Customs and celebrations
An enormous number of customs surround Christmas, and vary from country to country. Many aspects, such as the Christmas Tree, the Yule Log, and the giving of presents, were taken from the earlier pagan holiday of Yule and the traditional celebrations of the Winter solstice. Thus a few Christian churches, most notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, view Christmas as a pagan holiday and do not celebrate it. Some of the more popular aspects of British, North American, and Japanese Christmasses include Santa Claus (or Father Christmas) who brings gifts to children on his sleigh pulled by reindeer; the giving of gifts to friends and family; decorating a Christmas Tree with lights and ornaments; and the decoration of the home with evergreen foliage, particularly holly and mistletoe. In North America and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom it is traditional to decorate the outside of houses with large numbers of lights.
In many countries, children leave empty containers on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with small gifts such as toys, candy, or fruit. In the United States, the tradition is to hang a Christmas stocking by the fireplace, because Santa, according to the story, comes down the chimney and the stockings will be waiting for him. In other countries, children place their empty shoes for Santa's visit.
In most Western countries, Christmas celebrations take have both religious and secular aspects. The religious celebrations start with the celebration of Advent around the start of December, and are marked by special church services. Advent services lead up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and often include Advent carols. Advent is also represented by Advent calendars, sometimes containing sweets and chocolate for children, leading up to, and sometimes beyond, Christmas Eve. In the period immediately before Christmas, there are many Christmas services at which Christmas hymns and Christmas carols are sung, and there are special services, typified by the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Cambridge. At Christmas special services often include a Midnight Mass, or a Mass of the Nativity. The church's season of Christmas ends on the feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, the traditional date of the visit of the Three Kings to the child Jesus.
Christmas is also celebrated by the non-religious as a secular holiday and, often, an opportunity to catch up with one's extended family. In many it is a time for giving gifts, exchanging Christmas cards, and having Christmas parties and discos in schools or workplaces, which often take place over several weeks before Christmas Day. On Christmas Day a special meal of Christmas dishes is usually served, for which there are varying traditional menus in every country. In the United Kingdom, the traditional meal consists of roast turkey or goose, served with roast potatoes and other vegetables, followed by Christmas pudding, a heavy boiled pudding made with dried fruit (traditionally plums) and flour. Christmas is a time when shops will increase their sales, and introduce new products which are sold at premium prices, taking advantage of the many marketing opportunities. Radio and TV stations popularise Christmas by broadcasting Christmas carols and Christmas songs.
Many TV shows celebrate the holiday with a 'Christmas special' episode. In the United Kingdom this is usually of extended length compared to a regular episode, allowing some popular shows to gain high ratings for their channel and essentially become an institution over Christmas (e.g. Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, Top of the Pops, etc.). HM Queen Elizabeth II also annually broadcasts a 10 minute speech on Christmas Day at 3pm, charting her views of the past year and giving her own reflections and advice. Also, the popular animated tale The Snowman is screened every Christmas on Channel 4, and a new story, The Bear, by the same artist and company is usually seen at around the same time.
The music industry is marked with the battle of bands and artists to make it to the 'Christmas No. 1' spot, which is always recognised as the first Sunday before, or on, Christmas Day. Many of these songs are extremely festive (Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody - 1973), while others are simply novelty songs that remain at the top of the chart for one week only (Mr Blobby - Mr Blobby - 1993). Gospel singer Cliff Richard has been recognised as a fixture of Christmas charts, appearing nearly every year in the run-up to Christmas and consequently being mocked for doing so.
However, many Christian religions and denominations (like the Jehovah's Witnesses and various Puritan groups), don't participate the celebration of holidays without explicit Biblical authorization, and so neither celebrate Christmas nor exchange Christmas cards, because they think these customs are against Biblical teachings. (Matthew 14:6-12; Romans 13:13)
The Christmas period in some countries, such as the United Kingdom extends beyond Christmas Day up to New Year, which also has its own parties, though in Scotland Hogmanay which occurs at the New Year is celebrated more than Christmas. The secular aspects of Christmas continue afterwards with the sales of goods in shops at the Christmas sales and New Year sales, when shops sell off goods which were not sold before Christmas, or use the opportunity to clear out goods, or simply take advantage of the many shoppers who go to these events in order to increase their sales. Another popular aspect of the Christmas season is the pantomime.
Christmas is also somewhat popular in Japan, encouraged by the commercial sector who see the opportunities in encouraging gift-giving. The gift-giving is mainly done between lovers, and Christmas does not carry religious connotations. Christmas is not as important as New Year's Day in Japan. The Japanese use the American and British Santa Claus in their holiday.
The holiday's popularity is so pronounced that other faiths have emphasized their own winter holidays to serve as their own religion's equivalent. The most obvious example is Judaism's Chanukah which has evolved in the 20th century into a similar family gift giving holiday.
In the Republic of China on Taiwan, Christmas is not officially celebrated, but December 25 coincidentially falls on the date of the signing of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 1947 and hence there is an official holiday on that date, which is largely treated as if it was Christmas.
Christmas is traditionally associated with the Northern Hemisphere winter, and thus winter motifs are prominent in Christmas decorations and in the Santa Claus myth. Residents of countries located in the tropics and the Southern Hemisphere thus experience somewhat of a dissonance between popular culture depictions of Christmas and their own balmy Christmas celebrations.
Christmas is, typically, the largest annual economic stimulus for the economies of celebrating Christian nations.
Countries that celebrate Christmas on December 25th precede it by Christmas Eve, and some of them follow it by Boxing Day. In the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia Christmas Day and Boxing Day are called (the equivalent of) First and Second Christmas Day.
For some shops and other businesses Christmas Day is the only day in the year that they are closed.
The traditional Christmas flower is the poinsettia.
Christmas in culture
A large number of fictional Christmas stories have been written, usually involving heart-touching tales that involve a Christmas miracle. Several of these stories have passed into popular culture and been accepted as part of the tradition of Christmas.
One of the most popular is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the curmudgeonly miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who rejects compassion and philanthropy, and Christmas as a symbol of both, is visited by the "Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future" who show him the consequences of his ways. Dickens is sometimes credited with shaping the modern celebration of Christmas (tree, plum pudding, carols) through his novel and other Christmas-related stories.
Another Christmas story is the acclaimed film, It's a Wonderful Life which is essentially the reverse of A Christmas Carol where the hero, George Bailey, is a businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community. On Christmas Eve, a guardian angel prevents from committing suicide in despair and magically shows him how much he meant to the world around him.
The Striezelmarkt, Germany's oldest Christmas market boasting the specialities of the Dresden region which is arguable a worldwide christmas gift production center takes place nearly one month. This is the time when Dresden Stollen fruitcake, Puslnitzer gingerbread, wood carvings from the Erzgebirge Mountains, Dresden Pflaumentoffel, Lusatian indigo print, Silesian ceramics, Bohemian glass and Meissen porcelain are dominating the whole life of some people from all over who collect as total christmas fanatics.
Culture & Customs