Christmas - December 25th
Christmas means many things to many different people. It is celebrated all around the world with traditions and celebrations varying from country to country, and even from family to family. While the way it is celebrated may differ, the universal themes of Christmas are of peace, love, generosity and good will towards others.
One of the most recognized figures of the Christmas holiday is the mythical Santa Claus. He is known to the young and old around the world by many different names, such as: St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa, Sinter Klaas, Father Christmas, and Kriss Kringle, just to mention a few. Santa Claus's appearance varies with different cultures as well; in the United States and most of North America, Santa Claus typically is described as a plump, jolly, older man with a white beard who typically wears a red velvety suit with white fir trim, and a stocking-hat to match. In most of Europe, Santa Claus is depicted as wearing a green cloak or suit with fir trim, and a very long beard and is a bit skinnier than the American Santa. He spends the holiday season bringing gifts and toys to all the good girls and boys of the world.
Celebrated and retold for centuries, the origin of Santa Claus differs depending on where you come from. In the United States, the most popular myth of Santa Claus depicts a jolly old man who lives and works in the North Pole. That's right; Santa Claus has a job. He oversees his toy factory that is operated by his helpers, the Christmas Elves. Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the Elves work together all year long making and wrapping toys and other gifts to be delivered only to the good girls and boys. Then on the much anticipated Christmas Eve, Santa prepares to deliver presents by loading them into his sleigh, which is driven by his magical flying reindeer: Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. On one particularly foggy night, Santa had a hard time making his annual flight around the world. So he called upon Rudolph, one of the lesser-known (and often made fun of) North Pole Reindeer who had a nose that glowed red, to light their way through the foggy night. Since then, Rudolph is seen at the front of the reindeer sled team.
And so it is told, Santa and his reindeer make a magical flight all around the world and deliver presents and toys to boys and girls who have been good that year. He is often seen on rooftops, as one of the more convenient ways for Santa to distribute the gifts is to simply shimmy down the chimney, through the fireplace and drop off the gifts under the Christmas tree, or in the traditional stocking hung from the hearth. Again, Santa's magic is apparent in this tale since a man of his stature would find it extremely difficult to make their way down a chimney. Once through the hearth, Santa usually finds a stash of cookies and milk awaiting him that many children leave as a "thank you" for all the gifts they hope to receive. Oftentimes treats such as carrots or "reindeer food" (usually granola) are left for the reindeer as well.
Now, you may be wondering how Santa knows who's been good and who has not, and which present to give each child. Well, its simple: part of his magic is that Santa "just knows" when you've been bad or good and he keeps a list detailing this, along with the gift each person will receive. A well known Christmas song called "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" that was first made popular in the 1930's and has been covered by a wide array of musicians ever since, describes Santa's magic quite well:
Oh! You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out
who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
One long-standing tradition is for young children to write letters to Santa telling him how good they've been (or apologize if they've been bad) and what they wish for Christmas. Another popular way to let Santa know what you want for Christmas is to visit him when he comes to town. Santa usually makes himself available in various places such as malls, shopping centers and holiday craft fairs, and makes special appearances for charity events. When a child visits with Santa they get to sit on his lap and tell him all the things they want for Christmas and often times the Elves are there to take pictures with Santa as a remembrance. With the help of the Elves, Santa adds the gift requests to his list. At these events, the role of Santa is played by either a volunteer or a hired "Santa" wearing the traditional red and white Santa suit and a white beard.
Since becoming a holiday that's been celebrated for centuries all around the world, the Christmas culture we know today has come to incorporate many different traditions from many different cultures. One of which is the adoption of the Christmas tree, which in the United States dates back to the 1800's, but had existed throughout the world for thousands of years. To many, the entire process of picking, and sometimes cutting down their own tree, to lighting and decorating the tree is a time honored family tradition that is met with much anticipation. Old and young alike often take great delight in watching the Christmas tree light up for the first time during the holiday season. Many families have made it their custom to acquire their Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving as an opening to the holiday season. Some families may wait until December 13th in order to uphold the "12 Days of Christmas" tradition, while others may wait until the last minute, on Christmas Eve.
