Christmas Around the World:
Traditions which helped to create our own
Christmas is celebrated in one form or another all throughout the world. Many countries adopted the “traditional” green tree, lights and gifts. However, many of our traditions have a connection to the old European holidays!
St. Lucia (December 13th) is a Scandinavian holiday which gave birth to the candle light processional. It is a celebration for the St. Lucia, the patron Saint of the blind. The tradition is that everything done on Dec 13th is done by candle light. Also, in the evening, everyone walks by candle light in a parade, to a huge pile of straw where they toss the candles on it and have a great big bonfire!
The Yule log has its roots from Norway. Ancient Norse tradition believed that the sun was a wheel of fire that rolled to and from the earth. They used a fire log to celebrated the suns return to earth during the winter solstice. The word “Yule” comes form the Norse word Hweol.
Germany was the start of the Green Christmas tree. The Evergreen tree was always apart of the winter solstice celebration in Strasbourg, Germany but decorating and having it proclaimed for the Christmas holiday did not happen until the 17th century. After the writer Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, visited Strasbourg and wrote about the “Christmas tree” in his novel, “the suffering of Young Werther” that the tradition began to spread through Germany. When prince Albert married Queen Victoria is when the Christmas Tree became synonymous with the Christmas season. Finally it came to the United States in 1848, and became the staple of the American Christmas. Germany celebrates Christmas on Dec. 6th, when the children put their boots outside on the front porch for Santa to fill with fruit, nuts and other goodies for the girls and boys who are good, and the children also leave a plate of goodies outside for Santa’s reindeer.
The poinsettia is a gift from our neighbors in Mexico. They were brought to America in 1828 by Joel R. Poinsett because he felt the red and green coloring was perfect for the new holiday. The Poinsettia became the staple of the American Christmas and sold in stores in 1870, and by 1900, they were the plant of Christmas worldwide.
Christmas in China is a very new holiday. It is really celebrated in the major cities, and hardly in the rural areas of China. The Chinese people use the same symbolic items that are common place in Europe, South America and North America; the trees, the lights and poinsettias. But they have a new tradition that was started. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (which means quiet or silent night) and the word for apple in Chinese is ‘Ping Guo’ which sounds similar.
So as you plan for your traditional Christmas Celebration, remember all the history that helped to make the celebration as we see it possible, and all the countries who helped to created the traditions. And maybe give an apple on Christmas Eve and help the Chinese tradition catch on. We are a salad bowl of history and very fortunate to have such a rich and colorful holiday to remind us all of that.