How to make your Christmas Wishes come true

“Conversations with Mrs Claus” Christmas themed podcast show visits Bluey Santa’s new recruit, a blue kangaroo originally from Australia.

Bluey exposes the steps in the Law of Attraction which is the key to making your wishes come true. This is one of the very first lessons Bluey learnt when he first arrived at the North Pole. This is a new show now released on ‘Conversations with Mrs Claus’. A podcast show on the http://www.TheFamilyYak.com channel part of Yaktivate.com global media network.

On this show Mrs Claus chats with Bluey who is the new hero and head of “Wish Communications” at the North Pole. Bluey exposes the first in a series of lessons he learnt from Head Elf WinterWhite and Santa Claus when first inducted at the School of Elves at the North Pole. As head of “Wish Communications” Bluey has the top tips and tools for listeners to discover how to make their wishes and dreams come true.

Bernadette Dimitrov (aka Mrs Claus) brings the spirit of Christmas to every podcast. She and her guests educate and entertain with traditions, contests, news, and interviews. Mrs Claus reveals this weeks ‘magic secret’ practiced at the North Pole that will show listeners how to transform their life. Christmas is revealed as being not just about one day of the year but about living and projecting the ‘spirit’ of Christmas every day for a truly fulfilled, happy, joyous and great life from the inside out. This week’s secret discovers empowering thoughts on materialism, making love more important than material things.

In the “Ask Mrs Claus a Question” segment, Dan from New Jersey asks Mrs Claus “Does Santa have a pet?” Mrs Claus reveals insights never exposed before and listeners are in for a surprise. Mrs. Claus reveals what really goes on at the North Pole and insights about Santa listeners will love to know. It’s a lot of fun.

Conversations with Mrs Claus podcast show visits fascinating guests and experts from around the world each week who reveal Christmas insights and transformational secrets about how to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled, fun, prosperous and loving life. Plus there are give-aways and prizes to be won each week.

Sponsors for this show are: ‘Bluey Santa’s New Recruit’ new children’s inspirational story series, ‘The HoHoHo Factor’ trivia, insights, symbols, meanings and history of Christmas http://www.HoHoHoChristmas.com , Health and wealth with Arbonne International http://www.agelessthinking.com/ BarkBusters business opportunity http://www.barkbusters.com

‘Conversations with Mrs. Claus’ podcast show is a family show that provides a weekly stream of inspiration, insight and connection to fascinating guests world-wide. It’s a fun show with something for both young and old. This is a family show that entertains from the heart. For additional information call: Melbourne, Australia +61 3 9778 3036.

Christmas controversy?

The dream of Christian children worldwide: Jerusalem celebrates three Christmases! That statement is, of course, a bit misleading. The traditional Christian communities, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian, celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, January 6 and January 19 respectively, negating the possibility of Santa coming thrice to the same child.

These faith traditions each bring their own customs to the holiday, but share a common focus on the mystery and glory of the event, deemphasizing the commercial aspects so prevalent in the West.

Most Europeans and Americans are unfamiliar with the Armenian Church, which is ironic, because Armenia officially adopted the faith in 301 CE (about 25 years before Rome), and has maintained an emphasis on the Christ-mass, without the more secular gift-giving.

Bishop Aris Shirvanian, spokesman for the Armenian Patriarchate, explains why the Western churches were more influenced by pagan practices surrounding Christmas.

Christmas parties and gift-giving stem from “merrymaking inherited from the old pagan worship of the sun god – Saturn” he said. “Saturnalia was celebrated on December 25 in Rome, while Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6. The pope of the day, Sylvester, in order to abolish the pagan feast, moved the celebration of Jesus’s birthday from January 6 to December 25, but the Armenian church had no reason to change the date because there was no pagan feast in Armenia on December 25.”

Since the Armenians maintain the ancient date of Christmas as well as the old (Julian) calendar, 13 days are added to January 6, postponing Armenian Christmas until January 19 on the modern (Gregorian) calendar.

The Armenians focus on astvadz-a-haytnootyoon – revelation, since the January 6 holy day celebrated both Jesus’s birth and baptism. Many churches still celebrate Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus, on January 6.

