Christmas Around the World
Christmas in the Birthplaces of Traditions — Israel, Germany and England
Christmas as we celebrate it today is a culmination of centuries of traditions. These traditions are religious and secular and they came from various countries around the world. It’s interesting to learn how Christmas is celebrated in these countries. The traditions we will examine are from Israel, Germany and England. They are examples of some of the things that are unique to that country and which are done today, or which were once done.
Let’s begin with the town of Bethlehem in Israel, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Israel has many famous biblical sites. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem. At Christmas time, it is decorated with a lot of flags and other Christmas decorations. A huge crowd gathers at The Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve to see the dramatic parade procession of horsemen, who are mounted on Arabian horses. A lone horseman carrying a cross follows the police in the procession followed by churchmen and government officials. Members of the procession solemnly enter the doors of The Church of the Nativity where they place an ancient effigy of Jesus in the church. A silver star mounted in the floor marks the site where Jesus was born. This is in a deep underground cave-like section of the church. A star is also set on top of a pole in the town’s square. In Bethlehem, homes of Christians usually have a cross over the door and a manger scene is typically set up inside the house.
Germany is the home of the Christmas tree tradition. Their Christmas tree is usually hidden until Christmas Eve in a special room. It is decorated in secret with tinsel, candles, ornaments and angels. It is also festooned with candies, nuts and cookies. It is then lighted, the presents placed underneath and then shown to the children on Christmas Eve.
In Germany, December 6th is known as St. Nicholas Day. This is when Santa visits the homes of boys and girls. Children leave a shoe or boot outside or by the fireplace for St. Nicholas the night before. If they are good, he places gifts and candies inside the shoe. If they are naughty, children will find twigs or a rod in their shoe.
Christmas Dinner includes roast goose, long loaves of bread filled with raisins, nuts and dried fruits. Other sweet delicacies are also enjoyed.
Many English traditions are similar to those in the United States because they were brought to the United States by settlers from England. The practice of sending Christmas cards started in England and is still popular as is the tradition of neighborhood caroling on Christmas Eve. Children also hang their stockings on Christmas Eve in hope that Santa Claus will fill them with Christmas gifts or treats. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are still around from pre-Christian times but were assigned Christian meanings and are still used in Yuletide decorations.
Some traditions that are different from ours are the pulling of Christmas crackers, waiting until Boxing Day to open presents and listening to the Queen deliver her Christmas day address. A cracker is a paper tube that contains a party hat, riddle, toy or trinket, and is brightly colored and twisted at both ends. It gives out a crack as the contents pop out when it is pulled at each end. On Christmas afternoon, the Queen broadcasts a message to the nation which is heard on radio and television. The day after Christmas is also a holiday that is known as Boxing Day. Boxing Day is traditionally when servants and tradesmen would receive a “Christmas box” as a gift from their bosses.
In England, the traditional Christmas Dinner is roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing, vegetables and roast potatoes. Dessert consists of the British or Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. A rich, fruit-filled Christmas cake may also be enjoyed later in the day.
Christmas Past & Future
As you can see, Christmas has been evolving from the dawn of civilization when primitive cultures observed the Winter Solstice as a beacon of hope in the bleak, darkening days of Winter right through to the birth of Jesus and on to the modern day celebrations. Let us know what traditions you enjoy.