailed history that enables us to fully comprehend the significance is the Bible.

Over three thousand times the Bible claims to be the revealed Word of the God who created the universe and all life, and who has made Himself known to man. If this book really is God’s Word, then it should explain the meaning of the universe and life—and it does. Not only that, but observational science continues to confirm the Bible’s history as true. (See our booklets on the accuracy and authority of the Bible: available as a free PDF or on our online store.)

Genesis (which basically means “origins”), the first book of the Bible, gives an account of the origin of life and the universe. It tells of the origin of matter, light, earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, humans, marriage, clothing, death, languages, nations, and so on.

In Genesis 1:27 and 2:7, we read of the creation of the first man called “Adam.” Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 15:45, the one born in Bethlehem is called “the last Adam.” To understand the reason for the “last Adam,” you have to understand what happened to the “first Adam.”

The First Adam

The Bible records that on the sixth day of Creation, God made the first man and woman:

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Adam and Eve

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So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

We read more of the details concerning the creation of the first man in Genesis 2:7:

And the Lord God formed man [Adam] of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

We are later told in Genesis 2:21–23 that God created the first woman from the first Adam’s side. From elsewhere in the Bible, we learn that all humans who have ever lived descended from these two people (Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:26; and so on). Therefore, all humans today are related because we have the same first ancestors.

God’s Instruction

When God created Adam, He didn’t make him to be a puppet; Adam had the ability to choose and make decisions. God gave Adam an instruction to obey in Genesis 2.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15–17)

Adam’s Fall

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Hands and fruit.

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Adam and Eve and the generations.

Not long after this command to Adam, Satan, through a serpent, deceived Eve into eating the fruit. And Eve gave some to Adam, and he ate as well. Adam chose to disobey God by eating the fruit of the one tree God had told him not to eat from (Genesis 3:6).

Because Adam was the first or “head” of the human race and all humans ultimately have come from this first man, what Adam did affected all of humanity. When Adam disobeyed his Creator’s instruction (resulting in his “fall” from his state of perfection), that was the first sin. And just as God had warned, the punishment for Adam’s sin was death—not only for Adam, but for all his descendants (including you and me) as well:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

Why are we punished for what Adam did? As the head of the human race, Adam represented each of us, and because we all come from Adam, we have his nature, inherited from him. He sinned (disobeyed God), so we sin (disobey God). If it had been any of us faced with the decision to eat or not eat from the forbidden tree instead of Adam, the result would have been the same.

Oh! The Nakedness

Fig leaf.

After Adam and Eve sinned, Genesis 3:7 states that “they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

In sewing fig coverings, it wasn’t just that they recognized that they had no outer clothing—they also saw that they were destitute of righteousness. Their innocence was lost. Adam and Eve were no longer perfect but were now polluted creatures in their hearts and their flesh. They were naked before the justice of God’s law, and the fig leaves were attempts to cover what they had done.

However, no man or woman can hide their sinfulness from the sight of a holy God by their own doings. God sees us in all our nakedness and knows our impure, sinful, rebellious hearts.

The Bible says our attempts at covering ourselves (our “righteousness”) are but “filthy rags” to the Creator (Isaiah 64:6). No ceremonies, rites, or attempts at keeping the law can change this. Our works cannot take away our sin because our hearts are impure (Jeremiah 17:9). We cannot make ourselves acceptable before a holy, pure God because of the gross imperfection of our very nature—just as Adam and Eve’s fig leaf coverings could not help them.

How can we ever be reconciled with a holy God? This is an important question since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and as such, even though our bodies die because of sin, our soul (the “real us” that inhabits our bodies) lives forever. As sinners, we cannot live with a holy and righteous God, nor can we make it to heaven by our own works—we would be separated from God forever and live in our evil, sinful states for eternity. What a horrible existence that would be. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The Promise of the “Last Adam”

In Genesis 3:15, God made a statement to the deceiving serpent that actually sums up the message of the entire Bible and provided hope to Adam and Eve and their descendants (us!) that there was a way to be saved from the effects of sin. So, what is Christmas? Well this declaration summarizes what the Babe of Bethlehem is all about; in fact, it is the whole meaning of “Christmas”:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.