Since Jesus’s birth and baptism are celebrated together, water is a vital aspect of the Armenian feast. Water, blessed by the Armenian clergy, receives the addition of oil believed to be similar to that which Jesus used to clean the feet of his Apostles, and is distributed to the congregants. The oil additive is said to come from St. Thaddeus, who first preached the gospel in Armenia, and is considered to have healing properties.

On January 18, Christmas Eve, Patriarch Torkam Manogian leaves the Armenian Quarter of the Old City with a large entourage and police escort. In centuries past the horse drawn procession stopped at the Greek Monastery of Mar Elias outside Bethlehem to water the horses and allow devotees to refresh themselves. Modern processions keep that tradition, as the Palestinian Authority assumes responsibility for the procession. Greek Archbishop Aristochos notes that the two governments work diligently to ensure Christmas access to Bethlehem. The Greek Orthodox Church enjoys a similar procession on Christmas Eve.

The procession continues to Bethlehem’s Manger Square, where there is an official reception. The congregants enter the Church of the Nativity – shared by the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians – and a mass is held. After a festive supper and rest, the midnight mass begins, concluding at about 3:30 Christmas morning.

The Greek Orthodox were reluctant to join the Western church in celebrating Christmas on December 25, but eventually did so for the sake of unity. Both East and West agreed to celebrate Jesus’s birth in December and his baptism on January 6. Still, Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Church clings to the Julian calendar, so when it adds the required 13 days to December 25, it celebrates Christmas on January 7 according to the modern calendar.

A highlight of the Greek Orthodox Christmas season is the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 and a pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Beit Jala. St. Nicholas was a church father born in the late third century who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in about 330 CE. Tradition holds that he slept in a cave in Beit Jala while visiting nearby Bethlehem. The church built over that cave commemorates his pilgrimage.

Archbishop Aristochos states that St. Nicholas’s feast day “prepares us for Christmas.” Since St. Nicholas was noted for his kindness and generosity to children, many believe this contributed to the Western tradition of giving gifts on Christmas. Influenced by northern European immigrants to the US, St. Nicholas’s memory eventually morphed into Santa Claus, akin to the Dutch Sinterklaas.

The Greek Orthodox observe a 40-day fast before Christmas. The fast forbids meat, milk and eggs, but allows fish after the first week until the beginning of the last. This culminates with a great feast on Christmas Day including fried fish, asparagus with egg and lemon sauce, bean soup, and honey cake with nuts.

There are a number of beliefs related to the kallikantzaroi – “bad spirits” according to the Archbishop – that are released during Christmas and wreak havoc until January 6, when Epiphany is celebrated.

These spirits are mischievous, toppling things and scaring people. Still, tradition holds that home remedies can be employed to restrain them. Among these is a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. Eventually the kallikantzaroi are expelled by the priest on Epiphany as he sprinkles holy water (associated with Jesus’s baptism) around the house.

Like the members of its related liturgical churches, Roman Catholics proceed to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, celebrated December 24. This is the celebration for which Bethlehem is most noted. Whether associated with the church or not, Manger Square fills with thousands. Multitudes of Muslims also come to witness the event.

But in smaller parishes quieter ceremonies occur on Christmas Eve. Franciscan Father Fergus Clarke is guardian of St. John in the Mountains Church, built at the traditional site of John the Baptist’s birth, and on Christmas commemorates the Magnificat – the Virgin Mary’s extended quote in Luke 1.

“Since we’re a very small community,” he says, “it’s extraordinary that on Christmas Eve our church is full of mostly Jewish people. For example, last year I counted only eight Christians present. Since the church is very small, holding about 110 people seated, when I say it was ‘full,’ I mean standing room only. These Jewish people arrive as early as 11:15 for midnight mass. What is really so edifying is that the Jews, predominately young, stand in complete reverence and silence for almost an hour and half. If you compare it to other churches you wouldn’t see such reverence and patience.

“Remember, the mass is celebrated in a foreign language for them, since we celebrate in Italian. The whole ritual is foreign to them, apart from the homily, which is given in English. But they come from as far away as Tel Aviv, and many call in advance to be sure they’ll be here on time. They come because of some sense of mystery or awe of the divine that comes from the ritual, the music, and their memories – transmitted from their parents, perhaps. For us it’s a very uplifting ceremony because of their presence and attitude.”

