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     Volume 1 Issue 20 | December 24, 2006 |


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Christmas tradition around the world

Edward Apurba Singha

Christmas is a very special religious occasion of the Christian community and every year it is celebrated around the world with renewed vigour and abundant pleasure. Different countries celebrate Christmas according to their own tradition and in this regard Christmas has turned into the most spectacular religious festival in this world.

Basically there are some similarities in religious customs but variation occurs in food, clothes, and decoration. Like other countries Bangladesh has a national heritage to mark this occasion. In this article several countries are considered to develop a global scenario of Christmas celebration.

United States
The USA is land of diverse cultures. Christmas craze begins here just after the Thanksgiving Day. Big Christmas trees are decorated in open places, markets, offices, airports and relatively small trees in households. Special discount prices are offered on products in order to beef up the sale. Churches arrange different programs based on Biblical events and special prayer sessions. Children believe that at midnight Santa Claus will come, bringing a huge bag of toys. He will come down through the chimney and leave gifts under the Christmas tree.

On Christmas morning, things such as cinnamon rolls or cake are served for breakfast, and for dinner there is typically ham. The atmosphere remains chilly during Christmas and people skate on ice, make funny shapes, and play with ice as a part of their enjoyment.

Germans love to decorate their houses for Christmas. Most homes will also have little wooden 'cribs'-a small model of the stable where Jesus Christ was born, with figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals. Santa brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th). The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas day special food will be cooked.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time when 'Father Frost' brought presents to children. With the fall of Communism, Christmas can now be openly celebrated - either on December 25th; or more often on January 7th. This unusual date is because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old 'Julian' calendar for religious celebration days. Special Christmas food includes cakes, pies, and 'meat dumpling'.

Christmas in South Africa is a summer holiday. In December, the southern summer brings glorious days of sunshine that carry an irresistible invitation to the beaches, the rivers, and the shaded mountain slopes. Then the South African holiday season reaches its height. Schools are closed, and camping is the order of the day. In South Africa there is no snow, but it has many flowers, many beautiful varieties of cultivated and wild flowers bloom in their full pride.

Many South Africans have a Christmas dinner in the open-air. For many more, it is the traditional dinner of either turkey, roast beef, mince pies, or pig, yellow rice with raisins, vegetables, and plum pudding.

In the afternoon, families go out into the country and usually there are games or bathing in the warm sunshine, and then home in the cool of the evening.

Boxing Day is also a proclaimed public holiday usually spent in the open air. It falls on December 26 and is a day of real relaxation.

In Ghana, on Africa's west coast, most churches herald the coming of Christmas by decorating the church and homes beginning with the first week in Advent, four weeks before Christmas. This season happens to coincide with the cocoa harvest. Everyone returns home from wherever they might be such as farms or mines.

On the west coast of Africa, in Liberia, most homes have an oil palm tree for a Christmas tree, which is decorated with bells. On Christmas morning, people are woken up by carols. Presents such as cotton cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, and books are exchanged. Also in the morning a church service is held in which the Christmas scene is enacted and hymns and carols are sung. Dinner is eaten outdoors with everyone sitting in a circle to share the meal of rice, beef and biscuits. Games are played in the afternoon, and at night fireworks light up the sky.

A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows s/he will enjoy good luck. Another treat is Mince Pies.

Some Australians and particularly tourists often have their Christmas dinner at midday on a local beach, Bondi Beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs attracts thousands of people on Christmas Day. Other families enjoy their day by having a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing Cricket at the backyard, and other outdoor activities.

In Bethlehem, the town where Jesus is said to have been born, is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations on every Christmas. On Christmas Eve natives and visitors alike crowd the church's doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the dramatic annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by a solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed, then comes the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the Church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus.

The Christian children of China decorate trees with colorful ornaments. These ornaments are made from paper in the shapes of flowers, chains and lanterns. They also hang muslin stockings hoping that Christmas Old Man will fill them with gifts and treats.

The Chinese Christmas trees are called "Trees of Light." Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means "Christmas Old Man.".

The non-Christian Chinese call this season the Spring Festival and celebrate with many festivities that include delicious meals and pay respects to their ancestors. The children are the main focus of these celebrations, they receive new clothes and toys, eat delicious food and watch firecrackers displays.

The Coptic Church is an Orthodox Church and in the Coptic Church Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January. Advent is observed for forty days and during this period people are expected to fast eating no meat, poultry or dairy products. Some people only do this during the last week of Advent.

On the Eve of Christmas everyone goes to church wearing a completely new outfit. The Christmas service ends at midnight with the ringing of church bells, then people go home to eat a special Christmas meal known as fata, which consists of bread, rice, garlic and boiled meat.

On Christmas morning people in Egypt visit friends and neighbors. They take with them kaik which is a type of shortbread, which they take with them to give to the people they visit and eaten with a drink known as shortbat. Christmas Day is a public holiday for Christians.

Great Britain
On Christmas Eve youngsters hang up their stockings at the ends of the beds or by the chimney so that when Father Christmas comes he can leave them something.

On Christmas morning the family members traditionally opens their presents and prepares for a big feast which typically is served just after midday. The table gleams with the best china and glassware. And at every place on the table there is a cracker. The meal begins with a toast, followed by the popping of the crackers. After the meal they sit down in front of the Television for the traditional Christmas speech of the Queen.

