Archive for the ‘Christmas Around the World’ Category

Christmas in Mexico

February 24, 2015

Las Posada lead by children dressed as Mary and Joseph.The Christmas season in Mexico lasts about two months and is filled with traditions that have lasted, in some cases, for nearly five hundred years.

Christmas was brought to Mexico by Catholic missionaries who brought the Christian faith to the natives of Mexico after it was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.  In 1538 Fray Pedro de Gante invited all the Indians within twenty leagues of Mexico City to attend the first Christmas celebration.  These Christmas masses and the parties and feasting that surrounded the celebration became so popular that Fray Diego de Soria in 1587 received permission to hold the Christmas masses out of doors.  These outdoor Christmas masses were held nightly from December 16 to 24.  As time went on the natives of that area added their own touches to the Christmas celebrations and art to make Mexico’s Christmas celebration what it is today.

On or around December 16 families all over Mexico put up their nacimientos or nativity scenes.  This is also the first of nine nights of posadas.  The last night of posadas followed by a special midnight Mass occurs on December 24.  After Mass finishes on the 25th of December families return home to a Christmas feast of turkey, tortillas, fried peppers, vegetables, fruits, candies, hot chocolate with vanilla and cinnamon, and a Christmas salad of fruit, nuts, beets, and sugar cane sprinkled with tiny colored candies.  Other food items may be served as well or in place of these items as desired by the family.  Children may get small gifts at this time, but they usually do not receive gifts until January 6.  December 28 is El Dia de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents.  On this day children play tricks on their friends much like children do in the United States on April Fool’s Day.  The people of Mexico welcome the new year with parties, fireworks, and lots of noise, games, and food.  January 6 is El Dia de los Reys, the Day of the Three Kings or Epiphany.  Children receive their gifts from the Magi, not Santa Claus, on this day.  During the parties and feasting on this day a cake called La Rosca de Reyes or King’s Ring Cake is served.  Baked in this cake is a small Christ Child doll.  The finder of this doll has to host a party on February 2.  February 2 is the last day of the Christmas season.  Known as El Dis de la Candelaria or Candlemas, the day is filled with huge fireworks and partying.  Each family takes the Christ Child from their nacimiento to the priest to be blessed before packing the nacimiento away for another year.

Read more about Christmas in Mexico including some very unique customs here at CustomsOfChristmas.com.


As we are now in the middle of the Easter season visit our sister site CustomsOfEaster.com to explore the origins of many of our customs of Easter.

Advertisements

Christmas Customs From Denmark

September 25, 2014

Cut and Paste Day: Usually in mid-December family and friends gather for “Cut and Paste Day,” a day to make new handmade ornaments.  Hearts, woven heart baskets, Danish flags, paper cones (to be filled with candies and nuts), three-dimensional stars, nisse (made with yarn) pine cone ornaments, little drums, and wooden figures are among the favorite handmade ornaments made on “Cut and Paste Day.”  Most, if not all of these ornaments, will be red and/or white in color just like the Danish flag.

Advent Calendars and Candles:

Like children everywhere Danish children get excited with the anticipation of the Christmas celebration. So, when December 1 rolls around, out comes the advent candle and one or more advent calendars.  Advent candles have marks on them one for each day of December leading up to Christmas.  At some point each day, a family member lights the candle.  The candle is allowed to burn to the next mark but no further until the candle is allowed to burn down to the final mark Christmas morning.

Advent calendars may be homemade or store-bought, simple or elaborate. Some may have only windows to open revealing a verse or saying about Christmas.  Others may include cookies, toys, small gifts, candles, candy, or gum for the child fortunate enough to expose the day’s goodies.  A couple Danish television stations produce a special advent calendar in the form of a Christmas show that is divided into twenty-four episodes.  These shows are like The Cinnamon Bear, Jonathon Thomas And His Christmas On The Moon, and Jump-Jump And The Ice Queen radio shows produced in the United States during the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Christmas Seals: The purchasing of Christmas seals to raise money to treat children with tuberculosis began in Denmark.  In 1903, Danish Postal clerk Einar Holboell looked at all the Christmas cards and mail going through the post office and thought what if people could purchase a Christmas “stamp” to place on their packages.  He designed the first Christmas seal, had them printed, and sold them raising much money for the fight against tuberculosis thus beginning the beloved custom of purchasing Christmas seals.  Norway and Sweden were the first countries to adopt this custom followed by the United States in 1907.

