Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas in Spain

We've Moved! Check out the History of Christmas in Spain at Far From Perfect. 

The Many Figures of Christmas

There are many different Christmas traditions in Western Europe. History, folk lore and religion have all intermeshed to create various Christmas gift-bearers, that are all popular to day in many European countries. In the US we call him Santa Clause, Old Saint Nick and Kriss Kringle (who was a girl, by the way). However, Christmas gift bearers have many names and come in many forms, from ancient bishops to little girls to mischievous elves.

Saint Nicholas- The Original Christmas Gift Bearer
Saint Nicholas was a real man, the Bishop of Myrna (in Persia). He was known for his generous nature and for performing miracles. Saint Nicholas’ popularity grew so much that he was made the patron saint of sailors, unmarried maidens, and even thieves. Over time Saint Nicholas became strongly associated with Christmas, especially since his saint day is on December 5th is celebrated in parts of Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Saint Nicholas came to the United States during Colonial Times with Dutch settlers and was eventually made over into the modern day Santa Clause.

Saint Lucia- The Bearer of Light
The celebration of Saint Lucia, the patron saint of light, is a an important part of Christmas in Sweden. On the morning of December 13th (Saint Lucia’s Day) schools, businesses and homes choose a “Lucia.” The Lucia is dressed in white robes, red ribbons and wears a crown of candles on her head. Saint Lucia also makes an appearance in parts of Austria, where she is the gift bearer for girls (Saint Nicholas is the gift bearer for boys).

Père Noël- Gift Bearer of France
In parts of France, Père Noël comes bearing gifts on Christmas Eve for the good children. He places small treats and toys in the children’s shoes, which they leave by the fireplace.

La Befana- Gift Bearer of Italy
According to Italian legend, La Befana was a witch living at the time of the birth of Jesus. The three wise men (also known as the three kings) were on their way to Bethlehem, when they invited La Befana to come along. At first she declined, but later on changed her mind. However, she could not find the Three Kings and soon lost her way. Italian children believe that La Befana is still looking for Baby Jesus, and on the eve of the Epiphany, she flies down the chimney of each house, and leaves gifts in the children’s shoes, which are left by the fireplace, just in case Baby Jesus is there.

Christkindle- The Christ Child
The traditional gift bearer at Christmas in Germany is the Christkindl, or “Christ Child.” Usually portrayed by a young girl with a golden crown and white robe, the Christkindl is attributed to Martin Luther, who opposed the growing popularity of Saint Nicholas. Christkindl is also popular in Switzerland and Austria.

Jultomen- A Mischievous Elf
Jultomten is Sweden’s version of Santa Clause or Saint Nicholas. He is believed to be a little gnome who lives under the floorboards of the house and rides a goat, called Julbocker. The Jultomten will hand out gifts from a sack to children on Christmas Eve. Even though this pagan tradition was outlawed by both church and state in the middle ages, it persisted as a Swedish holiday tradition in private.

Orginally published at Suite101  The Many Figures of Christmas

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Saint Basil

One of the lesser known figures of Christmas is Saint Basil, a founding father of the Greek Orthodox Church. Each year on his saints day, January 1, Greek households celebrate a “renewal of the waters” by emptying all the water jugs in the house and refilling them with blessed water.

Originally published at Suite101 Holiday Saints

Saint Nicholas - The Basis for Santa Clause

 We've moved! Check out the Story of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus at Far From Perfect

Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia’s story goes back to Viking sailors who heard of an Italian girl sacrificing herself for her beliefs in Christianity. During the Roman Empire, Lucia was bethrothed to be married. However, she gave her dowry away to some Christians, who were suffering persecution for their beliefs. Her fiancé was so angry about the lost dowry that he turned Lucia in to the Romans, who executed her. The story traveled to Scandinavia, where it became very popular, especially as a Swedish Christmas tradition. Every year Swedish homes and businesses choose a “Lucia.” Lucia is typically a young girl with a lighted candle wreath on her head, wearing a long white dress with a red sash. She bears a striking resemblance to the German gift bearer, Christkindl.

St.Lucia saints day is celebrated on December 13th.

Originally posted at Suite 101 Holiday Saints

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas in France

We've Moved! Read the History of Christmas in France at Far From Perfect.

Colonial Christmas Traditions

We've moved! Read The History of Christmas in America and Colonial Christmas Traditions at Far From Perfect.

How America Invented Santa Claus

 We've Moved! Read about How America Invented Santa Claus at Far From Perfect 

Christmas in Austria

 We've Moved! Read about The History of Christmas in Austria at Far From Perfect.

Christmas in Denmark

 We've moved! Read more about The History of Christmas in Denmark at Far From Perfect.

Christmas in Norway

Many of the Christmas traditions in Norway originate in ancient times, based on festivals of Saturnalia and other pagan holidays. However, many more modern Norwegian Christmas rituals are based on the countries new national independence and national spirit in the face of Nazi occupation during World War II.

