Christmas | XMAS
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For a couple of weeks every year the world takes on a magic glow, people seem merrier and even winter somehow feels cosy (and when down under, it makes summer seem cooler).
Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival, like Hanukkah or Christmas, or secular occasion (like I do), you’re sure to have your own selection of rituals or customs that make the holiday season so special. The XMAS season is packed with a variety of unique iconic symbols.
Our favorite Christmas traditions around the world are loud, proud, and guarantee oodles of festive fun.
For example, in our most recent North American home, we had 37 Christmas trees, including a decorated (white plastic) tree ½ kilometre away in our forest lit by solar power at night – this nestled in at the front edge of our snowy forest at yuletide evenings was quite special.
Our Great Room however became the centre of Christmas décor, centered around a 14ft tree we picked from our forest, with a train running around its base. The massive fireplace was adorned with stockings, the stone cocktail bar with eggnog and Christmas bric-a-brac. We had previously purchased 2 massive nutcracker toy soldiers in New York, and these guarded the far end of the room, looking over a miniature forest of lit Christmas trees on the roof above the adjoining sauna.
Above our CD collection racks of over 3,000 CD’s (the benefit of my Broadway life), we had an army of miniature Santa’s, with their reindeer on guard.
Over the top? Maybe, but our houseguests and I loved it all.
Here are a few of our personal travel experiences…
Christmas in Australia is often very hot. Whereas the northern hemisphere is in the middle of winter, Australians are baking in summer heat. It is not unusual to have Christmas Day well into the mid 30 degrees Celsius, or near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Santa can be seen on the beaches and in shorts.
A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor or silver coin is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows they will enjoy good luck. Another treat are Mince Pies.
Some Australians and particularly tourists often have their Christmas dinner at midday on a local beach, Bondi Beach in Sydney attracts thousands of people on Christmas Day. Other families enjoy their day by having a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing Cricket out the backyard, and other outdoor activities.
The warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which commenced in 1937. Carols by Candlelight is held every year on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather in the city of Melbourne to sing their favorite Christmas songs. The evening is lit by as many candles singing under a clean cut night sky. The sky with its Southern Cross stars is like a mirror. Sydney and the other capital cities also enjoy Carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Australians surround themselves with Christmas Bush, a native plant which has little red flowered leaves.
Christmas shopping is often done in shorts and t-shirts. At many beaches Santa Claus arrives on a surfboard, or even on a surf lifesaving boat. He wears swimming trunks and sunglasses.
Officially there is no religion in China, however, some Christian children of China decorate trees with colorful ornaments. These ornaments are made from paper in the shapes of flowers, chains and lanterns. They also hang muslin stockings hoping that Christmas Old Man will fill them with gifts and treats.
The Chinese Christmas trees are called “Trees of Light.” Santa Claus is called Sheng Dan Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.”.
The non-Christian Chinese call this season the Spring Festival (usually in January or February) and celebrate with many festivities that include meals and pay respects to their ancestors. Spring Festival actually begins on the eve of the lunar New Year’s Day and ends on the fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. But the 15th of the first month, which normally is called the Lantern Festival, means the official end of the Spring Festival in many parts of the country.
The children are the main focus of these celebrations, they receive new clothes and toys, eat delectable food and watch firecrackers displays.
Preparations for the New Year begin the last few days of the last moon, when houses are thoroughly cleaned, debts repaid, hair cut and new clothes purchased. Houses are festooned with paper scrolls and in many homes, people burn incense at home and in the temples to pay respects to ancestors and ask the gods for good health in the coming months.
“Guo Nian,” meaning “passing the year,” is the common term among the Chinese people for celebrating the Spring Festival. It actually means greeting the new year. At midnight at the turn of the old and new year, people used to let off fire-crackers which serve to drive away the evil spirits and to greet the arrival of the new year. In an instant the whole city would be engulfed in the deafening noise of the firecrackers.
On New Year’s Eve, all the members of families come together to feast. Jiaozi, a steamed dumpling, is popular in the north, while southerners favor a sticky sweet glutinous rice pudding called nian gao.
Adults receive “13th month” bonuses in special red envelopes (hongbao). These packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. It is common for adults to give red packets to children. Red packets always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals. Since the number 4 is considered bad luck, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky.