It’s that time of year again! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, there is no denying that the end of the year has a special feeling. The shopping malls and city streets are decorated, people are buzzingaround getting gifts for their loved ones, and in many countries a generous amount of snow has transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland. Some people celebrate Christmas with lots of gifts, food and parties. Others use the holidays to focus on their religious beliefs and attend important events at their place of worship. To get you in the mood for your end-of-the-year celebrations, check out these fun facts about Christmas.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day
December 25th was officially recognized by Pope Julius I in the year 320AD as the date of Jesus Christ’s birth. Celebrations in the early times were strictly religious. In fact, in 1643 the British Parliament officially banned Christmas celebrations as the day was supposed to be a solemn and serious remembrance of Jesus Christ’s birth. Obviously, things have changed since then and the festive season is anything but solemn!
Boxing Day to most people usually means braving the madness at shopping centers to get the best deals on merchandise. But where did the term “Boxing Day” come from? Traditionally, the 26th of December was known as St. Stephen’s day. Collection boxes were put in all of the churches throughout the festive season and on the day after Christmas, the contents were distributed to the sick and needy. In most countries, the Christmas season is still the prime time to give money to charity.
Gifts and Giving
Gifts are a huge part of Christmas celebrations, and are usually exchanged on the 24th or 25th of December. However, in many countries such as Holland and Belgium, giving gifts to loved ones happens on December 6th, St. Nicholas’s day, instead.
Each culture has a different interpretation of the kindly figure who treats all the children to presents during the Christmas season. Here are some famous Christmas figures from around the world:
North America and England: Father Christmas (UK) is also known as Santa in North America. He is a jolly, white-bearded man with a very round belly who keeps track of who is naughty and who is nice. On Christmas Eve, he slides down the chimney of each house and delivers presents to the children. One may ask how he gets around the world so fast. He travels by asleigh, pulled by his trusty team of flying reindeer, of course!
Russia: Babushka is a kind granny who refused to join the Wise Men to visit Jesus because it was too cold outside. However, she soon regretted her decision and filled up a bag of gifts for him. Unfortunately she couldn’t find him, so she lavished her bag of gifts on all of the children in Russia instead.
Italy: Children in Italy wait until January 6th to get their presents from Befana, an ugly but kind witch who missed the birth of Jesus Christ. Since then, she has been flying around leaving presents at every house with a child, just in case Jesus is there.
Hong Kong: In Hong Kong, their version of Santa is called Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren. Just like Santa, he rides in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and delivers gifts to all of the children.
Japan: In Japan, only 1% of the population believe in Christ, but that doesn’t stop them from celebrating and gift-giving. A Buddhist monk, Hotei-osho, is Japan’s version of Santa, who gives presents to well-behaved children.
Traditional Christmas meals are one of the best things about the holiday season. In England, goose was the customary Christmas dish until King Henry ordered a roast turkey for his meal. To this day, turkey is the main meat of choice in Western countries. Other countries have regional dishes as their main course, which is often eaten very late at night on the 24th of December after attending mass.
Sweets are another bonus to the Christmas season. From British mince pies to Italian panettone cakes, festive treats are essential for the holidays.
What are your country’s festive traditions? What is your favourite part about the Christmas holidays?
To buzz around: (v) To move quickly and busily; bustle.
Wonderland: (n) A place full of magic and beauty.
Solemn: (adj) Deeply earnest, serious, and sober.
Remembrance: (n) The state of being remembered.
Madness: (n) Chaos; an extremely busy environment.
St. Stephen: (n) A Christian saint who was the first disciple of Jesus.
Prime time: (n) The most favourable time.
St. Nicholas: (n) A fourth century saint who, through his gift giving, inspired the folk legend of Santa Claus.
Interpretation: (n) A particular view of something.
Jolly: (adj) Happy, fun-loving.
To keep track: (v) To keep a record.
Naughty: (adj) Someone who mis-behaves or acts inappropriately.
Chimney: (n) A passage through which smoke and gases escape from a fire or furnace.
Sleigh: (n) Light vehicle mounted on runners and having one or more seats, usually drawn by a horse over snow or ice.
Trusty: (adj) Reliable.
Granny: (n) Short form of grandmother.
To lavish: (v) To give generously.
Monk: (n) A man who is a member of a brotherhood living in a monastery and devoted to a discipline prescribed by his order.
Mass: (n) The celebration of the Eucharist.
Mince pie: (n) A small round pastry tart filled with mincemeat.
Panettone cake: (n) A festive Italian yeast cake flavoured with candied fruit, peels and raisins.