Expatriates hold Eid, Christmas celebrations

A ceremony was held as part of the New Year, Eid al-Adha and Christmas celebrations at the Indian Cultural Centre on Friday. The ceremony was organised by Friends of Thrissur, a body of expatriates hailing from Indian state of Kerala.

Indian Ambassador Dr George Joseph inaugurated the ceremony by lighting a traditional lamp and cutting a cake. The inaugural ceremony was followed by a host of cultural activities. Salim Pavaratty and Aiswarya Murali entertained the audience with an array of popular Hindi and Malayalam songs.

Munner and Rasheed Kettungal followed it up with some Mappila songs. T M Nandakumar and Gini Francis rendered some old Malayalam songs. “Ranga Pooja” was the first of the series of dances performed on the occasion. Nina Chandran, Chandhini Krishna, Kinda, Sara Kuruvilla and Rajesh were the members of the team that staged “Ranga Pooja”. Akshai Bhasi, Aswin Suresh, Alfred Joseph and Sreethi Pushpan performed a cinematic dance. A team of Jasika, Joyal, Jereeka, Jacquiline and Jovanna presented a semi-classical dance.

At the meeting that held before the cultural show, the forum patron David Edakalathur issued its identity cards to members. Friends of Thrissur chief T V Brahmaduttan Thalikullam chaired the meeting. Shahul Panickaveettil welcomed the gathering and Johnson C Ukken proposed a vote of thanks.

Colorful seasoning > Greece vs Brazil

Each culture celebrates the holidays differently. But you don’t have to go to another country to find a family welcoming the New Year with their own tradition.

For some it begins on Christmas Eve. For others the party lasts 10 days, and doesn’t start until February. But the feeling of excitement that comes with the holidays transcends all cultures.

“If there’s Latin in your blood, there’s going to be a lot of family and a lot of food,” said Albert DePaoli, an Italian Woburn resident. DePaoli said Italians and other Latin cultures get the whole family together and eat for Christmas.

“It really starts on Christmas Eve,” DePaoli said. “Usually, there’s a meal based with fish. Fish is the center of attention, or it has been, traditionally. Then on Christmas there’s anything and everything.”

A church service is carefully fit into Christmas Eve, either at 4:30, 7:30 or midnight, DePaoli said. Church on Christmas Eve is a common tradition. Hugo Moraes, owner of the downtown restaurant A Taste of Brazil, said because Catholicism is important in Brazil, there are church services throughout the day on Christmas Eve.

“In Brazil, [Christmas] is very big,” Moraes said. Moraes said Christmas is similar to the way it is celebrated in the United States. Brazilians have a Santa Claus tradition, and children go to bed early and discover the next morning that he has brought them gifts in the night. “Our Christmas is like here,” Moraes said. “Santa in the mall and the same food.”

Moraes said Brazilians will traditionally eat similar foods as Americans. Turkey, stuffing, rice, pork loin and fruitcake are all offered in a Brazilian Christmas celebration.

The Greek Orthodox Church focuses on the holy aspect of Christmas. The Rev. Dr. Peter G. Rizos, pastor of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on Montvale Avenue, noted that Christmas is a high holy day.

“It is a festive occasion, preceded traditionally by a 40-day period of fasting,” Rizos said. “Christmas is a very special family occasion, when people get together with their loved ones to exchange gifts, and also to make donations to various charities as an expression of the Lord’s love for the world.”

DePaoli agreed that Christmas is a time for family. Everyone in the family meets at the same place every year, and everyone brings something different, which is part of why there is always so much food.

“Everybody’s usually at the same house, one traditional place everybody meets,” DePaoli said. “For 10 to 20 years, that will be the meeting place. Then people get older and a new place [is established] for the next generation.”

For Brazilians living in America, however, it’s a little different. Moraes said there are many who have family still living in Brazil, and whom they may not see for the holidays. But that doesn’t stop them from celebrating. Groups of friends will gather at one house, Moraes said, each of them bringing something different to eat.

DePaoli’s family is the same. There is always something different because everyone in the family wants to be unique.

“Usually, certain people get earmarked for certain things,” he said. “Someone will make the absolute best stuffed mushrooms, so you want them to bring those. “Someone else makes a killer cookie, so they’re the ones that are gong to bring the Christmas cookies.”

For the Greek Orthodox Church, the celebration doesn’t end with Christmas, however.