Decorating the Christmas tree is often a family event as adults help little ones to hang ornaments and string lights. Many times the ornaments will have a special meaning, or commemorate a special event in the family's life such as the birth of a new baby or the baby's first Christmas, or perhaps a newlywed's first Christmas as a married couple. Some families hold a tradition of making their own ornaments, which is often a fun filled craft project for young children.
The Christmas feast is often one of the focal points of the evening for many families. Again, traditions will vary greatly, but there are a few universal themes to a traditional American Christmas feast. Typically either a ham or a turkey is the main course, along with mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables of sorts and other trimmings. Fruit and or pumpkin pies, and various puddings are often served for desert along with an assortment of cookies, candies, and fudge. To go along with this abundance of food are traditional holiday drinks. Non-alcoholic drinks served are often apple cider, hot chocolate and tea. Those who wish to "spice-up" the holiday may enjoy the traditional egg nog, hot toddies, mulled wines or spiked apple cider.
Christmas time tends to bring out general feelings of generosity and compassion for those in need; so many charity programs and events focus specifically on the holiday season. Christmas themed charity programs help to bring a bit of hope and Christmas cheer to those less fortunate. One such charity program called "Toys for Tots" was founded in 1947, when Major Bill Hendricks and a group of other Marine Reservists collected and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children in the Los Angeles Area. Hendricks was inspired to do this by his wife, Diane, who crafted a hand-made doll and asked her husband do deliver the doll to an organization that would give it to a needy child on Christmas. When Hendricks found that no such organization yet existed, his wife encouraged him to start one, and he did. Their efforts were so successful that since 1948, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve has sponsored the now nation-wide toy drive. The mission of the program is "to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted". The stated goal is to "deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens." In 2009, the Toys for Tots non-profit organization collected and distributed close to 5.2 million toys for underprivileged children who would otherwise not get to experience the simple joy of opening a new toy on Christmas.
Another popular Christmas charity program is the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program. In 1979, Salvation Army members Charles and Shirley White created the Angel Tree program when they began working with a shopping mall in Lynchburg, Virginia to provide less fortunate children with new clothing and toys at Christmas time. The program was so named because the Whites identified the wishes of the children by writing their gift needs on greeting cards with angels on them. The cards were then placed on a Christmas tree featured at the Lynchburg, Virginia shopping mall where shoppers could "adopt an angel" and provide the children in need with gifts. The result of which was more then 700 children were provided with gifts and a much brighter Christmas. As the Whites were transferred to different Salvation Army locations they brought the Angel Tree program with them, spreading the joy of Christmas to thousands of disadvantaged children across the country. Now, Angel Trees can be found at various businesses who chose to sponsor a tree and at Salvation Army thrift stores across the nation.
While it is so very important for many of us to ensure that children are provided a happy Christmas, there are also charity programs to help many adults in need. Around Christmas time many community shelters receive an influx of volunteers who wish to assist the less fortunate in any way they can. This can include things like making and serving food, canned food or clothing drives, and free community meal programs.
The brave men and women who sacrifice spending the holidays with their families in order to serve their country in our military services are not forgotten during the Christmas season. There are many programs across the nation that put together care packages that are sent to various military stations around the world so each of our troops can have a little bit of home with them on Christmas Day. The care packages often include necessities like phone cards, clothing, food and drink items like coffee and cocoa, as well as fun items like games, movies and music, batteries, magazines, etc.
Many people around the world delight in taking part in the Christmas celebration each year with their families and friends. The inherent love and generosity that is borne with the sprit of Christmas allows many of us to help others who may not be so fortunate to spend the holiday with their loved ones.
Please note: Although we believe the information on this page to be accurate, its purpose is intended for the entertainment and enjoyment of our readers. It should not be taken as literal truth or used for research. We are human and make mistakes (rarely, but it does happen), so if you find a discrepancy, please email us and let us know. We will gladly update our information.
Click here to read some great quotes such as:
"Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas."
What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.
~Agnes M. Pahro
May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.
~Ada V. Hendricks