What does this mean?

Genesis 22:18 gives us further clues about the identity of the promised “seed” of the woman who will bruise the head of the serpent:

In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.(emphasis added)

And Paul clarifies things in Galatians 3:16:

Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. (emphasis added)

Paul builds upon the use of the singular “seed” in Genesis 22:18. Here we see the extent of the infallibility of Scripture, down to the use of singular and plural words.

The words “her seed” are actually a prophecy concerning the One who, conceived by God Himself, would be born of a woman (actually a “virgin”): the baby who was born in Bethlehem—the last Adam.

The “Head” and the “Heel” of Genesis 3:15

Serpent.

It is a great mystery to fallible, created human beings like us that the Creator God (Colossians 1:16) became flesh (John 1:14) so that as a perfect Man, He could become “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) by dying on a cross to suffer the penalty for sin (the meaning of “bruise his heel”). But, because He is the infinite Creator, He has ultimate power, and thus He rose from the dead, overcoming the Curse.

Bruising the serpent’s head” speaks the mortal wound Satan received through Christ’s victory over him at Calvary. He is a defeated foe. His operation now is like the pockets of Japanese soldiers of World War II fighting after the surrender in August 1945—they could still instill casualties and do much harm, but they could not win the war.

Jesus came to take away sin and conquer the power of the grave—death.

Clothed by God

God illustrated what needed to be done to Adam and Eve by a particular act. In Genesis 3:21 we read:

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

God killed at least one animal—the first blood sacrifice—to provide the garments as a covering for their sin. It was a picture of what was to come in Jesus, who is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is only the covering provided by God that can cover man’s “filthy rags.” The righteousness that enables a sinner to stand “just” in the sight of God is from God. No human being can put on the righteousness of Christ, for this can only be done by God (1 Corinthians 1:30). We can’t rely on our good works (our “coverings of fig leaves”) or on sacraments (e.g., communion, baptism) to stand just before God. It is only what God does for us that enables us to be clean before our Creator.

How Can We Be Clothed?

Now, if it is only God who is able to clothe us in righteousness, how can we obtain that clothing?

The Bible makes it very clear in Romans 10:9:

That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

When we acknowledge that we are sinners before God, repent of our sin, and confess the Lord Jesus, acknowledging that He died and rose from the dead, we receive the free gift of salvation from our Creator and will spend eternity with Him.

The Two Adams

Jesus Christ.

The first Adam gave life to all his descendants. The last Adam, Jesus Christ, communicates life and light to all men (John 1:4). He gives eternal life to those who receive Him—who believe in His name—giving them the “right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

The first Adam experienced the judgment of God. He eventually died and his body turned to dust. Because of his sin, death came upon all men, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The last Adam, Jesus Christ, also experienced the judgment of God—not for His own sins (He lived a perfect life), but for the sins of mankind. He died on the Cross to atone for sin (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 2:9). But He did not stay dead, nor did His body “see corruption” (Acts 2:27; 13:35–37). On the third day, He rose again, thereby overcoming the devil and the power of death for all people who believe in Him (Hebrews 2:14), and bringing resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:22–23).

This is the message of the Babe born in Bethlehem. It starts with the creation of a perfect world, and then, because of our sin in Adam, leads to our need of a Savior—which is why Jesus stepped into history to become flesh 2,000 years ago.

What Is Happening to Christmas?

Throughout the world, generations of young people are being educated in schools, colleges, and by the media with evolutionary ideas about our origins.

Sadly, they are being brainwashed into believing that the history in Genesis concerning the first Adam and the entrance of sin is not true. Logically then, they begin rejecting the truth of the last Adam, Jesus Christ.

If the history in Genesis concerning our origins is not true and therefore the birth of Jesus is insignificant, then why should nativity scenes be allowed in schools and public places? Why should students sing carols about a meaningless event?

Creation Wise.

