Friday, December 7, 2007
Christmas - An Ancient Holiday
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.
The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.
In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
Christmas as we know it today is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe. Click around this map to learn about traditions from different regions and, along the way, learn about the history of this most cherished of holidays.
Most people in Scandinavian countries honor St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) each year on December 13. The celebration of St. Lucia Day began in Sweden, but had spread to Denmark and Finland by the mid-19th century.
In these countries, the holiday is considered the beginning of the Christmas season and, as such, is sometimes referred to as "little Yule." Traditionally, the oldest daughter in each family rises early and wakes each of her family members, dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles. For the day, she is called "Lussi" or "Lussibruden (Lucy bride)." The family then eats breakfast in a room lighted with candles.
Any shooting or fishing done on St. Lucia Day was done by torchlight, and people brightly illuminated their homes. At night, men, women, and children would carry torches in a parade. The night would end when everyone threw their torches onto a large pile of straw, creating a huge bonfire. In Finland today, one girl is chosen to serve as the national Lucia and she is honored in a parade in which she is surrounded by torchbearers.
Light is a main theme of St. Lucia Day, as her name, which is derived from the Latin word lux, means light. Her feast day is celebrated near the shortest day of the year, when the sun's light again begins to strengthen. Lucia lived in Syracuse during the fourth century when persecution of Christians was common. Unfortunately, most of her story has been lost over the years. According to one common legend, Lucia lost her eyes while being tortured by a Diocletian for her Christian beliefs. Others say she may have plucked her own eyes out to protest the poor treatment of Christians. Lucia is the patron saint of the blind.
Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather and listen to the national "Peace of Christmas" radio broadcast. It is customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.
Norway is the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. "Yule" came from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates back to the Norse Yule log. It is probably also responsible for the popularity of log-shaped cheese, cakes, and desserts during the holidays.
According to reports by Captain John Smith, the first eggnog made in the United States was consumed in his 1607 Jamestown settlement. Nog comes from the word grog, which refers to any drink made with rum.
Decorating evergreen trees had always been a part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first "Christmas trees" explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday, appeared in Strasbourg, in Alsace in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and even more so after 1771, when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg and promptly included a Christmas tree is his novel, The Suffering of Young Werther. In the 1820s, the first German immigrants decorated Christmas trees in Pennsylvania. After Germany's Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, he introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home in just a few years.
In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. As its coloring seemed perfect for the new holiday, the plants, which were called poinsettias after Poinsett, began appearing in greenhouses as early as 1830. In 1870, New York stores began to sell them at Christmas. By 1900, they were a universal symbol of the holiday.
In Mexico, paper mache sculptures called pinatas are filled with candy and coins and hung from the ceiling. Children then take turns hitting the pinata until it breaks, sending a shower of treats to the floor. Children race to gather as much of of the loot as they can.
An Englishman named John Calcott Horsley helped to popularize the tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written holiday greeting in the late 1830s. Newly efficient post offices in England and the United States made the cards nearly overnight sensations. At about the same time, similar cards were being made by R.H. Pease, the first American card maker, in Albany, New York, and Louis Prang, a German who immigrated to America in 1850.
Celtic and Teutonic peoples had long considered mistletoe to have magic powers. It was said to have the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility. Celts hung mistletoe in their homes in order to bring themselves good luck and ward off evil spirits. During holidays in the Victorian era, the English would hang sprigs of mistletoe from ceilings and in doorways. If someone was found standing under the mistletoe, they would be kissed by someone else in the room, behavior not usually demonstrated in Victorian society.
Plum pudding is an English dish dating back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are "plum," meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream.
Caroling also began in England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians hoped to receive a hot meal or money.
In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep. In Scandinavia, similar-minded children leave their shoes on the hearth. This tradition can be traced to legends about Saint Nicholas. One legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry.
In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles," which means "the good news" and refers to the gospel.
In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day. This stems from an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next year's harvest.
Italians call Chrismas Il Natale, meaning "the birthday."
In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer and it's not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Farenheit on Christmas day.
