Here in the Northwest, as we brave the long cold dreary winter nights, we welcome the warm glow of a fireplace, candles, and colorful lights to lift our spirits and brighten the season. Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, it’s a time to come together, reminisce about favorite childhood memories, share gifts, and join in the traditions of the holidays
Christmas, as we know it today, is a Victorian invention of the 1860s. But prior to that, scholars could not even agree on which day it should be celebrated. It was not until the 3rd century that they choose December 25—because that date coincided with the Pagan festival of the Winter Solstice, the longest, darkest night of the year. Well, the longest, darkest night part is still true, at least in our corner of the globe.
I recently returned from a wonderful business/pleasure trip “down under,” where the seasons are completely reversed. I’ll share some of those Australian/New Zealand adventures in the future, but first let’s look at how the holidays are celebrated around the world.
In Australia, December is in the middle of summer. In fact, in some parts of the continent/country it can hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day! And while many traditions are carried over from the Victorian age—such as decorating homes with ferns and evergreens—the day is often spent frolicking on the beach or with back yard barbeques where “Father Christmas” has been known to show up in shorts to greet children with gifts. The most popular event of the Christmas season is called Carols by Candlelight. Families gather at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols out under the stars.
The ancient Norse used the Yule log in their celebration of the return of the sun at winter solstice. Ever wonder why the family fireplace is such a central part of the typical Christmas scene? This tradition dates to the Norse Yule log. And it just might be why those log-shaped cheeses, cakes, and desserts are so popular during the holidays.
In 1828, the American minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, brought a red-and-green plant from Mexico to America. The colors seemed perfect for the holiday and were named poinsettias after Poinsett. Today they are a universal symbol of the holiday.
Decorating evergreen trees was part of the German winter solstice tradition. The first “Christmas trees” appeared in Strasbourg at the turn of the 17th century. Germany’s Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, and introduced the Christmas tree tradition to England. In 1848, the first American newspaper carried a picture of a Christmas tree and the custom spread to nearly every home.
In 1830, John Calcott Horsley popularized the tradition of sending Christmas cards when he began producing small cards featuring festive scenes and a pre-written greeting. By the way, there are no plums in that pudding! This dish, dating back to the Middle Ages is made from suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices. It’s all tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are “plum,” meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. It is then unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream. Now you know!
Many Finns visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather and listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. It is customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.
All over the world, Christmas celebrations reflect local culture and traditions. The festivities can be starkly different from country to country. But wherever you're celebrating it, one thing remains the same . . . it’s a time to experience the wonder and magic of the season—a time to be filled with joy and sharing with family, loved ones, neighbors, and with those less fortunate.
For me, what I love about the Christmas season is connecting with family and friends. We pause in gratitude for all our blessings and we carefully think about what we can do for others. May you and yours have the happiest of holidays and welcome a New Year.
The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Judith A. McGee and not necessarily those of Raymond James.