“In the Orthodox church, the celebration of Christmas is in conjunction with the feast day of Epiphany,” Rizos said. “[Epiphany] commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river by St. John the Baptist.”

Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6, is a fast-free, celebratory time, Rizos explained.

Traditions are significant to people, and carrying them on from generation to generation is the most important.

“At one time being proud of your heritage wasn’t a good thing,” DePaoli said. “There are some benefits in the traditions of old. The more pride you take in them the longer they’ll last.”

New Year’s > Just a week after Christmas comes New Year’s. Though it’s another momentous holiday, for the people just finishing Christmas celebrations, New Year’s is not as big. DePaoli said he and his family will order Chinese food, and sometimes go to a movie. At midnight, he will watch the ball drop in New York, and go to bed. But in Brazil, the New Year is celebrated with a little more gusto.

“For New Year’s, we have a big meal early,” Moraes said. “Then you go to restaurants and clubs. After midnight, we have champagne.”

Some people, Moraes said, are very superstitious on New Year’s Eve. Some will dress in all white, with the hopes of having a peaceful new year. Others will wear red for luck in love, or yellow for money. Some people take it very seriously, he said, dressing right down to their underwear in one color.

For the Chinese culture, the holiday season doesn’t start until late January or February. The Chinese New Year is what they celebrate; Christmas and New Year’s are just another day. Howard Wong, an employee of Oriental Chinese Restaurant downtown, said the Chinese New Year celebration lasts 10 days, with a party every night.

“We pray to gods and ancestors,” Wong said. “And people wear a new coat, or get a new haircut.”

Each night there is an envelope with money inside for single, unmarried family members. The Chinese New Year is their culture’s biggest holiday, and family members from all over come back to their parent’s house to celebrate.

Christmas celebrations around the world

“He had a broad face and a round little belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly, He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself”

Clement Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.

On the sixth of December Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicholas is celebrated, which is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. Santa Claus in Belgium is called de Kerstman or le Père Noël and he does come around on Christmas Day to bring children presents. There are different cultures in Belgium, the Northern part being Vlaanderen (speaking a Dutch dialect), the Southern part being Wallonie (speaking a French dialect) and the Eastern part speaking German.

Small family presents are given at Christmas too, under the tree, or in stockings near the fire-place, to be found in the morning. Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread called “cougnou” or “cougnolle” – the shape is supposed to be like baby Jesus. Some families will have another big meal on Christmas Day.

Father Christmas is called Papai Noel. Many Christmas customs are similar to USA or UK. For those who have enough money, a special Christmas meal will be chicken, turkey, ham, rice, salad, pork, fresh and dried fruits, often with beer. Poorer people will just have chicken and rice.

Finnish people believe that Father Christmas (Santa Claus) lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. (It is only fair to say that the people of Greenland say that really, Father Christmas lives in Greenland!). There is a even big tourist theme park called “Christmas Land” in the north of Finland, near to where they say that Father Christmas lives.

Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is very special, when people eat rice porridge and plum fruit juice in the morning. They will then decorate a spruce tree in the home. At mid-day, the “peace of Christmas” is broadcast on radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku by its Mayor. In the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner is eaten. The meal will include casseroles containg macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey. Many families will visit cemeteries and grave-yards to place a candle onto the burial graves of family members. Cemeteries are very beautiful at Christmas-time.

Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve, usually with a family member dressing as Father Christmas. As children grow older, they come to realise that Father Christmas is really a bigger brother, sister or family member.

In France, Christmas is called Noël. Everyone has a Christmas tree, sometimes decorated in the old way with red ribbons and real white wax candles. Fir trees in the garden are often decorated too, with lights on all night. The Christmas meal is an important family gathering with good meat and the best wine. Not everyone sends Christmas cards.

Germans love to decorate their houses at Christmas. Many houses will have little wooden frames holding electric candles in their windows, and coloured pictures of paper or plastic which look beautiful from the outside at night. Often too, they will have an “Adventskranz” – a wreath of leaves with four candles. (Advent – meaning “coming”, is the 4 week period before Christmas). On each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit. Most homes will also have little wooden “cribs” – a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals.

Father Christmas brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th), after people have been to a church gathering. The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas Day, fish (carp) or goose will be cooked.

