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  1. 1. 6. Spreading Goodwill at Christmas The real meaning of Christmas, the season of good cheer, is about giving especially to provide some assistance to those who need help for their daily survival and who therefore don't have the material resources to enjoy the Christmas season. The importance of giving to those in need during Christmas is embodied in the story of Jesus' birth, which is the reason Christmas is celebrated. For Christians, Jesus was born to save mankind from sin by giving everlasting Salvation to all who believe in the Word of God and chose to follow the principles for living in the Bible. Jesus therefore gave in the ultimate way - he offered himself as a sacrifice for every living person. Christians therefore believe that Christmas should be about following the example of Jesus by giving of oneself to others, especially to those who are in need. The Christmas season should therefore be about spreading goodwill and good cheer. This purpose of Christmas is very significant because research by social service organizations has shown that Christmas happens to be a high time for depression among the have-nots, among people with problems and others who just don't have the means and resources to enjoy the merriment of the holidays. The hundreds of Santa letters written by children are often a sad testament to the many unmet needs of families and individuals during the festive Christmas and holiday times. Just about every child is told the story of Santa Claus, or hears about him because his presence is everywhere at Christmas. And up to the age of 7 to 8 years, most children believe the story about Santa Claus bringing toys and other gifts. That's the reason why so many young children often write letters to Santa at Christmas time in which the innocently plead for toys and other gifts because they their parents or other relatives will not be able to give them those Christmas toys or Christmas gifts that they want. Thankfully there are many volunteer and charitable efforts carried out by groups and corporations that seek to fulfill the needs of children and also of adults during the Christmas season. One of the most notable organizations that do such charitable work is the Salvation Army, which has a history of giving service to those in need. According to The Salvation Army's website, the organization as known today was started in 1865 by a Methodist minister, William Booth and his wife Catherine. They formed a group that preached, provided food and shelter to the homeless, the hungry and to alcoholics in need of recovery services. The services were provided in London's East End. Booth and his followers, first known as 'The Christian Mission,' started to use The Salvation Army name in 1878. The Salvation Army is now uniquely associated with the Christmas season through its many representatives who dress up as Santa Claus and stand outside retail establishments ringing their bells while they kindly seek donations from shoppers to help the poor at Christmas. Individuals also play Santa Claus at Christmas time and help out those in need by donating toys and gifts through their companies, other business enterprises such as banks or through their local municipality. These groups usually all have a box or an area where new toys or clothing can be dropped off and the items are then donated to families in need or to social service providers for distribution to the needy during the Christmas season. Along with much charitable giving at Christmas time, other public interest groups also work hard to inform and educate consumers about avoiding the after Christmas blues. This is often experienced in January when the bills and debts are due as a result of all the spending, much of it on credit, that is done for the holidays.
  2. 2. These groups try to spread goodwill and cheer in a different way. They try to provide educational information on spending responsibly during the Christmas season with the hope that the happiness and good feeling enjoyed during the season can also carry over after Christmas and not be spoiled by the burden of having huge bills to pay.
  3. 3. 7. Christmas Around the World Christmas in the Birthplaces of Traditions -- Bethlehem, Germany and England Christmas as celebrated today is a culmination of centuries of traditions that are religious and secular and which came from different countries around the world. It is interesting therefore to look at some of the general ways in which Christmas is celebrated in these countries. The traditions examined for each country will be examples of some of the things that are unique to that country and which are done today, or which were once done by people in those countries. To begin, it is symbolic to look at the town of Bethlehem, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. The Church of the Nativity is located in Bethlehem and at Christmas it is decorated with a lot of flags and other Christmas decorations. A very large crowd usually gathers at The Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve to see a dramatic parade procession of horsemen, led by police who are mounted on Arabian horses. Following the police in the procession is a lone horseman who carries a cross, followed by churchmen and government officials. Members of the procession solemnly enter the doors of The Church of the Nativity and place an ancient effigy of Jesus in the church. A silver star located deep in an underground cave-like section of the church marks the site where Jesus was born. A star is also set atop a pole in the town's square. In Bethlehem, homes of Christians usually have a cross over the door and a manger scene is usually set up inside the house. In Germany, home of the Christmas tree tradition, the Christmas tree is not seen until Christmas Eve. The tree is usually kept in a special room, or elsewhere, and decorated in secret with lights, ornaments, tinsels, angels, candies, nuts and cookies. It is then lighted, the presents placed underneath and then shown to the delight of Children on Christmas Eve. In Germany, Dec. 6 is known as St. Nicholas Day when Santa visits the homes of boys and girls. On the day before, Dec. 5, children leave a shoe or boot outside or by the fireplace for Santa Claus. If they were good, he places gifts and candies inside the shoe. But if they were naughty, children will find twigs or a rod in their shoe. Dinner on Christmas Day includes roast goose, long loaves of bread filled with raisins, nuts and dried fruits. Other sweet delicacies are also enjoyed. Many traditions in England are similar to those in the United States because such traditions originated in England and were brought to the United States by immigrants. The tradition of sending Christmas greeting cards started in England and is still popular at Christmas, as well as the tradition of neighborhood caroling on Christmas Eve. Children also hang stockings on Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa Claus filling them with Christmas gifts or treats. The holly, ivy and mistletoe are also used a lot in Christmas decorations. In England, the traditional Christmas Dinner is roast turkey, goose or chicken with stuffing, vegetables and roast potatoes. Dessert consists of the British or Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. A rich, fruit-filled Christmas cake may also be enjoyed later in the day. A tradition of pulling Christmas crackers also goes with the serving of food on Christmas Day. A cracker is a paper tube that contains a party hat, riddle, toy or trinket, and is brightly colored and twisted at both ends. It gives out a crack as the contents pop out when it is pulled at each end. Also on Christmas afternoon, the Queen broadcasts a Christmas message to the nation, which is heard on radio and television. The day after Christmas is also a holiday that is known as Boxing Day.
