Christmas in Poland is not only an important family holiday but a national one too.
A Christmas tree is decorated in every family home on Christmas Eve. Every housewife, before laying the table for dinner, would put a little bit of hay on it, which symbolizes the manger where the Saviour was born. Twelve dishes are put on the table and the guests should have a taste of each one of them. One seat at the festive table is always left vacant for an occasional guest, and sometimes lonely people are invited to the meal. The traditional dish is carp, the head of which should be eaten by the host. It is also customary to serve mushroom soup, barley porridge with prunes, favernuha (cookies with nuts and honey), chocolate cake.
After the celebration in the family circle, Poles go out and perform shows on Gospel stories. Masked men walk around the houses, performing traditional Christmas carols.
Greece is an Orthodox country where many Twelfth Feasts are public holidays. Christmas is celebrated according to the European tradition on 25th December, but the old traditions are not forgotten.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Christmas celebrations in Greece is the symbol of the feast – the ship. The owners of yachts and boats are decorating their vessels; decorated ships are put in town squares and in the houses; children are going carol singing with hand-made little ships decorated in all sorts of ways! One of the versions of the emergence of such an unusual for us tradition is that the ship reflects the change in the course of our life after the arrival of Savior into the world…
Apart from carrying the little boats children go carol singing with decorated palm trees and metal triangles. And in the old times, people in the villages used to walk about with any metal objects to hand: pots, horseshoes and even frying pans! The most famous carols are "Trigona Kalanda", the ancient Pontic carol "Beginningless God", "Good Evening, Magi".
The traditional Christmas dish is Christopsomo, Christ's bread. Such bread is prepared with special reverence using only the best flour and a special Christmas set of spices. Bread is always decorated with a cross. It is then consecrated at the liturgy. The Christmas meal begins with it. In some families, pieces of the consecrated bread are stored for a whole year.
Ripe pomegranates, nuts and dried fruits are always put on the Christmas table, as well as traditional cookies - melomacarona and curabiedes.
In order to preserve the awe for the event of Christ’s coming into the world, the celebration of Christ’s Nativity in Georgia is a praise song called “Alilo”, the name most likely to have originated from the Jewish “Alleluia” – “the Praise of God”. Even in the Soviet times, when not many churches were open for worship, the tradition of celebrating Christmas did not stop; the centre of celebrations just moved from churches to believers’ homes.
For Christmas services, the faithful of Georgia tend to visit monasteries. Those who stay at home light candles in the windows as a symbol of "the light of Christ that enlightens all." The angelic praise “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14) is heard in all Georgian families on Christmas night.
On the day of Christ’s Nativity, 7th of January, cross processions “Alilooba” are held everywhere. In Tbilisi such processions start in different parts of the city and end by the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where the festive moleben (prayer service) is served.
After the moleben, the donations for the poor, sick and orphaned are collected. The distinctive feature of the cross procession is white clothing of sheep skins that are worn by many of its participants, which makes them look like the shepherds who were the first to worship the Divine Child. During the procession, a special three-voice hymn "Alilo" is sung, which is performed only at Christmas time.
It is also worth mentioning that every region of Georgia has authentic Christmas traditions and meals of its own.
The usual weather for Christmas in this country is +35 degrees centigrade, but you can still meet Santa Claus, a guest from distant Greenland, in the streets and see decorated Christmas trees in town squares. Since spruce and pine trees do not grow here, the chosen Christmas tree is a coniferous plant - araucaria. Nowadays, it is often replaced by the “ecological” Christmas trees made from plastic bottles or even compact discs. The tallest spruce, decorated with cotton wool flakes (now more often with artificial snow), is installed in Rio de Janeiro, in the centre of Lake Rodrigo de Freitas.
The local people are devout and in the days of preparation for Christmas try to attend church services as often as possible. Christmas Eve is considered a family holiday, but on the day of the Nativity of Christ, mass street festivities with abundant treats are held.
On the 7th of January, the Orthodox believers of the Russian Orthodox Church jurisdiction climb Monte Alegre, mountain overlooking the Guanabara Bay. It so happens that the district of Brazilian Bohemia and the only functioning Orthodox church, the church of Great Martyr Zenaida, are next door neighbours on this mountain. The church was opened in 1935 in memory of the repressed and innocent victims of terror, and among the regular parishioners you can see the descendants of Lermontov and Leskov.
