Christmas Around the World
Even though Christmas was first introduced into Russia more than a hundred years ago when Great Duke Vladimir of the Russian Royal family converted to Christianity, it was not until the early eighteenth century that the celebration was Westernized. Czar Peter the Great introduced a great many Western European practices, including the traditional evergreen Christmas tree, that was decorated with apples, candy, nuts and candles.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Christmas trees and all religious celebrations and symbols were banned under the atheistic government. The holiday commemorating the birth of Christ was changed to the Festival of Winter: Beautiful blown-glass, or Dresden-type ornaments decorated the evergreen, renamed the New Year's Tree.
In 1991, after the fall of Communism in Russia, the people were able to celebrate their first real Christmas in seventy-five years.
In Washington, D.C., a huge, spectacular tree (considered the National Christmas Tree) is lit ceremoniously by the President.
In Boston, carol singing festivities are famous. The singers are accompanied by hand bells.
In the state of Missouri, roast turkey or ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce are Christmas meal favorites.
In Hawaii, Christmas starts with the coming of the Christmas Tree Ship, bringing a great load of Christmas fare. Santa Claus also arrives by boat.
In California, Santa Claus sweeps in on a surfboard.
Children write their requests in letters to Father Christmas, but instead of dropping them into the mailbox, they toss them into the fireplace. According to legend, the draft carries the letters up the chimney, and Father Christmas reads the smoke.
When the younger children wake early on Christmas morning, they find stockings at the ends of their beds and a few presents on the floor. Later, the whole family gathers around the lighted tree to open the rest of the presents.
Although Christians are a minority in India, Christmas is still a festive celebration. Decorated mango and banana trees replace the more traditional evergreens. Some houses use mango leaves inside the house, and others line their flat roofs and walls with small clay oil-burning lamps. For the Christmas Eve service, churches are decorated with poinsettias and brightly lit candles.
The Nordic tradition of burning a yule log dates back to medieval times. Originally, an entire tree was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The large end of the tree would be placed into the fireplace, while the rest of it stuck out into the room. The yule log would be lit from the remains of the previous year's log, which had been stored away for the occasion, and it would be fed slowly into the fire through the twelve days of Christmas.
Christmas is one of the most holy, religious holidays celebrated throughout Greece. During this time, it is customary to bake traditional Christmas cakes, or kouloures, which are decorated with a symbol of the family's profession. Farmers draw a plough or grapes; shepherds' wives scribe a stable, sheep, or a shepherd on the dough. Then a coin is baked into one of the cakes.
In days of old, before the bread was eaten, it would be blessed by the village vicar, and the coin would be given to the priest for the church. The ceremony of passing out the bread was much like the celebration of Communion.
Today, the oldest member of the family makes the sign of the cross on the bread with his knife, and then parts are broken off – the first for Jesus, another for Mary, and then one for each family member. It is believed the person who receives the coin will live a blessed year.
Father Christmas is called Papai Noël in Brazil, where Christmas is a summer holiday. For many Brazilians, the Christmas meal will consist of pork, chicken, turkey, ham, rice, salad, and fresh and dried fruits. The less fortunate will eat chicken and rice to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.