Christmas

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Origin of Christmas

Jeremiah 10:1 "Hear ye the word which the Yahweh speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 2 Thus saith Yahweh, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. 5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good."


Jeremiah, chapter 10, seems to be clearly referring to the ancient pagan Christmas tree, used during the pagan celebrations of the heathen sun-god at the winter solstice. This is shown in verse 2, where Yahweh connects this tree worship with the signs of the heavens. This is what Yahweh says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the sky (the winter solstice), though the nations are terrified by them..." -- that is, they carry important meaning to the pagans, telling them when to hold their festival, and representing the death and birth of the sun-god.


Very few realize that not very much has changed in the way Christmas is celebrated from the way pagans observed the day (under a different name) centuries before the birth of Yahshua The Messiah! Obviously they didn't call it "Christmas." They called this mid-winter festival by its original heathen or pagan name -- the Saturnalia .


The Scriptures do not mention the celebration of The Messiah’s birth, and therefore it was not celebrated by early followers. So where did millions of modern-day "Christians" get the idea to celebrate it? In ancient times the winter solstice was celebrated in Babylon as the birth day of Tammuz (Dumuzi), the god of vegetation. This was the shortest day of the year, in the latter part of December (today it actually falls on December 21). According to the pagans, the god Nimrod would visit the evergreen tree and leave gifts upon it. This festival became known as the Saturnalia, and friends and family would exchange gifts.


Interestingly, the winter solstice was also celebrated by the followers of Mithra as the "nativity" or "birth" of the sun. Mithra was the Persian sun-god, and his worship was widespread throughout the Roman Empire in the days of the early believers.


When the feast was celebrated in Rome, it was called the festival of Saturn and lasted for five days. In both ancient Rome and more ancient Babylon, this festival was characterized by bouts of drunkenness, wild merrymaking, and lascivious orgies which would begin with an "innocent kiss" underneath the mistletoe and would then lead to justification of all sorts of sexual excesses, perversions and abominations.


Alexander Hislop writes in The Two Babylons:


And first, as to the festival in honour of the birth of Christ, or Christmas. How comes it that that festival was connected with the 25th of December? There is not a word in the Scriptures about the precise day of His birth, or the time of the year when He was born. What is recorded there, implies that at what time soever His birth took place, it could not have been on the 25th of December. At the time that the angel announced His birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they were feeding their flocks by night in the open fields. Now, no doubt, the climate of Palestine is not so severe as the climate of this country; but even there, though the heat of the day be considerable, the cold of the night, from December to February, is very piercing, and it was not the custom for the shepherds of Judea to watch their flocks in the open fields later than about the end of October. It is in the last degree incredible, then, that the birth of Christ could have taken place at the end of December. There is great unanimity among commentators on this point (pp. 91-92).


Hislop continues:


Indeed, it is admitted by the most learned and candid writers of all parties that the day of our Lord's birth cannot be determined, and that within the Christian Church no such festival as Christmas was ever heard of until the third century, and that not till the fourth century was far advanced did it gain much observance (pp. 92-93).


Why did the Roman Church fix upon December 25 as the day to honor the Messiah's birthday? There are many opinions on this. One which seems to be valid is that the early Church, in moving all of its celebrations away from Judaism without denying its followers the holidays they had come to enjoy, took the date of Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, and "Romanized" it.


Hanukkah occurs on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which occurs approximately in December.


Hislop also has an opinion:


Long before the fourth century, and long before the Christian era itself, a festival was celebrated among the heathen, at that precise time of the year, in honor of the birth of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven; and it may fairly be presumed that, in order to conciliate the heathen, and to swell the number of the nominal adherents of Christianity, the same festival was adopted by the Roman Church, giving it only the name of Christ. This tendency on the part of Christians to meet Paganism halfway was very early developed; and we find Tertullian, even in his day, about the year 230, bitterly lamenting the inconsistency of the disciples of Christ in this respect, and contrasting it with the strict fidelity of the Pagans to their own superstition (ibid., p. 93).


Frazier, in The Golden Bough states without hesitation: "The largest pagan religious cult which fostered the celebration of December 25 as a holiday throughout the Roman and Greek worlds was the pagan sun worship -- Mithraism." He adds, "This winter festival was called 'the Nativity' -- the 'nativity of the sun' " (p. 471).