Christmas in Serbia is celebrated on the 7th of January and is considered to be the most important church holiday (while in the Russian Orthodox Church it is the Resurrection of Christ, Easter). Serbs prepare for Christmas following the church rules: they observe a 40-day fast and take part in divine liturgies. The festive period lasts from the day of St. Nicholas (19 December) to the day of St. Sava (27 January), during which time the following holidays are marked: Detintsi (celebrated three weeks before Christmas), Materitse, Otsi, Tucindan, Badnidan, Bozhich, Nova Godina, Epiphany, Yovandan and Savindan. Each one of these is full of unique ancient traditions. Otsi, Materitse and Detintsi are exclusively family holidays, and the Christmas feast itself is also considered a family holiday; on Christmas Eve family members always ask forgiveness of each other.
Christmas Eve is called "badnidan", because it is on this day that the master of the house goes to the woods to cut down the symbol of Christmas - an oak branch. The oak branch is left standing in front of the house till evening when the master brings it into the house along with some straw, and the mistress sprinkles it with wheat. Then the branch is kissed, smeared with honey and burned on a fire. An oak tree also stands in the church, and after the Christmas Eve liturgy, it is taken outside and burned down after moleben (prayer service). “Badniak” (the oak branch) symbolizes both the log that the shepherds brought to light a fire in the cold cave where the Savior was born, and the tree from which the Cross of the Lord, on which He was later crucified, was made...
Christmas in Serbia is called Bozhich. After the festive liturgy, the family sits down to a richly laid table. The celebration begins with the breaking of a special Christmas yeast-free bread “chesnice” made from butter and the best flour. While the bread is being made, various items are added to the dough: grain, coins, beans, walnuts, raisins, figs, a clove of garlic, a sprig of basil. Half of the “chesnice” is divided among family members, and the other half is left for the guests. When breaking the bread, everyone is discussing the unusual fillings they are getting.
The first guest is called Polozhaynik. Entering the house, Polozhainik says: "The peace of God - Christ is born!", And the reply is: "Truly He is born!". Then he stirs up the unburned top of the badnyak, which was left especially for his arrival, and proclaims the good wishes: "As many sparks, so many blessings of God, so much health and happiness, so much goodness and success”. Polozhaynik leaves a small coin by the oven, and the hosts should help the guest to the best of food.
Christmas in Japan is celebrated on the night of 24th to 25th of December. However, not many Japanese associate this day with a biblical story or even a Christian tradition. For most, this feast is just an opportunity to have a good time, and for the children – to receive presents from Santa Curoso. Christmas celebrations remind a fun festival, similar to the Japanese “o-matsuri ”, and for many unmarried Japanese it is... the Day of All Lovers (St. Valentine's Day).
Orthodox Japanese also celebrate Christmas on 25th of December, and the next day they always take part in "glorifications": the priests of the parish visit their parishioners. This tradition was established by Archbishop Nicholas in 1868 and has survived to this day.
More than half of people of the country are Christians of the Ethiopian Church, which was separated in the 5th century. This explains the presence of some unusual for us traditions: at the entrance to the temple parishioners take off their shoes, priests serve in the centre of the church, the service itself is accompanied by sacred dances to the sounds of drums, men and women are strictly separated from each other during prayer (the former are to the left, the latter - to the right).
Christmas services are held both in ancient temples carved from volcanic rocks, and in the modern ones. Christians begin to cross themselves 100 meters away from the church, some crawl towards it on their knees. When Ganna" (Christmas in Ethiopia) begins, everyone who enters the church is given a candle with which they go around the temple three times in prayer. Only after that they pray at the festive liturgy which most often lasts all night.
After the service, believers gather for a festive meal together following ancient traditions. Each believer receives a piece of injera (a large cake made of yeast dough) and “Doro-uot” (roast chicken) from the hands of the other.
Many believers spend the holiday time going on pilgrimages. The main sacred place in Ethiopia is the city of Lalibela.
Design by Olga Senkova
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