  4. 4. 8. Christmas In Other European Countries In Finland, Christmas Eve is the traditional time to set up the Christmas tree and it's also traditional to visit the sauna and for families to listen to a broadcast of the national 'Peace of Christmas' on the radio. Christmas Dinner generally consists of a main dish of boiled codfish that is snowy and fluffy in appearance, served with cream sauce and boiled potatoes. Christmas dinner is rounded out with roast suckling pig or roasted fresh ham and vegetables. Among peasants, there is a tradition to tie a sheaf of grain, with nuts and seeds, to a pole that is put in a garden for birds. Many peasants will wait until after the birds have eaten before having their Christmas Dinner. And Santa Claus is expected to visit homes in person with his Christmas elves to give out Christmas gifts. Christmas in France is called Noel, from the phrase 'les bonnes nouvelles,' or 'the good news,' which refers to the gospel. On Christmas Eve, cathedrals and churches are beautifully lit and filled with the sounds of Christmas carols, ringing church bells and carillons. The tradition among children is to put their shoes by the fireplace for Pere Noel or le petit Jesus to fill them with gifts. In the north of France however, children receive gifts on Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, instead of Christmas. Most French homes will have a Nativity scene or crèche on display during the season. In Southern France, some people will burn a log in their home from Christmas Eve until New Years Day, which comes out of a farming tradition of using the log for good luck in the coming harvest. The French also make a traditional cake called the buche de Noel, or Christmas Log, which is shaped like a Yule log and is part of a late supper called le reveillon held after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The main dish for this meal generally consists of poultry, ham, salads, cake, fruit and wine but varies according to region. The main course in Burgundy is turkey with chestnuts and in Paris it's oysters, foie gras and the buche de Noel cake. The wines generally served are Champagne, Muscadet, Sauterne and Anjou. An annual tradition of puppet shows, particularly in Paris and Lyons, is popular during Christmas time. In Paris, it's also popular for big department stores to have grand, animated window displays. Christmas in Italy is called 'Il Natale,' or 'the birthday.' Christmas season starts eight days before Christmas, a period called the Novena, and runs for three weeks. During the Novena, children dress as shepherds and go from house to house saying Christmas poems, singing and playing pipes. They often receive money to buy gifts during this activity. The Nativity scene, called the Presepio, has miniature figures, carved in great detail out of clay or plaster, of the Holy Family in the stable and is the center of Christmas for families. Families say prayers and children recite poems around the Presepio. Christmas Eve dinner, called cenone, is a traditional dish of roasted, baked or fried eel. In some regions, various types of fish is prepared for this dinner, as well as pork, sausage in a pig's leg or turkey stuffed with chestnuts. Christmas sweets are called panettone and traditionally have nuts and almonds. On Christmas Eve, children set out their shoes for a kind, old woman or ugly witch called La Befana, who rides on a broomstick down chimneys, to fill them with gifts of toys or candies. If they were bad, their shoes will be filled with coal. Some children wait until Jan. 6, the Epiphany, to receive gifts. Norway is where the tradition of the Yule log started and which gave rise to log-shaped cakes, cheese and other desserts during the holidays. Norwegians today often go into the forest to cut their own Christmas trees, which is secretly decorated on Christmas Eve to surprise children. After the Christmas tree is revealed, Norwegians engage in 'circling the Christmas tree,' a
  5. 5. tradition in which everyone joins hands forming a ring around the tree. They then walk around the Christmas tree singing carols. Gifts are distributed after this ritual is finished.
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