The erosion of Christianity in society is directly linked to the attack on the history of Genesis and the increasing indoctrination in a false history that has permeated the culture: that man is a result of millions of years of evolutionary processes.

Whatever the month of the year, the event that Christians celebrate in a very special way at Christmas is a message of hope for all people.

The message of the two Adams is what life is all about. But if we want people to understand this message, we need to ensure that we show them clearly that the history in Genesis is true, for otherwise, they will not understand or listen to what is said about the Babe of Bethlehem.

Here’s the Good News

Answers in Genesis seeks to give glory and honor to God as Creator, and to affirm the truth of the biblical record of the real origin and history of the world and mankind.

Part of this real history is the bad news that the rebellion of the first man, Adam, against God’s command brought death, suffering and separation from God into this world. We see the results all around us. All of Adam’s descendants are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) and have themselves entered into this rebellion (sin). They therefore cannot live with a holy God, but are condemned to separation from God. The Bible says that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that all are therefore subject to “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

But the good news is that God has done something about it. “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Jesus Christ the Creator, though totally sinless, suffered, on behalf of mankind, the penalty of mankind’s sin, which is death and separation from God. He did this to satisfy the righteous demands of the holiness and justice of God, His Father. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice; He died on a cross, but on the third day, He rose again, conquering death, so that all who truly believe in Him, repent of their sin, and trust in Him (rather than their own merit), are able to come back to God and live for eternity with their Creator.

Therefore: “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

The Babe of Bethlehem . . . what a wonderful Savior . . . and what a wonderful salvation in Christ our Creator!

Please see our contact us page, or contact a Bible-believing church in your area, where the pastor accepts the accuracy and authority of the Bible from its very first verse in Genesis (including the Genesis accounts of a recent creation and a global Noah’s Flood).

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

Christmas in the Middle East

Although much of the Middle East is devoted to Islam – or, in Israel, to Judaism – every year thousands of Christians from around the world make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, especially Bethlehem. They come to visit the place where, according to the Gospels, it all began. Not surprisingly, this is the time of the year when Bethlehem is most popular, although the scope of the celebrations often depend on the political climate at the time.

The festivities in the “little town” center on the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds’ Fields. The Church of the Nativity is believed to stand on the place where Christ was born; under the church, within a small cave, a star on the floor marks the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Shepherds’ Fields is said to represent the fields where the angels announced the arrival of Christ.

There are three Christian groups in Bethlehem. The Roman Catholics celebrate Christmas on December 25, the Greek Orthodox on January 6, and the Armenian Christians on January 18. Representatives protecting the interests of these three groups sit on a board that governs the Church of the Nativity, so that no group will be favored or slighted. No services are held within the church itself, but rather in an adjoining building. Services on Christmas Eve are by invitation only, but are televised to the crowds outside. Afterwards, most venture to the Shepherd’s’ Fields, which are also divided into three sections.

Christmas is also celebrated quite widely in Lebanon, with lights, carols, and midnight church services.  Papa Noel brings presents to children, and the meal often includes a cake that’s designed to resemble a Yule log.

Some of the more predominantly Muslim countries do have Christian sections, and in those sections Christmas is observed, although the observance is usually more strictly religious, as in Africa. Some countries, however, have Christian populations that have been celebrating Christmas for centuries.

In Armenia, it is believed that Christmas should be celebrated on the day of Christ’s baptism, which is January 6 in most church calendars. However, the Armenian Church follows the old Julian calendar, which marks this date as January 18. One week before Christmas there is a fast, during which no meat, eggs, cheese, or milk may be consumed. Religious services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Afterward, children go onto the roofs with handkerchiefs and sing carols; often the handkerchiefs are later filled with fruit, grain or money.

Christmas in the Far East

In the Far East, Christianity exists alongside such other faiths or ideologies as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shintoism. While Christians celebrate the holidays for its traditional meanings, many of the other aspects, such as decorating and gift giving, have been adopted more widely.