Collectible Christmas plates: In 1895, the porcelain company Bing and Grondahl decided to make a special Christmas plate.  It was to be colored blue and white, involving one of the more complicated processes in plate-making.  On Christmas Eve the company made that plate a true collectible by destroying the mold.  Every Christmas since then Bing and Grondahl has created limited edition Christmas plates breaking the molds for the plates on Christmas Eve.  In 1908 Denmark’s oldest porcelain maker, Royal Copenhagen, started making its own Christmas plates following the same processes used by Bing and Grondahl.  And like Bing and Grondahl, Royal Copenhagen breaks their molds on Christmas Eve.  These plates have become the most sought after plates by plate collectors worldwide.

Learn more about Denmark’s Customs of Christmas here.

Here’s a Christmas cookie from Denmark.

Brune Kager (Brown Christmas cookies)

1 cup butter or lard
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
½ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
4 ½ cups flour
¼ cup finely chopped almonds

At a low heat, melt the butter (lard), sugar, and syrup. Add the other ingredients and mix well.  Form the dough into rolls as if making refrigerator cookies.  Store the rolled dough in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.  Aging greatly improves the flavor.  Cut the rolls into very thin cookies and decorate each with half of a blanched almond.  Bake at 375 degrees F until the cookies are crisp (approximately 5 to 7 minutes).  After cookies have cooled, store in a covered jar or tin.

Christmas Recipes From France And Denmark

August 25, 2014

Last month I presented some Christmas customs celebrated in France.  One of the main ingredients of a celebration, it seems, is food.  Here is the recipe for Chocolate Buche De Noel, Christmas Yule Log cake, a must to finish off a French Christmas meal.

Chocolate Buche De Noel

Sponge cake:

  • 4 eggs (room temperature)Yule Log Cake
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cake flour

Chocolate buttercream:

  • 7 egg whites
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons butter, softened

How to make chocolate buche de noel:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 10-inch by 15-inch baking pan with a 1-inch lip (jelly-roll pan) and line it with parchment paper. Butter the parchment or spray it with cooking spray. Set the pan aside.

Beat the eggs for 5 minutes, until they turn thick and foamy. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, and salt to the eggs and continue beating for 2 minutes. Fold the flour, a few tablespoons at a time, into the whipped egg mixture. Once the flour is incorporated into the batter, stop mixing. Do not over mix or the cake will bake up into a tough texture.

Gently spread the batter into the prepared pan. There will be peaks of batter; gently smooth over them, but do not press the batter down. Bake the cake for 10 minutes, until the cake is just set. Invert the baked cake onto a clean, dry kitchen towel and peel off the parchment paper. Wait 3 minutes and then gently roll the cake, still in the towel, starting at the 10-inch end. Allow it to cool completely.

To make the chocolate buttercream:

In a clean, completely dry bowl beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. Set them aside for a moment.

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and 2/3 cup water to a boil. Allow it boil until it has reduced into a slightly thickened syrup. Begin beating the egg whites on high speed again, and pour the hot sugar syrup into the eggs in a slow, steady stream. Pour the melted chocolate, espresso powder, and vanilla extract into the egg whites and continue beating them until the meringue has cooled completely, about 5 minutes.

Add the softened butter to the meringue, 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating on high speed, until all of the butter is incorporated into the frosting. If the buttercream becomes runny at any time in this process, refrigerate the meringue until it has chilled through and continue the process of beating the butter into the meringue.

To assemble the chocolate yule log:

Unroll the cake and set aside the towel. Evenly spread 2 cups (or desired amount) of the chocolate buttercream on the inside of the cake and following its natural curve, gently form it into a cake roll. Cut off the ends of the cake roll on the diagonal and reattach them in the center of the cake with a bit of buttercream to fashion a “branch” coming off the main Yule log.

