Monday, December 19, 2016


  In France, different regions of the nation celebrate Christmas differently, and even at different times.  Most provinces recognized and celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but in northern and eastern regions of France, the Christmas season is officially begun on the 6th day of December. La fete de Saint NIcolas, la fete des Rois, and la Fete de lumieres, honor Saint Nicholas, the Epiphany, and the Virgin Mary.  These holidays are special parts of the French Christmas season.
   Children in France don't hang stockings by the chimney, they place their shoes in front of the fireplace for Pere Noel to fill with gifts. Candy, fruits and nuts, and toys are also hung on the tree Christmas Eve night.  Pere Fouettard, who is basically Santa's Counterpart, gives out spankings to naughty boys and girls.


  In 1962, France passed a law requiring all letters written to Pere Noel,  to receive a response, so Santa sends each child a postcard acknowledging their letter and wishing them a happy holiday season.
   La Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass) on Christmas Eve is an important part of Christmas for many families, and is followed by a grand feast.  This feast is called le Revellion is meant to be a symbolic awakening to the glory and miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Many restaurants and cafes stay open all night to serve this meal.  Each French region has it's own traditional menu ranging from turkey, goose, and chicken to a dish similar to white pudding, called boudin blanc.
   Traditional dessert foods include la buche de Noel ( Yule log cake made with chocolate and chestnuts), le pain calendeau (Christmas loaf, which is shared with a less fortunate person), and la Galette des Rois (round cake that is cut and handed out by a child hiding under the table.  There is a charm hidden inside, and whoever finds it is King or Queen during the celebration of Epiphany.

   The sapin de Noel (or Christmas Tree) is a similar traditional decoration in homes and businesses, as well as town squares.  Lights and candles are common, but candles are used more in France than in America, to honor the Virgin Mary.  After the Awakening, it is customary to leave a candle burning in case Mary should pass by.
   Another important aspect of French Christmas celebrations is the creche (nativity scene) displayed in churches and homes.  Living nativity's are commonly performed to remind those in attendance that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the miracles surrounding that birth.

   For those looking to incorporate international Christmas traditions into your family celebrations, consider downloading and playing some French Christmas carols.  Perhaps this year, your family can leave a candle burning in case Mary wanders by, or attend a living nativity offered by a local church.  Even playing some French carols during dinner might make you feel like you are in a decorated French cathedral, lit by candlelight. "Joyeaux Noel"(Merry Christmas)!



  Christmas means cold weather fun for many parts of the world, but in Brazil, Santa turns in his fur-lined coat, hat, and warm boots for warm-weather silks!  That's just the beginning.  Christmas in Brazil is a diverse celebration of many cultures and heritages that mirrors our own in some ways, but is vastly different in others.
   Brazil started out as a colony of the Portuguese, which is the official language of Brazil.  Because of this, the most common Christmas tradition, the presepio, will likely be an enduring one.  Presepio refers to the bed of straw that Jesus was laid upon at birth, and thus, the nativity scene is central to most who celebrate Christmas.
   Catholics attend a Midnight Mass (Missa de Galo) on Christmas Eve night, and then on Christmas Day.  Late afternoon masses are held so that people sleeping late after midnight mass can rest, or go to the beach, as it is summer time during Christmas in Brazil.  Afterward, traditional Christmas dinner is served, consisting of turkey, ham, vegetables, colored rice, and fruit dishes.  It is known as "Cela de Natal", and is held in homes across Brazil, amongst decorations of Christmas trees, fresh flowers, and other decorations.
   Outside, most decorations consist of nativity scenes (presepios) or huge Christmas trees made from strings of electric lights.  Festivities are held to enjoy the decorations, folk dancing, and singing, among other things,  to create the holiday spirit, until January 6th, which is when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus to give him their gifts.  It is known as Three Kings Day.