China

China was only opened to the West 400 years ago, so – relatively speaking – Christians and Christmas have not been around for long. A very small portion of the Christian ChinaChristmaspopulation celebrates Christmas that’s referred to as Sheng Dan Jieh, or the Holy Birth Festival. Christmas trees are called “trees of light,” and paper lanterns are intermingled with holly for decorations. Stocking are hung, and there are versions of Santa known as Lam Khoong-Khoong (nice old father) and Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas old man). Gift given has some formal rules: Jewelry and other more-valuable gifts are only given to the immediate family; other gifts are given to relatives and friends.

More important to the majority of Chinese is the New Year, referred to as the Spring Festival, which is celebrated in late January. New toys and clothes are given and feasts are held. The spiritual aspects concern ancestor worship, and portraits of ancestors are displayed on New Year’s Eve. This is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas celebration, but it is a festive and popular seasonal undertaking.

Christmas in Other Parts of the World

Canada

CanadaChristmas1Christmas is celebrated in many different ways in Canada, a result of the way that cultural and religious groups from many parts of the world have found a home there. Many Canadians of Ukrainian descent, for example, follow the Orthodox church’s calendar, and celebrated Christmas on January 6. In French-speaking areas such as the providence of Quebec, the Roman Catholic traditions of displaying creches, or Nativity scenes, as decorations remain very strong, as does attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by a hearty meal that includes tourtiere (a meat pie) and present opening.

The annual Santa Claus Parade in downtown Toronto began in 1905 as a way to celebrate the arrival of Santa at the Eaton’s department store. The first parade featured Santa arriving at the train station and walking to the store. Today, the parade – with bands, clowns, and intricately decorated floats – features almost 2,000 participants and stretches for more than three miles.

Along with the widespread North American traditions of decorating the home inside CanadaChristmasand out with lights, visiting Santa at local stores and malls to offer him a wish list, and decorating Christmas trees with ornaments and lights, many Canadians Christmas traditions depend on geography.

In the north, for example, the winter season was often celebrated before the arrival of Christmas with feasts, games, dogsled races, and gift exchanges. Known as Quviasuvvik, or the Happy Time, many of these traditions have now been wrapped into the church services and charitable causes that are part of Canadian customs throughout the country.

In Vancouver, on Canada’s west coast, the Carol Ships are an annual traditional, as boats decorated with sparkling lights to take the harbor in a nightly parade throughout December.

Australia

AustraliaChristmas1As in South Africa, Christmas falls during summer vacation down under. Because of the climate, flowers are the most important Christmas decoration, particularly the Christmas Bush and the Christmas Bell. Father Christmas and Santa exist side by side – like siblings, which they certainly are. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning before attending church. Typically, the afternoon is spent at the beach or engaging in sports.

AustraliaChristmasAustralia is also the home of “Carols by Candlelight,” a tradition stated by radio announcer Norman Banks in 1937. After Banks saw a woman listening to carols alone by candlelight, he decided to do something to relieve the loneliness and isolation some feel during the holidays. He announced a community carol sing for anyone who wanted to join in. The concept has grown in popularity over the years, and the recorded program is now broadcast over the world.

 (Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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Regardless of where you live or how you celebrate the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. From our home to yours, we wish you the Merriest of Christmases and Happiest of New Year’s.

 

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 24 ~ Christmas Around the World, Part IV

Christmas in South America

The celebration of Christmas in South America is similar to that in Central America because of the warm climate and the religious aspect of the holiday. As with most countries of Hispanic origin, children receive gifts on Epiphany rather than Christmas; the nacimiento (creche) and midnight Mass are essential, but posadas are not as popular as in other areas.

Chile

Christmas in Chile is observed in accordance with most of the region, including the midnight Mass of the Rooster, but the gift giver here is known as BViejo Pascuero, or Old Man Christmas. Oddly enough, he has reindeer, but of course, with a significant lack of chimneys, he’s forced to enter houses through windows instead. A notable part of the Christmas meal is pan de pasqua, a bread that contains candied fruit.