Santa Claus (Winter-grandfather)
comes on the 6th of December. Children should clean and put their shoes outside next to the door or window before they go to sleep. Next day candies and/or small toys appear in them in red bags. For children, who don’t behave well, a golden birch is placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking… (but don’t worry, it is just for fun, and not for actual punishment.)

On 24th of December, children go to their relatives or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles (real or electrical), and sparklers.

Families usually cook festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time. It is very exciting. Christmas songs are sung and then the gifts under the tree are shared.

Older children attend the midnight mass with their parents. During communism, children had to hide at the back of the church. Teachers could have lost their jobs for attending the mass. Later (in mid 1970s) most of the Communist Party leaders of the town attended it too. Next day the children attack the edible part of the tree. Festive food is enjoyed on the second and third day too.

People from Transylvania serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve, and next day for lunch. Most likely the reason for that custom is that stuffed cabbage is the best on the second and third day after it was cooked. Moms can prepare the food a day earlier, leaving more time for decorating and organizing. Very practical. On the 25th of December, the whole family attended church and ate stuffed cabbage for lunch.

Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. Usually the presents are put under the family Christmas tree. What a good idea to spread Christmas out longer! It was in Latvia that the first Christmas tree was decorated. The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.

New Zealand
Christmas starts with gifts under the tree, to be opened Christmas morning. Then its onto a Christmas lunch either at home or at one’s parents place. Turkey or chicken with all the trimmings is eaten, then comes tea time, it is a Bar-B-Q for friends and family to get together,and have a few beers or wines with the meal!

People pretend that Father Christmas brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes by the fireplace. A special Christmas meal of salted dry cod-fish with boiled potatoes is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve.

In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time – when “Father Frost” brought presents to children. With the fall of Communism, Christmas can be openly celebrated – either on December 25th, or more often on January 7th. This unusual date is because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old Julian calendar for religious celebration days. Special Christmas food includes cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

The most important day is Christmas Eve. A special Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve – ham (pork), herring fish, and brown beans – and this is the time when families give presents to each other. Many people attend a church meeting early on Christmas Day.

United States
The USA is so multi-cultural that there are many different ways of celebrating Christmas. Some families (mostly of Eastern European origin) favor turkey with trimmings. Some preferred keilbasi (Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups. Italian families insist on lasagna!

All year long children are told to behave, or they will get coal in their stocking. On Christmas Eve, they hang highly stylized stockings on the mantle of the fireplace, then go to bed early so that they will find presents in the morning. They are told that at midnight Santa Claus will come, bringing a huge bag of toys. He will come down through the chimney, leave candy in the stockings and presents under the Christmas tree (anything from a Pine or Fir to a Spruce), then plug one nostril and shoot up through the chimney. Cookies are traditionally left for him, and a carrot is commonly left for Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, very much a part of Christmas tradition (Santa will land on the roof with his sleigh and nine reindeer).

On Christmas morning, things such as cinnamon rolls or coffee cake are served for breakfast, and for dinner there is typically ham (and occasionally regal plum pudding). That is it for celebration, Boxing Day is never celebrated, Epiphany is only celebrated by Catholics, and Advent not commonly celebrated.

Three Kings Day > Customs

You all know that not everybody in the world eats black-eyed peas to ensure luck and prosperity on New Year’s Day, don’t cha?

If you want to be absolutely sure of your luck in 2007, you might want to assemble a meal of global New Year’s foods, as listed by Hallmark Magazine.

Begin at midnight, in fact, with the Spanish custom of eating one grape on each stroke of midnight.

Then, the next morning, start your day with doughnuts (Holland).

At dinner, begin the meal with soba noodles from Japan, moving on to lasagna (Sicily) made with sausage (Italy), with your black-eyes on the side.

Finish off with rice pudding with a lucky almond baked into it (Norway) and Saint Basil’s cake [Vasilopitta] from Greece, a sweet cake with a coin baked inside.

Before bed, snack on some marzipan pigs (Germany).

Iowa’s melting pot of traditions

Residents tell of heritages from many cultures that create a holiday season rich in memories.

The holidays are a time of holding tight to tradition, whether it’s lovingly displaying a faded ornament made by a kindergartner now grown to manhood or crowding in front of the television to watch “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Many of the rituals that guide this season began with our families. Others entered our lives through marriage, through the pleading of our children, sometimes through a loss that made the old ways of doing things a source of pain rather than joy.

