Christmas Time and Cultural Traditions

February 12th, 2013 posted by Bea Sheftel

Holly

Christmas is a holiday celebrated around the world. Many of the old world customs are still carried out in America. Swedish families start their Christmas celebrations on December 13th, St. Lucia’s Day. In a ceremony so old most people don’t know when it actually began, the eldest daughter wears a white gown, and a wreath with seven lighted candles on her head. She serves the family coffee and buns in bed. Talk about a balancing act! Actually, the custom has been updated in many families and is part of an evening celebration with relatives gathered around. The custom of St. Nicholas started in Germany with a gentle Christian soul who later became a Bishop. His generosity to the poor was well known and so his name was used to represent the kindly spirit of the Christmas giver. But German Christmas starts earlier than in America. December 5th the children start to get their goodies which in many families continues until the traditional Christmas Day. Spanish children in America join with other Americans in celebrating Christmas on December 25th, however they have an additional holiday. January 5th if the day of the Three Wise Men. In many Spanish communities across America parades are held on Three Kings Day and children are given additional toys. In Spain, however, the children put out shoes, and the next day, Epiphany, they find small gifts in them. French children have a Father Christmas called Piere Noel. they also leave their shoes to be filled with gifts, much as children in the U.S. hang up their Christmas stockings waiting for stocking stuffers. Italian Children have a kindly old woman as the giver of gifts. Like American children, they leave their stockings to be filled with surprises. My mother, whose family originated from Sicily remembers waking on Christmas morning to find an orange in her stocking. If the family could afford it she also got a small doll. “Papa would bring out a big salami for our Christmas feast,” Mom said. It doesn’t seem like much now, but it was a special treat for us on Christmas. The United States has created the most endearing holiday traditions which transcend cultures and even religions. Families gather for a feast, people go out caroling in neighborhoods, chestnuts on roasted, and gifts are exchanged between family and friends.

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The spirit of the season unites all the cultures in the United States. In Brooklyn, New York, where I grew up before moving to Connecticut, it was common to see a Menorah next to Santa Claus in the store windows. Today there also might be a Kwanzaa display in many of the stores in Hartford area and other areas where African-Americans celebrate this created holiday. Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration which translated means, “first fruits of the harvest”. It is a seven-day festival from December 26 through New Year’s Day. It is both festive and spiritual. ‘Tis holiday fosters the strength and unit of the African-Americans while honoring their past. Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights celebrate for eight days by Jewish people. It is celebrated to commemorate the survival of Judaism after the Maccabeus War 2,000 years ago. It is a holiday built around a miracle. After the siege was over and the people reclaimed their Temple there was only enough oil to burn one single day. And yet that flame stayed lit for a full eight days. I guess the true meaning of all these celebrations is that families come together in joy. Even though the beliefs are different there is a collective spiritual experience which strengthens the ties across cultures. And isn’t that what is wonderful about this time of year as we put aside our difference and recognize the spirit of love in all of us. next article


about the author Bea Sheftel is a freelance writer and poet. She has won many awards and been published in several large print magazines such as Northeast Magazine, Byline, Gotta Write, Crafts, Womens Homeworker and many others. She has a website where you can view some of her poetry.



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