Spread the exterior of the buche de noel with enough chocolate buttercream to cover it and gently pull a butter knife or small, offset spatula through the frosting to give the appearance of rough tree bark. Add a Pere Noel figure and meringue mushrooms to complete the festive look.

Chill the cake before serving it, and refrigerate any leftovers.

This chocolate yule log recipe makes 14 servings.

—————————————————————————————————————–

Next month I plan to share the Christmas customs of Denmark.  To spark your interest here is a recipe for a Danish Christmas cookie, Pebber Nodder.

Pebber NodderPebber Nodder

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring until light and fluffy. Combine the flour, cardamom and cinnamon; stir into the sugar mixture just until blended.
3. Separate the dough into 6 balls, and roll each ball into a rope about as big around as your finger on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and place them on an ungreased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014

Christmas-in-france-eiffel-tower

Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website, http://www.customsofchristmas.com.

A Memorial Day “Merry Christmas” to our soldiers whereever you happen to be!

May 25, 2014

This weekend in the United States is Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is the day we remember those who fought and died protecting us and the freedoms we enjoy today. I think we should also remember the men and women who are currently serving in our armed forces. Many times these holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are hard on our service people because they are away from home and may be feeling a little forgotten by those at home.

This website, www.history.army.mil/html/reference/holidays/index.html, shows pictures taken of our soldiers celebrating Christmas. These pictures span the time between World War I to the present. The Spirit of Christmas truly does show up at all times in all situations.

This year while you prepare your own Christmas celebrations please remember the soldiers away from home perhaps fighting to keep you free and send them a Christmas package. Here are a couple websites that can help you do so.

www.operationwearehere.com/AdoptMilitaryFamily.html
www.militaryfamily.org/feature-articles/holiday-financial-help-for.html

Christmas in Israel

January 25, 2014

It is late.  The streets that were crowded with people, animals, and soldiers during the day are now deserted.  Suddenly the silence is broken by the cry of a newborn baby.  A new life has entered the world.  Not just any life, but one that has been promised for centuries.  This life is God’s gift to mankind.

For over 2,000 years this baby’s birth has been celebrated.  This celebration takes many forms, but there is one thing that is peculiar about this celebration.  People from all over the world celebrate this baby’s birth except the people of the baby’s home country.

Christians of all ethnicities and denominations gather each year from mid-December to mid-January to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem in the small country of Israel.  For the most part the inhabitants of the town look on as the world celebrates selling food, nativity scenes, crucifixes, and other wares in street bazaars encouraging the Christmas tourists to leave some of their money in the little town in a little country.  Other inhabitants may participate in the celebration.  Some may participate for the fun of it.  Some join out of curiosity, and others to worship.

Most Christians visiting the Holy Land during Christmastide celebrate on December 25, but Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate on January 6.

Grotto of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity, Bethlehem

On December 24 the Roman Catholic Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem leads a procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, approximately 5 miles, to the Church of the Nativity.  The Church of the Nativity was built in AD. 325 by Roman Emperor Constantine and rebuilt in the 500s by Emperor Justinian.  The church houses the Grotto of the Manger.  The Grotto is about the size of a railroad car illuminated with many candles.  Incense is burned until the air is thick with it.  A fourteen-point silver star marks the place believed to be the spot of Jesus’ birth.  The grounds of the church also houses St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, an Armenian Monastery, as well as churches and buildings of other faiths.

The Roman Catholic Christmas Eve service begins late in the evening with bell ringing, impressive choirs, and a solemn High Mass.  After midnight, Catholics leave mass and proceed to the Grotto of the Manger where an effigy of the Christ Child is placed on the silver star.  Then they return to St. Catherine’s to finish the service.  Other denominations and faiths holding services on December 24 also visit the Grotto.

Protestant Christians tend to meet in one the field outside Bethlehem where, according to tradition, the shepherds heard the angels proclaim the Lord’s birth.  Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians may also meet in rival shepherds fields.  At these meetings choirs lead the worshipers in singing Christmas carols filling the night sky with beautiful music reminiscent of the angelic choir that first Christmas.