Fergus says the Israeli presence contributes to the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” that Luke says the angels proclaimed at Jesus’s birth. “This year we are having an Israeli choir sing at midnight mass, and two years ago we had a Southern Baptist from Alabama sing a solo,” he said.

Protestants maintain no official presence in Bethlehem, although many visit for interdenominational “shepherds’ field” services convened by the YMCA in nearby Beit Sahur. Many attend local services in Jerusalem, such as those at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, or at the Baptist Church near the city center.

Lindell Browning is a Nazarene minister living in Jerusalem. Browning’s tradition includes traditional “shepherds’ field” services.

“‘Shepherds’ field’ is wherever the shepherds are in Bethlehem; it’s not a specific field that we know of. There’s no way to know.”

Browning says he and friends read the birth narratives together from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, often asking one of the young people to read the account of angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest.” They sing carols, pray and share thoughts on the Christmas message.

Browning believes that in Jerusalem there is great stress placed on the angels’ declaration to secure peace on earth. “In this area of the world it’s something we pray for, something we want to see happen. Isaiah predicted the coming of a man who would be called the prince of peace, and that’s our declaration: Christ is the prince of peace for the world.”

Among Christians in Jerusalem there is less focus on the commercial aspects of the holiday. “I think there’s much less emphasis on shopping and much more interest in people that are less fortunate than us. There were a couple of years when we gave each other smaller gifts and gave gifts to needy families. There were other years on which we made gifts for each other so we could better give to those in need. Here too [in Jerusalem] there’s much more time because we don’t have the Christmas activities that we would in the States. So we get together with friends and share.”

For the majority of the Israeli population it is a normal work day. Some Jerusalem Christians do put up Christmas trees, as the Israeli government provides trees free. A few shops decorate their windows for the holiday, but for the most part, commercialism is subdued and the season is pared back to its devotional origins.

The Armenians, proceeding into Bethlehem on their Christmas Eve, summarize the motive for the march as they sing joyously “Great and Wonderful Mystery.” Greek Archbishop Aristochos says Christmas is in memory of the event “by which begins our salvation,” while Father Fergus calls for goodwill toward men. The Brownings and friends quietly find a hillside and try to imagine what the shepherds experienced, expressing their devotion in good works.

St. Nicholas would recognize a Jerusalem Christmas. The real Santa Claus: St. Nicholas was born in Patara, a Greek village (now Turkish) in the late third century. Although it’s difficult to distinguish legend from fact, scholars agree on several points about his life.

Nicholas was from a wealthy fishing family and was generous to young people. A story, regarded as accurate in its essence though shrouded in legend, holds that on three different occasions he provided dowries for poor girls, thus saving them from slavery. Tradition maintains that these dowries, tossed in through a window, were bags of gold that landed on stockings or shoes left near the fire to dry. Similar stories tell of Nicholas’s generosity in saving people from starvation.

Due to a wealth of popular support, Nicholas was elected bishop of Myra on the coast of modern Turkey in the early fourth century. About 330 CE he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was there for several weeks, often sleeping in a cave in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church now stands over that cave.

Nicholas died about 350 CE on December 6 – a feast day that was already being celebrated only a few years after his death. Due to the day’s proximity to Christmas, as well as his generosity, Nicholas became caught up in the season’s lore.

Throughout much of Europe alms were given to the poor on this Saint’s day, and children were the special recipients of gifts. Medieval French nuns would distribute candies on December 6.

Nicholas began the transformation into Santa Claus mostly by way of German and Dutch immigrants to North America. Germanic St. Niklaas became Sinterklass, and eventually Santa Claus. Some less desirable aspects of northern European fable may have immigrated as well: His flying reindeer may stem from myths of the Norse god Wodin riding through the sky.

Reformers like Martin Luther tried to stop the metamorphosis, hoping to portray the baby Jesus (Christkindl in German) as the gift giver. Kris Kringle, derived from that German word, is now a synonym for Santa.

Nicholas’s image in Dutch-influenced New York changed from pious churchman to elf-like gift bearer. This picture became formalized by a few poems, notably the Christmas favorite “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (now known as “The Night before Christmas”) in 1823.

