Holiday customs

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Holiday customs

Postby svenman » Tue Dec 25, 2012 4:10 pm

Seeing how we like to celebrate diversity here, I thought it might be nice to have a thread to talk about the different holiday customs that we are familiar with. While inspired by the current Christmas season, my idea is for this thread to be open to the discussion of customs associated with any kind of holiday or festival, religious (Christian or other) and secular.

So I'll start telling you about how we celebrate Christmas in Germany, especially comparing and contrasting with Christmas in America. Of course, there is quite a bit of variation among Christmas traditions in Germany, be it from region to region, between areas or families that are traditionally Protestant or Roman Catholic or just traditions that vary individually from family to family.

The basics, of course, are the same as in the English-speaking world: Christmas is originally a Christian religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (although the Bible doesn't state at which time of the year it actually was). While there long has been a tradition of giving presents to children at Christmas, this has expanded into a tradition of exchanging presents even among adults during the last century and consequently Christmas has become a huge frenzy of consumerism, like all over the western world. But even for those who have lost touch with or for other reasons do not celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas, it is generally regarded as a very family-oriented holiday which should preferably be celebrated in large family units, bringing together even family members who live apart the rest of the year.

Here in Germany, the presents are traditionally exchanged on Christmas Eve, and that marks the high point of Christmas. Ask any German for the date of Christmas, and (with the possible exception of a few pedants) they will without fail answer "December 24th". The Christmas tree is probably the one part of German Christmas tradition that has made its way most successfully into Christmas customs all over the world. In a traditional setting, the Christmas tree would be put up in the living room and decorated on the 24th by the adults in the family, with the children being forbidden to enter the room (or locked out), but this is not strictly adhered to in most families anymore. According to a widespread tradition, the Christmas tree is maintained in the living room until Epiphany (January 6th), at which date it is taken down and discarded.

The Christmas presents, wrapped in gift paper, are placed under the Christmas tree. The handing out of the presents, die Bescherung, is on the evening of the 24th. The traditionally supposed bringer of the presents varies between different traditions, in Southern Germany it tends to be das Christkind (literally the Christ Child - but strangely, more of an angel-like character separate from the actual Baby Jesus), known in America also as Kriss Kringle. In other parts of Germany the presents are generally brought by der Weihnachtsmann, the German equivalent of Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Of course, nowadays it usually is openly stated that the presents really come from other family members - except maybe if small children are present.

But before that, it is an absolute must that everybody join in singing a couple of Christmas carols together! Among the perennial favourites are Stille Nacht (Silent Night in the original Klin-, uh, German), O Tannenbaum, O du fröhliche, Alle Jahre wieder, Ihr Kinderlein kommet and Kling, Glöckchen, Kling.

Food, of course, is a big issue. Most deeply rooted in tradition, to the point of having become proverbial, is die Weihnachtsgans, the Christmas goose served on Christmas eve. In practice, this is often replaced by a duck or a turkey, or by a roast. However, some families go a different way and make a point of having a Christmas dinner that doesn't mean a lot of work for the family member in charge of food (i. e. traditionally the housewife), at least not on the actual holiday, like Wiener sausages and potato salad.

Baking is also widely done in preparation for Christmas. Small Christmas cookies of several types are an absolute must for every household, with the actual types varying widely from family to family. Larger cakes that are also popular for the Christmas season (and in many families only made at this time of the year) include Christstollen and Linzer Torte.

Christmas is one of the two occasions in the year (the other being Easter) when many only casually religious people go to church who aren't in the habit of doing so regularly otherwise. Some churchgoers choose services on the afternoon or evening of Christmas Eve, some attend midnight mass and others again go to church on Christmas Day, of course also depending on the services held by the local church of the appropriate denomination.

