Christmas is pretty much the biggest holiday in western societies. Though it has become very secularized, it is still very important to many people. This is my wife's favorite time of year, and we start decorating on Thanksgiving. One of the things I find very fascinating about the holiday is the variety of traditions people have around the world. I work with a Russian woman, and did some relief work at a clinic with a German woman. It was interesting to discuss their traditions versus the ones we normally see in our own country.
One of the reasons for my fascination is my own heritage. My father is from Sweden, and growing up we incorporated many Swedish traditions into the American ones my mother grew up with. Now that I have a family of my own, we have continued this theme and are teaching our kids about Sweden. In America, Santa Claus comes after everyone goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, with presents waiting on Christmas Morning for everyone to open. This is also when families exchange presents with each other. However, in Sweden Yul Tomte comes on Christmas Eve, and actually enters the home when everyone is awake. He gives presents to the good kids and sticks to the bad ones. Families also give each other their presents on Christmas Eve. We have blended these two traditions by exchanging our family presents on Christmas Eve, and having Yul Tomte leave gifts for them outside before they go to bed. Then Santa comes later in the night, and in the morning the kids get their presents from him.
We also use a traditional Swedish advent candle holder, lighting one candle every Sunday during december. We have several Swedish Christmas decorations, such as a straw goat (called the Julbock), and a small figurine of Santa Lucia (a Christian saint who is celebrated on December 13th in Sweden). However, we also leave out cookies for Santa, have a traditional Christmas tree, garland, lights, and so on. We also have new tradtitions that we've started for our own family. On Christmas Eve we read the story of Christ's birth from the Bible. We wrap the baby Jesus from our nativity set that night, and open it as the first present on Christmas morning. On Christmas Day my wife and the kids make a birthday cake for Jesus.
Christmas is most important for it's religious origins (and which I'll talk about tomorrow), but it is also a fun time for families to gather and share special moments and gifts. The kids mostly love getting the gifts, but it's a wonderful time of sharing and giving for us adults as well. This is a very special time of year, one that is truly magical.
Here are a few links of interest....
Christmas in Sweden
Swedish Christmas Traditions
Now here's your turn. I would love to hear of your own unique Christmas traditions, whether it's due to cultural differences or new ideas you've come up with for your own family. Post your own country's or family's spin on Christmas in the comments section!