Currently burdened by commercialism, it’s hard to envision Santa’s prototype, the generous and devout Nicholas, making the dangerous trip to the Holy Land and sleeping in a cave in order to worship at the site of the first Christmas.

East is East and West is West: The early church can be roughly divided into East and West. The Eastern church, later Byzantium and the Eastern Orthodox liturgies, maintained different holidays, traditions and even doctrines than the Western church, which remained bound to Rome and the pope. Among the points of disagreement was the proper dating of Jesus’s birth – Christmas Day.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition that a prophet dies on the day of his conception, and the early church applied this formula to Jesus. Eastern and Western churches, through various and often questionable reasoning, determined respectively that Jesus died on April 6 and March 25. The Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the latter date as the Annunciation of the Birth. Adding nine months of pregnancy to those dates results in a December 25 or January 6 Christmas.

Scholars also hold that the December 25 date was especially appealing to the Western church because it replaced the birthday of Sol Invictus (invincible sun). Romans thought that on that day the sun began its ascent and the days began to lengthen. The pagan ceremony contained much revelry, drinking and immorality which the early church couldn’t condone. Sun worship was outlawed under penalty of death, in the hope that worship of the Son would replace it.

Clearly that did occur, but not without echoes of the pagan traditions surviving. Imbibing and, to a lesser degree, gift-giving and holiday lights are related to the pre-Christian feast. Still, the Eastern church maintained the January 6 date and combined it with Epiphany, the day of Jesus’s baptism.

Eventually, under pressure from the Western church as well as its own clergy’s inability to go to both the Jordan River and Bethlehem on the same day, a compromise was reached in the middle of the fifth century. Christmas would be celebrated December 25 and Epiphany on January 6 by both churches. This is simple enough, but when the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one, the Eastern church in Jerusalem continued using the old calendar. This results in a January 7 Christmas (December 25 plus 13 days).

Armenians refused the compromise, maintaining both the old January 6 date as well as the Julian calendar. Consequently Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19 (January 6 plus 13 days).

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”.

Belgium
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.

Brazil
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.

Finland
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.

France
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.

Germany
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.

Hungary
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.

Latvia
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!

Portugal
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.

Russia
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.

Sweden
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.

Who is Santa Claus?

Georgian Santa Claus > Georgian Santa Claus look-alike figure is called “Tovlis Babua”. His name can be translated as ‘Snow Grandfather.’ Georgians took their New Year celebrity from the traditions of a Russian “Ded Moroz”. The character came from the Russian folk fairy tale “Morozko”, which is about an unkind old man, who had a big wooden staff that could turn everybody and everything into ice. According to the legends during the Winter Solstice this figure had to be appeased. The sacrifice was a young virgin, who had to be wrapped to the tree and left to freeze. If she froze during the day, the sacrifice was supposed to be accepted. The sack of Ded Moroz was initially intended for collecting the offerings. With his wooden staff the evil character beat disobedient children or frightened them with scary tales.

The present image of a Snow Grandfather as a kind generous character was formed only in 1840 in the tale called “Moroz Ivanovich”, written by a Russian writer Vladimir Odoevski. After awhile the Snow Grandfather became a welcomed guest for New Years celebrations, he was believed to be married to the Spring and had a granddaughter called Snegurochka (Georgian Pipkia). Before the revolution bourgeois classes used to decorate a big New Year tree for their children. Since 1927 the Fir tree and Ded Moroz were forbidden by communist authorities, as it was believed to be the remainder of the religious beliefs and superstitions. Only in 1935 the life in Soviet Union was “officially” acknowledged to become “better and lighter” and the Fir Tree and Grandfather with his Snegurochka were allowed.

Every parent wishes to make the New Year celebration unforgettable for their child. And what can be more exciting than a Santa Claus with his funny group of helpers? Lots of Georgian agencies offer their services to make your children happy on New Year’s Eve. Such famous children centers as Jumpao (28 54 92), Amitis (899 17 33 13), Funny Day (95 99 07), Carol and Pepi is not the whole list of the places where you can order your Santa.

