December 2012

Christmas - the world’s most important holiday

Christmas today is far from being only a religious feast. People all over the globe with different beliefs celebrate the world’s biggest event. Oddly, it looks quite alike in different countries.

By: Joanna Filejski
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Schleswig-Holstein - Germany

December; the warmest month but still the decorations are winter-themed
Photo: Joanna Filejski

There are certain elements of Christmas that can be found in all the countries researched for this article. The people asked came from Bolivia, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and the USA. Why people celebrate Christmas?

If you take a look around Cochabamba, you will notice that the Christmas decoration is winterthemed, but December is one of the warmest months of the year. The adolescents I talked to all had the same explanation for it: globalization!

Christmas originally is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Christ. However, out of the 9 people I spoke to, only 2 said they are Christians, but all confirmed that they commemorate Christmas. When asked the “Why?” the answer was mostly the same: family. During Christmas season families have the chance to get together, the whole atmosphere is calmer; you enjoy just being around others and do not worry as much as during the rest of the year. The interviewed non-Christians said that they celebrated because of tradition and because they have always done it. In Japan, however, this differs: After reaching a certain age, people rather celebrate Christmas with their friends and especially boy- or girlfriend instead of family, as New Years Eve is a family event.

Next to the loved ones the priory mentioned general atmosphere is what makes Christmas special to so many people, believing or not. Many countries have Christmas markets which attract people with their Christmas-typical smells and flavors such as hot spiced wine or gingerbread. People get together just to hang out and the lights illuminating most bigger cities during the holiday season, give warmth even to the coldest temperatures that dominate in the northern hemisphere, where most traditions have their origin. People calm down and are generally nicer than they are during the rest of the year, which is linked to the fact that there is a general state of relaxation.

Christmas cookies that can only be found during this season
Photo: Cochabanner

Origins of traditions

Although living thousands of kilometers away on four different continents, all interviewees confirmed the existence of a Christmas tree. Plants that stayed green all over the year always had a special meaning to people. Even before Christianity everlasting greens symbolized everlasting life. During the 16th century Germans were the first to put up a tree in their house and it was Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, who first added lights to his Christmas tree as he thought the stars shining between everlasting greens looked pretty. More decoration followed and nowadays most Christmas trees are richly decorated with all kinds of ornaments, garlands and lights. Today Christmas trees (real and fake) can be found all over the globe during the month of December.

Religion becomes less important in developed and developing nations and people just enjoy spending time with the persons closest to them and calming down in today’s fast-paced world.

Another element found in one form or another is the man who brings presents to well-behaved children. His origins lie in Lycia, today’s Turkey, where a monk with the name Nicholas lived around 300 AD. He became a Saint and was popular especially in the Netherlands for his generosity and modesty. The Dutch called him Sinter Klaas (a short form of his Dutch name Sint Nikolaas) which then was turned into Santa Claus by the United States. Sinter Klaas, however, is a lot different from Santa Claus. He arrives on a steamboat from Spain in mid-November with his helpers, the “Black Petes”, to celebrate his birthday on December 5th which therefore is the gift-giving day in the Netherlands. Santa Claus was invented by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822 when he wrote a poem for his children describing Santa Claus as most know him (living at the North Pole with helping elves). Fifty-nine years later Thomas Nast drew a cartoon based on the poem, giving Santa Claus the look of a big, old man with a white beard. Coca-Cola popularized this image when using Santa Claus for its Christmas campaign in the 1920’s. Some countries have both, Saint Nicholas and a Santa Claus as they are treated as two different persons. Santa Claus brings presents in the evening of the 24th of December in most European countries and in the morning of the 25th in Bolivia, Japan and the USA.

It´s Christmas and the lights are being turned on
Photo: Taisuke Azuma

The last thing described here that exists in all the analyzed countries is the Christmas carol “Noche de paz”. It has even been announced UNESCO heritage in March 2011. It was first performed in 1818 on Christmas Eve in Salzburg, Austria and quickly spread around the world being translated into 140 languages. In Germany this song is popular during the Christmas mass and in Denmark it is often sung by families while dancing around the Christmas tree.

Traditions are constantly changing

If you take a look around Cochabamba, you will notice that the Christmas decoration is winter-themed, but December is one of the warmest months of the year. The adolescents I talked to all had the same explanation for it: globalization! Globalization signifies the worldwide movement toward economic, financial, trade and communications integration.

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