Except for mountain regions, "white Christmas" more often than not remains elusive in Germany, as climate patterns in central Europe often provide for a warm spell in the second half of December. This year it is especially pronounced, with temperatures in the high Celsius teens (that would be the sixties for you Fahrenheit believers out there). But then again, two years ago we had snow for Christmas in huge amounts, and frankly, I prefer spending my holidays not shoveling snow. :)

To conclude, here are a few things which many readers from the English-speaking world may consider familiar parts of their Christmas traditions but which aren't in Germany: Presents in stockings, on the fireplace or otherwise; Santa Claus (or whoever the mythical bringer of presents is) coming through the chimney; holly; mistletoe; kisses under the mistletoe; caroling in the English tradition (i. e. carols sung by groups of children going from house to house - although there is a similar tradition on Epiphany - January 6th - in Catholic regions in Germany); getting drunk on eggnog; and, most definitely, red-nosed reindeer.

If you celebrate Christmas, or happen to celebrate another holiday at this time of the year, I wish you've been and still are having a happy one!

[Edit: video links to further German Christmas carols and paragraph on church attendance added]
Last edited by svenman on Wed Dec 26, 2012 7:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Holiday customs

Postby Trefle » Tue Dec 25, 2012 11:34 pm

Thank you for telling :D that's exciting~~

Let's see.. Indonesia is an Islamic country, so Christmas aren't exactly celebrated much over here. Or far less compared to, say, Ied; which is the end of the holy Ramadan month and one of the few times when the capital can be COMPLETELY EMPTY. Here, the obvious signs of Christmas tend to be the Santa, year end sales and the decorations spread around shopping malls. In a way the consumerist side gets much farther than the religious side of Christmas...

But since there are Christians in Indonesia as well, there are still some sort of tradition. There doesn't seem to be any special rituals or elements that are restricted for Christmas; some people chose to have a huge family gathering, while I also know several others who doesn't. And instead of having a feast, people often chose eating out at restaurants, as two small examples. Again, those special dishes / traditions typically exists during Ied (or in a lesser way, Chinese New Year).

A lot of people usually go to church to have a Christmas mass (within different times; sometimes during the Christmas Eve, other times during the Christmas morning, or night). A specific happening is usually local Muslim communities, typically surrounding the church as a form of solidarity and a form of protection. It has been happening since several years ago, after IIRC several bombs exploded at numerous church during Christmas.

Our consumerist Christmas usually fits the American mold more; we have Santas with presents with Rudolph with mistletoe (but sans the kisses). From observation, the difference would be that we don't have eggnogs. And wandering carols. The caroling usually happens in malls.

But I can only speak of my own town; Indonesia is a bit more culturally diverse within each provinces and regions, so others may have a different tradition.
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Re: Holiday customs

Postby svenman » Wed Dec 26, 2012 8:54 pm

Trefle, thanks for sharing your country's perspective on Christmas with us. Good to hear also about local Muslims protecting a Christian church in their community (reminds me of a similar story from Egypt I heard during some of the unrest there this year) - goes to show how many Muslims there are who are against terror!
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Re: Holiday customs

Postby FlyingFish » Mon Dec 31, 2012 9:51 am

Trefle wrote:Here, the obvious signs of Christmas tend to be the Santa, year end sales and the decorations spread around shopping malls. In a way the consumerist side gets much farther than the religious side of Christmas...

I've heard the Japanese perspective on Christmas described similarly: "Santa, presents, Christmas trees. *a beat* No Jesus."

Seconding Sven's comments: it's always heartwarming to hear about interfaith cooperation, and I can only hope that Christians here would respond the same were an American mosque threatened.
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Re: Holiday customs

Postby thebitterfig » Mon Dec 31, 2012 9:57 am

FlyingFish wrote:I've heard the Japanese perspective on Christmas described similarly: "Santa, presents, Christmas trees. *a beat* No Jesus."

Don't forget the Colonel. ... G1e7FE1G4Y ... christmas/


It's also the case, minus KFC, that FlyingFish describes Christmas for a fairly decent number of Americans, too.
The notes of this paradoxalist do not end here, however. He could not refrain from going on with them, but it seems to us that we may stop here. - Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground (trans. C. Garnett)
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