Christmas Customs & Traditions


ENGLAND

The English enjoy beautiful Christmas music. They love to decorate Christmas Trees and hang up evergreen     branches.

One of England’s customs is mumming. In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages.

The English gift giver is called Father Christmas. He wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve. However, the gifts are not usually opened until the following afternoon.

Christmas in England began in AD 596, when St Augustine landed on her shores with monks who wanted to bring Christianity to the Anglo Saxons.

Father Christmas delivers them during the night before Christmas. The Children leave an empty stocking or pillowcase hanging at the end of the bed. In the morning they hope it will be full of presents.

In England the day after Christmas is called Boxing Day because boys used to go round collecting money in clay boxes. When the boxes were full, they broke them open.

In England Christmas dinner was usually eaten at Midday on December 25, during daylight.

In England, the only thing that people ate on the day before the feast was Frumenty, which is, was a kind of porridge made from corn. Over the years the recipe changed. Eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled. This is how plum pudding began.

In England the traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. For dessert it is rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mince pies, pastry cases filled with a mixture of chopped dried fruit.

In Australia, the holiday comes in the middle of summer–it’s not unusual for some parts of Australia to hit 100 degrees Farenheit on Christmas day. In Sydney, thousands of families prepare their Christmas dinner and take it to Bondi Beach for a picnic. Australians decorate with Christmas Bushes, plants with little red-flowered leaves that are native to Australia.

GREECE

St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek. On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits. After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo (“Christ Bread”). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family’s profession.

Years ago, Christmas trees were not commonly used in Greece. In almost every home the main symbol of the season was a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim; from that hanged a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water was kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dipped the cross and basil into some holy water and used it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual was believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi away from the house.

There are a number of beliefs connected with the Kallikantzaroi, which are a species of goblins or sprites who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). These creatures are believed to emerge from the center of the earth and to slip into people’s house through the chimney. More mischievous than actually evil, the Kalllikantzaroi do things like extinguish fires, ride astride people’s backs, braid horses’ tails, and sour the milk. To further repel the undesirable sprites, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days. Gifts are exchanged on St. Basil’s Day (January 1). On this day the “renewal of waters” also takes place, a ritual in which all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new “St. Basil’s Water.” The ceremony is often accompanied by offerings to the naiads, spirits of springs and fountains.

Unfortunately, these traditions are dying (if not already dead). Maybe they remain sparingly in very remote villages. Children know almost nothing about all that!

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