Christmas around the world

Germany flag
Evergreen trees thrive on every continent, with the exception of the Antarctica. They are primarily known for their all-year round green leaves; unlike deciduous trees, evergreen trees and plants do not lose their foliage during cold seasons. While majority of us (scientists excluded) think of Christmas trees when we hear the word ‘evergreen’, there is in fact, a huge variety of kinds, among which are rainforest trees, eucalyptus, fern allies, cycads, and even palms.
German children put out there shoes and if they were good they would get small presents and if they were bad he brought them switches

Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Slient Night).

German families prepare for Christmas throughout cold December. Four Sundays before Christmas, they make an Advent wreath of fir or pine branches with four colored candles. They light a candle on the wreath each Sunday, sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas cookies. The children count the days until Christmas with an Advent calendar. Each day, they open a little numbered flap on the calendar to see the Christmas picture hidden there.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, homes are filled with the delightful smells of baking loaves of sweet bread, cakes filled with candied fruits, and spicy cookies called lebkuchen.

Great Britian
It is cold, wet, and foggy in England at Christmastime. Families welcome the warmth and cheer of a Yule log blazing on the hearth. They decorate their homes with holly, ivy, and other evergreens and hang a mistletoe "kissing bough." Throughout the holidays, carolers go from house to house at twilight ringing handbells and singing Christmas songs. "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" are English favorites. People give the carolers treats, such as little pies filled with nuts and dried fruits.
After hearing their favorite Christmas story, children write a letter to Father Christmas with their wishes. They toss their letter into the fire so their wishes can go up the chimney. After the children fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Father Christmas comes to visit. He wears a long, red robe, carries a sack of toys, and arrives on his sleigh pulled by reindeer. He fills the children's stockings with candies and small toys. On Christmas Day, everyone sits down to the midday feast and finds a colorful Christmas cracker beside their dinner plate. A Christmas cracker is a paper-covered tube. When the end tabs are pulled, there is a loud crack. Out spills a paper hat to wear at dinner, small trinkets, and a riddle to read aloud to everyone at the table. The family enjoys a feast of turkey with chestnut stuffing, roast goose with currants, or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Brussels sprouts are likely to be the vegetables. Best of all is the plum pudding topped with a sprig of holly. Brandy is poured over the plum pudding and set aflame. Then family members enjoy a dramatic show as it is carried into the dining room. Whoever finds the silver charm baked in their serving has good luck the following year. The wassail bowl, brimming with hot, spiced wine, tops off the day's feast. It is said that all quarrels stop when people drink wassail. After dinner, the family gathers in the living room to listen to the Queen of England deliver a message over radio and television. At teatime in the late afternoon, the beautifully decorated Christmas cake is served. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day. This day has nothing to do with fighting. Long ago, people filled church alms boxes with donations for the poor. Then on December 26, the boxes were distributed. Now people often use this day to give small gifts of money to the mail carrier, news vendor, and others who have helped them during the year.
Beginning on Boxing Day, families can enjoy stage performances called pantomimes. This activity originally meant a play without words, or actors who mimed or entertained without speaking. Pantomime now refers to all kinds of plays performed during the Christmas season. Such familiar children's stories as "Cinderella" and "Peter Pan" delight young and old alike. In some towns, masked and costumed performers called mummers present plays or sing carols in the streets. Unlike the English, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas, or Ganna, on January 7. To learn about Christmas traditions in Ethiopia, go to the next page.
france
In France, Christmas is a beautiful, festive time of year. French Christmas traditions share some similarities with other European cultures and yet has it’s own unique ones as well. The lights and festive atmosphere that permeates the country dispels the early dark days and cold weather. - See more at: http://www.french-culture-adventures.com/french-christmas-traditions.html#sthash.H7wDMjq4.dpuf