   Santa Claus is known as Papa Noel, and wears silken clothes to keep cool in the heat.  Children leave their shoes outside, in hopes that Papa Noel will fill them with candy and small treats.  Parents hide presents throughout the house, but children must first make breakfast for their parents and serve it to them in bed before they can be opened.  That sounds like a tradition that we Americans should adopt, it might teach our children a little patience!
   One of the most popular events in Brazil is the Christmas of Light event.  it was started in 1986, by Elezar de Carvalho, who was one of Brazil's greatest conductors.  Through the years, the Christmas of Light event has evolved into a complex,  light-filled show, that involves over 2000 volunteers to prepare.  With a green theme, its popularity only rises.  Decorations are made using recycled soda bottles, collected year round at Gramado schools, and the decorations are reused year after year, causing the event to grow bigger each and every year.  Natal Luz, or Christmas of Light, usually runs from mid-November to mid-January. 

    Families looking to travel at Christmas time might consider Brazil, a warm alternative to the snowy Chrstimases in the Untied States and similar countries.  For those of us not so fortunate to be able to travel at Christmas, perhaps breakfast in bed!  So as they say in Brazil, "Feliz Natal"! Merry Christmas to you and yours!



   The holidays are filled with joyful emotions and honored traditions, including the playing of songs about snowmen, St. Nick, evergreen trees, and presents wrapped up with big bows.  No matter how you celebrate the season, you'll hear these songs on the radio, T.V., at the mall, in the office, and just about anywhere music is played.
   If you think the same songs are played over and over, you're right, but if this bothers you, consider the alternative: Christmas carols were banned in England between 1649 and 1660.  Oliver Cromwell, serving as Lord Protector of Britain, believed Christmas should be solemn and also banned parties, limiting celebration to sermons and prayer services.
   Lots of holiday songs are festive, many have spiritual overtones, and all are played so often that they are familiar no  matter what your faith.  But what do you know about how these songs were created and the people who wrote them?
   There are some fascinating facts behind this memorable music.  So, toss a log on the fire, pour yourself some eggnog or hot cocoa, and sit back and relax,  as we reveal the secrets behind many of the tunes you hear during the  Christmas season.

"The Christmas Song", by Mel Torme and Bob Wells in 1944.
   On a sweltering July day in Los Angeles, 19 year old jazz singer, Torme, worked with 23 year old Wells to create this beautiful tune.  Full of wintry images and a charming wistfulness for all the delights of the season, the song became an enormous hit by Nat King Cole the following year.  In Torme's autobiography, he says Wells wasn't trying to write lyrics but was simply jotting down ideas that would help him forget about the heat wave.


"The First Noel", Traditional 16th or 17th century carol.
   Some say this is a song with a British background while others insist it has French origins.  So far, no one has any definitive proof.  Two things are for certain: first, it's very popular if two countries are claiming it, and second, counting the title, the word "Noel" appears in the song 30 times.


"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Wesley, and William Cummings, 1739.
   Wesley's opening line was "Hark how all the welkin rings" and he protested when a collegue changed it.  Wesley wanted a slow and solemn anthem for his song, but William Cummings set the lyrics to rousing music by Felix Mendolssohn (from a cantata about movable type by inventor Johann Gutenberg).  For his part, Mendolssohn specified that his composition only appear in a secular context, not spiritual.  So both original authors' wishes were thwarted in the creation of this glorious song.


"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1943.
   The songwriting team of Martin (music) and Blane (lyrics) worked together for 5 decades, producing Oscar and Tony nominated songs.  This hauntingly lovely tune was made famous by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, "Meet Me in St. Louis".  While the song is a bittersweet gem, the original lyrics were actually darker and not to Garland's liking.  Since she was a huge star at the time, and was dating the film's director, Vincent Minnelli (she married him the following year), the changes were made.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas", Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, 1942.
   Gannon and Kent worked often together, but even with her three Academy Award nominations, nothing was as successful as this wartime song.  By getting it to Bing Crosby, they were assured of big sales even though it competed with Crosby's recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".  The song is a perennial favorite, and appears often in films, including "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Polar Express".

