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KATHMANDU, DEC 26 - At this time of year, we are bombarded with images of Christmas, reindeer, Christmas trees and Santa Claus. But what do they all mean? What is Christmas all about?

Well one of the figures we see most at this time of year is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. These are basically the same person, but ‘Santa’ is more common in the US while ‘Father Christmas’ more so in the UK. And he has other names too—he’s called ‘Papa Noel’ in France, ‘Saint Nicholas’ in Germany, and in Russia, they have a similar gift bringer called ‘Grandfather Frost.’

The legend of Father Christmas originated in the 17th century, and on Christmas Eve, he is said to visit children all over the world, leaving presents under their Christmas trees or in stockings hung over fireplaces. His usual method of breaking into houses is by coming down the chimney. Children leave him gifts in return; they might leave out a small glass of sherry or brandy and maybe a mince pie to eat. They might also leave a carrot or two for his reindeers.

In Germany, Saint Nicholas gives children gifts on December 6; in Russia, Grandfather Frost arrives in time for the New Year. Different countries have different traditions regarding their own giftbearers.

Father Christmas is aided by his nine flying reindeers, the most famous of which is Rudolph. He was teased by the other reindeers for having a bright red nose until he found he could light the way in the dark for Santa’s sleigh...you’ve probably heard the story in the form of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The other reindeers are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

Most people decorate their homes with Christmas trees. They’re either real trees, or artificial plastic ones. The real ones are usually grown especially for Christmas time, and usually comprise of a fir evergreen tree decorated with lights and baubles.

Germany was the first nation to use Christmas trees in the 16th century. Although people today often put their trees up as early as November, traditionally, it should be put up and decorated on Christmas Eve and taken down on the 12th day of Christmas—January 5. If you put it up earlier or took it down later, you’d have bad luck!

The best part of Christmas, undoubtedly, the food! Each country has its own traditional Christmastime cuisine, from fish soup in the Czech Republic to KFC fried chicken in Japan! (KFC is in fact so popular in Japan at this time of year that you have to place your order two months in advance!)

In the UK and US, the most commonly cooked dish is roast turkey. This tradition started in the 16th century. This year in the US, approximately 46 million turkeys were eaten on Christmas day. Turkey is usually accompanied by a variety of meats, bacon, ham, or ‘pigs in blankets’—sausages wrapped in bacon! If you’re not a meat eater, nut roast is usually eaten in vegetarian households. This is a mixture of nuts and grains, roasted in a loaf. The whole dinner consists of sauces and vegetables and eaten in the afternoon or evening.

For dessert, in the UK we eat Christmas pudding, a steamed fruit cake. It’s often covered in alcohol, and then set on fire before being eaten. Traditionally, a six-pence piece was hidden inside the pudding and whoever found it would have good luck.

You might hear people refer to the day after Christmas day as Boxing Day, another public holiday. Originally, it began as a day for servants to collect Christmas boxes or gifts from their masters and also the day to give money to people and children in need. Today in the UK and US, Boxing Day sales in shops are a big attraction. People rush to the shops for big discounts.

You might have heard the word ‘nativity’ used a lot at this time of year. This is the religious part of the Christmas holidays, the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, his parents, laid him in a manger in a stable. You’ll see traditional nativity scenes as part of decorations; many people have one in their home. It includes statues of Mary and Joseph, Jesus, angels and wise men, and animals such as cows, goats and sheep.

One more thing you might see which are popular with children and adults alike are Advent calendars. Advent is another religious term which signifies the period leading up to Christmas. These calendars are used from December 1 to count down the days until Christmas. They are usually large cards, with 25 windows. On each day a window is opened, behind which you might find a picture of the story of Christmas. Some Advent calendars have chocolates behind each window; parents have to watch their children carefully to make sure they don’t eat all the chocolates in one go!

Posted on: 2012-12-27 09:16

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