Crèche – In homes and churches, the most important Christmas symbol in France. Christmas Tree – usually a fir tree of some kind. Decorated a few days before Christmas and lit only on December 25. Mistletoe – An ancient Celtic traditions and a symbol of good luck in France. If you stand under it you will be kissed. The Christmas Rose (hellebore) decorates the Christmas table in some parts of France. Christmas Midnight Mass An event that even the non-Catholics attend, although France is 85% Catholic. Music with French Christmas carols sung starting at 11pm with Mass beginning at 12 Midnight. I love singing French Christmas carols. It's a great way to brush up on your French and sing along in church. The French Christmas Feast The Réveillon, “the awakening” or “staying up all night”, is the Christmas feast eaten after Midnight mass. It can be a lavish multi course meal. Little kids are in bed. Traditional Christmas food includes the stuffed goose or turkey. And one of the famous French desserts, the buche de noel (bûche de noël) is served for dessert. Those not inclined to staying up all night; serve their Christmas meal the next day, often at Noon, as is the custom of my French in-laws. For your own Christmas feast, learn how to make buche de noel (Yule log) with this easy yule log recipe.. Père Noël - See more at: http://www.french-culture-adventures.com/french-christmas-traditions.html#sthash.H7wDMjq4.dpu

spain

CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS IN SPAIN

Christmas in Spain gets off to a rather peculiar and unofficial start on Dec. 22nd when children from San Ildefonso School can be heard calling out the numbers and prizes of the Lotería de Navidad, which is likely the most followed Spanish lottery during the entire year. In Spain, when you hear the melodic sounds of the prize draw on the radio, you think: “Christmas time has arrived".

After the celebration of economic good fortune, Dec. 24th is Christmas Eve (Nochebuena in Spanish), which is a family celebration in which Spaniards often gather around a table loaded with exquisite delicacies to have dinner together (and when we say family in Spanish, the word suggests a great deal of people). The annual family affair is a joyful event, where the sumptuous meal and the high spirits carry on until late at night. Many Christian also attend the Misa del Gallo, a mass service offered at midnight on the 24th during which Christmas carols are sung and accompanied by traditional instruments such as the zambomba (a type of seasonal drum), the carraca (a ratchet like noisemaker), the tambourine, and of course the guitar.

Something of a new holiday tradition has been gaining in popularity in Spain for the last few decades inspired by the popular culture of other countries; Santa Claus, known in Spain as Papá Noel, brings gifts for children to open on Christmas Eve, which means that on Christmas Day parks and plazas fill with children playing with their friends and showing them their new toys. In some parts of Spain, you can find other types of traditional figures such as Olentzero (a coal vender who descends from the Basque mountains to leave gifts for good kids and coal for the bad ones) and Tió de Nadal in Catalonia and Aragon, who deposits gifts and candy in the homes of children. These figures also make appearances on Christmas Day, figures that can be considered natives to the region in contrast to the more recent arrival of Papa Noel.

Another special day that comes around during Christmas time is Dec. 28th, the “Día de los Santos Inocentes”, a day that originally commemorated the young victims of a massacre ordered by biblical-age governor of Judea, Herodes. The governor hoped to eliminate the future threat to his power after prophets announced the recent birth of a new “king of the Jewish people”. The word inocente in Spanish can also mean simple or naïve, and this day in Spain is celebrated in much the same way as April Fool’s Day is in other cultures, meaning Dec. 28th is a day to watch out for tricks or “inocentadas” that pranksters are looking to play on people.

While Christmas Eve is a family celebration, New Year’s Eve (called Nochebuena in Spanish) is a time for partying with friends. It is a night for throwing fiestas called “cotillones” or for gathering in town squares under the old clock tower waiting in anxious anticipation for it to strike twelve. According to tradition, observers must wolf down 12 grapes at this time to guarantee good fortune for the New Year. Afterward, excited revelers often offer toasts to the New Year with glasses of cava. The festive spirit continues until the wee hours of the early morning and January 1st is a day of rest for those who have partied away the last night of the old year.

On Jan. 5th, many make their way to their favorite bakeries to order a Roscón de Reyes (a ring shaped cake eaten on Jan. 6th), which they will enjoy for breakfast the following day. Much more than a day for sweet traditions, the main focus here is on the kids, as parades roll through town in which the Reyes Magos (three kings) and their pages shower candy over delighted children. After all the high emotions, nervous kids will have a tough time falling asleep that night, particularly because the following morning is the feast day of the epiphany, when the three kings will traditionally arrive from the east to leave gifts for the well-behaved.