Peru

Markets become very busy in the days before Christmas, offering both gifts items and decorations for the Nativity scenes, or nacimiento, that many families have. This is a time of song and music, although the Christmas Eve service is, as always, much quieter in nature. Children often receive gifts both on Christmas Day (as Santa becomes a more popular figure) and on January 6, which is the Feast of the Three Kings.

Colombia

Much of the Christmas season in Colombia begins in earnest nine days before Christmas Day, when the Novena, a prayer ritual, begins. The pesebre, or Nativity scene, is also important, with Jesus generally making his appearance on Christmas Eve. Colombia is one of the rare Hispanic countries in which children receive gifts brought by the Christ Child on Christmas Eve, not Epiphany.

Venezuela

An interesting tradition in Venezuela is “The Standing Up of the Christ Child,” or La Paradura del Nino. Accoring to the rules, the figurine of the Child must be stood up on New Year’s Day to indicate his maturity. Any Child found laying down in its manger at that time is likely to be “kidnapped” and kept in a special place of honor until the ransom is paid. Ransom is a paradura party. But before the party can begin, “godparents” must be chosen; later they lead a procession to where the Child is kept. After the godparents return the figurine to the manger setting and stand it up, children offer gifts and there is much food and dancing.

Christmas in Africa

In most African countries, Christians make up a relatively small part of the population, so Christmas is generally a lower-key affair than it is in many western countries. The emphasis is typically on charitable acts and simple presents, rather than the purchase of expensive gifts. Church services and often, caroling, are considered important. In Algiers, for example, there are a number of Catholic churches that celebrate midnight Mass, and streets are colorfully decorated for the holiday.

Ethiopia

The Christian church in Ethiopia is the Coptic church. Believers there still abide by an older calendar, which places Christmas on January 7, when people break their traditional pre-Christmas fast from milk and meat products with a meal of rice and meat.

Ghana

Christmas evergreen or palm trees are seen, and there is a Father Christmas who comes out of the jungle. Children have school pageants and there is more gift giving. Early Christmas morning, a group enacts the story of the shepherds and angels heralding Christ’s birth, traveling the streets and singing songs. This band is often rewarded with gifts.

Liberia

Oil palm trees are often decorated with bells for Christmas, with a church service attended in the morning and Christmas dinner shared in the afternoon.  It’s similar in Nigeria, where Christmas is a time to visit family.

South Africa

Christmas falls in the midst of summer vacation, so the activities are adapted to the warmer weather. Shops are decorated, streets are lit, and Father Christmas puts gifts in the children’s stockings. After a church service on Christmas Day, however, the Christmas feast is eaten outside. Depending on their cultural heritage, South Africans may also celebrate Christmas with feasts, carnivals, and parades.

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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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)

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25 Days of Christmas: Day 22 ~ Christmas Around the World, Part II

England

In England, the Christmas tree has been widespread since Prince Albert introduced the custom in 1841. Caroling and bell ringing are very popular as well, and the land that gave us the Christmas card is still sending them by the millions. Father Christmas, so similar in may ways to the American Santa Claus, leaves gifts for children. Letters to him were traditionally thrown in the fire (a little more difficult now that many houses no longer have open fireplaces) so that their list could fly up the chimney.

House decorations of holly, ivy, and mistletoe and children hanging up their stockings are also traditional elements of Christmas in England. Christmas Eve might see people attending church services. Many families open their gifts on Christmas morning, sitting down to a meal of turkey or roast beef in the afternoon. For dessert, sweet minced pies and brandy-laced plum pudding are still favorites, and pulling crackers is looked forward to throughout the meal. Many people make time to listed to the Queen’s annual message, which is aired on television in the afternoon.

Christmas crackers – which first appeared in London in 1846 – are cardboard tubes covered with bright paper that’s twisted to close up both ends. When the crackers are pulled apart they make a small “bang” or “crack,” and release little toys, jokes, and tissue-paper hats hidden within the tubes.

England-BoxingDayAn additional observance, or day off, at this time of the year is Boxing Day, held on December 26. The name is taken from the old custom of opening the alms boxes in church the day after Christmas to give money to the needy. The idea expanded to servants and tradesmen, who expected to be tipped for the year’s service.

