Beyond the rush of shopping, parties and the anticipation of holidays, Christmas still has the power to bring people together in the spirit of goodwill.
The practice of exchanging gifts has become traditional around the world and an essential ingredient of Christmas. Gift giving may have originated with the story of the Three Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, but was also linked to St Nicholas, who evolved in many European countries into Santa Claus.
In different cultures around the world, the Christmas season is celebrated in a variety of ways.
- In Britain, groups of serenaders called “waits” travelled from house to house, singing carols. These 19th century “songs of joy” are still among today’s most beloved Christmas music.
- In Iraq, families gather around lighted candles as children read the Christmas story. After the reading a bonfire of thorn bushes is lit. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will fill the year ahead. When the fire dies each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish.
- In Greece, 40 days of fasting precedes a Christmas feast, which always features “christopsomo” or Christ Bread. These large, sweet loaves are shaped and engraved with images that reflect the family’s profession.
- In China, paper lanterns decorate the “Tree of Light” whilst children await visits from Dun Che Lao Ren, which means Christmas Old Man.
- In India, mango and banana trees are decorated and small oil-burning lamps light the edges of rooftops as special decorations.