By Hailey Milsap.
Christmas is a holiday celebrated worldwide, in more than 160 countries. In each one of these countries it is celebrated differently. Some celebrate it for almost 12 days. It is a festival commemorating the birth of Jesus, and it is traditionally celebrated on December 25 by most Western Christian churches. Today, Christmas is celebrated by giving and receiving gifts, decorating trees, and waiting for Santa.
Yet Iceland traditions are different from the typical American Christmas. In Iceland Christmas starts at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, December 24, and the festivities last until the Thirteenth Day (Twelfth Night), which falls on January 6. On December 24, and often on New Year’s Eve day as well, many families will come together at the graves of their loved ones, and place on them a candle or some sort of light to show that they are remembered and missed. The tradition in Iceland is that everyone must receive at least one book for Christmas to take to bed on Christmas Eve along with some chocolates. So, beginning in November, hundreds of books are published and the talk is all about books – in the media, in the workplace, among family and friends, and at Christmas parties. Once Christmas is over and the books have been read, everyone’s a critic, giving their views and opinions of that latest tome and whether it is as good, or better, as the author’s last one. Another tradition would be children putting their very best shoes on their porches and the next day they expect that the shoe will contain a small gift from the Yule Lad. However, this only works if the child has been good, but if he or she has been bad, the shoe will just contain a lonely potato.
In France, French families used to have a Three Kings Cake with a bean hidden in it and whoever found the bean in their slice was made King, or Queen, for the day. Children go out to look for the Kings, taking gifts of hay for the camels. Children are given gifts on December 6, which is St. Nicholas’ Day, instead of Christmas Day, and the adults give each other presents on New Year’s Day. In Southern France, a log is burned in people’s homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day.
In Spain, Christmas has an unofficial start on Dec. 22. Children can be heard calling out the numbers and prizes of the Lotería de Navidad, which is likely the most followed Spanish lottery during the entire year. After the celebration of economic good fortune, Dec. 24 is Christmas Eve (Nochebuena in Spanish), which is a family celebration in which Spaniards often gather around a table loaded with exquisite delicacies to have dinner together. Christmas in Spain is a time of Christmas carols, decorations, festive street lighting, joy, and a festive atmosphere made evident by the smiles on the faces of people as they look around town for gifts for their loved ones.
From one day to twelve days, from book day to bean searching, everyone has a way to make their version of Christmas, Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is particular to each person. Every country and every culture has their own beautiful way to celebrate the holiday.