T

Art and architecture in Italy

Italy has given rise to a number of architectural styles, including classical Roman, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical. Italy is home to some of the most famous structures in the world, including Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The concept of a basilica — which was originally used to describe an open public court building and evolved to mean a Catholic pilgrimage site — was born in Italy. The word, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is derived from Latin and meant "royal palace." The word is also from the Greek basilikē, which is the feminine of basilikos which means "royal" or basileus, which means "king."

Florence, Venice and Rome are home to many museums, but art can be viewed in churches and public buildings. Most notable is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, painted by Michelangelo sometime between 1508 and 1512.

Opera has its roots in Italy and many famous operas — including "Aida" and "La Traviata," both by Giuseppe Verdi, and "Pagliacci" by Ruggero Leoncavallo — were written in Italian and are still performed in the native language. More recently, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti made opera more accessible to the masses as part of the Three Tenors.

Italy is home to a number of world-renowned fashion houses, including Armani, Gucci, Benetton, Versace and Prada.

Staples of Italian cuisine include roasted peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, pasta, prosciutto, garlic, cheese and capers.

Staples of Italian cuisine include roasted peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, pasta, prosciutto, garlic, cheese and capers.

Credit: kuvona Shutterstock

Italian cuisine

Italian cuisine has influenced food culture around the world and is viewed as a form of art by many. Wine, cheese and pasta are important part of Italian meals. Pasta comes in a wide range of shapes, widths and lengths, including penne, spaghetti, linguine, fusilli and lasagna.

For Italians, food isn't just nourishment, it is life. "Family gatherings are frequent and often centered around food and the extended networks of families," said Wagner.

November 1 commemorates Saints Day, a religious holiday during which Italians typically decorate the graves of deceased relatives with flowers.

Many Italian towns and villages celebrate the feast day of their patron saint. September 19, for example, is the feast of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Napoli.

The celebration of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, is much like Christmas. Belfana, an old lady who flies on her broomstick, delivers presents and goodies to good children, according to legend.

April 25 is the Liberation Day, marking the 1945 liberation ending World War II in Italy in 1945.

netherland

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As families around the world enjoy their treasured and timeless holiday traditions this week, a group of activists in the Netherlands are fighting against a symbol of racism — a central character in the Dutch Christmas custom that dons Blackface each season.

Every year many Dutch citizens dress in colonial style costumes, paint their lips red, wear curly afro wigs and don Blackface to become the minstrel-like character Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, who is supposed help Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) spread holiday cheer around the country.

Sinterklaas, the celebration of the feast day of St. Nicholas is the biggest children's holiday in the Netherlands. While the holiday itself is celebrated on December 5, throughout the Sinterklaas season actors playing St. Nicholas and his Black Petes visit towns and cities around the country.

Often perceived as central to national Dutch folklore, Sinterklaas is so popular that retailers are said to make millions in additional revenue annually from the sales of merchandise featuring images of Black Pete.

Protestors including Zwarte Piet Is Racisme project co-founder, Jerry Afriyie briefly brought the November Sinterklaas arrival parade to a halt by blocking the path of men dressed as Black Pete. Hans Mooren

Over the last few years a fierce debate has emerged in the Netherlands about the controversial character. Traditionalists say Black Pete is just part of an innocent children's holiday which also includes singing songs, exchanging poems, gifts and spending time with family. Some even say he only appears Black because he was covered in soot when he came down the chimney bearing gifts. For them, it is in no way associated with slavery or racism.

However, those against the tradition quickly point out that the character comes from the 19th century children's book "Saint Nicholas and His Servant," in which the servant, Black Pete is described as a Black Moor from Spain. While Black Pete may be part of Dutch folklore,his portrayal is part of historically negative stereotypes of Black people dating back to colonialism.

These damaging representations include portraying Black people as stupid, lazy and uncivilized caricatures for entertainment, and many would argue that these representations have impacted the way Black people are viewed by some to present day. Activists say Black Pete not only perpetuates those negative stereotypes, but contributes to the discriminatory manner in which Black people in the Netherlands are treated.

"THERE IS A FERGUSON IN EVERY EUROPEAN CITY AND WE NEED TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IS A REALITY THAT BLACK PEOPLE FACE NO MATTER WHERE THEY FIND THEMSELVES."

"For white people it's great, but for Black people it's one of the worst times to be in Holland because everywhere you go you are faced with this offensive Blackface, offensive caricatures reminding a lot of people of slavery," said Mitchell Esajas, co-founder of Stop Blackface which is part of the Kick Out Zwarte Piet (KOZP) coalition in the Netherlan

Denver

Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.