Mithra was not the only pagan deity said to be born at this time of year. Osiris, Horus, Hercules, Bacchus, Adonis, Jupiter, Tammuz and other sun-gods http://www.awitness.org/essays/bkup/16_crucified_saviors/chap8.html were supposedly born at the time of the winter solstice!


Alexander Hislop confirms this, adding: That Christmas was originally a Pagan festival, is beyond all doubt. The time of the year, and the ceremonies with which it is still celebrated, prove its origin. In Egypt, the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was born at this very time, 'about the time of the winter solstice.' The very name by which Christmas is popularly known among ourselves -- Yule-day -- proves at once its pagan and Babylonian origin. 'Yule' is the Chaldee name for an 'infant' or 'little child'; and as the 25th of December was called by our Pagan Anglo-Saxon ancestors, 'Yule-day,' or the 'Child's-day,' and the night that preceded it, 'Mother-night,' long before they came in contact with Christianity, that sufficiently proves its real character. Far and wide, in the realms of Paganism, was this birthday observed ("The Two Babylons", PP. 93-94).


The festival at Rome, called the feast of "Saturn," lasted five days, and loose reins were given to drunkenness and revelry. This was precisely the way in which the Babylonian midwinter, or December, festival was celebrated. Berosus tells us it also lasted "five days."


Declares Hislop:


The wassailing bowl of Christmas had its precise counterpart in the 'Drunken festival' of Babylon; and many of the other observances still kept up among ourselves at Christmas came from the very same quarter. The candles, in some parts of England, lighted on Christmas eve, and used so long as the festive season lasts, were equally lighted by the Pagans on the eve of the festival of the Babylonian god, to do honor to him: for it was one of the distinguishing peculiarities of his worship to have lighted wax-candles on his altars (pp. 96-97).


What about that old favorite, the Christmas tree? Surely it wasn't pagan, too, was it? The astonishing answer: "The Christmas tree, now so common among us, was equally common in Pagan Rome and Pagan Egypt. In Egypt that tree was the palm-tree; in Rome it was the fir; the palm tree denoting the Pagan messiah, as Baal-Tamar, the fir referring to him as Baal-Berith. The mother of Adonis, the sun-god and great mediatorial divinity, was mystically said to have been changed into a tree, and when in that state to have brought forth her divine son. If the mother was a tree, the son must have been recognized as the 'Man the branch.' And this entirely accounts for the putting of the Yule Log into the fire on Christmas Eve, and the appearance of the Christmas tree the next morning" (Hislop, p. 97). The symbolism of the Christmas tree and the Yule log is made plain by Alexander Hislop. He writes:


Therefore, the 25th of December, the day that was observed at Rome as the day when the victorious god reappeared on earth, was held at the Natalis invicti solis, 'The birthday of the unconquered Sun.' Now the Yule Log is the dead stock of Nimrod, deified as the sun-god, but cut down by his enemies; the Christmas-tree is Nimrod redivivus -- the slain god come to life again (p. 98).


According to the Roman Catholic's the well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism.


Regional Customs

India


Christmas is an official holiday in India. The celebration by Christians is largely based on the American media depiction. Sincere devotees attend the church services. In many of the schools that are run by the Christian missionaries, the Hindu children actively participate in the programmes. This involves enacting dramas related to Christ, singing carols etc. Christmas is officially celebrated at the Rashtrapati Bhavan by the President of India. The celebrations continue and get mixed up with new year celebrations.


In India, most educational institutions have a Christmas vacation, beginning shortly before Christmas and ending a few days after New Year's Day. Christmas is also known as bada din (the big day) in Hindi, and revolves there around Santa Claus and shopping.


Korea


South Korea recognizes Christmas as a public holiday. Non-Christian Koreans otherwise go about their daily routine on December 25 but may engage in some holiday customs such as gift-giving, sending Christmas cards, and setting up decorated trees in their homes; children, especially, appear to have embraced Santa Claus, whom they call Santa Harabeoji (Grandfather Santa) in Korean, Local radio stations play holiday music on Christmas Day and a few days before, while television stations are known to air Christmas films and cartoon specials popular in the Western countries. In addition, increasing numbers of stores and buildings are displaying Christmas decorations.