The prices for the pleasant surprise vary depending on your place of living, Santa’s program, gifts and the number of his helpers. The performances cost in average from 30 to 100 lari. Organizers of the holiday night celebration offer the following advice: “If your child is too small and very sensitive it is better to order for him/her a Santa Claus instead of Georgian Tovlis Babua. That is because babies are afraid of the Grandfather’s wooden staff and big sac, while Santa is always more simple and jolly.”

The figure of Santa Claus has a very interesting history. Below is some information taken from different web sites describing the history of this jolly red figure.

From Sinter Klaas to Santa Claus > from the Dutch origin of the old fellow to his current residence in Korvatunturi, Finnish Lapland >Santa Claus is the most famous of all the figures associated with Christmas. We generally know him for being a fat, jolly man with a white beard, dressed in a red suit, and driving a sleigh full of presents which is drawn through the air by eight reindeers.

Although Santa has always been an essential part of the Christmas celebration, the modern image of Santa did not develop until well into the 19th century: Santa Claus was an evolutionary creation, born by the fusion of two religious characters, St. Nicholas from the Netherlands and Christkindl from Germany.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, children in the Netherlands put their shoes by the fireplace for Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas), a bishop who lived in the 4th century and was known for bringing gifts to the poor. According to the Dutch tradition, every 5th of December Sinter Klaas would fly from rooftop to rooftop on his white horse while dropping sweets down the chimney into the children’s shoes. In Germany the similar tradition of the Christkindl (Christ Child) was celebrated on the 25th of December.

The story of Sinter Klaas was brought to New Amsterdam (the original name of New York) by Dutch settlers in North America, where Sinter Klaas’ name changed into “Santa Claus”.

In the 1860s German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the modern image of Santa as our fat, jolly man with a white beard. Some years later, in the 1930s, Scandinavian-American artist Haddon Sundblom painted a Santa Claus dressed in a red suit for a Coca-Cola Christmas advertisement. From there on, the modern image of Santa Claus started to spread across the world.

The tradition of Santa Claus has remained particularly strong in the Nordic countries. In Christmas time, a traditional character known as the Yule Goat or Julbock visited the Scandinavian homes dressed with a goat disguise. The Yule Goat liked to sing and dance, and families offered him drink and food in exchange for his entertainment.

During the 19th century the Yule Goat started to change into the modern Santa Claus who visited homes to give Christmas gifts. The goat disguise was abandoned and the jolly man in red took his place, but the Yule Goat was never forgotten. You can still see the ancient Yule Goat in every Scandinavian home as a traditional decorative item on Christmas trees, gardens and dinner tables.

Among all the Nordic countries, the tradition of Santa Claus is particularly strong in Finland. In the late 1920s it was believed that Santa Claus lived on the remote Korvatunturi Mountains, in Finnish Lapland. Subsequently, in 1985 a permanent Santa Claus office was established in Korvatunturi, so anyone can meet the jolly old fellow and his elves in the Santa Claus Park, where Santa gladly discusses about children’s Christmas wishes.

The British believe that Santa comes to England first and leaves them the biggest presents. He lives in the North Pole and rides around in a sleigh, slipping down chimneys and leaving presents under the tree. The Scottish, on the other hand, complain that they get all the leftovers….

There is a Santa look-alike in Holland, but he is actually St. Nicholas, the former bishop of Turkey. He rides a white horse and arrives on a boat, and instead of elves, he is accompanied by six to eight black men.

The children of Greece sing carols and enjoy sweets while fending off the Kalikantzaroi, goblins from the center of the earth who come down the chimney to cause mischief.

At the same time there are plenty of Santa-forsaken corners of the world, like Venezuela where Baby Jesus delivers the presents, while in Germany they await the arrival of the Christmas Angel.

Greece and Cyprus > New Year Traditions

January 1st is an important date in both Greece and Cyprus because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also Saint Basil’s Day.

Saint Basil the Great, equivalent to Santa Claus, was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is thought to have died on this date so this is how they honor him. New Year is perhaps even more festive and important than Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of Saint Basil’s kindness to children and the stories of how he would come in the night and leave gifts for the children in their shoes.

