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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Countdown to Christmas with Sharon Donovan

Hello and welcome to Day 10 in my Countdown to Christmas blog! For those of you who know me and follow my blog, you know I collect traditions for all holidays. Christmases Past are now Christmases Present and will one day be Christmases Future. Keeping traditions alive from year to year is the best way to commemorate the footprints our loved ones have left on our hearts. Here are a few favorites from around the world.

With December being summertime Downunder, Santa has no white stuff to glide his sleigh through! So Swag Man wears a brown Akubra, a blue singlet and long baggy shorts. He spends all winter under Uluru with his Merry Gingoes. Then at Christmas, he gets in his huge four-wheel drive and sets off through the red dust to deliver his presents!

The little town where Jesus is said to have been born is the site of the Nativity, all ablaze with flags and decorations each Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the town gather on the roof of the church to watch the dramatic procession. Galloping horsemen on Arabian horses are in the lead, followed by solitary horsemen carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession enters the church and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding steps lead to a grotto where visitors find a star designating the birth of Jesus.

Celebrate by trimming the tree, exchange of gifts and a turkey dinner. But in the old days, Tourti Re was eaten and is still made in some homes. It’s a sort of stew made of a layer of meat, a layer of potatoes, a layer of onions, another layer of meat with continued layers. Then a pastry dough is placed on top and it is baked for a long time. Christmas dinner is called “Revillon”

Celebrate Christmas at midnight on Christmas Eve. All look forward to a special rice pudding. An almond is hidden in one dish and the finder of the nut will have luck for the following year.

A big tradition is the Queen’s Christmas message given every year at three o’clock in the afternoon. The pulling of Christmas crackers often accompany the meal. This is a brightly colored paper, twisted at both ends. Two people pull on each side and when it pops, the contents fall out. Contents traditionally contain a paper crown, small gift and a joke.

The focus of nearly every home is the setting up of the Nativity set or Creche, the focus of the celebration. The Nativity is often peopled with little clay figures called Santoms or little saints made by craftsmen in the South of France. In addition to the Holy Family, the shepherds and Magi, craftsmen produce figures of dignitaries. The molds used to create these figures have been passed on from generation to generation since the 17th century.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors in Greece. According to legend, his clothes are drenched with grime, his beard dripps with sea water and his face covered with perspiration because he has been working hard to combat waves in order to salvage sunken ships. Ships parting Greek ports will always have some sort of St. Nicholas icon. On Christmas Eve, children in the village travel from house to house, offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of Christmas carols. They often carry metal triangles and clay drums. Children are rewarded with sweets and dry fruits.

St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated by young men in extravagant clothes and masks, parading noisily through the streets in the Wren Boys Procession. They carry long poles topped with sprigs of holly bush. The holly is said to represent a captured wren and for whom the young boys beg for money.

In Rome, cannons are fired to denote the celebration. The main day of celebration is January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, the day the Magi came to visit the Christ child. Children anxiously await a visit from La Befana who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad. According to legend, the three wisemen stopped along their journey and asked an old woman for food and shelter. She refused and later had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone. La Befana means Epiphany, still wanders the earth looking for the Christ child. She is depicted as a fairy queen, crown or witch
An elaborate tradition called Wigilia is celebrated. In honor of the star of Bethlehem, the meal cannot begin until the first star of night appears. Christmas in Poland is officially known as Bozz, but is most referred to as Gwiazdka or little star. Once the star appears, the meal commences after sharing rice wafers blessed by the priest.

St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. According to legend, the eleventh century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized and returned with stories of St. Nicholas of Myra performing many miracles. To this day, Francis is the most popular boys name. The tradition of Russians is a special porridge called Kutya, made of wheat berries to symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppies to ensure happiness, success and untroubled rest.

Scotland reserve merriment for New Year’s Eve which is called Hogmanay. This name may be derived from a type of oak cake given to children on the first of the year. According to tradition, the first person to set foot through the door brings good luck. Best if dark haired or fair haired. This tradition is often called “First Footing.”

The Magi is very revered and is said to travel through the countryside each year to reenact their journey to Bethlehem. Children leave shoes on windows filled with straw, carrots and barley for the horses of the wisemen.

Celebrate the feast of St. Lucia, the queen of light. Centuries ago, she helped the persecuted by bringing food. To light the way through dark tunnels, she is said to have worn a wreath of candles on her head. Today, her feast is celebrated by the eldest daughter wearing a white gown with red sash and an evergreen wreath with seven candles. She brings coffee and buns. St. Lucia is remembered for bringing light in the darkest hour.

Carols are very popular in Wales and are often accompanied by a harp. In rural areas, a villager may be chosen to represent the Mari llwyd. This person walks around the town draped in white and carrying a horse’s skull on a long pole. Anyone who gets a bite must pay a fine

Well, I don’t know about you but most of these traditions are new to me! Have one to share? Comments are most welcome. Whatever your nationality or tradition, wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas in 2009!


P.L. Parker said...

Good Morning, Sharon - no special traditions to add, but loved the post. Very interesting to read about the other Christmas traditions.

Skhye said...

Wonderful post! I've been reading about these traditions in all sorts of cross-cultural studies books for pre-K through 3rd grade. ;) Keep warm, my friend!

Sharon Donovan said...

Patsy, these are so much fun to read and get caught up in. Just love legend and lore!
Skhye, ha ha! And I betcha loved the one about the witch and the Scots, huh? Too bad the men don't parade around in the revered kilts! Traditions fascinate me. I'm drawn to them.

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Sharon! I love to learn about other cultures too.
Our family's traditions are the usual: family gatherings, and lots of food!

Jane Richardson, writer said...

How lovely! My kids, being Italia-philes themselves, are fascinated by La Befana, and wonder if she would do a detour to the UK to leave coal in their shoes if they're naughty!
Love how you were absolutely right about the Scots saving it up for Hogmany - now there's a blog post in itself! And no, it's far too cold for kilts that time of year!

Jane x

Sharon Donovan said...

Hi Cate. What would a celebration be without food? My mom is Polish and Ostrian and my Dad comes from Irish, Scottish and Welsh blood. Quite a collection. We carry on with the Polish wafers and Irish soda bread, my bil's Italian wedding soup, ham and pierogie )Unsure of spelling. Sorry Mom!" She would know how to spell it !and we have all the usual holiday cookies. Enjoy!

Sharon Donovan said...

Ah, Jane! Now there's one who could tell us so much about the Scottish traditions. I swear I learn something new every time I do a search on traditions and get so caught up, it's hard to stop reading them. These are all so intriguing. Hope I got the spellings right on some of the names! Shhhh. Don't let Skhye hear ya say it's too cold for a kilt. She just might beg to differ. LOL

Judy said...

I really enjoyed reading all the different traditions in all the countries. That was very interesting. Most I had never heard. Thanks so much!!

Merry Christmas to all.

Mary Ricksen said...

Personally, I like the way we do it in the good old USA, if only it wasn't so commercialized.
As a child my family put the tree up on Christmas Eve, and it was always huge. The next morning we would wake up to a living room filled with gifts. Six kids means lots of gifts. But the stocking on my bed was the best. My younger sister still wants one every year!

Sharon Donovan said...

I adore these too, Judy. They are so easy to get caught up in. We all celebrate one holiday in so many ways. Can't say I'd be too thrilled if the jaw of the skull bit me and I had to pay a fine!
Mary, we used to put up our tree and decorate it on Christmas Eve too. Funny how everyone rushes the season now and puts it up at or before Thanksgiving. But all those kids and all those presents would be an awesome sight. Merry Merry!!

Julie Robinson said...

Hi Sharon and all party-ers.

I was a tad too early this morning because no one was here. I scrounged around for leftovers---that is food, not Oliver---but the place had already been cleaned up! So I went back home . . .

The traditions of other cultures is fascinating, but like Mary, I like the good old USA. Of course, down here in Louisiana, some might think we have a 'Cajun Christmas,' but really it's the same as anywhere else with lots of family and food.

We're celebrating Christmas next weekend, because it's the only time my parents can get 2 of the 4 children together. We all have different schedules, so we usually end up all getting together during Thanksgiving, which as a patriotic American, should NOT be skipped over by a commercialized Christmas. For a Christmas get-together, though, my parents do make shrimp gumbo. Yum, yum. and my mom makes her special pecan pie.


Linda Swift said...

This was very interesting, Sharon. I learned a lot without the bother of research. Thanks. I'm looking forward to seeing you (and Oliver, of course) soon. Linda

Hywela Lyn said...

Hi Sharon, just catching up, sorry I missed you yesterday. What a fascinating post, I love old traditions too. Of course I was particularly interested that you mentioned one very old Welsh Custom, the Mari Llwyd.

(For anyone who is curious as to how this is pronnounced, it's 'Mari' as in 'Marry' rhyming with 'Harry' and 'Llwyd 'is roughly, 'Chlooweed'

(Oh and the horse's bite is more of a touch than an actual bite, LOL)