No two Iowa families celebrate the holidays exactly the same way. For local residents from other countries and other cultures, those differences are even more pronounced. Even if their traditions are unknown to us, though, the reverence with which they uphold them is very familiar. There are many ways of celebrating this time of year. Here are just a few of them.

Christy Karthan > Karthan grew up in Greece, emigrating right after high school. She and her husband, James, who is also of Greek descent, have three adult children and four grandchildren. Childhood holiday memories: I grew up right after the war. The night before Christmas as children, we’d get together and go door to door and sing Christmas songs. Invariably the people in the home would give us money. On Christmas Day, we went to church, then we’d come home, have a meal and sing songs. My mom baked baklava and a lot of special sweets that she would not make the rest of the year. In Greece, Santa, Saint Basil, came on New Year’s Day. When I was little, he brought me a doll.

What are your holidays like now? > Most of our traditions are more or less like Western ones. Santa comes for the little children. We open gifts and decorate a Christmas tree. My son when he comes home, he always looks on the tree for the little itsy bitsy Santa we used to put on the tree when he was little.

How does your culture influence your celebration? > I bake sweets that are a little different like baklava and kourabiethes, white round cookies with powdered sugar on top. And melomakarona, which are like macaroons dipped in hot honey with crumbled nuts over it. Christmas is about the only time I make these treats.

Mary Goose > Half Meskwaki and half Chippewa, Goose works at Drake University in food service and catering. She grew up mainly in Des Moines and has also lived on the Meskwaki settlement in Tama. She has a son, Lucas. Childhood holiday memories: Growing up, we got presents and did the whole gift-giving thing. I think a couple of times we had a tree. We weren’t that much into celebrating Christmas, it’s not part of our religion. It was just kind of like a holiday we had to work around. When we lived on the settlement, they used to have a Christmas program at the community center or school and we’d go to that. Mostly it was a kids program. That was like something the non-native culture brought in there and it became part of our culture.

What are your holidays like now? > I just give presents to my closest family members – my son, sister, aunt and mother. I’ll probably get together with them on Christmas Day. Usually we get a turkey from work so it’s something we’ll have just because we get a turkey. The closest I’ve come to ever having a Christmas tree is doing one of those little living Christmas trees you get at Target that are less than a foot tall with the little ornaments stuck on there. My son he’s kind of getting older. It was more exciting when he was little. Probably my favorite thing is just the fact that we had two or three weeks together without him having to go to school.

Dawn Martinez Oropeza > She was born to a Mexican Catholic father and Jewish mother. The arts education community programs coordinator for the Iowa Arts Council, she and husband Juan Carlos have two children. Childhood holiday memories: We would spend Christmas Eve at my Jewish grandmother’s house and have Jewish food. We’d go to church in the morning, then do Christmas with Santa Claus. We didn’t really have Mexican Christmas traditions. Dad did more of a standard American Catholic celebration. We had a Christmas tree, wrote letters to Santa and had presents. We ate turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, and hung our stockings on the fireplace.

What are your holidays like now? > My husband is from Mexico, and since I’ve been married to him, we’ve incorporated more Mexican traditions. In Mexico, starting December 16, they have Las Posadas. They re-enact Jesus’ birth and go house to house asking to be let in. When someone lets you in, they serve tamales and hot chocolate. In Mexico they do this like every night up until Christmas Eve. Because we just moved here last year, instead of posadas, my kids had a cookie party on the 15th. We’ll do midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

How does your culture influence your celebration? > My family in Des Moines all make tamales and bunuelos – fried tortillas with cinnamon and sugar. My mother-in-law comes from Mexico every year at the end of December. She brings tamales and Rosca de Reyes for Three Kings’ Day. Three Kings’ Day is on January 6 and is a celebration of the three Kings who came to see Jesus. The night before, children write a letter to the three Kings and put the letter in their shoes. The next day, they wake up and find gifts from the Kings. Rosca de Reyes is a big oval wreath made out of egg bread with dried fruit on top for decoration. Baked inside the bread are little baby Jesuses. If you get a piece of bread with a baby Jesus in it, you have to have a party for everyone on Dia de la Candelaria on February 2.

What influence has your mom had on your holiday traditions? > My mom passed away this year. Her birthday is the 12th, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and this year we started a tradition by going to get our tree on her birthday. We’re also doing Hanukkah this year. My kids have never celebrated Hanukkah.

