Annual holiday traditions provide us with the comfort of shared experiences and mutual values. They give time for reflection and relaxation and they offer us a break from our daily lives. It is hardly surprising then, that after such a turbulent year, we are all keen to determine which Christmas traditions we are able to enjoy this year.
This desire is much the same the world over. Today, more than two billion people in 160 countries consider Christmas to be the biggest holiday of the year. In the USA, as many as nine in ten celebrate Christmas. However, for many Americans it is viewed simply as a cultural holiday and the religious significance is not as important.
Here at Stiltz Home Elevators, we look at a few of the traditions and rituals that connect the world in the way we celebrate the festive season.
Being with family
At the top of many people’s lists this year is the chance to enjoy Christmas with loved ones. In a year where many have felt isolated and restricted and have been less able to travel, the opportunity to get together with loved ones seems a little more special than usual.
According to data from the Department of Transport, in the U.S the average American travels 275 miles for Christmas. Even if this is restricted for some of us this year, as time with family and friends is so important in the holidays, it is likely that virtual gatherings will be a feature of the 2020 festive season.
Celebrating with food
Most of us have traditional foods and treats at Christmas, even if these differ slightly across the globe. Most of us have already enjoyed our Thanksgiving turkey dinner, but in the UK, Christmas dinner is roast turkey, followed by Christmas pudding and mince pies. In Germany gingerbread lebkuchen and linzer cookies are staples of the season.
Religious significance of the season
Although we are all aware that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth, it was not until 336AD that December 25 was decided on as a date. Before this there had been a myriad of ancient pagan winter solstice celebrations which then continued under the name Christmas, and the merriment became mostly entwined.
There are several key Christian ceremonies which happen over the festive period:
Advent signifies the coming of Christ and begins the four weeks Christmas season, with church services focused on the Nativity story.
Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on January 6, remembering the Wise Men, and in some countries, people give gifts and eat traditional pastries. Epiphany is observed in this way in Spain and in many Latin American Countries as well as several other European countries such as Italy and Poland.
Also, in Latin America, ‘Las Posadas’ is celebrated. This 400-year-old tradition involves days of candle lit parades depicting Mary and Joseph seeking shelter, followed by parties.
Christingle, which first began in Germany in 1747, is celebrated in many countries around the world. Here children hold a lit candle in the top of an orange, to symbolise the love of God and his gift of Jesus to the world.
Through the centuries many religious and political leaders have tried to ban Christmas. Nonetheless the holiday has always been revived.
The tradition of bringing a decorated tree into the home for Christmas started in Germany. Queen Victoria embraced the ritual after her marriage to Prince Albert. As popularity spread throughout Britain to follow the fashion, an American newspaper then carried a picture of the royal tree and the custom rapidly spread throughout the US also.
In World War One, a Christmas truce started on the trenches when soldiers held up small, Christmas fir tree from their trenches. Both sides temporarily dropped their weapons for a spontaneous ceasefire. This led to the soldiers exchanging small gifts, shaking hands and even playing games of soccer, in a particularly poignant reminder of the Christmas spirit and the generosity to others we link to the season.
Gift giving is a key feature of the Christmas season across the world. Most countries have a festive magical character who leaves presents for children. Santa Claus, St Nicholas or Father Christmas as some countries prefer, makes his deliveries on Christmas Eve, and is active in many countries including the USA.
Of course, giving gifts is not limited to magical characters, and most people in the US enjoy exchanging presents to connect with their closest friends and family.
So perhaps after all its challenges, 2020 will help us get back in touch with the real spirit of the season. We can take time to reflect on how Christmas is about connecting with friends and family even if virtually this year and about tradition and a generous spirit. We wish you a very happy Holiday Season.