St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name.

December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old 'Julian' Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used!

switzerland

Christmas in Switzerland shares many of the customs from its neighbors Germany and Austria. But it has many traditions of its own!

Advent marks the start of the Christmas preparations. Advent calendars and crowns are both popular. In some villages, there are 'real' advent calendars with different houses decorating an 'Advent Window'. On the day when it's your house with the advent window, you hold a party for the villagers in the evening. There's food, mulled wine (called Glühwein) and music.

Christmas markets are very popular in towns and cities where you can buy all kinds of Christmas foods and decorations. There are big light displays and you can enjoy some more hot Glühwein!

There are many local traditions of parades and carol singing in Switzerland.

In the Bernese Oberland region, there are processions starting on Christmas Day and finishing on New Year's Eve. They're known as the 'Trychle' as people parade wearing a big Trychler (cow bell) or carrying drums and normally wearing masks. They walk through the streets making lots of noise and are meant to scare the evil spirits away!

The 'Urnäsch Silvesterkläuse' processions take place in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden, especially in the villages around Urnäsch. They take place from December 31 to January 13 and date back over 200 years. The people (known as Kläuse in the processions) wear costumes, masks and head dresses. They go from house to house singing and making lots of noise to wish people a good new year. You can find out more about the Silvesterkläuse at http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/silvesterklaeuse-in-urnaesch-ar.html

'Star Singing' is also very popular among children. They go carol singing from the last week of Advent until Epiphany, carrying a large star infant of them. The star represents the star that the Wisemen followed when they visited the baby Jesus.

In Switzerland St Nicholas is known as 'Samichlaus' and he might visit you on 6th December. You might also be fortunate enough to have some presents from the baby Jesus (or Father Christmas) on the 25th and on Epiphany (6th January) you might be visited by the Befana (in South Switzerland) and/or the Three Kings (in the rest of Switzerland). That's a lot of present bringers!

Christmas Trees are popular in Switzerland and are often bought and decorated on Christmas Eve. Some people like use real candles on the tree, which are traditionally lit on Christmas Eve (when the presents are being opened!) and on New Year's Eve (for good luck).

The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and popular foods include a Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes with melted cheese and milk baked into it. Desert is often a walnut cake and Christmas cookies.

Cookies are very popular to buy and make. Each family has their own recipes and favorites.

Another popular food, especially for parties, is fondue (a pot of melted cheese which you dip bread in - and you might have to kiss the person on your left!). Sometimes 'FIGUGEGL' (fee-goo-geck-ul) is added to party invitations. This means 'Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune' (fondue is good and gives a good mood).

russia and Ukarane

The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th.

In Russian Happy/Merry Christmas is 's rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM' (C рождеством!) or 's-schah-st-lee-vah-vah rah-zh dee-st-vah' (Счастливого рождества!). Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

Some people fast (don't eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat 'sochivo' or 'kutia' a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!

Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, this symbolizes unity. In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck to the ceiling, some people thought it meant they would have good luck and would have a good harvest!

The Russian word for Christmas Eve 'sochelnik', comes from the word 'sochivo'.

Some Orthodox Christian Russian also don't eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal/feast.

Other popular Christmas Eve foods include, beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom); sauerkraut, porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms, salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads. The meal often consists of 12 dishes, representing the 12 disciples of Jesus.

'Vzvar' (meaning 'boil-up') is often served at the end of the meal. It's a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.

Following the meal, prayers might be said and people then go to the midnight Church services. They often don't wash the dishes until they get home from Church - sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am!

The main meal on Christmas day is often more of a feast with dishes like roast pork & goose, Pirog and Pelmeni (meat dumplings). Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies (called Pryaniki) and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.

There are Russian Christmas cookies called Kozulya which are made in the shape of a sheep, goat or deer.

The New Year celebrations are still very important to Russians (sometimes more than Christmas).

This is when - when 'Grandfather Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz' or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year's eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is 'S Novym Godom'.

One of the most famous things about Christmas in Russia, to people in western Europe and the USA, is the story of Babushka. Babushka means Grand Mother in Russian. It tells the story of an old women who met the Wise men on their way to see Jesus.