South Korea is the only East Asian country to recognise Christmas as a public holiday.


Japan


Encouraged by the commercial sector, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. The Japanese adopted the character of Santa Claus in their celebrations, but the Santa image does not carry the same social importance as in the United States. Christmas is not as important as New Year's Day, which is the most sacred holiday in Japan, whereas Christmas is not a holiday at all. In contrast to western customs, Christmas Eve is a day for couples to date and groups to hold parties, while the official New Year's Day holiday is a day of family celebration. Christmas Eve is a time for lovers to exchange gifts, have a special date and stroll under Christmas lights erected by companies and governments to enhance the romantic feel of the day. All Christmas theme decorations come down on the 25th and are replaced by New Year's decorations. A unique feature of Christmas in Japan is the Christmas cake, a white whipped cream cake with strawberries.


The birthday of the current emperor, Akihito, on December 23 is a national holiday. Christmas itself is not, but shortly thereafter businesses close for the New Year's holidays, usually reopening on the first weekday after January 3.


People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Macao


In Mainland China, December 25 is not a legal holiday. Christians unofficially and usually privately observe Christmas.


Both Hong Kong and Macao designate Christmas as a public holiday on December 25. Both are former colonies of Western powers with (nominal) Christian cultural heritage.


However, it is worthy of note that commercial Christmas decorations, signs, and other symbolic items have become increasingly prevalent during the month of December in large urban centers of mainland China, reflecting a cultural interest in this Western phenomenon, and, sometimes, as part of retail marketing schemes.


Philippines


The Philippines has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season. Although it presently starts from early September, traditionally, Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by the nine-day dawn masses that start on Dec. 16. Known as the Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) in the traditional Spanish, these masses are more popularly known in Filipino as the Simbang Gabi. Christmas Eve on Dec. 24 is the much-anticipated "noche buena" -- the traditional Christmas feast after the midnight mass. Family members dine together on traditional noche buena fare, which includes the queso de bola ("ball of cheese", usually edam) and hamon (Christmas ham). In Asia, Christmas is also the liveliest in the Philippines, since the country is the only predominantly Christian nation in the continent besides, Russia, East Timor, Georgia and Armenia.


Mexico


Mexico's Christmas traditions are centered on posadas. Over a nine day period, groups of townspeople go from door to door, in a fashion reminiscent of visitors to the baby Jesus, and are periodically called inside homes to participate in the breaking of a gift-filled piñata.


South America


Religious themes predominate in Christmas celebrations in heavily Roman Catholic South America. The secular customs and gift-giving in these countries are an admixture of traditions handed down from European and Native American forebears, plus the increasing influence of American culture.


Gift giving traditions include "El Niño Jesus" (Baby Jesus) who brings gifts to children in Colombia, Chile's "Viejo Pascuero" (Old Man Christmas), and Brazil's "Papai Noel", the latter two resembling Santa Claus in many ways. South American "Santas" dress more lightly in keeping with the warmer Christmas there, and have adopted a number of means, from ladders to trampolines, to enter homes at night. Gift giving in Argentina occurs on January 6, their "Three Kings Day", when children leave shoes under their beds to be filled with snacks or small gifts by the Magi, who stop off on their way to Bethlehem.


Nativity scenes are a strong feature of South American Christmas, both in homes and in public places. In regions with large numbers of Native American descendants, such as Peru, the figures are often hand-carved in a centuries-old style. As in Mexico, village processions acting out the events surrounding the birth of Christ are also common. Family Christmas meals are very important, and their contents are as varied as the number of countries on the continent. Christmas lights are a near-universal holiday feature, and with the summery weather, fireworks displays are also found, especially over the cities of Brazil.


Australia


Christmas decoration in Commonwealth countries in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is celebrated on 25 December which falls during the height of the summer season there. The Australian traditions are quite similar to those of North America and Britain, and similar wintry iconography is commonplace. This results in such incongruities as a red fur-coated Father Christmas riding a sleigh, carols such as Jingle Bells, and various snow covered Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations appearing in the middle of a hot summer.