During the warm and sunny Australian Christmas season, beach time and outdoor barbecues are common. Traditional Christmas day celebrations include family gatherings, exchanging gifts and either a hot meal with ham, turkey, pork or seafood or barbeques.
Ukrainians prepare a traditional twelve-course meal. A family's youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, a signal that the feast can begin.
Most Canadian Christmas traditions are very similar to those practiced in the United States. In the far north of the country, the Eskimos celebrate a winter festival called sinck tuck, which features parties with dancing and the exchanging of gifts.
In Greece, many people believe in kallikantzeri, goblins that appear to cause mischief during the 12 days of Christmas. Gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil's Day.
A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations. St. Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity in 1224 to help explain the birth of Jesus to his followers.
Games For a Christmas Party
Christmas is the moment of merry, fun and peace. It is the season full of cherry, merry, chilly and a like for all ages. Especially for children it is a high time for fun. Enjoy this party full of fun with your friends group. Check out the following lines for making the best Christmas party ever.
Since the Holiday season is a very special period of the year a party at this time is always more than welcome. The Christmas decorations which are still up save extra work and give the desired festive air. When entertainment and games have been carefully planned ahead of time the party goes off smoothly without long lapses of nothing to do. The following games have been tried out many times and are most entertaining.
A good way to start off is to hand each guest a pencil and four cards; one card with a band of brown across the top, another blue, another gray, and one of green. Each youngster is asked to list the names of the guests according to the color of their eyes. For instance if Johnny has brown eyes his name goes on the card topped with brown, etc. The youngsters greatly enjoy this game and have a lot of fun discovering the color of their friends' eyes. It's surprising to find how unobserving most of us are.
For a more active game divide your group into two or more teams, depending on the number of players. Line the teams up single file on one side of the room. Set a goal across the room. Mark a starting line. Give the leader of each line two smooth, medium-size buttons. One he places on the starting line, with the other he snaps the first one to the goal as soon as the signal is given. "Snapping" consists of pressing the edge of one button with the other in such a way that the under one flies ahead. As soon as the players reach goal they race back and hand the buttons to the second player in line. The line finishing first wins the relay.
After this rather hilarious game a quieter one called "Shopping" requires that all the children but one sit in a circle on the floor. The remaining one is the "shopper." He stops before one of the seated group and says, "I'm going to Chicago. What can I buy?" He then counts to ten. Before he finishes counting the player before whom he is standing names three objects beginning with the letter "C," as "cats, crossings, or caterpillars." If he fails he must take the place of the shopper. Any city may be named by the shopper, but the articles to be bought must always begin with the first letter of the city named. The children are greatly amused by the weird assortment of objects they are supposed to buy.
Children always like relays. One that can be played in a small space is called "Over and Under." The teams can be lined up as for the button snap game. The first player in each team is handed a bean bag or ball even a potato will do. When the signal is given he passes this object over his head to the second in line who passes it between his knees to the third who hands it over his head to the fourth. The object goes alternately overhead and between knees to the last one in line who then runs to the head of the line and starts it back over his head. The game proceeds until the line is back in its original order with the first player at its head. The line finishing first, of course, wins the race.
Another active game children enjoy is "Bounce," which can be played with a rubber or tennis ball. Place a waste basket on a chair some distance from the wall. Mark a line about six feet back from the chair on which the player stands. The game is to bounce the ball on the floor so that it goes into the basket. Each one has three trials, as this is not as easy to do as it seems. A point is given for every basket made. After a given length of time points are counted to determine the winner.
After the games and before refreshments the children will enjoy singing Christmas carols, especially the old favorites, "Silent Night, Holy Night," "The First Noel," "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Come All Ye Faithful." Sandwiches and cocoa are always popular. These can be followed with apples, Christmas candies and nuts.
Children are greatly fascinated by shining stars, colorful balls, Christmas trees, lots of candies and lots more. They also expected all these to see in party place. Decorate your house with all these stuff and see new enlightenment in the eyes of your young party guest.
Posted by SANJIDA AFROJ at 5:04 AM