Back and Forth: Christmas in other lands is still Christmas
"Breath-taking days" — today and tomorrow. Many have been rushing to get ready for Christmas, they may have overlooked the "Reason for the Season."
Christmas is the day when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. No one knows exactly when he was born, but most of us observe Dec. 25. Lots of religious ceremonies will take place, with "peace on Earth, good will toward men" and "Joy to the world, the Lord has come." Mistletoe, wreaths, holly, and tinsel. And likely overdoing in both food and drink.
Most of the Christmas story comes from Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2 in the Bible. Luke tells of shepherds in the field tending their flocks by night when an angel leads them to Bethlehem to see him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. Matthew's story has three wise men (the Magi) riding camels from the east, likely riding for several weeks but bringing the Christ child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word "Christmas" comes from Christes masse, which means "Christ's mass."
Gift exchanging comes from the wise men's gifts. In some countries, Saint Nicholas gave gifts to the children, which gave a level of happiness separate from the Baby Jesus. Parents still need to share both stories to little folks because it can be confusing to 3- to 6-year olds.
In the U.S. and Canada, we see lots of lights and decorations, surrounded by churches with creches nearby. That's the scene where Jesus lay in the crib in the manger. Standing by are shepherds, Mary, Joseph and farm animals. You can see a creche in front of Saint Marys Hospital on 2nd Street Southwest. In our country school and church programs we always had the Christmas story and manger scene in closing.
In Great Britain, children hang their stockings on the fireplace mantle hoping Father Christmas will fill them with gifts while they sleep.
"Father Christmas" is the English version of Santa Claus. Lots of plum pudding and drinking from "The Wassail Bowl" an old English custom from the Saxon word – a drinker's greeting which means "your health."
In France, children put their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve so Le Petit Noel (the Christ Child) can fill them with gifts. Adults exchange gifts on New Year's Day. In Germany, people decorate trees with cookies made in the shapes of people, animals, hearts and stars. Many Christmas ornaments are on the tree. German children believe their gifts are brought by the Christ child.
In Switzerland, young people visit nine fountains on their way to Midnight church services, taking three sips from each fountain. Legend says if they do this they will find their future husband or wife at the church door. There seems that no record is available if this old plan actually worked.
In Italy, people fast the day before Christmas. In the evening, the family holds a ceremony around the Presepio. This is a miniature scene of Bethlehem with tiny figures of the Holy Family, shepherds, and wise men. Italians reserve Christmas Day for religious services. Most gifts are given Jan. 6, Epiphany, also called "The 12th Day of Christmas."
In the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, white-bearded Saint Nicholas often leaves gifts during the early hours of Feast Day, Dec. 6. Children leave a wooden shoe filled with straw near the fireplace. Straw is for his donkey. The saint takes the straw and leaves gifts in return. Dec. 25th is purely a religious day.
There are many other legends, but space is ending. One of my Christmas nights was Dec. 25, 1958, when this "apparently lonely" radio announcer was invited to a Christmas party at the home of three English nurses. Several others were there, but when I saw this beautiful young lady in the bright red dress at the top of the stairs, I uttered "My God, what a gift." That lady would become my bride over 56 years ago. That was June from another land, England. Even though health problems are with us, I still tell her at least six times each day, "Honey, I still love you." And she responds the same way.
Next week:Jimmy Blum designs hospitals in China