#13 Christmas customs

Święta Bożego Narodzenia to szczególny okres w naszym kręgu kulturowym, obfitujący w piękne tradycje i zwyczaje i dlatego poświęcam mu aż dwa odcinki. W drugim odcinku wysłuchaj opowieści o ciekawych tradycjach bożonarodzeniowych. Zarejestruj się i pobierz słownictwo i gramatykę z podstrony „materiały do pobrania” – słuchaj i rozwijaj swój angielski.

In the Great Britain gift parcels are opened on Christmas morning.
December 25 is the Christmas Day. On this day all celebrations and parties take place, the British do not take too much notice though of Christmas Eve.
The traditional Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey and roast potatoes with brussels sprout and side vegetables. Christmas pudding is a very rich , hot cake- like mixture and is usually eaten with brandy sauce. One of the delicacies the British have enjoyed for almost 900 years is the mince pie. This is a sort of small cake made of a delicious mixture of spices and fruit.
It was the Crusaders who introduced it when they brought new aromatic spices – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves from the Holy Land. In the 17th century Oliver Cromwell tried to ban the eating of mince pies as well as singing of carols but people continued to eat it and sing in secret. A Christmas cake is covered with sugar icing and is eaten at tea time. Then crackers are pulled with a bang! A cracker is a decorated paper cylinder, quite huge, which, when pulled apart, makes a sharp noise and releases small toys or candies.
The following day, December 26 is called the Boxing Day.
This day originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in a number of countries that previously formed part of the British Empire. On this day everybody who can – goes to enjoy himself or herself. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls are usually crowded. In the past the Queen broadcast a radio message from her study, then with time, recorded it so it could be broadcast on the Christmas Day by radio in all parts of the British Commonwealth. The most famous Christmas Tree is the one in Trafalgar Square in London.

In the United States many towns have a communal tree. This custom began first in America when an illuminated tree was set up in 1909 at Pasadena, California. Now we can observe the ceremony of putting up the towering Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City as well as in the town square of every community in the country. The nation’s Christmas tree is obviously set up in Washington D.C. Then at dusk a few days before Christmas as a red coated Marine band plays and a children’s choir sing carols, the President of the United States presses a button which lights the tree. This is the signal for lighting the trees across the country.

A very widespread Christmas custom in our culture zone is decorating homes with mistletoe. For hundreds of years now, in many parts of the world, people have believed that mistletoe carries magical powers, has the ability to protect against ghosts and brings good luck. Mistletoe, they were saying, couldn’t be just an ordinary plant as it doesn’t even grow on the ground! It just sits high up in the branches like an extraordinary creature. Nowadays we know that it is a parasitic evergreen shrub and grows on a “host” tree getting almost all the food and care it needs from this host tree. Long ago, though, people had no scientific explanation for such an unusual plant. And so some were saying that mistletoe came to the tree in a flash of lightning! Whatever it was they all agreed that if you picked a sprig and carried it with you, it would bring all the best luck. Our ancestors also believed that mistletoe could guarantee a safe journey, could cure disease, reduce the pains of old age and make poisons harmless.
To the druids it was magical and called it “all-heal”. Many centuries ago, a Scandinavian custom held that if enemies met under mistletoe while battling in a forest, they would have to put down their weapons and make an armistice until the next day. That never stopped the fighting completely, but at least guaranteed some peace in the forests. From this myth began the tradition of hanging mistletoe over a doorway with everyone who entered pledging peace and friendship. Is it just a funny superstition? Maybe yes, but even today we hang it in our homes or doorways at Christmas time and if you should happen to stand under it you would probably get kissed!

Let’s take a look now at some surprising Christmas customs in the world.

One of the weirdest traditions comes from Iceland, where a giant cat is said to roam the snowy countryside at Christmas time. Traditionally farmers made use of this Christmas Cat as an incentive for their workers – those who worked hard would receive a new set of clothes, but those who didn’t would be devoured by the gigantic cat-like beast. And so today it is customary for everyone in Iceland to get new clothing for Christmas to avoid being eaten!
In Italy you may forget about Santa Claus! There is an old and helpful woman called Befana who visits all the children of Italy to fill their stockings with candy and leaves them presents if they’ve been good. Just like Father Christmas, Befana enters through the chimney and leaves treats for the children.

In South Africa, however, children await some creepy crawlies! Fried caterpillars eaten on Christmas may seem like one of the weirdest Christmas traditions. But to everyone who swallows them they bring good luck in the coming year.

In many countries we have Santa Claus, of course, who brings gifts and loves getting cookies and milk. But in Austria there is an absolutely unusual character associated with Christmas. It is Krampus who does just the opposite to Santa Claus. It is an extremely scary figure with long horns and devilish face and comes to punish children that have been naughty.
While Santa rewards children that have been good all year and deserve treats and gifts, Krampus is the exact opposite. He’s a figure in the mythology of many Eastern European countries, including Austria, and he comes during Christmas to punish children that have been bad. It is quite common to see the whole parades of horrifying figures in search of scaring children and adults alike. If it may be interesting for you, check the annual Krampus parade in Vienna.
I do hope that you’ve enjoyed all the stories.
Once more – Merry Christmas!