While most Israelites do not celebrate Christmas (they celebrate Hanukkah instead), Christmas is celebrated in the Holy Land.  Tourists from all over the world gather each Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus born to “save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Christmas in Italy – part 2

June 25, 2013

Wooden puppets depicting Italy's gift giver, Befana.

Wooden puppets depicting Italy’s gift giver, Befana.

The most cherished custom of the Italian Christmas is setting up and displaying the crèche or nativity scene. As the focus of the family’s decorating, the crèche may be simple and homemade or very elaborate with hundreds of pieces and many scenes. The tradition of the nativity scene was started in the early 1200s by St. Francis of Assisi who told the story of the birth of Christ using a living nativity complete with live animals. Contests are held every year for the best nativity display. Some towns get into the spirit by hosting living nativities some with up to 600 actors involved.

No matter how simple or how fancy the crèche, the Christ child in the manger is most cherished by the Italian people. Many will place their presents near the manger instead of under a Christmas tree, and families may even pray together in front of the manger.

A favorite set of figures found in many nativity scenes are the shepherds playing bagpipes. Legend has it that shepherds playing bagpipes played for Mary in Bethlehem when Christ was born. At one time bagpipe-playing shepherds would come from the fields in the mountains to play at Christmastime in the marketplaces and other locations in Rome. Today folk musicians, called zampognari, keep the tradition alive. These zampognari visit every carpenter’s shop and ever nativity and sing and play in front of the manger scene especially during the Christmas Novena. It is no wonder that the sound that most characterizes the Italian Christmas is that of bagpipe-playing zampognari.

Christmas trees are not as popular in Italy as they are in other areas of the world. Trees are most popular in the northern regions of Italy. Christmas trees may be imported from northern Europe, be artificial, or be live, potted trees. Many good things to eat are hung from the branches accompanied by many lights and other baubles. In Southern Italy many people hang fresh fruit and foil-covered chocolates on their tree. Children are allowed to eat the trimmings on January 6.

On Christmas Eve day a strict fast is observed until evening when a meatless meal is served. Fish may be served at this meal but no meat. Christmas day is a feast day. There is no “typical” Christmas menu. The main dish usually varies according to the region and the tastes and traditions of the family. In southern Italy baked, roasted, fried, or steamed eels served with rice may be the main dish while squid is a favorite along the sea coast. Other dishes enjoyed during the Christmas feast include clams, codfish, many kinds of beans, vegetables in vinegar, salads, bread, and pasta.

Gift giving in Italy is not associated with Christmas, as it is in many parts of the world. Instead Italians give gifts to each other on the day legend says the three kings gave their gifts to the Christ child, Epiphany or January 6. The story goes that as the three kings were on their way to Bethlehem they stopped at the house of an old woman to ask for directions. The old woman was busy cleaning her house and was angry at the kings for interrupting her work. The kings explained they were on their way to find a baby, the Christ child, born King of the Jews and worship him. Would she like to go along with them? No, she did not know how to get to Bethlehem nor did she want to find a squalling baby and worship him. “Now go away and let me get back to my work.” The kings left. The next morning the old woman had second thoughts. She started following the three kings hoping to find them. She could not find them. She stopped to ask about the kings and to ask for directions for Bethlehem. No one could help her. She traveled on looking for the baby and his parents. As she traveled she started leaving presents for the children in houses she passed. She wanted to give presents to the Christ child, but she did not know where he might be living. Legend says she is still wandering through the Earth looking for the Christ child.

This old woman known as Befana gives gifts to Italian children on January 6. The name Befana comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, Epifania. She is personified with white, disheveled hair, a hooked nose, and dressed in black. She is often portrayed as riding a broomstick. The first mention of Befana in Italian literature was in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzada, a poet from Tuscany. Children write notes to Befana asking for toys during the weeks preceding Epiphany.

Today, while Befana is the gift bearer for Italian children, Santa Claus is making inroads in Italian society.

As the Italian people say goodbye to the old year Befana appears again. In many towns and cities across Italy people go to the town square and burn a Befana puppet or a straw effigy of Befana. This time Befana symbolizes the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year.

