Multicultural Christmas Celebration and Decorations
What child would not like to celebrate Christmas twice in one year? Growing up in a multicultural home and environment was often very rewarding. Such was the case during every major holiday. I grew up in a home that had their roots in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The traditions and customs of my forefathers were ingrained in me at a very early age. Once I got to be older, and started school, I discovered another world outside. This was the Scandinavian culture and traditions. To make things even more interesting for myself, I married a farm boy from the United States. Since my early childhood until now, I have come to appreciate the diversity of different cultures, religions and traditions.
Christmas in the East
Yes, my siblings and I grew up celebrating Christmas twice. In the Eastern churches, there still remains countries who celebrate Christmas by the traditional Julian Calendar, which falls on January 7. Some nations have chosen to change and follow the Gregorian calendar, which is December 25. Then you have the Armenian Christmas which falls on January 6. Up until the fourth century Armenians like all the Christians celebrated Christmas on January 6. The Roman church changed the date from January 6 to December 25, to show their disprove of the pagan holiday “Yule”. But since Yule was observed by the Germanic people, their traditions did not effect the Armenians. As of this day Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6. Basically depending on which calendar you follow, the traditional Julian, the 1923 revised Julian or the Gregorian Calendar, you will end up with slight differences on the date.
Growing up Christmas lasted a long time in our home. In the old Eastern or the Orthodox tradition, Christmas decorations start appearing as early as 40 days before Christmas, which is on January 7. This means, those who still follow the traditional Julian Calendar start decorating as early as November 15. As a child my grandma would keep the decorations up until at least January 8. Christmas decorations may have come down on January 8, but Christmas was not over officially until 40 days after, February 2. In some countries the Christmas tree does not come down until the end of January. Since Christmas in the Eastern Churches are pure religious observation, you will find two decorations which represents their faith. A decorated Christmas tree and a Nativity scene with the baby Jesus in the center.
Fasting 40 days prior to Christmas is a tradition that many people in the Orthodox churches still do. They abstain from all meat, and the closer they get to Christmas, they even cut out fish. I remember eating a lot of fish while staying at my grandma’s for the holidays.Then during those final few days her and aunt would only eat vegetarian. This observance is to prepare themselves spiritually for the coming of the Lord. Another tradition that is still observed is the St Nicholas day which is held on December 6th or 19th depending what country you live in. This is a day when people give small gifts to their children and neighbors. These gifts can consist of mandarin oranges, nuts or other simple tokens in remembrance of the saint who helped the poor and the needy selflessly.
Some of the more traditional foods for Christmas is lamb and pork. My grandma would stand in the kitchen for days making foods that we only ate for Christmas (at times Easter too). These specialties consisted of phyllo dough filled with spinach and cheese or meat with pine nuts in it. The pastries were not as sweet as the western cakes and cookies, but we loved them. The Christmas table was not complete without variety of dried and fresh fruits and nuts.
Christmas in Scandinavia
Celebrating Christmas with Swedish or Scandinavian way has always been fun and exciting for me. Some of their traditions link back to the pagan holiday of Yule. In fact, Christmas is called Jul in Swedish. While some parts of the world receive gifts from Santa on December 25, Santa (Tomten) actually shows up while the kids are awake on the eve of December 24th.
The Christmas (Jul gran) tree, is an old pagan tradition which represented the Tree of Life among the Germanic people early on. Today like many other cultures, the Christmas tree has become the symbol of the holidays. Almost every home is decorated with Advent candles and other candles. Part of the Scandinavian Christmas decoration consist of Tomtar and Nissar. These are sometimes refereed as gnomes or elves, but I like to call them Santa’s helpers. You will see these little creatures decorated everywhere including along with the live Advent Candle on the tables. Decorating with lights in every room is the highlight, and another decoration which is common is the straw goat (Jul-bock). This too is a tradition that dates back to the pagan gods.
Burning the first candles of Advent (four Sundays prior to Christmas) starts off with a celebration. On this first Sunday family and friends gather for a special drink called Glogg. This is a warm mulled drink with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Traditionally it is an alcoholic drink made out of wine, but it is just as easy to find a non-alcoholic version in the stores. This often times is served with a pastry called Lussebullar. This bread like cake has saffron in it which gives its yellow color. December 13th is another big day in the Nordic countries. It is the day they celebrate St. Lucia’s day. It is very common that you get served with lussebullar and Jul porridge for that day.
No Christmas without rice porridge, or as it may be called rice pudding. Scandinavians are very adamant about their choice of food during the Christmas holidays. During the month of December it is real common for different companies to invite their employees to Smorgasbord. This is referred to the famous Swedish Christmas table of variety of dishes. Some of the most notable dishes are the pickled herring, the smoked Salmon, cheese platter, liver pate and much, much more. And do not forget the gingerbread cookies!!!
Christmas in America
Christmas in US is celebrated on December 25. While all the children are asleep, Santa comes down thru the chimney and drops off all the presents under the tree and fills the stockings. I think most of us have seen the movie “The miracle on 34th Street”. The music and all the beautiful parades. Yes, Christmas is for sure what dreams are all made of.
I love looking at all the decorations in the windows and above all, the street and house lights. There is something magical about the colored lights all around us, especially if it has snowed (my personal opinion). Santa decorations everywhere. The wreath that hangs on every door symbolizes eternal life. The tradition of hanging a wreath dates back to the Germanic people as well as the ancient Rome. Another common symbol of Christmas is the mistletoe and the garlands. You will also find the Nativity Scene in many homes as well.
One of my favorite thing that I love here in the US is the caroling. Since I love Christmas music, being able to go around the neighbor is the best way for me to get in the mood for the holidays. When our children were young, we would pile them all up and drive around the neighborhoods singing. We would drop off some cookies and fruits to some families and just have a blast. Now that I have grand kids, one of our traditions is to decorate a gingerbread house. The kids love that. Crafts and decorations hanging in every window that is displayed with the Season.
Turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy is served very commonly in lot of homes in the America as Christmas dinner. Candy canes and fruit cake. Variety of pies on the table throughout the season is a staple in many homes.
As you may have realized by now, our home is kind of unique during the holidays. To top things off, our son-in-law has some Hispanic roots and a daughter-in- law with some roots in Asia. When we party, boy oh boy do we party!! We make sure variety of food is served, from all over the world. I decorate with Santa, Tomtar, Nissar, Advent Candles, wreath, the Christmas tree and the gingerbread house and above all multiple Nativity Scenes. In all this diversity, we also have some things in common, such as the Star of Bethlehem and the Poinsettia.
Embrace Mix Cultures
I feel very blessed to have grown up and experienced different cultures and traditions. Our family has come to gain greater tolerance and understanding towards all people with diverse backgrounds and religions. Together we can continue embracing the rich traditions that are all over the world. When all is said and done, we each may decorate slightly different and eat different (eating different in our home is not slightly according to my son-in-law;-)). We may celebrate on different days for different reasons, but so what?! We are all God’s children and this is the Season to remember that.