However, most people in Russia have never heard of the story and I've had many emails from Russian visitors to the site who have never heard the story before! It seems that it was probably created by an American poet and writer called Edith Matilda Thomas in 1907.

The Story of Babushka

Once in a small Russian town, there lived a women called Babushka. Babushka always had work to do sweeping, polishing, dusting and cleaning. Her house was the best kept, most tidy house in the whole village. Her garden was beautiful and her cooking was wonderful. One evening she was busy dusting and cleaning, so busy that she didn't hear all the villagers outside in the village square talking about and looking at the new star in sky.

She had heard about the new star but thought, "All this fuss about a star! I don't even have the time to look because I'm so behind with my work. I must work all night!" So, she missed the star as it shone brightly, high overhead. She also missed the little line of twinkling lights coming down towards the village at dawn. She didn't hear the sounds of the pipes and drums. She missed the voices and whispers of the villagers wondering whether the lights were an army or a procession of some sort. She missed the sudden quiet of the villagers and even the footsteps coming up the path to her door. But the one thing that she couldn't miss was the loud knocking on her front door!

"Now what is that?" she wondered, opening the door. Babushka gaped in amazement. There were three kings at her door with one of their servants! "My masters need a place to rest," the servant said, "and yours is the best house in the village." "You want to stay here?" asked Babushka. "Yes, it would only be until night falls and the star appears again." the servant replied. Babushka gulped. "Come in, then." she said.

The kings were very pleased when they saw all of the of the home-baked bread, pies and cakes. She dashed about, serving them, asking lots of questions. "Have you come a long way?" "A very long way." sighed Caspar. "Where are you going?" "We're following the new star." said Melchior. "But where?" The kings didn't know, but they believed that it would lead the to a new-born king, a King of Earth and Heaven. "Why don't you come with us?" asked Balthasar. "You could bring him a gift like we do. I bring gold, and my colleagues bring spices and perfumes." "Oh, I'm not sure that he would welcome me," said Babushka, "and what could I bring for a gift? Toys! I know I could bring a toy. I've got a cupboard full of toys." she said sadly. "My baby son, died when he was small." Balthasar stopped her as she went to tidy the kitchen up. "This new king could be your king too. Come with us when the star appears tonight." he said. "I'll think about it." sighed Babushka.

As the kings slept, Babushka tidied up as quietly as she could. "What a lot of extra work there was!" she thought, "and this new king, what a funny idea, to go off with the kings to find him."

Babushka shook herself. There was no time for dreaming, all this washing-up and putting away had to be done. "Anyway," she thought, "how long would she be away? What would she wear? What about the gift?" She sighed. "There is so much to do. The house will have to be cleaned when they've gone. I couldn't just leave it." Suddenly it was night-time again and the star was in the sky. "Are you ready, Babushka?" asked Balthasar. "I'll come tomorrow," Babushka called, "I must just tidy here first and find a gift."

The kings went away sadly. Babushka ran back into her house, keen to get on with her work.

Finally, she went to the small cupboard, opened the door and gazed at all the toys. But they were very dusty. They weren't fit for a baby king. They would all need to be cleaned. She cleaned all of the toys until each one shined. Babushka looked through the window. It was morning! The star had came and gone. The kings would have found somewhere else to rest by now. She could easily catch them up, but she felt so tired. She had to sleep. The next thing she knew, she was awake and it was dark outside. She had slept all day! She quickly pulled on her cloak, packed the toys in a basket and ran down the path the kings had taken.

Everywhere she asked "Have you seen the kings?" "Oh yes," everyone told her, "we saw them. They went that way." For a day Babushka followed the trail of the kings and the villages got bigger and became towns. But Babushka never stopped. Then she came to a city. "The palace," she thought. "That's where the royal baby would be born." "No, there is no royal baby here," said the palace guard when she asked him. "What about three kings?" asked Babushka. "Oh yes, they came here, but they didn't stay long. They were soon on their journey." "But where to?" asked Babushka. "Bethlehem, that was the place. I can't imagine why. It's a very poor place. But that's where they went." replied the guard. She set off towards Bethlehem. It was evening when Babushka arrived at Bethlehem and she had been traveling for a long time. She went into the local inn and asked about the kings. "Oh yes," said the landlord, "the kings were here two days ago. They were very excited, but they didn't even stay the night." "And what about a baby?" Babushka cried. "Yes there was." Said the landlord. "The kings asked about a baby, too." When he saw the disappointment in Babushka's eyes, he stopped. "If you'd like to see where the baby was," he said quickly, "it was across the yard there. I couldn't offer the couple anything better at the time. My inn was really full, so they had to go in the stable."