As Christmas falls in summer, the watching of television is not a strong part of Australian Christmas traditions, unlike the UK where it is one of the most important television ratings days. In Australia over summer official television ratings are not taken and schedules are mostly filled with repeats of old programs or previously cancelled shows. Some Australia-produced programs have a Christmas special though often it will be shown early December and not on Christmas day itself.


According to tradition, children are told Father Christmas surreptitiously visits houses on Christmas Eve placing presents for children under the Christmas trees and putting sweets in stockings which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades most homes and apartments do not have traditional combustion fireplaces, but, with some innovation, the tradition persists.


Europe


In countries of Central Europe (for this purpose, roughly defined as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and possibly other places) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve (December 24th). The day is usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they'll see a golden pig if they hold fast until dinner. When the evening comes preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, for example in the Czech Republic the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes.


After the dinner comes the time for gifts. Tradition varies with region, commonly gifts are attributed to Christkind (Little Jesus) or their real originators (e.g. parents). Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas Tree, with name stickers. An interesting example of complicated history of the region is the "fight" between Christmas beings. During communism, when slavic countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") in the place of Christkind. Little Jesus won. Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production.


Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic churches for Midnight Mass. It's not uncommon to go to a church only one time a year, for this Christmas Mass.


Other attributes of Christmas include Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas garlands, Bethlehem Cribs.


Czech Republic


In the Czech Republic, Christmas is celebrated mainly on December 24, or Christmas Eve - Štědrý den (pron. "Shtiedree den", means "open-handed day") when the gifts are given in the evening. However, the December 25 and 26 are also free days. According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek (pron. "Yezheeshek"), or "little Jesus". Many very old Christmas traditions are followed, mostly for fun. People are taught not to eat anything on Christmas Eve until a ceremonial dinner is served, in order to be able to see a "golden pig". The gifts are displayed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce or pine), and people open them after the dinner.


Other Czech Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are always cut crosswise; if a star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, while a cross suggests a bad year. Girls throw shoes over the their shoulders; if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married. Another tradition requires pouring a little molten lead into water and guessing a message from the shapes that appear when it hardens.


Poland


In Poland, Christmas Eve is a day first of fasting, then of feasting. The feast begins with the appearance of the first star, and is followed by the exchange of gifts. The following day is often spent visiting friends. Poland is a land of intriguing traditions, superstitions, and legends.


Pierniki are made in a great variety of shapes, including hearts, animals and St Nicholas figures. Traditional decorations include the pajaki or spiders, which are handmade mobiles, stars and decorated eggshells. Beautifully lit Christmas trees are placed in all public arenas, outside churches and in homes. Traditionally the trees are decorated with shiny apples, walnuts, beautifully wrapped chocolate shapes and many homemade decorations and candles. On the top of the tree is a star or a glittering top piece. Sometimes the trees are left standing until February 2nd, the feast day of St Mary of the Candle of Lightning. During Advent, the Gwiadorzy or star carriers, used to begin wandering through the towns and villages and this would continue until Epiphany. Some of the Gwiadorzy sang carols; others recited verses or put on Szopki or puppet show, or herody or nativity scenes. The last two customs are developments from traditional manger scenes or Jaselka or crib. One tradition unique to Poland is the sharing the "oplatek," a thin wafer into which is pressed a holy picture. People once carried these oplatek from house to house to wish their neighbors a Merry Christmas. Nowadays, the bread is mostly shared with members of the family and immediate neighbors. As each person shares pieces of the wafer with another person, they are supposed to forgive any hurts that have occurred over the past year and to wish the other person all the happiness in the coming year.


On Christmas Eve, so important is the first star of the night that it has been given the affectionate name of "little star" or Gwiazdka, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. On that night, all watch the sky anxiously, hoping to be the first to cry out, "The star!" The moment the star appears, people start eating. Families unite for the most carefully planned meal of the year, Wigilia, the Christmas supper. The Wigilia derives its name from the Latin word vigilare, which means to watch or keep vigil.