Julestria – The Christmas Rush
Also known as Advent, Justria refers to the weeks leading up to Christmas. Originally not celebrated by most Norwegians – mainly just the clergy- following World War II, Advent (the coming of the Lord) became mainstream. People use advent wreaths and advent calendars as a way to celebrate the impending holiday.

Christmas Eve in Norway
Just as in many other European countries, Christmas Eve is a time of great feasting and merry-making for Norwegians. During Christmas Eve day, people hang a sheaf of grain, sometimes referred to as a “bird tree,” in their front yard, to share Christmas with the local animals. By four o’clock on Christmas Eve, people are dressed in their finest and the festivities begin. People eat from the Julebord, or Christmas Buffet, dining on ribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøh (steamed mutton ribs) or sylte (headcheese). And of course there is lutefisk, a gelatinous cod dish that people either love or hate.
On Christmas Eve, Julesvenn (similar to the Danish Julnisse) brings gifts. This tradition is a holdover from the ancient Jul feast of Viking days. December 23 is known as Lillejulaften, or Little Christmas Eve, and is when most Norwegians put up their Christmas Tree. Lucky children get to open on present on Lillejulaften.

Christmas Trees in Norway
Norway ratified its first constitution in 1814, after 400 years of Danish Rule. It became fully independent in 1905, when it left a union with Sweden. Because the Norwegian independence coincided with the rising popularity of the Christmas tree (via Germany and then Great Britain) the new Norwegian flag became a popular holiday ornament, remaining so to this day.
Christmas in Norway and World War II

Norway was occupied by the Nazis for five years during World War II. During this time the Norway flag and constitutional ribbons were outlawed. However, Norwegians found ways to declare their opposition to German rule. Christmas cards printed during the Nazi occupation featured Nisse, a Christmas gnome popular since the mid 19th Century, with the Norwegian flags and captions that read God Norsk Jul – Merry Norwegian Christmas. Despite the Nazis' attempt at destroying the cards and forbidding printers to distribute them, many of these World War II Christmas cards still exist today, a testament to a nation’s determination to reclaim its freedom.

Read the whole article at Suite101 here.

Christmas in Benelux

 Despite their small size and close proximity to one another, the Low Countries of Belgim, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all have unique holiday traditions. They also share many traditions, such as Saint Nicholas and Boxing Day.

Christmas in the Netherlands
The primary Christmas figure in the Netherlands is Saint Nicholas (also known as Sinter Klass), who arrives by steamer boat on the last Saturday in November, accompanied by his helper, Black Peter. On Saint Nicholas Day (December 6th) children awake to find what Saint Nick and Black Peter have left in their shoes.

Christmas Day is reserved for going to church, with a dinner served around seven in the evening. Music is a strong tradition in many Dutch churches, where groups play for the congregation on Christmas Day. December 26th is referred to as “Second Christmas Day,” and is a time for visiting family.

Christmas in Belgium
Depending on what part of Belgium you live, you may celebrate Christmas much like the Dutch, with Saint Nicholas or like the French, with Nativity scenes and three wise men. In Flanders, elaborate nativity plays are held, while three Wise Men walk through the streets, singing from house to house.

On Christmas Eve there are extensive processions to the local church for midnight mass.
For those Belgian children who welcome Saint Nicholas, they leave out hay and water for his horse or donkey, along with their shoes, which he fills with treats.

Christmas in Luxembourg
Officially a Grand Duchy, Luxembourg blends Dutch, French and German Christmas traditions, creating a unique holiday spirit. The main Christmas figure in Luxembourg is Klees’chen, or Saint Nicholas. On December 5th (the Eve of Saint Nicholas Day) he leaves children presents on plates they leave out for him.

On Christmas Eve in Luxembourg families gather around their Christmas Tree and then go to a Midnight Mass. Either before church or just after, presents are opened. Christmas Day is a day of feasting. Popular Christmas foods in Luxembourg include Buche de Noel (served as ice cream, not a cake), stollen, and black pudding. The day following Christmas, called Boxing Day, is an official holiday and people spend it visiting friends and family.

 Check out the full article here.

Christmas in Sweden

Once upon a time I wrote for this really cool site, Suite101. I did a whole series of articles about the History of Christmas in Western Europe. Suite 101 isn't quite so cool as it used to be, so I thought I'd showcase my articles here, instead.

The central figure of Christmas in Sweden is St. Lucia, the patron saint of Light. St. Lucia’s Day on December 13 is celebrated in all of Scandinavia, but it is on a much grander scale in Sweden. Little girls dressed in white robes and special crowns of serve the family St. Lucia buns, made at Christmastime.

The Christmas tree was traditionally put up a few days before Christmas Eve. Candles, apples, Swedish flags, small gnomes with red hats and straw ornaments are all common decorations on a Swedish Christmas tree. December 26th is a day of socializing. Children’s parties are held in the afternoon, while adults parties are held later in the evening and animals are given extra food. On the Epiphany (Twelfth Night) villagers would dress up as biblical characters and sing hymns from home to home.
Check out the entire article, Christmas in Scandinavia, for more Christmas Traditions.