Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The spirit may be the same, but the world celebrates Christmas much differently.

The children here believe in a Saint Nicholas who delivers their presents, but this one rides a horse.  So it’s a tradition to leave hay, carrots, and water outside the house on December 6 for Saint Nic’s horse.

The Christians in China, who celebrate Christmas, decorate their homes with ornate paper lanterns, all lit up for the big day.  The Chinese version of Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren.

Santa Claus is called Julemanden and his elves are Juul Nisse, but they live in the attic of their homes, not the North Pole.  Children leave out rice pudding and saucers of milk for them, not cookies.

In France, Santa is known as Pere Noel and is always attended by Pre Fouettard, who keeps the list of who has been good and bad for him.  Pere Noel comes to deliver small gifts to the children on December 6 and then returns with more on Christmas day, but the adults wait until New Years Day to open theirs.

The exchange and opening of presents doesn’t happen until January 6, the day believed to be when the Wise Men reached the baby Jesus.  Instead of Santa, the Italians have La Befana, a women who gives gifts to those who have been good and punishes bad children, based on the woman who refused to help the Wise Men with food and shelter.

In India they decorate their houses with lights on windowsills, a star hung outside, and strings of mango leaves.  The tradition is to make thali, a sweet holiday dessert, and give it to friends and neighbors.

Christmas is a huge celebration in this part of Africa, with preparations and festivals for many weeks beforehand.  Everyone tries to get home by December 24 to visit their ancestral birthplace.  Huge feasts of goat, mangoes, cashew fruits and chicken stew are prepared, and a mango, guava, or cashew tree in the center of the courtyard is decorated with lights and paper ornaments. 

Mexicans call Christmas, Navidad, celebrated for nine days with Las Pasadas.  They follow a tradition of dressing like Mary and Joseph and going door-to-door reenacting events of the Bible, when there was no room, and then celebrating with food, song, and a Pinata for the children.  Finally, on the ninth night, they are told yes, there is room for Mary in the stable, and everyone heads to church to celebrate.

The Netherlands
Santa Claus is known as Sinterklaas and rumored to originally come from Sweden by boat, after starting out on December 6th in Spain.  Sinterklaas goes house to house on horseback delivering gifts, and fills the children’s shoes that are put out with candy and nuts by Christmas morning.

The Japanese are not a Christian nation, but celebrate a form of Christmas with the giving of gifts.  But their Santa Claus-like figure is Hoteiosha, who is a priest that delivers the presents.

The Russians used to celebrate Christmas with great glee before the revolution of 1917, carrying sticks with stars on the end on the streets, representing the Stars of Bethlehem.  After it became the Soviet Union, religion was banned so the traditions went dormant for many decades.  But now, they’ve been reintroduced with slight differences – Saint Nicholas is now known as Grandfather Frost and wears blue, not red, and they decorate a tree and celebrate on New Years Day.

Santa Claus is actually called Tomte, who is a gnome that emerges from under the floor of the house or barn, carrying a sack of presents for the kids.  Tomte rides a sleigh but it’s pulled by a goat, not reindeer.  

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