Abid Talic > Talic grew up in Bosnia as a Muslim and moved to America in 1995. The general manager of the Spring Hill Suites in West Des Moines and a graduate student at Drake University in public administration, Talic received his American citizenship in September 2005. He and his wife, Ramiza, have two children. Childhood holiday memories: One of the two main religious celebrations for Bosnian Muslims is on December 30 this year. It’s called Kurban Bajram and it celebrates when God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son to him and instead sent a young ram to Abraham to save his son. It’s what Christmas is for you guys here. It’s a very festive time with three days of celebration. What we do basically is have community gatherings. Traditionally on that same day, some members of the community will go to a farm and sacrifice one of the three allowed farm animals such as a cow, goat or ram. They will take this meat to poor families, friends, neighbors, anyone willing to accept it, to show mercy and love to other members of the community.

What are your holidays like now? > We will not do anything on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. On December 30, the first thing in the morning we’ll all go in and pray. Then, I’ll go to visit my mom, dad, my brothers, all the people I’m connected with, to have coffee at their house and cake and to wish them “bajram mubarak olsun.” It basically means “Happy Bajram”. Then as the oldest son, I’ll invite all their families to visit my house. We’ll spend the first day of Bajram at my house, the second day at my brother’s house and the third day we all go to Mom’s and Dad’s. We also call family in Bosnia any time there’s any type of holiday. We will do traditional Bosnian food and traditional American food. On the night of December 30 at 7 Flags, there will be a celebration for the entire Bosnian community in Des Moines with 2,000-3,000 people.

Do you decorate? > No, but something very important is the house has to be perfectly clean. We have to start at least a week before. Everything needs to be put together in as nice a way as possible. There are also certain types of sweets that have to be made: baklava and torta hurmasice.

Francis Chan > Chan grew up in southern Sudan in a Catholic family and moved to the United States in 2000. He is a case manager for the Bureau of Refugee Services. He married Regina last year. He has four daughters. Childhood holiday memories: When I was a young boy in Sudan, the end of the month of November is when everybody started preparing for Christmas. This is the time when children try their best to have a good relationship with their parents so they can have new clothes. Secondly, people will begin making arrangements for the parties. We celebrate Christmas starting the 23rd to the first day of January, and every day there is a party from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m. or 6 a.m. in the morning. For four days, there is no work at all. Even the public offices are closed. On the 24th, there will be marching starting from midnight until morning. A very huge group joins together and there is drumming, dancing and a lot of singing. On the 25th and 26th, the children move from one child’s house to another and they give you candy. On the 27th and 28th, the women move around to each other’s houses. On Christmas in Sudan, it is important for people to eat together as a sign of unity. For a family that is rich, they have to kill a cow or sheep. If you were from a poor family, you got fresh fish from the river. We also ate a special cake done a month before. It’s like fruit cake here. I miss it.

Describe your first Christmas here: > I came here by myself with four of my daughters. My oldest daughter was 9 when we came. The first Christmas, a friend of mine, a priest, took me out with the children to see how people celebrate Christmas in the city of Des Moines. It has become a tradition. Every Christmas on the 23rd, I take my children around and look at the lights.

How does your culture influence your celebration? > We have special clothes we wear. My children, they don’t like it. Some of them accept it, some say it’s snowing today or it’s too cold. On the 26th, I try by all means to go visit some friends in the evening after my working hours.

The Rev. Gunsoo Jung > He is a native of Korea who moved to the United States in 1993. Pastor of Korean United Methodist Church in Des Moines, he and his wife, Gwi Jeong Jung, have four children. Childhood holiday memories: The most important holidays in Korea are Seolnal (New Year’s Day in lunar) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day). They are bigger holidays in Korea than Christmas. People get together at their parents’ house or their elder brother’s and talk about what they did last year and what they are going to do this coming year. People try not to sleep on New Year’s Eve because if they sleep at night, they believe their eyebrows will turn gray. Children wear their new clothes, Seolbim, early in the morning and do a memorial service, Charye. People have Ddeukguk, rice cake soup. People believe that if they eat Ddeukguk on New Year’s Day, they will get one year older. They go to their ancestors’ tombs in the nearby mountain. They offer some food and fruits and make bows to their ancestors. Then they visit and bow to their relatives or seniors in the neighborhood.