According to tradition, bits of hay have been spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. An even number of people must be seated around the table or tradition states someone may die in the coming year. Wigilia is a family feast and it's considered bad luck to entertain a guest on this sacred night. In some places an empty place setting is left at the table for the Baby Jesus or a wanderer who can come in need. The meal begins with the breaking of the Oplatek. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. Tere should be 12 meals- symbol of 12 apostles. Poppy seed cake, beet soup, prune dumplings, carp, herrings and noodles with poppy seed are universally Polish Christmas foods. Often there is compote of dry fruits. The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. It is decorated with nuts, apples and ornaments made from eggshells, coloured paper, straw, and hand blown glass baubles. In areas of the country, children are taught that "The Little Star" brings the gifts. As presents are wrapped, carolers may walk from house to house, receiving treats along the way. In Poland, an elaborate tradition called Wigilia is celebrated. Beginning on Christmas Eve, a strict 24-hour fast is observed which ends with a huge Christmas feast. In honour of the star of Bethlehem, the meal cannot begin until the first star of night appears. Though Christmas is Poland is officially known as Boze Narodzenie, it is most often referred to as Gwiazdka, which means, "Little star." Once the star appears, a special rice wafer blessed by the parish priest called oplatek, is broken into pieces and shared by all. Finally the meal can begin. The feast consists of twelve courses, one for each Apostle. The table is always set with one extra seat in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the meal.


Eastern Europe


Since the 1880s, the Christmas customs of Eastern European Slavic countries have included a similar character known as Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). According to legend, he travels in a magical troika — a decorated sleigh drawn by three horses. With his young, blond assistant Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden, said to be his granddaughter) at his side, he visits homes and gives gifts to good children. He only delivers presents to children while they are asleep, and unlike Santa, he does not travel down chimneys, coming instead to the front door of children's homes. It is traditional for children to leave food for Ded Moroz just as American and British children do.


This Ded Moroz is not identified nor in any way associated with St. Nicholas of Myra, who is very widely revered in Eastern Europe more for his clerical and charitable works as a Bishop. In all likelihood, Ded Moroz is actually a Slavic interpretation of the American Santa Claus or some similar figure, any connection to the original saint long since disappeared.


Romania


Christmas in Romania falls on December 25 and is generally considered one of the most important religious holiday. First comes Easter.


The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible. Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and coloured ribbons. An image of the Nativity is painted on the star's centre, and this piece of handiwork is attached to the end of a broom or other long stick


Russia


In Eastern Europe, Slavic countries have the tradition of Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). He is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka ("Snowmaiden"). According to legend, he travels in a magical troika, a decorated sleigh drawn by three horses, and delivers gifts to children. He is thought to descend more from Santa Claus than from Saint Nicholas.


Christmas celebration in Russia is on the 7th of January (which corresponds to December 25 in the Julian Calendar). The tradition of celebrating Christmas has been revived since 1992, after decades of suppression by the communist government. It is centered on the Christmas Eve "Holy Supper", which consists of twelve servings, one to honor each of Jesus' apostles. The Russian traditions were largely kept alive by shifting some of them, including the visit by gift-giving "Grandfather Frost" and his "Snowmaiden", to New Year's Day. Many current Russian Christmas customs, including their Christmas tree, or "yolka", were brought by Peter the Great, after his western travels in the late 18th century.


Northern Europe


In Germany and the Netherlands, the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th resembles the Christmas of the English-speaking world. Sinterklaas, from whom the English and American Santa evolved, is based on the real Saint Nicholas, and brings presents on the evening of December 6 to every child who has been good. He wears a red bishop's dress with a red mitre, rides a white horse over the rooftops, and is assisted by many mischievous helpers called 'zwarte Pieten' (black Peters). In some parts of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the frightening Knecht Ruprecht also appears, to the chagrin of many children.


German-speaking areas of Europe


The Striezelmarkt, Germany's oldest Christmas Market, boasting the specialities of the Dresden region, is arguably a worldwide Christmas gift production center which continues for nearly one month. This is the time when Dresden Stollen fruitcake, Pulsnitzer gingerbread, wood carvings from the Erzgebirge Mountains, Dresden Pflaumentoffel, Lusatian indigo print, Silesian ceramics, Bohemian glass, and Meissen porcelain dominate the lives of visitors who come from all over to thoroughly immerse themselves in Christmas.