In the afternoon they exchange visits with neighbors and other family members.

Some churches in Great Britain have a Christingle service on the fourth Sunday of Advent. This is a carol service of Scandinavian origin at which every child receives an orange and candle wrapped in a red ribbon. The candle represents Jesus and the ribbon stands for the blood of Christ and the love of God embracing the world.

The Christmas season in Italy goes for three weeks, starting 8 days before Christmas known as the Novena. During this period, children go from house to house reciting Christmas poems and singing.

In some parts shepherds bring musical instruments into the villages, play and sing Christmas songs.

In the week before Christmas children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, playing pipes, singing and reciting Christmas poems. They are given money to buy presents.

A strict fasting is observed for 24 hours before Christmas Eve, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called panettone features as well as

Before Christmas people belonging to the Christian community exchange gifts and cards to express their Christmas wishes. People also love to decorate their house with Christmas trees, candles and colour papers. Many families display artificial stars at the rooftop of their building. On the Christmas Eve people go to the church to attain the special prayer session. On the Christmas day people again go to the church before they start the celebration. Christmas food like pitha, paes, semai, cakes, sandwich are prime choice for breakfast while polau, bhat, different vegetables, chicken, beef, mutton, pork are selected for lunch and dinner with delicious fruits, soft drinks, and ice creams. Five star hotels in the city also arrange special Christmas programs where Santa distributes gifts among the children. Tribal communities follow their own tradition slightly different from the Bengali tradition. TV channels telecast special programs and newspapers publish special supplement to mark this occasion.

Christmas Carol

Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh,
Over the fields we go, laughing all the way.
Bells on bob-tails ring, making spirits bright,
What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
O what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!
O what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago, I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fanny Bright, was seated by my side;
The horse was lean and lank, misfortune seemed his lot;
He got into a drifted bank and we got upsot

A day or two ago, the story I must tell
I went out on the snow, and on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by, in a one-horse open sleigh
He laughed as there I sprawling lie but quickly drove away

Now the ground is white, go it while you're young
Take the girls tonight, and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay, two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh and crack! you'll take the lead

“Today people all over the world celebrate the day with utmost festivity and joy”

Father Benjamin Costa (CSE)

"Since 325 AD people all around the world have been observing 25th December as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Today people all over the world celebrate the day with utmost festivity and joy. Christmas is a very important event because it marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians all over the world believe that Jesus Christ is the savior that God had promised, and he came to earth to save the mankind.

Today people are violating the rules of God and engaging in all kind of sins. They are drifting farther and farther away from God everyday, and thus also getting away from each other. We see that people today don't have feelings for each other. Impatience in society is forever on the rise. If people had followed the path about which they have been told by Christ then there wouldn't be so much chaos and anarchy in society".

Said Father Benjamin Costa (CSE), principal Notre Dame College (NDC) while talking about Christmas to this writer.

Here are the comments of some Christian students on Christmas as they enjoy it every year:

George Francis a student of National University
Like any other religious festival, Christmas these days is celebrated not only by Christians but also by people of other faiths. Though they don't take part in the mass prayers, they celebrate it with the same festivity. On Christmas day, prayer is the most important event. I go to Church with my family members and pay good attention to the priest, because the priest tells about the worlds of Jesus. After the prayers I visit my relatives. In the evening all my friends and I get together and at night I attend the Christmas dinner in my house. It's really great.

Arjun Chiran is a student of NDC. He is from the Garo community.

In our village we start the preparations for Christmas three weeks ahead of the day. On 24 December, the day before the occasion, we attend the mass prayers and after that we start the Kirton, which continues all night. Then on Christmas day we attend the special Christmas prayers. After the prayers everyone in my village joins the Christmas feast. We have many traditional items like Waksiri, Khaji Jaba, Pura Jaba and other items. Waksiri is the most popular among them all. It is prepared with a boar. Big slices of boar meat are fried in oil. It is really delicious. The children enjoy the most. They go from house to house and do all kinds of exciting things. It the evening we always have special games. The most amazing thing about Christmas in our village is that the Christmas feast is held at a different house every year. The elders decide which house it will be. Every year after the feast elders sit in a meeting and pick the house. It is a great honor for anyone because the feast will be held in his own yard.

Rockey Gomez is a student of Arts from Kaliganj, Gazipur.

Christmas is a very important event. Every year we wait very anxiously for this day. We attend the prayers at 12 AM at the first hours of Christmas. In my village the Pitha making festival starts from 24 December. Many delicious varieties of traditional pitha and sweets are made. In the morning of 25th December we attend the mass prayers. Then we go out to visit our loved ones and family members. Amidst all the excitement we can hardly sense how the day goes by, seeming to end with the blink of an eye. At night the boys do fireworks. The sound of the firecrackers exploding truly sounds amazing, as if marking the end of the festivity. It's really an amazing occasion.

Rigan Rozario a student of Dhaka College
On Christmas day all the members of our family go to the church to attend the prayers. After the prayer I go out. All of my friends get together and pass the day gossiping, watching movies and wandering in Dhaka. In the evening we meet our girl friends and together have a wonderful time. At night I go to my grandfather's house with my family to attend the Christmas dinner. It's really exciting. We have a lot of fun.

Interviewed by Mainul Hassan


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