Archive for December, 2014

Scotland: Christmas was not celebrated until the 1960’s; it was once outlawed.england

England: Charles Dickens’ stories set the scene in England which we all associate with Christmas.  Other years we have talked about many of their traditions.  Among them are the favored mince pies. Mince pies were once baked in tins the shape of cradles in remembrance of the manger.

Ireland: The Irish brought the holly wreath to this country at the time of the potato famine.  A lighted candle in the window symbolizes the light brought into the world by the birth of Christ and once was a welcome to priests to say a Mass at their home.

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December 30: Wales

walesWales: “Carol singing in Wales has become an art form.  Nowhere in the world are Christmas carols more carefully crafted and lovingly sung.  Each village has a trained choir and great gatherings for group singing.”  Carol singing has a long history; sometimes it is accompanied by a harp.

Each year they have a contest for writing the best tune for the words written for a new song.

Hopefully, you will find a village that carries on this old tradition: A four o-clock service on Christmas morning is called Plygain for dawn or for the crowing of the rooster.  The young men, carrying torches, accompany the pastor from his home to  the church and after the service back home again.

There might be a taffy pull on Christmas Day – their answer to our candy canes.

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December 29: Spain 2


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December 28: Spain 1

spain 1a (more…)

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December 27: Sweden II



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swedebsabablucia Sweden I:  Plan on being in Sweden on Santa Lucia Day, December 13, the anniversary of her death in A.D. 304.  She was born in Sicily and became a Christian.  Before her wedding, she gave away her entire dowry to the poor.  And legend has it that she brought food to the hungry in a province of Sweden that was suffering from a famine.  The day is inspiring because of her gifts of love and hope but also because of the beauty in Santa Lucia wearing a halo of candles as she bears holiday breads for her family’s breakfast.

In recent years in the celebration in Stockholm  a Nobel prize winner from December 10 is the one to bestow the Lucia Ornament, following a contest for the girl to become Lucia.  Contribute to the  fundraising for the poor and attend the parade.

In a north country where the days are short, it is not surprising to seeswedde stamp that light is a part of more than one celebration.

If you are in Sweden on Christmas Day, attend the predawn service.  If the weather is right, people go to the service in sleighs or process to church carrying torches.  The day is reserved for religious observances.

And the next day, St. Stephen’s Day, the second day of Christmas, Stephen’s men ride through town to wake the swseden dahl hourseresidents.   This patron of animals was one of the first Christian missionaries to Sweden about A.D. 1050.  He had five horses, two red, two white and one dappled that helped him spread the message that “they who share with others shall also benefit and be blessed”.  Thus the animals are given extra food that day.


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December 25: Russia

russia1Russia:  Visit the country that has made Saint Nicholas its patron saint, the country known for its fabulous icons, but also a country that has not been able to practice its Christian traditions because of its political history.  Christmas trees were banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their “New Year’s trees”.

Vladimir the Great visited Turkey in the 11th century, the home of St. Nicholas of Myra, and came back praising his protection of the weak, the poor and the oppressed.  Notice the many churches that have taken that name in his honor.

See the icon paintings in their formal Byzantine style that still inspire reverencerussia2 today.

As in many areas of the world, food or fasting from it can be given a religious symbolism.  When the evening star appears on Christmas Eve, the Advent fast is over.  Join in the Colatzia or supper served on a table which has a layer of straw under the cloth to symbolize the manger.  Try the little white wafers with Nativity scenes on them known in Lithuania as “the bread of angels” given to the family as a blessing of love and peace by the head of the household   Or perhaps visit another area of Russia where the Christmas Eve meal consists of koutia.  Porridge is put in a bowl (straw is put in the manger) and then honey and fruit (honey for the spirit of the Babe, fruit for the body).

And finally on the eve of the Epiphany witness the Blessing of the Waters, a tradition in U.S. Russian Orthodox churches also.  Its superstitious origins can be adapted to represent the forgiveness found in the baptismal waters.


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December 24: Norway

 Norway: Norway is one of many countries that uses straw as a reminder of the humble birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, of the straw that lined the manger and provided bedding for the animals in the stable.

“In days when the floors of the Norwegian homes were made of packed earth, it was the custom to spread fresh straw on the floor prior to Christmas. During the holy season’s festivities it lay there absorbing the mystical candlelight.” It’s golden glow became a fond association with the holiday.

On Christmas Eve, superstition said it was dangerous to sleep alone, so all lay on the straw-strewn floor, family and servants alike. All assumed the same humble status as Christ in the manger. Later the straw was spread on the fields in hopes of a good crop.

Today, straw is used to make beautiful ornaments. One is the “Julebakk” seen norwayhere. It is named for the goat that drew the cart of Thor, the god of thunder in Norse mythology. This is one example of the mixing of local legends or superstitions with the celebration of Christmas. But if we associate the straw with humility and the straw in the Nativity scene, we can successfully adapt the tradition to a Christian interpretation.

Learn how to make some simple straw ornaments such as crosses or male and female figures. Or buy them at a local craft fair or shop.

In other countries, straw is put under the tablecloth or spread on the table for the Christmas meal. Sheaves of barley or oats may be put outside as a treat for the birds or animals.

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December 23: Israel


Middle East: Although most of the inhabitants are Muslims and Jews, many Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and during this season, particularly to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Israel: “At the site where Jesus is said to have been born is the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations every Christmas. On Christmas Eve there is the annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by a solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus.

“Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door and each home displays a homemade manger scene. A star is set up on a pole in the village square.

“They have a feast known as the consoda which takes place on the morning of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for the souls of the dead. They give a gift of food to these souls and hope that by doing so the fortunes of the next year will be good.”

Obtained from the internet.

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December 22: Italy

Italy: Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have inspired the display of the manger scene at Christmas in Italy in the 1200’s, displayed in a special way in Italy.

You must see an Italian ceppo – a tree of light  – a triangular wooden frame with several shelves.  On the bottom shelf is placed the presepio, the manger scene.  The shelves above it hold sweets, fruit and small gifts.  It is decorated from top to bottom with lights, colored paper and pine cones.

Bagpipe music is the special music associated with Christmas in Italy.  If you find a town that still follows the tradition, you may hear the Catalan minstrels or pifferari in traditional dress playing the zampogne (a goatskin bagpipe) and the ciaramella (a wooden flute).  italy

They will play a novena of carols – a different set of prayers for each of the nine days before Christmas – before all the shrines to the Madonna and at the Nativity scenes, also stopping at the carpenter shops in honor of St. Joseph.  Tradition has it that the shepherds entertained the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.

Or if you are in Sicily perhaps you will hear shepherds accompanied by cello or violin.  In other places small orchestras perform the novenas with everyone invited to take part.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was so impressed with the prayers they sang that he translated some of them.  Here is one verse:

When Christ was born in Bethlehem

It was night, but seemed the noon of day.

The stars whose light was pure and bright

Shone with unwavering ray.

But one, one glorious star

Guided the Eastern Magi from afar.

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