What are your holidays like now? > My family celebrates Christmas like Americans. But we celebrate Seolnal like other Koreans in Korea. We have a service of New Year in my house with my family and in our church with our church members. We make Ddeukguk and other side dishes. I bow to my father and mother and my kids make bows (SaeBae – bows on the New Year’s Day) to us (my wife and me) and their grandparents. Then we give them some money – Saebaedon – and tell them Deokdam. That’s a wish for good luck for the year.

Russian Holidays

The Russian love for holidays is known the world over. They adore holidays, indeed. But who does not?

Perhaps our love for holidays is special for its indiscrimination, anything goes, just give us a chance to break the daily working routine and indulge into the surfeits of merry-making, eating and drinking. Of course, every holiday is good in its own way and we are not indifferent to their meaning and ritual side. Yet, it is not rare in this country that holidays vary both their attributes and meaning.

Thus, Russian holidays present a mixture of new and old, religious and secular, professional and private. National holidays reflect multicolored Russian history. Christian traditions were combined with pagan ones and therefore strongly connected to the seasons and agricultural cycle. Church holidays were mixed with those introduced during the communist regime. And we do not mind: every holiday deserves celebration. When a national holiday falls on a weekend day people enjoy additional day-off because it is considered to be unfair to miss either a holiday or a weekend. Here is an outline of the Russian major holidays.

January 1 – The New Year  > The New Year is the first in calendar and in popularity. It will be true to say that now the New Year is a greater holiday than Christmas in Russia. Long before December 31 sparkling fir trees appear in the streets, shops, offices and houses, bringing the joy of festive preparations and hope for happy miracles in the coming New Year. It is time to make wishes and presents to all friends and relatives. Children are looking forward for Father Frost (actually he is Grandfather Frost – Ded Moroz in Russian) and his granddaughter Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) to arrive at night and leave presents under the fir-tree. The grown-ups traditionally stay up for the whole night, making merry with friends and relatives.

The New Year celebrations slip to Christmas festivities and go on till January 8, all these days from December 31 to January 8 are official days off now.

January 7 – Christmas > Russian Christmas comes two weeks later than in other countries, on January 7. This difference is due to the Orthodox Church that follows the Julian (old style) calendar. However, the Russian ‘spacious soul’ cannot but feel with the rest of the world celebrating this fairy holiday on December.

Christmas came to Russia in X century to substitute for pagan festivities of the winter solstice. Traditionally, people celebrated the Christmas Eve (January 6) with their families. The next day, however, carousing and merrymaking started, including masqueraded visits to neighbors with song singing, round-dancing and playing traditional games. Russian Christmas is rich with beautiful traditions. One of them is called Kolyadki. At Christmas night young people put on fancy dresses, gather in a noisy crowd and go in every house on their way, singing carols and merry songs. Hosts of the houses thank singers with all the kinds of sweat stuff like candies, chocolates and pastry. Among other Christmas traditions are wishes of wealth and happiness for everybody and snowball games.

It was a custom for young ladies to tell fortune on these days; lots of fortunetelling methods have kept till days – yet they are not so widely used, of course. In Soviet times they abolished Christmas as an official holiday. In spite of that, it was still secretly celebrated by many people.

January 14 – The Old New Year’s Day > Sounds strange, doesn’t it? For Russia it is quite OK.

Discrepancy between church calendars leads to the fact that January 14th corresponds to January 1 in the Julian calendar. And for those people who celebrate Christmas on 7 of January it is logical to meet the New Year seven days later. Others prefer not to lose a good chance to welcome the New Year twice.

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. 7 January > Merry Christmas!

2006 years ago Jesus Christ was born, according to Orthodoxy. In Russia people usually celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is on January 7 unlike Catholic Christmas, which is on December 25.

In Russia it is more of a religious holiday than regular national holiday. This is partly due to the fact that Ded Moroz (Father Frost) with all the presents comes on New Year, and all the celebrations actually happen on the New Year too, so there is not much left for Christmas, except for church services.

There were no gods in the USSR, and no religion too, and people didn’t celebrate Christmas as they do now until very recently. So one can call it a relatively new holiday.

A Multicultural Calendar

December 15 through January 6 > PUERTO RICO: NAVIDADES. Traditional Christmas season begins mid-December and ends on Three Kings Day. Elaborate nativity scenes, carolers, special Christmas foods and trees from Canada and the United States. Gifts given on Christmas Day and on Three Kings Day.

