DECEMBER TRADITIONS PART TWO

 

FATHER CHRISTMAS/SANTA CLAUS

United Kingdom and North America

Well, this is the one for me, the one I know the most about, having been born and bred in England. I just loved Christmas as a child, and still do really, even though a little bit of the sparkle has gone since I grew up.

But we are all a child a heart and the minute I see Christmas trees, holly and decorations, I am, deep inside, that same child who loves Christmas

As I said in my blog about the Netherlands, when I came to live here, no one really bothered about Christmas, but now it is a big event.

So what is all about:

Well, each and every child is told at a very early age about Father Christmas and that he lives at the North Pole. There with his family of eleves, he spends the entire year making toys for children. Everyone sends off a letter to him to tell him if they have been ‘naughty or nice’ and you are on THE LIST. Father Christmas checks it twice, remember the famous song, and on Christmas Eve (24thDecember) he departs with an immense sack of toys, a sleigh and reindeer all over the world. Magic happens, he can go down chimneys, through fireplaces and is able to put a present by every single Christmas tree, which is all decorated with baubles, tinsel, glitter and lights. Every child leaves him a mince pie and a glass of milk and perhaps something for the reindeer and miraculously he gets around the entire world all in one night.

I remember it well as a child, the most exciting time of the year, even better than birthdays. Yes, really.

So let’s talk a bit first about the history of Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

The first records about Father Christmas date back to the 15thCentury. The figure as we know him today was developed in the Victorian period. Originally the Puritan controlled English Government tried unsuccessfully to abolish Father Christmas but the Royalist supporters, linked the tradition not only to gift-bringing and giving, but also to days of feasting, drinking and good cheer.  It was actually in Victorian times, Father Christmas was accepted as a ‘person’ who was more associated with children than adults. The myth of Santa Claus (which originated from America) came to England in 1850 and has grown a lot since that date. There is really no difference anymore about the different names, Father Christmas or Santa Claus, both are now accepted as being the same.

Father Christmas is now personified as being a jolly, slightly overweight man, in a red hooded cloak, trimmed with white fur. He has white hair and a long white beard. Always carried a large sack of presents of course! Remember?

On Christmas Eve we would usually go to the cinema for the latest Disney film. The one etched in my memory the most was Sleeping Beauty and the magical fairies. As a small child, I really believed in it all. Going home on a bright starlight clear night, stopping at the phone box (yes probably many of you will not even remember them). We would phone my grandparents up north, wish them Merry Christmas, because my grandfather would be holding services at his church. I never really understood the true meaning of him being a non-conformist minister, it sounds as if he just wanted to do things a bit different in his church, Zion in Hyde, Cheshire, UK. Good for him, it is a bit like I am I suppose, I like to do things differently too, too many rules and regulations are something that I cannot do at all.

Then we would go home, have mince pies and of course a cuppa! Then off to bed, it was later than usual and there would be no visit from Father Christmas until all children are asleep.

Then the following morning I would be awake at about 5am, rush into our lounge and marvel at the piles and piles of presents. Waking my parents up, so totally over excited. My Mum would make tea, looking as is she was half asleep (well she was). Then we would open presents and no we never managed to save some for later. After breakfast the work would start for The Christmas Dinner. Usually my other grandparents were staying with us too. So it was all fun, I thought. I would play with all the new things whilst there was a hive of activity in the kitchen.

Christmas dinner or a very late lunch was just before the Queen’s speech at 3pm. It was not done to miss that! And when you think she is 93 now and still giving our her Christmas Message, it’s quite a remarkable thing isn’t it.

Back to Father Christmas, when all the presents are delivered he and a very tired group of reindeer travel back to the North Pole, until next year.

I think that this tradition is similar in many European countries too, but I would love some feedback from you please readers. Subscribers to my RSS fed. Please share your story. One thing I remember when I had my own children was that it was a real major task each and every year, splitting the presents between Sinterklaas and Christmas. I always tried to have a theme each year, and everyone would get something relating to that theme. From socks to watches, from perfume to aftershave.

And there is one thing I just have to have each and every Christmas and that is a mince pie. My mother used to make the best ever. She was really good at shortcrust pastry. Mincemeat for those who have never heard of it, is a mixture of dried fruits, suet and sometimes nuts. You make a pie of pastry (small), fill it, place a topping on and bake. My Christmas box has arrived this morning from the British Corner Shop in the UK and I will take a photo and add to the blog, so you can see for yourselves. So heaven from now, on each and every coffee break, no one else eats them and I have 12, for the 12 Days of Christmas, like the famous song. And a Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding. I am all sorted out this year.

So miss ‘Marks and Spencers’ here in The Hague, that was always a day out with my son, shopping and having so many bags from there, we had to always take them back to the car before carrying on. Because believe me there is absolutely no chocolate anywhere in the world, like Cadbury’s.

On Friday this week a friend is coming for the day and we will go to the Christmas Market at the garden centre, the largest in Holland.

So wherever you are in this world, which ever way you celebrate, just a final message to finish off these two blogs.

I wish you all a very ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. Thank you to all my readers for all your support this year, the huge amount of reactions I have had from all of you. I have tried as much as possible to reply to all of them. If you want to ask me something specifically or something you do not want to share in the feed, you can. Just send me an email to wordpassion12@gmail.com. Please mark it personal though I get on average about 200-300 each and every day.

Make sure you kiss all your loved ones this year under the Mistletoe. (The blog about this is in the feed December 2017)

DECEMBER TRADITIONS PART ONE

Make December a month to remember!

