Sometimes we forget to appreciate the many blessings we receive from our mixed cultural heritage. The Newport 60+ Activity Center is hoping to bring more attention to it in our cultural heritage.
This viewpoint, the third in the series, takes a little different approach in that the season we know here in the United States as Christmas — among other titles — is a composite of customs of many countries and over a period of many years.
The season is referred to in numerous ways for the estimated two billion people in 160 countries who celebrate. A few references to the celebration of Christmas are: festivities, season of joy, commercial holiday, a time of cards wishing others good will, pageants, reenactments of the Nativity, fancy dinners, Santa Claus, Yuletide, legends and others.
Throughout the world, the majority of celebrations occur around the Dec. 25 holiday, which is primarily considered a time of receiving, a religious day, or a cultural time of celebration according to the local tradition. In addition to the significant commemorations of Jesus’ nativity, those traditions include gift giving, family and social gatherings, dinners and symbolic decorations. Admittedly by many, this is a mixture of mythology, mystery and smart advertising.
A few countries do not celebrate traditions of any kind during this period of time.
Some interesting customs:
• New Zealand is the first country to see sun on Christmas morning.
• Santa has a postal code of H)H OHO in Canada, at Santa Claus, North Pole.
• The largest Christmas present is the Statue of Liberty. It is 150-feet tall and was given to the U.S. as a holiday gift by France in 1886.
• In 1969, Cuba canceled Christmas celebrations altogether until 1997 so it would not be interfere with the sugar harvest.
• Japan does not have a national holiday, but since 1974, it has a tradition of going to Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of turkey dinner.
• In Denmark, on the eve of Dec. 24, families have a tradition of dancing around the Christmas tree placed in the center of a room.
• “Jingle Bells” was first played in space on Dec. 16, 1965, as far as is known. It was originally a Thanksgiving song composed by a church organist.
• Mexico begins the Christmas season early with a shepherd’s play and a religious march depicting the journey of Mary and Joseph.
• Artificial Christmas trees made of goose feathers were first displayed in Germany in 1865.
• Finland has a Christmas Eve tradition of making a trip in the snow — naked — to the sauna for a long soak.
• Someone, unknown, claimed there are 110 different wishes to write on a Christmas card. The first card was sent by an English museum owner and now a billion and a half cards are reputed to be sent in the United States alone.
What is the origin of the Christmas season and traditions we celebrate? The following are interesting items we are familiar with or wonder about:
• The concept of heralding goes back to the 13th century, when Anglo Saxons wished neighbors good health.
• The Santa concept combines both Norse and Germanic mythology. There really was a Saint Nicholas in 14th century in what is now known as Turkey. He was a bishop who, in 280 AD, did many charitable deeds when he heard of the plight of a poor widow with children. He was actually known as a follower of Jesus. Some say the custom of stockings arose from his charity.
• In Ireland, during 13 days of Christmas, children place shoes by the window for 13 Christmas Lads to come. If they’ve been good, they get candies. If not, they get shoes of coal. Shoes also play a part in the Netherlands. They place them by the fire.
• Kissing under the mistletoe is attributed to the Druids.
• In the 16th century, Germany decorated Christmas trees in holiday celebration. Lights were added in 17th century. It only became popular in 1865.
• Germany is known for making Christmas markets a tradition from 1628, as well as decorating cookie-walled houses, which we call Gingerbread Houses.
• In 1880, Thomas Edison and his partner, Edward. H. Johnson, created the first string of electric lights and hung them outside the lab. In 1882, Johnson added a strand of red, white and blue wired bulbs around a Christmas tree.
• In 1773, the Dutch anglicized the name to Santa Claus. Books and poems are considered the religion reverence and mystery turned religious celebration. It is true that some combine mythology, solstice celebration, and, of course, smart advertising.
• Santa is considered to live in Lapland and the reindeer pull his sleigh.
• The modern Santa is considered more of a descendent of England’s Father Christmas with European variation.
• Some other customs we have are chestnuts roasting, stockings hung by the tree, family photos, huge trees decorated, warmth and love.
Do you agree with those who believe the Christmas is commercially driven? Merry Christmas to all!
Patricia L. Oliver is a resident of Newport and a member of the Newport 60+ Activity Center Advisory Committee.