December 26 through January 1 > KWANZAA. American black family observance created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga in recognition of traditional African harvest festivals. Seven-day festival stresses unity of the black family, with a harvest feast (karamu) on the first day and a day of meditation on the final one. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruit” in Swahili.

January 1 > GREECE and CYPRUS: SAINT BASIL’S DAY. Saint Basil’s or Saint Vassily’s feast day observed by Eastern Orthodox Churches. Special traditions in Greece and Cyprus, include serving Saint Basil cakes, called Vasilopitta, each of which contains a coin. Feast day observed on January 14 by Orthodox Churches using the Julian calendar such as the Russian Church.

January 1 > NEW YEAR’S DAY > ANNIVERSARY OF THE OPENING OF ELLIS ISLAND. Opened on this date in 1892. Over the years, more than 20 million immigrants were processed through the stations. Island was also used as a point of deportation as well. In 1932 alone, 20,000 people were deported from there. Closed November 12, 1954 and declared a national park in 1956. Reopened as a museum in 1990.

January 1 > HAITI: INDEPENDENCE DAY. National holiday commemorating the proclamation of independence in 1804. Haiti, occupying the western third of the island Hispaniola (second largest of the West Indies), was a Spanish colony from its discovery by Columbus in 1492 until 1697. Then it was a French colony until independence was declared in 1804.

January 6 > GREECE and CYPRUS: THEOPHANY of the Eastern Orthodox Church is observed in Churches using the Gregorian calendar (January 19 in Churches using the Julian calendar). This feast day celebrates the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus at the time of His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

January 6 through February 20 > CARNIVAL SEASON. Secular festival preceding Lent. Time of merrymaking and feasting before the austere days of Lenten fasting and penitence (40 weekdays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday). Depending on local custom, the season may start anytime between November 11 and Shrove Tuesday. Celebrations often include theatrical aspects such as masks, costumes and songs. Observed traditionally in Roman Catholic countries from Epiphany through Shrove Tuesday.

January 6 > EPIPHANY OR TWELFTH DAY. Known also as Old Christmas Day and Twelfthtide. On the twelfth day after Christmas, Christians celebrate the visit of the Magi, the first Gentile recognition of Christ. Epiphany of Our Lord, one of the oldest Christian feasts, is observed in Roman Catholic Churches in the United States on a Sunday between January 2 and January 8.

January 6 > ITALY: LA BEFANA. Epiphany festival in which the “Befana,” a kindly witch, bestows gifts on children, toys and candy for those who have been good, or a lump of coal or a pebble for those who have been naughty. Festival begins on the night of January 5 and continues with fairs, parades and other activities.

January 6 > THREE KINGS DAY. Major festival of the Christian Church observed in many parts of the world with gifts, feasting, last lighting of Christmas lights and burning of Christmas greens. Twelfth and last day of the Feast of the Nativity. Commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Neb (Kings or Magi) to Bethlehem.


January 8 > GREECE: MIDWIFE’S DAY OR WOMEN’S DAY. Honors midwives and all women. On this day, women stop their housework while the men do all the chores and look after the children.

January 17 > MEXICO: BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS AT THE CATHEDRAL. Church of San Antonio at Mexico City or Xochimilco provides best sights of chicken, cows and household pets gaily decorated with flowers. (Saint’s Day for San Antonio Abad, patron Saint of domestic animals.)

January 17 > POLAND: LIBERATION DAY. Celebration of 1945 liberation of the city of Warsaw from Nazi oppression on this day by Soviet troops. Special ceremonies at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Victory Square (which had been called Adolf Hitler Platz during the German occupation).

January 17 > SAINT ANTHONY’S DAY. Feast day honoring Egyptian hermit who became the first Christian monk and who established communities of hermits; patron Saint of domestic animals and Patriarch of all monks. Lived about AD 251-354.

January 20 > FIRST OF MUHARRAM. Islamic New Year.

January 29 > ASHURA: TENTH DAY. For Shia Muslims, commemorates death of Muhammad’s grandson at the Battle of Karbala. A time of fasting, reflection and meditation. Jews of Medina fasted on the tenth day in remembrance if their salvation from Pharoah.

February 14 > VALENTINE’S DAY.

February 18 > CHINESE NEW YEAR.


February 21 > ASH WEDNESDAY.


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