Father Christmas, who has many names in many languages, is based upon the figure of the Patron Saint of Russia.
St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia, of sailors and of children, the happy soul who brings the presents on 6th December, 25th December or 6th January, depending on the country or religion.
However, St. Nicholas lived in flesh and blood. Born in 217 AD, in Mira, Asia Minor, the city of which he was later to become Bishop, he became connected to the giving of presents through two stories: that he saved the three daughters of a poor man from prostitution, offering each one a bag of gold and that he saved three navy officers from the death penalty.
In the Middle Ages, presents were distributed on 6th December (St. Nicholas died on 6th December 342 AD) but in the fourth century AD, Pope Julius I altered the date of the birth of Jesus Christ to 25th December, to coincide with the Roman Saturnalis and the Germanic and Celtic pagan festivals of the Solstice of Winter (21st December). In the thirteenth century AD, nativity scenes started to be used to celebrate the date.
The Orthodox Churches changed the date for the worship of Christ to 6th January, the Day of Adoration, or Epiphany, when the three Wise Kings visited Jesus in the manger and gave him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is the day on which Christmas is celebrated in Russia but it is not Father Christmas who brings the presents, rather Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), Babushka (Grandmother) or Snegorouchka (the Snow Girl).
The traditional Father Christmas, who seems to be a classic example of globalization, was originally depicted in various colors before Coca-Cola decided to use him in their Christmas campaign in the 1920s, painting him in red and white, after which this has been the universal uniform of this figure. He needs nine reindeer to pull his sleigh: se Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitze and Rudolf, the leader of the group.
The Christmas tree represents the triangle of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It is said that the first missionaries convinced the Germanic tribes, who were polytheistic, worshipping various forms, that the triangular-shaped fir trees they respected were in fact to be worshipped because they represented the trinity but not because they were trees.
The Christmas lights are symbols of Jesus, the light of the world. The Father Christmas/Chimney relationship has a solid basis: in Lappland, the nomadic reindeer herdsmen live in underground dens, the entrance to which is through the chimney.
How is Christmas celebrated around the world?
In Russia, the New Year is celebrated with a special meal and vodka. In Moscow, many people go to Red Square to celebrate this date together. The Orthodox Christmas never died, being celebrated with a special meal on January 6th (but not a uniform dish in all families) consisting of a variety of different fare, as is the case in Spain.
In the United Kingdom, Christmas is celebrated on 25th and 26th December, the main meal being the roast turkey on 25th at lunch time. The 26th is called Boxing Day, originally only for the domestic staff, who opened their Christmas boxes on this day after a hard day’s work on 25th.
In the USA Christmas is also celebrated on these days but the main meal is boiled ham.
In Brazil, Christmas is not Christmas without the same piece of boiled ham, or bacon, called “tender”, accompanied also with “chester” (chicken breast) and turkey. In Portugal, the main meal is on 24th December and consists of boiled cod, boiled potato, boiled cabbage and boiled egg, a simple meal in respect of the birth of Christ.
In the Portuguese-speaking African countries, (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe) Christmas is also celebrated on 24th December, with fish, but not necessarily cod.
In Poland, 12 dishes are consumed on 24th December and meat is forbidden, while in the Balkans, there are as many customs as there are peoples. In Serbia, Christmas is celebrated on 6th January and walnuts are spread in the four corners of the house, while an offering is made to the saint of the house.
In other parts of Serbia, a log is cut into pieces and thrown into the fire, one piece for each family member.
Different customs for different peoples who follow different religions in different countries or continents. However, everyone, wherever he or she may live, is united in the love of the family or loved ones, making Humanity a community of brothers who live on the shores of a common lake – the sea.
For those who are excluded from the festivities this Christmas, for whatever reason, let us smile upon them, even if it is only one day a year. Some call this hypocrisy, others will say it is better once than never.
For all of our readers, I wish you a very Happy Christmas in the company of those who you love.
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