Greeks have a christian name that is the name of a religious figure or a Saint. On the religious calendar each day has a different feast and people celebrate their name-day accordingly. January 1st is Saint Basil’s Day which is the celebration day for those named Vassilios and Vassiliki. On name-days and Saint Basil’s day people visit their friends and relatives and exchange gifts, not just for those whose name-day it was but also for those who’s name day it isn’t. On these visits they have a big feast of food, drinks and music.

There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or Saint Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin, meant for good-luck throughout the year for the lucky person who finds it into his/her piece of Vassilopitta.

Christmas in Europe, but where’s Santa?

Santa on the road again, reports coming in from our local offices……….!

December 2006 > Christmas is celebrated across Europe but in different ways, especially when it comes to Father Christmas. In order get to the facts on this story, our PR executives across Europe have pooled their local knowledge to give you the spin on Christmas in their country. Here is a sample of their reports.

Czech Republic:
Saint Nicholas
is helped by the Infant Jesus to give presents to the children. On the morning of December 24, children wake up and start to arrange the Christmas tree. Sometimes they are told not to eat all day before the Christmas dinner in order to see “Golden piggies” on the walls. After dinner children have to leave the room where the Christmas tree is situated and wait until baby Jesus brings gifts. Parents come in to welcome baby Jesus and to thank him for all the gifts. Once his job is done, Jesus rings on a small bell (usually fixed on the tree) and disappears. When children hear the bell they may come in and enjoy their gifts.  

Denmark:
Christmas dinner
is on December 24th around 18.00 or 19.00 (roasted duck followed by risalamande (rice pudding with whipped cream served with cherry sauce) as desert. After that the Christmas tree is lit up, we dance around it and sing Christmas carols. Suddenly Julemanden (Father Christmas) turns up with a big sack full of presents for the children. After the children have received the presents they are immediately opened. Father Christmas quickly leaves the family again. Unfortunately one of the older male members of the family are usually out of the room while Father Christmas visits the family, so he never has the luck to meet Father Christmas!  

Estonia:
It’s traditional to be with families at Christmas (Jõulud). Estonians like to visit their families from 24-26 December and do not go out with friends as much or go out drinking in the bars. On the 24th or 25th of December there is Christmas dinner; special Christmas food is pork and pickled cabbage or blood sausage. There is a Christmas tree is in every home, a tradition that dates back to Russian time when Christmas was prohibited. Presents are opened in the evening of the 24th or 25th when Santa Claus (Jõuluvana) visits. Our people are not too religious, but during Christmas more people visit church.  

France:
Young children leave their shoes by the fire on Christmas Eve for a gift from “le père Noël” while the older children and adults go to church at midnight and then return home for a late supper called “le réveillon”. Children decorate their Christmas Lists with pictures and then leave them on the windowsill overnight, weighed down with a little sugar so they won’t be missed by Father Christmas.  

Germany:
Christkind (the baby Jesus)
comes on Christmas Eve, bringing the tree and all the presents which are opened on Christmas Eve. But the fun starts early with the coming of St Nikolaus – who very closely resembles Father Christmas/Santa Klaus – and who brings gifts for children on or during the night of 5th December. Santa Klaus is, in fact, a shortened version of the name Nikolaus.  

Israel:
Today 144,000 Christians are living in Israel. Most are Christian Arabs living mainly in Jerusalem and Nazareth. The land of Israel, like Rome, is a preferred tourist destination for pilgrimage trips. Throughout the years other churches and monasteries worldwide were added to these pilgrimage trips, however the importance of Israel, the land on which Jesus was born, has always remained central. The Church of the Nativity is located in the Nativity Circle in Bethlehem and is one of the sacred places for Christians. This is where the festive mass takes place annually. Pilgrims come for the mass from all over the world and it is covered by media throughout the five continents. Israel is a Jewish-dominated country and therefore Christmas is not felt when walking in the streets. But from a business perspective, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been busy because of the greetings and blessings sent by Israeli companies to their colleagues abroad. 

Netherlands:
In the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium St. Nicolaas
is more popular than Santa Claus. We celebrate St. Nicolaas’ birthday on December 6th, however most celebrate it on December 5th the day before his birthday. Usually St. Nicolaas arrives two weeks before on a steamboat, loaded with gifts. 1600 years ago he was born in Myra, a Roman town in Turkey. His popularity stems from his generosity and kindness to children. In 1087, 326 years after his death, his remains were brought to Italy. He was honoured for centuries, and churches and towns were named after him. He became the patron of shippers, travellers, children, prisoners, traders, lawyers, cities (Amsterdam) and countries (Russia and Greece).

On December 6th children received gifts and presents from St. Nicolaas, an old man with a long white beard who sat on horse. Over the years his original home country of Italy became Spain. Except in the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium, St. Nicolaas has been replaced by Santa Claus. A real pity. How can such a serious, holy person as St. Nicolaas change into a big fat, jolly guy? It began with a group of Dutch colonists who lived in New Amsterdam (now New York). They had arrived with a statue of a pipe-smoking St. Nicolaas. They carried the statue along with them during Christmas celebrations. Later most Dutch-Americans were carrying St. Nicolaas dolls with them during Christmas. In 1809 the American writer Washington Irving wrote about a laughing, pipe smoking Santa Claus who sat on a carriage and was riding the firmament. This was the basis for the popular poem in 1823: ’The night before Christmas’, about St. Nick on a sled pulled by eight flying reindeer. Santa Claus is Dutch, really.  

Poland:
Christmas in Poland
is the most awaited holiday of the year. In every house there is a specially decorated Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve when the first star appears in the sky, families sit at the table for the traditional Christmas Eve supper. There is always an additional table setting for an unexpected guest. Before the supper begins members of the family share the holy wafer, wishing each other all the best. Father Christmas, with his white beard and red suit visits on Christmas Eve and leaves presents under the Christmas tree. Sometimes he comes in person and gives the presents to children or he somehow enters the house (coming down the chimney or through the window) and puts all the gifts under the Christmas tree. He is so quick that children have never seen him doing this. After supper the presents are opened. At midnight many people go to church to attend a special Mass. On December 25 most people stay at home with their families and on the next day they pay and receive visits. 

Spain:
In Spain, traditionally Christmas
has always been a religious time and is centred around the original story behind the birth of Christ. For example, the Three Kings bring presents (as in the story), not on Christmas but on the 6th of January. Children leave a shoe out on the night of the 5th and wake up the next day with, surprise, surprise, a present or two inside. For those boys and girls who have been naughty the year before, the Three Kings leave a lump of coal. During the afternoon of the 6th, there is usually a parade through the streets of the town with the Three Kings on floats throwing sweets to the children watching.

Christmas Day is less important than Christmas Eve, which is the main time when families get together and have dinner – usually seafood and fish. Christmas Day is more a day for spiritual reflection for the religious, and a time to recover from the previous night’s excesses for the rest of us. Other key ingredients of Spanish Christmas celebrations are cava and a local specialty known as ‘turron’ which are assorted types of sweets such as nougat, chocolate, caramel, etc. Another important date in Spain in the Christmas calendar is the 22nd when they hold the Christmas lottery draw known as ‘El Gordo’ or ‘The Big One’. Even people who don’t usually play lottery during the year will have at least one ticket, hoping their life might change for the better.

Spanish Christmas decorations are sparse, and generally orientated around the setting up of a ‘Belén’ or Nativity scene in the central part of the house, using elaborate figures for Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, etc. and natural materials from the countryside such as bark and moss. Many areas hold competitions to see who can build the biggest and most elaborate scenes (eg: with running water and flashing stars), and in some towns they have become a seasonal tourist attraction. However, as religion’s influence in society is waning with consumerism, commerce, and globalisation taking its place, the typical globally-recognised symbols of Christmas (trees, turkeys, Santas Claus, holly, snowmen, etc) are gaining ground and sadly homogenising the season.  

Turkey:
The majority of the population in Turkey is Muslim but we are a secular country and even if we do not directly celebrate Christmas, we share this custom with our Greek Orthodox and Armenian neighbours who are a minority, especially in big cities. We have Christmas trees and exchange gifts for the new year. Islam as a religion recognizes all prophets of the monotheist religions. Therefore we celebrate the New Year and we recognize Jesus as one of the prophets. The birth place of St. Nicholas is in Turkey, near Antalya (Myra-Demre).  