"Jingle Bells", James Pierpont, 1850's.
   Starting out as a lively celebration of the Salem Street sleigh races, the song called "One-Horse Open Sleigh", made a fast transition to the more sober atmosphere of the church social and became known as "Jingle Bells".  While there are 4 verses, only the first is usually sung,  because of the lyrics in the remaining 3 verses.  A woman named Fannie Bright appears in verse two, which also features a sleigh crash.  The 3rd verse displays an anti-Samaritan laughing at a fallen sleigh driver and leaving him sprawled in a snow bank, while the final verse offers such lines as "Go it while you're young" and "Take the girls tonight".  Ah yes, just good clean mid-nineteenth century fun.

"Joy to the World", Isaac Watts and Lowell Mason, 1719 and 1822.
   The words, inspired by the 98th Psalm, were written by Watts, a British pastor, preacher, and poet.  More than a century later, banker and choral teacher Mason composed music for the piece but attributed it to Handel, presumably to make the hymn more popular.  It took another century for the hoax to be uncovered.

"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", Johnny Marks, 1949.
   Beginning as a coloring book written by advertising copywriter Robert L. May in 1939, the story of an unloved caribou triumphing over adversity was a promotional item for Montgomery Wards department stores.  May's fairy-tale was enormously popular, and became even more so when May's brother-in-law, songwriter Marks, composed music and lyrics and got the composition to singer Gene Autry.  That version sold 2 million copies the first year alone.  While most of the other reindeer names were invented by Clement Moore in his 1822 poem, "The Night Before Christmas", the hero of the May story was called Rollo.  Wait, that name was nixed by store executives, so he became Reginald.  Oops, that was also rejected, too.  Finally, May's daughter suggested Rudolf.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town", Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots, 1932.
   After countless versions by stars as varied as Bruce Springsteen and Perry Como, it's hard to believe that Gillespie and Coots' song was turned down all over town because it was "a kid's song".  Even though Coots was a writer on the Eddie Cantor radio show.  Cantor at first passed on the song, only agreeing to do it at the urging of his wife.  Now it's so successful there's even a parody version by Bob Rivers (in the style of Springsteen) called "Santa Claus is Foolin' Around".

"Silent Night", Joseph Mohr and Franz X. Gruber, 1916-1818.
   There are numerous stories and fanciful speculations about the origin of this beautiful song.  Tossing aside the more lurid stories, we are left with this: the poem, "Stille Nacht", was written by Mohr, who became assistant pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria.  Mohr gave the poem to Gruber, the church organist, reportedly on Christmas Eve, in 1818, and was performed that same midnight.  Oddly, the first version did not involve an organ, but was arranged for two voices, guitar and choir.  Both Mohr and Gruber created manuscripts with different instrumentation at various times from 1820 to 1855.  The tune first made its way around the world as a "Tyrolean Folk Song" before gaining enough fame to be instantly recognized with its first two words or first four notes.  The Silent Night web page claims there are more than 300 translations of the song and features links to 180 versions in 121 languages.

White Christmas", Irving Berlin, 1942.

   Sometimes considered America's most popular holiday song, Berlin composed it for a movie soundtrack ("Holiday Inn", starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire).  With its quiet power and elegant longing for the simple pleasures of the past, it was the perfect song for the gloomy months during the middle of World War II.  Composer Berlin was not positive about the song when he first presented it to Crosby, but Bing's confidence was well founded.  Spawning a movie of its own (1954's "White Christmas" with Crosby and Danny Kaye), the song hit the Top 30 nearly 20 times and has now sold more than 30 million copies.  There are reportedly 500+ recorded versions of the tune in two dozen languages.


   Christmas is a Holy Christian observance that is often celebrated with imaginative, fanciful traditions from folklore and legend.  Santa Claus is a legendary personality, similar to St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Sinterklass, and Julenisse.  Christkindl, representing the Christ Child, started bringing small gifts to children in Germany during the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and German Christkindl.
   Christmas personalities are authority figures who bring gifts to good children.  In some cultures the Santa Claus figure is feared because he knows all and sees all and may decide children are bad and leave nothing or something like a lump of coal.
   As people move around the world, traditions mix and change with time.  The United States is a melting pot of cultures with different traditions observed by the many ethnic groups in the country.  Likewise, many cultures may adopt the traditions of neighboring countries.
   The following are some different Santa figures and traditions around the world.


