Grandpa Pencil
learns a bit about

Christmas around
the world


  • Advent
    The season before Christmas beginning on the forth Sunday before it:
    The coming of Christ.
  • Ashen Faggot
    Where a Yule Log cannot be found (and it shouldn't be purchased) bundles of ash branches or logs are tied together.
    The ash from the fire is sprinkled on the soil as a magic fertiliser.
  • Babushka
    In Poland, Babushka distributes the gifts to the children.
    Her name means 'grandmother' and the legend is that she declined to go with the Three Wise Men to see Jesus because it was too cold.
    Regretting her decision she filled a basket with gifts and set off to see Him but never found Him.
    She now leaves gifts for the children just in case one of them is Him
  • Befana
    Italian: A kind, though ugly witch who rides a broomstick.
    When told of the birth of Jesus by the Three Kings she was busy and delayed visiting the Child,
    She missed the star and lost her way and has been flying around ever since.
    She leaves gifts for the children just in case He is there.
  • Bethlehem
    The town in Palestine (now Jordon) that is claimed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
  • Birth of Jesus
    The actual birth of Jesus, though not really known, is considered to be in April.
    The various branches of the church celebrated the birth at different times until about AD 400 when, because of the traditional association with the period straight after the Winter Solstice as a time of rebirth, the church in Rome settled on December 25
  • Bibliomancy
    In Scotland, a tradition where, at the New Year's Feast, the family bible is prayed over and each person wishing to learn of his/her fortune (future) opens it at random and points at a verse. The content of that verse indicates the answer sought.
  • Black Peter
    St. Nicholas' assistant.
  • Boxing Day
    See St. Stephen's Day.
  • Boy Bishop
    Drawn from the 'reversal' tradition of the celebration of Saturnalia, a chorister is allowed to take on the role of Bishop.
    The boy wears the cope and Mitre of the Bishop, carries his crozier and participates in parts of the service where no ordained priest is required.
    The Boy Bishop preaches the sermon on Holy Innocents Day.
  • Christmas Cards
    Christmas cards are a product of Victorian England.
    Developed in 1845 they gained widespread acceptance in 1870.
  • Christmas Fairy
    We see at the top of many Christmas trees, a fairy.
    She represents the Holy Mother giving the gift of 'life everlasting' through the sacrificial offering of her Son, Jesus, Attis or Mithras.
  • Christ
    Equivalent to the Hebrew word Messiah.
    The Greek Christos is 'the Anointed One'.
  • Crib
    The Nativity Crib was first thought of, and made, by St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian Saint.
  • Dies Natalis Invicti Solis
    The pagan feast of the Sun.
  • Epiphany
    January 6 (little Christmas)
  • Hogmanay
    A long time ago in Scotland the people disapproved of the most unholy festivities of Christmas and had their celebrations on New Year's Day, Hogmanay.
    Though now celebrating Christmas, Hogmanay if their major celebration.
  • Jota
    A special Spanish Christmas dance.
  • Julklapp
    In Germany, Sweden and Denmark a Julklapp is a gift or 'Christmas Box'.
    People go to friend's houses, knock on the door, throw the gift in when the door is opened then run away before being recognised.
  • Kallikantzeri
    Greek: Mischievous goblins who appear from the earth during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
    It is customary to leave food out for them.
  • Knocking Night
    A German custom loosely based on the story of Mary and Joseph.
    knocking on the inn doors looking for accommodation
    .
    Wearing scary costumes and masks, people go from door to door making very scary noises and occasionally sticking a pitchfork through the door so that food can be skewered onto it.
  • Merri Krihimete
    Merry Christmas in the New Zealand Maori language.
  • Mistletoe
    The mistletoe was a plant sacred to the Druids.
    Hung over the door it indicates hospitality.
    Carried into battle by heralds the mistletoe was used to indicate a cessation of hostilities or a time for talk and reconciliation.
    With it's sharp leaves, pale flowers and blood red berries the mistletoe fitted easily into the story of Christ.
  • Mumming Play
    A Christmas play which could involve all or any of Santa Claus, the black knight, St. George, Beelzebub, and many others in a 'Punch and Judy' style battle of goodies v baddies.
  • Nativity
    Three dimensional scenes depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the various animals that might have been found in the stable.
    This tradition stems from the custom of the worship of the Mother Goddess, Isis, nursing her son, Horus.
  • Nisse/Tomte
    Christmas is the time, in Denmark, when the mischievous elf, Nisse, enjoys playing practical jokes.
    Living in the lofts of old farmhouses wearing grey woolen clothes, a red cap and stockings and white clogs, people give him a bowl of rice pudding on Christmas eve to stop him going too far.
    Helping on farms he is kind and good to children.
  • Novena
    Special prayers or services on 9 consecutive days.
    The Italian Christmas season starts 8 days before Christmas or 'the beginning of Novena.'
  • Nowell
    Noel: A word shouted or sung as an expression of joy to commemorate the birth of Christ.
  • Oplatek
    A thin wafer of bread imprinted with the nativity scene.
    On Christmas eve in Poland it is passed from person to person who each break off a piece before handing it on.
  • St. Nicholas's Eve
    Throughout Europe, though mainly in Holland, the festivities take place on St. Nicholas' Eve, December 5.
    St. Nicholas, as the story goes, was a Bishop and comes each year from Spain riding a white horse.
    Good children get a gift of sweets or biscuits while bad kids get a light whack with a birch twig or get tied up in a bag and carried off to Spain.
    Children leave out wooden clogs filled with hay, carrots or bread for the horses.
  • St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day)
    An old, and now rare, tradition on St. Stephen's Day was the "Hunting the Cutty Wren' where boys would catch a wren and cage it for the duration of 'the twelve days of Christmas.'
    Sweets, cakes and gifts were offered by people wishing to view the wren.
    Boxing Day is also the time when servants, apprentices and all of those service providers like posties and garbage men get a tip.
    The box was either a clay money box into which employers and customers would put money or a box packed with clothing, fabric or food left over from the Christmas table, given to servants or the poor.
  • Santa Claus
    Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, Pere Noel, the Christmas Angel, the Christkind, Befana, The Three Wise Men, Babushka.
  • Saturnalia
    Many ancient peoples celebrated 'The Rebirth' around the Winter Solstice and in Roman times the celebration was dedicated to the Lord of Time, Saturn, and was called Saturnalia.
    Burning candles were offered to call back the sun and to ward off 'evil influences' thought to abound through the dark time of the year.
  • Sincktuck
    In far north Canada the Eskimos celebrate Sincktuck (big dance and gift giving party.)
  • Sinterklaas Eve
    Sinterklass avond: December 5 in Holland is Sinterklass Eve when gifts are given and received.
  • Stir Up Sunday
    When the reading in church, on the last Sunday before Advent, begins, "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of the faithful people..." Now was the time to get on with the preparations for the Festive Season.
  • Wassail / Wassailing
    Spiced ale drunk on the Twelfth night and Christmas Eve and the act of caroling.
  • Wigilia
    A Polish Christmas Eve supper containing no meat.
    An empty chair sits at the feast table for the Holy Child.
  • Yuletide
    From 'Yul" meaning wheel. This was a time for things to turn around and move forward.
    Long ago there was a lengthy feast lasting from the (northern) Winter Solstice from December 21 through to the beginning of January to celebrate the returning of the sun.
    Some, through this celebration, offered fires and decorated trees to encourage the light and the sun to return.
  • Yule Log
    The root of a large oak or ash, the Yule log was burned throughout the whole 'Twelve days of Christmas' leaving a piece to be used as kindling for next year's log.

nisse/Tomte
the mischievous elf, Nisse



     

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