United Kingdom:
Father Christmas,
an older man in a red suit with a white beard, comes to visit children on the night of 24th December, arriving on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He comes down the chimney, puts presents in a stocking (or rather large sock), usually at the end of the bed or under the decorated Christmas tree. Children leave a mince pie and a drink for him and carrot for his reindeer. Presents are then opened on Christmas day morning, though this may start very early!  

Italy:
In Rome, cannon are fired from Castel St. Angelo on Christmas Eve
to announce the beginning of the holiday season. A 24-hour fast ends with an elaborate Christmas feast and small presents drawn from the Urn of Fate. The main exchange of gifts in most places in Italy however, traditionally takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, and the celebration in remembrance of the Magi’s visit to Jesus. Children anxiously await a visit from “La Befana” (an old witch who flies on her broomstick) who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad. According to legend, the three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for food and shelter. She refused them and they continued on their way. Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone. La Befana, which means Epiphany, still wanders the earth searching for Jesus to ask forgiveness. Throughout Italy these days, however, many people celebrate what has become the recognized Christmas celebration: with Christmas trees, stockings, and Santa Clause and his reindeer delivering presents on Christmas Day. 

New Year Traditions > Greek New Year

January 1st is an important date in Greece and Cyprus because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also Saint Basil’s Day.

Saint Basil the Great, the Greek equivalent to Santa Claus, was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is thought to have died on this date so this is how they honor him. New Year is perhaps even more festive and important then Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of Saint Basil’s kindness to children and the stories of how he would come in the night and leave gifts for the children in their shoes.

Greeks have a Christian name that is the name of a religious figure or a Saint. On the religious calendar each day has a different feast and people celebrate their name-day accordingly. January 1st is Saint Basil’s Day which is the day for those named Vassilios and Vassiliki. On name-days and Saint Basil’s day people visit their friends and relatives and exchange gifts, not just for those whose name-day it was but also for those whose name day it isn’t. On these visits they have a big feast of food, drinks and music.

There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or Saint Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin. The cake is distributed in accordance to a strict order. First piece is for Saint Basil, the second for the house, the next for the most senior member of the household down to the youngest member and also including absent members. There may also be a piece of cake for the cattle and a large piece for the poor. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be lucky for the next year.

As well as the Saint Basil’s cake there is usually an abundance of food on the table including kourabiedes shortbread and diples, there is always honey on the table and olive-branches, nuts, fresh fruit and other symbols of happiness and wealth.

On New Year’s Eve the children sing carols and also on New Year’s Day. The first person across the threshold of the house on New Year’s Day is said to bring the family good luck throughout the coming year. The father, son or a lucky child was meant to be the first person across the threshold. A lucky child was someone who has both parents still alive.

According to an old tradition, Greek New Year’s Day too many is still September 1st for it is this date that they start of the Greek sowing season, a time of hope and promise. To start the New Year off right farmers’ families take plates of seeds to church for the priest to bless.

In Kos island people make first-of-the-year wreaths of pomegranates, grapes, quinces, garlic bulbs, and plane-tree leaves. Just before dawn on September 1st, the children carry their households’ wreaths down to the shore, the old year’s wreaths and the new ones, and they throw the old ones out to sea and immerse the New Year wreaths for good luck. Then they carry seawater and pebbles home in a jar, to serve with the wreaths as protective devices. Tradition calls for exactly 40 pebbles and water collected from the tops of exactly 40 waves.

In Rhodes island the first-of-the-year wreaths are made of walnuts, onions, garlic, grapes, tufts of cotton, and cloth bags full of grain from the fields. The year’s sowing, it is said, can begin only after the wreath has been hung up.

Girls in Greece once ate something salty before going to bed. They did this because they believed it would help them to dream about their future husband.

The New Year Cake came from the story about Saint Basil who it is said told how he helped the poor people to pay their taxes. The story goes that he took some jewelry from each person and gave it to the Governor. The Governor was sorry for the poor people and so he gave the jewelry back, they only problem was Basil did not know who owned each piece of jewelry. This is when it is told the miracle occurred. He baked each piece inside a loaf and when the loaves were given out, everyone had their own jewelery in the piece of loaf.

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