The Italian people have many wonderful customs for celebrating Christmas. From the intricate nativity villages to the bagpipe-playing zampognari to gift-giving Befana: these traditions bring Italian uniqueness to the world’s customs of Christmas.

If you wish to have an Italian Christmas this year you may want to have this favorite Italian Christmas dish.

Fried Eel

2 ½ pounds eels, cleaned and dried
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
Lemon slices

Cut eels crosswise into 3-inch pieces. Coat with flour and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Heat oil in a skillet. Add coated eel pieces and fry over medium heat until golden brown on both sides (about 10 minutes). Accompany eel with lemon slices. Makes about 6 servings.

Christmas in Italy – part 1

May 25, 2013

nativity sceneItaly enjoys a wide range of weather conditions during the Christmas season. In southern Italy Christmas is warm and sunny. In Rome, Christmas tends to be chilly and damp, almost Spring-like. In the mountain regions of northern Italy, Christmases are white with a lot of snow, ice, and cold temperatures.

Preparations for Christmas begin in December. People around Sicily also enjoy puppet shows with hand-carved puppets performing fairy tale stories and enacting legendary battle scenes. Storekeepers decorate their shops with lights and greenery. Families visit vibrant Christmas markets looking for presents, goodies, and new figures to add to the home manger scene. In the schools children put on plays, give recitals, and make decorations. People begin visiting friends and family bringing gifts, sharing good food, and visiting as many magnificent nativity displays as possible.

On December 6 many Italians celebrate the feast day of San Nicola (St. Nicholas). All along the Adriatic coast, children anxiously await the visit of the saint with his gifts and goodies he brings.

On December 13 the people of Sicily celebrate the feast day of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy). Tradition says that, on the eve of her day, Lucia travels the countryside accompanied by a donkey carrying baskets loaded with gifts for those she visits. Children leave their shoes on the doorstep along with food for the donkey. Lucia then fills the shoes with presents. On the morning of St. Lucia’s day, a child, usually the oldest daughter of the family, dresses up as Lucia and serves the family breakfast in bed.

The Christmas season really starts in Italy with Christmas Novena. This is a nine-day period of spiritual preparation ending Christmas Eve marked by attending church services.

Christmas Eve is spent with family and for making final preparations for Christmas day. They may enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas and the smells of the Christmas markets. Some Italians attend midnight Christmas Eve services at their local churches. In Cortina D’Apezzo, a town in northern Italy, families gather to watch the Alpine guides ski down the mountain carrying flaming torches.

Christmas Day arrives with the pealing of hundreds of church bells. The tradition of ringing church bells at Christmas is thought to have begun nearly 1,600 years ago by Bishop Paulinas of Nola. Families spend the day together exchanging gifts, playing games, telling stories, and feasting.

On December 26 a number of Italians celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. Once a day of religious devotion St Stephen’s Day is now spent relaxing or visiting friends and family.

As Christianity spread in Italy in times past the Christmas season was extended to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Cities and towns host Epiphany parades, and people sing songs honoring the three kings.

The following recipe is a favorite at Christmastime in Italy.

Almond Macaroons

1 can (8 ounces) almond paste, cut in pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg whites
Pine nuts

Combine almond paste, sugar, and egg whites in a bowl and work with a spoon until smooth. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with unglazed paper. Top with pine nuts. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit about 12 minutes, or until delicately browned. Cool slightly, then remove cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Celebrating your birthday on Christmas day

April 25, 2013

Have you ever wished your birthday was Christmas day? I must admit I never have. Wedding anniversary maybe, but not birthday. I imagine some people love it. Others detest it. Some years my daughter’s birthday coincides with Thanksgiving Day. We tell her everyone in the United States are celebrating her birthday with parades, special meals, and lots of fun. She doesn’t agree and asks that we celebrate her birthday on another day during Thanksgiving week.