Babushka followed him across the yard. "Here's the stable." he said. He left her in the stable. "Babushka?" Someone was calling her from the doorway. He looked kindly at her. She wondered if he knew where the family had gone. She knew now that the baby king was the most important thing in the world to her. "They have gone to Egypt, and safety," he told Babushka. "And the kings have returned to their countries. But one of them told me about you. I am sorry but you are too late. It was Jesus that they found, the world's Savior."

Babushka was very sad that she had missed Jesus and it is said that Babushka is still looking for him.

After the meal, people love to sing carols or 'Koliadky'. They can be sung around the table or you might go out caroling in the streets. People sometimes carry brightly colored stars on poles when they go caroling singing.

The Ukrainian carol 'Shchedryk' is where the popular 'Carol of the Bells' came from.

Парад вуличних вертеп в. Льв в..jpg

Caroling in Lviv, Ukraine". Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

St Nicholas (known as Svyatyi Mykolai) visits children in Ukraine on December 19th which is also when Ukraine celebrates St Nicholas's Day.

In Ukraine, Christmas Trees are often decorated with artificial spider's webs! The story of The Christmas Spider is very popular in Ukraine and finding a spider on web on your tree is meant be good luck.

There are also little spider's web decorations, made of paper and silver wire, called 'pavuchky' (which means 'little spider') which people hang on their trees.

Mexico

Poinsettias at Christmas. Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as 'Taxco del Alarcon' where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them 'cuetlaxochitl'.

Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as 'Taxco del Alarcon' where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs called them 'cuetlaxochitl'. The Aztecs had many uses for them including using the flowers (actually special types of leaves known as bracts rather than being flowers) to make a purple dye for clothes and cosmetics and the milky white sap was made into a medicine to treat fevers. (Today we call the sap latex!)

The poinsettia was made widely known because of a man called Joel Roberts Poinsett (that's why we call them Poinsettia!). He was the first Ambassador from the USA to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett had some greenhouses on his plantations in South Carolina, and while visiting the Taco area in 1828, he became very interested in the plants. He immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina, where he began growing the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.

One of the friends he sent plants to was John Bartram of Philadelphia. At the first Philadelphia flower show, Robert Buist, a plants-man from Pennsylvania saw the flower and he was probably the first person to have sold the poinsettias under their botanical, or latin name, name 'Euphorbia pulcherrima' (it means, 'the most beautiful Euphorbia'). They were first sold as cut flowers. It was only in the early 1900s that they were sold as whole plants for landscaping and pot plants. The Ecke family from Southern California were one of, if not, the first to sell them as whole plant and they're still the main producer of the plants in the USA. It is thought that they became known as Poinsettia in the mid 1830s when people found out who had first brought them to America from Mexico.

There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together, it goes like this:

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.

'Pepita', he said "I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy."

Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the 'Flores de Noche Buena', or 'Flowers of the Holy Night'.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

The Poinsettia is also the national emblem of Madagascar.

To learn about caring for Poinsettia plants, visit the Poinsettia profile on the Royal Horticultural Society's website.

America

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

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Created with images by aleksandra85foto - "christmas market dresden germany" • Free Grunge Textures - www.freestock.ca - "Germany Grunge Flag" • mrsdkrebs - "Evergreen" • mbaylor - "2012 Elf on the Shelf - Snowy" • ell brown - "Bletchley Park Post Office - British flag" • VinnyCiro - "snowman winter town" • kevin dooley - "Magic bokeh!" • laszlo-photo - "May Your Days Be Merry and Bright" • jackmac34 - "flag french flag france" • KJGarbutt - "Eiffel Tower" • inmacpt - "spain flag country" • skeeze - "flags nations waving" • Beverly & Pack - "Colorado State Flag, Colorful Colorado, Waving Wind Blowing" • El mundo de Laura - "Tres colores y un águila" • betsyweber - "New Mexico"

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