Wales

Carol singing, or eisteddfodde, in Wales has become an art form. Nowhere in the world are Christmas carols more carefully crafted and lovingly sung. Many churches retain a carol-singing service known as Plygain at Christmas. Once a Christmas-morning service that began as early as 3:00 A.M., it now tends to be an evening service.

Wales - MariLwydThe Christmas season is also the time for Mari Lwyd, or Grey Mare, to appear. This odd creature is represented by a man wearing a sheet and carrying a horse’s skull or imitation horse’s head. The creature dances around in public and tries to bite people with the horse’s jaws. If he manages to bite you, you must give him money!

Pulling (making) taffy, which is a chewy toffee candy, is one way to spend the day; in Wales, taffy is as much a part of Christmas fare as candy canes are in America.

Ireland

Christmas in Ireland takes on quite a religious tone, although decorations and gift giving (and shopping) are popular, too. Lit candles (often replaced now with electric lights) are left in the windows on Christmas Eve to light the Holy Family’s way, with church services attended on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

Father Christmas is the gift giver here, with presents traditionally given out on Christmas morning, followed by a big holiday meal later in the day. For a treat, three special puddings are made during this season: one for Christmas, one for New Year’s, and one for Twelfth Night, the latter of which is also known as Little Christmas.

On the day after Christmas, (St. Stephen’s Day), many once engaged in “hunting the wren.” This old tradition called for the killing of a wren to symbolize the death of the old year and the birth of the new. The homeowner would give the hunters some goodies for their troubles, and they would give a feather for good luck in return. Areas that still observe this custom today use a fake stuffed wren, and money collected usually goes to charity.

Scotland

With Christmas celebrations banned after the sixteenth-century Reformation in Scotland, December 25 remained a regular working day until 1958, when it was finally declared a public holiday. Today, it has largely caught up with European traditions of gift giving and decorating, although it retains some of its own special superstitions – including the idea that the home’s fire needs to be kept burning on Christmas Eve to keep mischievous elves from coming down the chimney and causing bad luck.

The Scots also celebrate Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve, as a major event, often gathering together friends and family to celebrate the coming of the new year. Cities such as Edinburg host huge public celebrations.

Germany

Germany, perhaps more than any other country, has influenced the way Christmas is celebrated around the world. The tradition of the Christmas tree began in Germany, after all, and most modern families there would consider it unthinkable to pass the holiday without one. Advent wreaths and calendars (which mark the countdown to Christmas Day) make their appearance at the end of November. Germany is also one of the countries in which children leave a shoe out on the eve of St. Nicholas’s Day (December 6) to be filled with candy.

There are more gifts after Mass or church on Christmas Eve. That’s when the Christkind, or Kris Kringle – not to be confused with St. Nicholas or Santa Claus – brings the gifts. At first, the Christkind was meant to be the Baby Jesus; later the name came to stand for a more angelic figure that embodies the spirit of the Christ Child. The Christkind wears a flowing white robe, a while vail, and gold wings, often entering by an open window and ringing a bell when gifts have been left.

Austria - stnick-krampus-716488Austria

St. Nicholas’s Day opens the Christmas season in Austria as well, when the saint arrives with the devil (St. Nicholas often appears with a darker companion who deals with the children on the”misbehaving” list). Both figures test the children, and the good ones receive presents.

One of Austria’s most important contributions to the celebration of Christmas is a song sung by church choirs and carolers around the world: “Silent Night.” On Christmas Eve, 1818, organist Franz Gruber composed the music to accompany Josef Mohr’s poem. The carol was Gruber’s only published musical work.

The Nativity scene is displayed around the family tree, which is often decorated with small toys and candy as well as ornaments. There are processions known as “Showing the Christ Child,” and Nativity plays are also performed; similar to the Spanish posadas, they dramatize the Holy Family’s journey. On Christmas Eve, many enjoy music from the Turmblasen, a brass band that plays carols from church steeples or building towers.

 

(Jeffrey, Yvonne; The Everything Family Christmas Book)

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