  • Austria- St. Nicholas Eve is celebrated on December 6th.  Christmas Eve is when families gather for dinner.  Christkindl, a young woman dressed in robes, visits Austrian homes and gives gifts to children.

St. Nicholas

Pere Noel

  • Belgium- Dutch speaking Belgians are visited by St. Nicholas on December 6th.  Francophone's are visited by Pere Noel on December 6th.


Father Christmas

  • EnglandFather Christmas fills stockings or pillowcases with presents for children.


  • Finland- Finns know that Santa Claus, also called Jouloupukki, lives in the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland.  Since Santa lives so close to the children in Finland, he is able to visit them while they are still awake and able to greet the "Jolly Old Elf."



  • Germany- There are different traditions in Germany, depending upon the region and religion.  St. Nicholas Day is observed by Catholic Families, Christkindl, an angelic figure in a white robe representing the Christ Child, visits many Protestant homes.  There is also a Santa Claus type figure called Weihnachtsmann who brings gifts.


St. Nicholas

  • Hungary- December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, an important winter holiday in Hungary.  Children leave their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with chocolate candy and other goodies.

Father Christmas

  • Ireland- Children in Ireland leave stockings or pillowcases at the end of their beds, hoping that Father Christmas will visit and fill them with treats.

La Befana

  • Italy- The Italian equivalent of Santa Claus is La Befana.  The elderly, witch like woman flies above Italy on a broomstick to give gifts to the children on Epiphany Day.

Papa Noel

  • Lebanon- Papa Noel is the Santa Claus in Lebanon.  Children wait for Papa Noel to leave presents near the manger under the Christmas tree.

St. Nicholas and Black Peter

  • Luxembourg- St. Nicholas is accompanied by his servant Black Peter (Houseker).  Children leave out plates for St. Nicholas on December 5th to be filled with fruits, nuts and sweets.


  • Mexico-  The Magi leave gifts for children on Christmas Eve.


  • Netherlands- Sinterklaas is St. Nicholas in the Netherlands.  Dutch children put wooden shoes filled with hay and sugar for Sinterklaas' horse.  Good children receive shoes full of sweet treats.




Santa Claus

  • Norway- Elfin beings called Nisse are part of the Norwegian folklore.  Norwegians offer Christmas Eve porridge to the Julenisse who lives in the barn to avoid elfin trickery and mischief by Fjonisse, who lives in the barn and cares for animals.  Santa brings gifts for the children on Christmas. 


  •  Puerto Rico- The Magi, or three Kings-Malchor, Gaspar and Baltazar, visit and leave gifts for children in Puerto Rico.

Grandfather Frost and handmaiden

St. Nicholas


  • RussiaSt. Nicholas delivered Christmas gifts in Russia until communist rule, when Grandfather Frost took over.  Grandfather Frost usually wears a blue suit instead of the red suit of Santa Claus.  A handmaiden accompanies Grandfather Frost.

St. Nicholas

Slovenia- St. Nicholas and mischievous elves visit to scare children who have misehaved during the year.

Santa Claus

  • South Pacific Islands- Santa Claus arrives on the beach in a magical canoe.


  • Sweden- The Christmas gnome, called Tomte, is supposed to live under the floorboards of the house or barn.  Tomte brings a sack of gifts and distributes them to kids.


  • Switzerland- The Christkindl appears as a beautiful angel dressed in white and lights the candle on the Christmas tree and distributes gifts to children.

Santa Claus

  • United States- Santa Claus flies in a sled drawn by flying reindeer and slides down the chimney to deliver gifts to children.  St. Nicholas also visits many homes on St. Nicholas Day.