Since my website seems to be trending all over the world, suddenly people get in touch with me and cross my path. Often with questions about which programme I am using for my blogs and which support engine i.e. domain. Sometimes it loads up really fast, sometimes too slow, how do I add plugin’s and so on. So before I go on: I am using WordPress supported by Hostnet PRO and Google Chrome is the best.

Other people have questions about my books and I really enjoy connecting with people across the globe. Often simple questions and chats turn into longer conversations and all of a sudden you find yourself with a new friend, in another country, another continent, another belief, different languages, different traditions and different celebrations in the month of December.

So to this special person, (yes, inspired by you Laim) the first part of my blog about December traditions is all about the Jewish celebration of Chanoeka or Hanukkah. This year, 2018 it officially begins at sunset on Sunday 2ndDecember for a period of 8 days. Inspired by the words: Honesty above Forgery. Spirituality above Materialism.

Virtually everyone knows that this Jewish tradition is all about the ancient festival of light. But when I looked up more information about it, it is incredibly interesting and this is the reason why I am sharing with you

We have all heard of the special candelabra (menorah) with nine candles, which is officially called a Chanoekia. It used to have seven candles; I am not sure why this has changed? Anyone know? Each day a candle is lit until they are all, the ninth being lit on the final day. Some traditions say all are lit at the same time, and in ancient times burned all 8 days, but I prefer to think myself that this may have been the oil used in the cleansing ritual as opposed to an actual candle. Please correct me if I am wrong in the comments.

Sometimes there are four Hebrew letters on the candelabra (see photo). These are:

Noen, Gimmel, He and Sijen. The most popular meaning of this four-letter combination is: nes gadol haja sjam– meaning a great wonder, which occurred. This relates to the wonder of the Chanoeka bottle, which was used to initiate the Temple in ancient times in Jerusalem.

Other explanations for the words are: noen= nothing, gimmel= ganz (everything), he= half and sijen= pay.

(A simple explanation is; that you should put your money back into the pot), which in itself it very similar to the collection in Christian churches to this day. And also to modern day casinos, would you believe it, when you place a bet and have a win, often it is expected that you give your original bet (amount) back to the house!

The tradition of Chanoeka dates back to very ancient times. In fact to 165 BC.

The story of Chanoeka can be found in books 1 and 2 of Maccabees. The books as such are not part officially part of the Tenach, (a Jewish holy book) but a part of the Apocrypha (a book of unknown origin). Written at the time of a Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty.

Chanoeka was initiated by Judah Maccabees and his brothers. It was a joyful celebration of the dedication of the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Judah gave the instruction to cleanse the Temple and to build a new altar. When the light was ignited, this was celebrated for the next 8 days. Offers were given and celebrations took place, singing songs, playing games and often with a toy called a ‘top’. This was called a Sevinon or Dreidel with a letter on each side (as above). Often filled with special cleansing oil.

Chanoeka has been celebrated for more than 21 centuries, so it is an ancient tradition. A festival of light. For 8 days. This year ending on 10th December.

Often people make latkes (potato cakes) and Soefgariot (donuts).

 

Actually when you think about this, it’s something, which is celebrated in a similar way with the Christian Advent (the coming of an event – the birth of Jesus), when a candle is lit on the first Sunday in December continuing on for the next four weeks until Christmas.

 

 

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SINTERKLAAS IN THE NETHERLANDS

When I first came to live in The Netherlands, I had never heard before of the celebration of Sinterklaas. (St. Nicholas). This is celebrated on the 5thDecember.

St Nicholas originated from Turkey but came to The Netherlands from Spain with his Moorish helpers, known as Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) in olden times. His steam ship would arrive in one of the ports along the Dutch coastline and he would bring toys and special things for children, who have been good all year. One of the things he brought in years gone by, were oranges from Spain. In those days, many people had never ever seen an orange let alone tasted one.

In the days leading up to 5th December, Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) bring small toys for children who put their shoes by fireplace before they go to bed, leaving a carrot for Sinterklaas’ horse Amerigo.

On the actual day, in other words: the main event: a large sack of presents arrive at the door. Children are of course by this time extremely excited. Families also make funny presents and rhymes for older family members. This is often a moment, when you can tease someone about something that has happened during the year. But all in all, a fun evening, both for young and old.

There are lots of sweets and biscuits made around this time of year, most famous are ‘pepernoten’ (small cinnamon biscuits), ’suikerbeesten’ (small animals made from sugar), ‘chocolate letters (usually with your own initial) and ‘speculaas’ (again a spicy biscuit sometimes filled with marzipan and extremely sweet chocolate ‘kikkers and muizen’ (frogs and mice).  It is interesting to see how these days, a lot of recipes and such like are now using much less sugar than before!). No one ever worried about that before! Or about long term effects!

This is an old tradition dating back over several hundreds of years and it is very sad that recently people have started to take offense to the Black Peter’s describing this racist and such like. Often in the past couple of years, angry demonstrations occurred in places, when Sinterklaas arrives in his boat. This is sad I think, because this is a celebration and old tradition for children, not adults and they do not understand for one moment what all this sudden fuss is all about. They are excited when he arrives, try to behave and be extra good in anticipation of the presents on the 5th. Sinterklaas actually celebrates his own birthday on the 6thDecember. I think it will be a real shame if this eventually disappears just because of intolerance and misunderstanding.

During the years I have lived here, Christmas, which was hardly apparent when I first came, has really overtaken Sinterklaas and is celebrated by more and more people each year. People put trees and decorations in their homes and gardens, which all looks really magical on the darker evenings. So basically they are celebrating the light too?

Father Christmas seems to be taking over slowly but surely.

 

To be continued…. and please if you feel like sharing the traditions and customs in your own country, leave a comment which I can then add to the feed.

 

Images: Google Images