Knecht Ruprecht ("Black Peter") is a companion of Father Christmas in many different German speaking areas of Europe.


In some German-speaking communities (particularly in southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein), the character of Santa is replaced by the Christkind (literally "Christ child"). He or Father Christmas brings the presents not on the morning of December 25th, but on the evening of December 24th. A knock on the door heralds Father Christmas's arrival; someone dressed in a red suit and white beard enters with a sack and a stick, supposedly for punishing the children if they have been bad. He asks how well-behaved the children have been, and they have to say a poem or sing a song. For families who lack a suitable figure, or to confuse suspicious children, Father Christmases can be hired to come to homes and play the part. The Christkind, by contrast, is never seen. However, it rings a bell just before it leaves in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.


It is a tradition to lavishly decorate a Christmas tree in the days preceding Christmas, and late Christmas Eve, for the tree to be unveiled and presents to be exchanged. In Protestant Christian churches, there is often a service in the late afternoon, intended to immediately precede this - this service often caters to families with children.


Germany


In Germany, Christmas traditions vary by region. Following Saint Nicholas Day, (December 6) which is mostly for children, the actual Christmas gift-giving usually takes place on the night of Christmas eve, with gifts put under the Christmas tree after a simple meal. The culinary feast typically takes place at lunch on Dec. 25, and usually involves poultry (typically roast goose). The gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann, who resembles St. Nicholas, or by the Christkind, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. Commercially, the Striezelmarkt is arguably a worldwide Christmas gift production center, boasting the specialities of the Dresden region, from ceramics and prints to various delicacies which are shipped worldwide.


A Christmas tale in Germany is of the Krampus. The Krampus is a monster who punishes bad children on Christmas Eve, as "Saint Nicholas" delivers presents to the deserving. The Krampus is a monster that has an extra long tongue, and is seven feet tall. He carries a whip, and has a very active sexual drive. He also carries a wicker basket that he uses to carry bad children to his lair. There has not been a Krampus since the Pope cast him into purgatory. Families use the story of the Krampus to scare the children into being good.


The Netherlands and Belgium


Sinterklaasavond (St. Nicholas evening) remains more important in the Netherlands than Christmas, although in recent years, the Dutch have started to celebrate Christmas Eve with Santa as well. This sparks minor controversy each year over when it is "appropriate" to start celebrating Christmas, with shopkeepers preferring to start the lucrative Christmas season immediately after Sinterklaasavond (sometimes putting up decorations even earlier) while others argue that the "foreign" and "commercial" Christmas impinges too much on the traditional Sinterklaas celebrations. Considering the ancestry of Santa Claus, it has truly been said that Sinterklaas is in competition with himself here.


The present-giver in children's folklore in The Netherlands and Belgium is a Santa-ish character called Sinterklaas or Sint Nicolaas. Like Father Christmas in Germany, Sinterklaas is often accompanied by a black helper named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) who punishes disobedient children. Sinterklaas wears a tall bishop's hat and carries a crooked staff. He is said to reside in Spain, and in mid-November he arrives by steamboat, an event which is often acted out in the many coastal communities of the Low Countries. Dutch children leave their shoes out on many nights in the run-up to the actual celebration, to find them filled with small treats in the morning. December 5 (The Netherlands) and December 6 (Belgium) are traditionally recognized as the main gift-giving days of the Low Countries, with December 25 being a lower-key, more religious event.


In recent years Dutch and Belgian cultures have also incorporated Santa Claus into their traditions, with him and Sinterklaas being recognized as two distinct characters.


Walloons call Sint Nicolaas Saint Nicolas and Zwarte Piet Père Fouettard (Whipping Father).


Christians and a large amount of people having a christian background go to church with Christmas. The Roman-catholic service is on Christmas eve, the protestant churches in the Netherlands have their christmas service on 25 december. This service is normally kept somewhat simpler compared to normal services, with more attention to the children and the singing of famous old christmas hymns. Since the end of the 20th centuries, some protestant churches also have services on christmas eve. Due to the high amount of church abandoning during the last few centuries, a lot of old churches have been closed. However, the amount of people that want to visit a church service with christmas seems to be as large as several years ago. Therefore, the remaining churches become too small to accommodate all the attendants with christmas.


Sweden


Swedish Christmas celebrations begin with the first of Advent. Saint Lucy Day (locally known as Luciadagen) is the first major Christmas celebration before Christmas itself. As in many other countries in northern Europe, Santa Claus brings the presents on Christmas Eve, the day generally thought of as Christmas.


Christmas is as everywhere a holiday of food, almost all Swedish families celebrate Christmas on December 24 with a Christmas smörgåsbord (julbord). The common part of almost all julbord is the julskinka (baked ham), but there are also other common dishes such as meatballs, pickled herring, square ribs, lutfisk, pork sausage, Janssons frestelse (grated potatoes, onion, anchovy and cream), and rice pudding. The Christmas julbord is served with beer or julmust (somewhat similar to root beer) and snaps, the dishes of the julbord may vary throughout Sweden. Businesses traditionally invite their employees to a julbord dinner or lunch the weeks before Christmas, and people go out privately to restaurants offering julbord during December, as well.


Examples of candies and treats associated with Christmas are toffee, knäck (quite similar to butterscotch), fruit, nuts, figs, chocolate, dates and marzipan. Another Scandinavian speciality is the glögg (mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins), which is served hot in small cups.


After the julbord on Christmas Eve, the presents are distributed, either by Father Christmas or from under the Christmas tree.


Television plays a big role in most families, the Disney Christmas special and Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton (animated short) are regarded by many to be the most important highlights of the Christmas television programming.


Christmas presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve by Santa Claus, who usually does not bring the presents himself, but reads the labels of the presents that have been laying under the Christmas tree all day and hands them out. An alternative to this is just to hand out the presents without a Santa. In older days a yule goat was an alternative to Santa, nowadays it is used as an ornament, ranging from sizes of 10 cm to huge constructions like the Gävle goat, famous for being vandalized almost every christmas.


If one has two families to celebrate Christmas with, it is common that one of the families move their celebrations to Christmas Day or the first Saturday before Christmas Eve (commonly referred to as little Christmas Eve).


After Christmas Eve, the Christmas celebrations have more or less come to an end. Some people attend the julottan, an early morning church service on Christmas Day. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are of no big significance to Swedish celebrations.


On January 13 (locally known as knutdagen), 20 days after Christmas, the Christmas celebrations come to an end and all Christmas decorations are removed.


Southern Europe


Modern traditions combine with holdovers from their Roman forebears in the celebrations of Natale, the Italian Christmas. The pagan feast of Saturnalia coincides with the Christian advent, and the holiday season there spans from these weeks through Epiphany. Food, religious observances, nativity displays, and gift-giving are prominent. In some regions, presents are brought on Epiphany by La Befana, and in others by Baby Jesus on Christmas day or eve. In recent years Babbo Natale (literally, Father Christmas), a Santa Claus-like figure, is becoming more common.


Ireland


Christmas in Ireland is largely a religious observation with church services playing a major role in the celebration of Christmas. The Irish people display the Spirit of Christmas with generosity to the street vendors and the less fortunate around the time of Christ’s birth. In the countryside, cottages are freshly white washed in preparation for the Holy Season. Christmas Day is largely reserved for family gatherings. Beginning on St. Stephen's Day, the 26th of December, through January 6th, "Christmas Week" is spent visiting and entertaining friends for food, a bit of drink and crac (fun).


The UK


In the United Kingdom the traditions are quite similar to those of Australia, North America and New Zealand. On Christmas Eve, presents are delivered in stockings and under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas, who previously had been something like the ghost of Christmas present in Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, but has now become mainly conflated with Santa Claus. The two names are now used interchangeably and equally known to British people, but Father Christmas tends to be used more often, and some distinctive features still remain. On Christmas Day, many families and sometimes friends gather around for a traditional Christmas meal.


Goose or turkey is generally the centrepiece of the meal, followed by Christmas pudding.


Television is widely watched: for many television stations, Christmas Day is the most important day of the year in terms or ratings. Many Britons still watch the Queen's annual Christmas message.


The Celebration of Boxing Day on the first weekday after Christmas Day is a tradition practiced in the UK.


True Birthdate of the Messiah

Additional References