Here is a short list of people who were born on Christmas day:

1564 – Johannes Buxtorf (the Elder), German Protestant scholar
1642 – Sir Isaac Newton, English scientist, discovered the law of universal gravitation
1717 – Pope Pius VI, pope 1775-1799
1721 – William Collins, English poet
1763 – Claude Chappe, French engineer, developed the first semaphore
1821 – Clara Barton, U. S. humanitarian, founder of the American Red Cross
1878 – Louis Chevrolet, Swiss-American race car driver and automobile magnate
1887 – Conrad Hilton, U. S. hotelier, founder of Hilton Hotels Corporation
1889 – Lila Acheson Wallace, U. S. publisher, founded Reader’s Digest with her husband Dewitt Wallace
1893 – Robert Leroy Ripley, U. S. cartoonist, best known for his syndicated feature Believe It or Not
1899 – Humphrey Bogart, U. S. actor
1918 – Anwar Sadat, Egyptian leader, known for his peace efforts with Israel
1924 – Rod Sterling, U. S. TV personality, writer and host of The Twilight Zone

The origin of Christmas gift giving

March 24, 2013

The first gifts given to honor the birth of the Christ child came from a group of men called wise men or magi. The Bible does not tell us how many wise men there were. Most people assume there were three because of the three gifts mentioned, but there could have been more. These gifts were expensive and reflected the wise men’s perception of Jesus’ station in life. But those gifts were not the first Christmas gifts. The first Christmas gift came from God Himself. This is the origin of Christmas gift giving: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Gifts had been exchanged during the midwinter season for many years before Christ was born. The Romans are credited with starting the custom of giving gifts during their midwinter festivals. The first festival, Saturnalia, occurred in mid to late December. Gifts of wax candles, wax fruit, and clay dolls were exchanged between social peers. Gifts and good wishes were given to friends and family during the New Year festival Kalends.

As the Roman empire grew gift giving spread throughout Europe. As time went on the celebration of Saturnalia died out but gift giving during the New Year’s celebration continued. In many places, like England, gift giving was reserved for those within the social hierarchy. Peasants gave gifts of farm produce to their lord who then provided a Christmas feast. Nobles gave gifts to the king and queen who also gave gifts to their court. This practice occurred not on Christmas day but on New Year’s day. It was still considered to be a part of the Christmas because the Christmas season, during the medieval period lasted for twelve days. There is no record of gift giving between friends or family members during this time.

The first recorded occurrence of Christmas gift giving between family and friends comes from 16th century Germany. Children received “Christ-bundles” consisting of coins, sugarplums, nuts, apples, dolls, clothing, school books, religious books, or writing materials. Parents told their children that the Christkind, or Christ child, brought their gifts. Through the 17th and 18th centuries the tradition spread throughout Europe and England. Popular gifts included food items, warm clothing, accessories, jewelry, pens, watches, and books for children.

Eventually, by early 19th century, New Year’s gift giving was absorbed by Christmas gift giving. Partly this was due to the number of days within the Christmas season where gifts were exchanged. Some European countries honored St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, on his day by giving gifts to children, a practice that some say was started by nuns in central France who left packages of nuts, oranges, and other “good things to eat” on the doorsteps of poor families with children on St. Nicholas’s eve. Others exchanged gifts on St. Martin’s (Martinmas) eve in honor of the saint’s practice of riding through the countryside giving treats to children. And still others exchanged gifts on St. Stephen’s Day. On this day during the Middle Ages parish priests opened up church alms boxes and distributed the coins found inside to the needy. This practice grew to include boxed gifts of food, money, and clothing given by the affluent in society to those in the working class who served them in some fashion during the year. St. Stephen’s Day soon lost its identity to these gift boxes and became Boxing Day.

The custom of exchanging gifts between friends and family members became widespread during the 19th century. This was aided by the spread of the German Christmas tree as the repository for Christmas gifts and the popularity of Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, as the giver of Christmas gifts.

Today people all over the world spend billions of dollars every year for Christmas gifts. For some Christmas gift giving is a bother trying to out-give one another, remembering everyone from whom a gift may be received, or facing the high cost of the Christmas season. For others Christmas gift giving is a joy a chance to express appreciation and love to others, a chance to give of oneself to those who cannot give back, and a time to honor the One whose birthday is being celebrated. Which group do you belong? I hope it is the latter.

%d bloggers like this: