Season’s Greetings!

by Kate Woodford

Happy Christmas! Merry Christmas! Season’s Greetings! Happy holidays! Whatever the greeting, Christmastime is once again almost with us. In homes around the world, people are preparing for Christmas Day (December 25th), Boxing Day (the 26th) and the whole festive season. Christmas trees are being decorated (trimmed US) with baubles, tinsel, stars and angels. Wreaths are being hung on doors, and lights draped around trees. Christmas cards with typical Christmas images of holly, bells and snowmen, are being quickly written and posted, and gifts wrapped and hidden away from curious children.

For some, the celebrations started at the beginning of December, with the first day of Advent.  (Advent calendarswith or without chocolate behind their little doors – are already half opened by children in their countdown to the big day.)  Others won’t feel Christmassy till Christmas Eve, (24th December) when work stops and the festivities start.

Of course, the Christmas season means different things to different people – and people celebrate it in their own way. Many will attend Christmas services in a church and celebrate what is for them, the true meaning of Christmas; the Nativity, or birth of Christ. Others will mark the season by giving or going to parties. (Restaurants and bars have been booked up for months with office Christmas parties.) Parents of little ones will blink away tears as they watch their children perform in the school nativity play. Most will sing – or at least hear – Christmas carols, whether in church or in the shopping mall, and most people will meet up with family and friends at some point during the festive season.

Christmas, like most festivals, has its traditional food. Mince pies, mulled wine and egg nog are eaten and drunk throughout the season, and on the 25th itself, people usually eat a big roast dinner (typically turkey or goose in many parts of the world). The traditional dessert at the Christmas dinner is the rich, fruity Christmas pudding or plum pudding, which is often accompanied by white sauce and brandy butter. Crackers will be pulled before the meal, and their contents of paper hats, jokes and small toys or ‘novelties’ spilled out onto the table. Some will wear their paper hats throughout the meal.

Of course, there are still a few days to go before the 25th and the less organized may have to join the crowds to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Most people will exchange gifts with at least a few close family members or friends. Those gifts may range in price from the very expensive to what the stores call ‘stocking-fillers.

Small children, meanwhile, don’t make the connection between gifts and stores, believing instead that their presents are delivered in person by Santa Claus, (also known as Father Christmas). Santa, the children are told, travels from the North Pole, on his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, bringing with him a huge sack of presents. He comes down the chimney while they are sleeping and leaves presents in stockings or under the tree.

But if the traditions and customs described above irritate you and you reject them, you risk being called a Scrooge, after the miser who refused to celebrate Christmas in the Charles Dickens novel ‘A Christmas Carol’.

9 thoughts on “Season’s Greetings!

  1. Harry

    Some of the customs you note have distinctly American roots. It was the Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam (later, New York) who first associated Christmas with Saint Nicholas, whose feast is on December 6th. The Dutch contraction “Sinter Klaas” was anglicized as “Santa Claus.” It was the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” — or “The Night Before Christmas” — that introduced the idea of Santa bringing bundles of toys in a flying sleigh pulled by “eight tiny reindeer,” then entering the house down the chimney to fill stockings “hung by the chimney with care” with treats for children. The verse was published anonymously in 1823, and eventually attributed to Clement Clark Moore, a prominent scholar, building developer, and son of the bishop who severed the ties of the Anglican church in America from the English crown. The authorship is now disputed, but the poem (which you can read at http://holyjoe.org/poetry/moore.htm) is deeply entrenched in the English-speaking world’s vision of the holiday.

    The poem’s Santa was a small, slender man — “a jolly old elf” — smoking a pipe and wearing fur. The image of a tall, rotund father-figure in a fleece-lined coat was created in 1863 by the celebrated New York cartoonist Thomas Nast, best known for his political satire (and erroneously identified as the source of the word “nasty.”) The red-and-white color scheme of Santa’s costume (Nast drew only with pen and ink) was invented late in the 19th century by a Madison Avenue advertising agency creating holiday promotional materials for Coca-Cola: posters, mirrors, trays, etc. .So when we New Yorkers are feeling chauvinistic, or very proud of ourselves, we say that Christmas is our invention.

    “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

    1. Harry

      Egg nog is a rich holiday drink made with milk, cream, eggs, nutmeg and (optionally) brandy or whiskey. It is often served in a punch bowl — a large bowl from which party guests serve themselves with a ladle.

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