VALENTINE’S DAY

Each year on February 14th, many people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were at least three early Christian saints by that name. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop in Terni, and the third, St. Valentine which almost nothing is known about, except that he met his end in Africa. Astonishingly, all the three Valentines were said to have been martyred on February 14.

Valentine who was a priest, served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine felt this was unfair so he celebrated marriages in secret. When the emperor found out he was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.
It wasn’t until more than 200 years later that 14 February was proclaimed St Valentine’s Day. By this time Rome had become Christian and the Catholic Church was determined to stamp out any remaining paganism. A pagan fertility ritual was held in February each year and the Pope abolished this festival and proclaimed 14 February Saint Valentine’s Day, thus establishing this feast day on the Catholic Calendar of Saints.

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Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of the most famous holidays in the world. It falls on February the 14th and is celebrated across the world. It is the traditional day for lovers to express their love to each other. They do this by sending Valentine’s cards with romantic messages.  It is common to leave the card unsigned. Other traditions on this  day are buying chocolates and giving red roses. Valentine’s Day used to be an American and European thing, but now it has gone all over the world. It has become very commercial. Companies that make Valentine’s goods even encourage people to send Valentine’s cards to their parents and other family members! In Japan, only women give Valentine’s gifts – to all the men they know.

There is confusion over which Saint Valentine the day is named after. It is either Valentine of Rome, who lived in the third century or Saint Valentine, bishop of Terni, from the 14th century. The custom of exchanging romantic messages seems to have started in 19th-century England. In 1847, an American woman, Esther Howland, started producing and selling Valentine cards. Today, over one billion are sent worldwide, with women sending 85 percent of them. Different companies slowly saw the opportunities to make money from Valentine’s Day. In the 1980s, diamond companies began promoting jewellery as the ultimate Valentine’s gift. French and Italian restaurants are also very busy on this day.

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Christmas in Greece


On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes the will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.

If the children sing well, they might be given money, nuts, sweets and dried figs to eat.

Christmas Trees are becoming more popular in Greece, but they aren’t traditional. Instead most houses will have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.

This is believed to keep the ‘Killantzaroi’ (bad spirits) away. The Killantzaroi are meant to appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). They are supposed to come from the middle of the earth and get into people’s house through the chimney! The Killantzaroi do things like putting out fires and making milk go off. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is also meant to keep the Killantzaroi away.

Every December, in Aristotelous Square in the city of Thessaloniki (which is the second biggest city Greece) a huge Christmas Tree and three masted sailing ship are put up. It’s a popular tourist attraction.

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Going to a Midnight Mass Service is very important for most Greeks. After the service people can go home and end their Advent fast.

The main Christmas meal is often Lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit. It’s often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables. Other Christmas and new year foods include ‘Baklava’ (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry). Another popular Christmas dessert are melomakarono, egg or oblong shaped biscuit/cakes made from flour, olive oil, and honey and rolled in chopped walnuts.

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A traditional table decoration are loaves of ‘christopsomo’ (Christ bread). It’s a round sweet loaf and the crust is often decorated with what the family do for a living (if you’re a fisherman there would be fish, etc.).

In Greek Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Kala Christougenna’.

In Greece, presents are often brought to children by Aghios Vassilis / Άγιος Βασίλης (Saint Basil) on the 1st January.

1st January, New Years Day, is St Vasilis’s Day who is also known as St Basil the Great.

People in Greece also celebrate Epiphany on the 6th January. In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany celebrates Jesus’s baptism when he was a man. It’s also known as ‘The Blessing of the Waters’. There are many events throughout the country where young men dive into really cold lakes, rivers and the sea to try to be first to get a cross which has been blessed by a priest and thrown into the water. Whoever gets the cross first is meant to have good luck during the coming year. Epiphany festivals also include blessings of boats & ships, music, dancing and lots of food.

Christmas in Serbia

In Serbia, the main Church is the Orthodox Church and people still use the old ‘Julian’ Calendar, which means that Christmas Eve is on 6th January and Christmas Day is on the 7th January! Advent in the Orthodox Church starts on 28th November and last for six weeks. During Advent, some people fast and they don’t eat food that comes from animals (meat, milk, eggs, etc.).

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On Christmas Eve, families gather and many people fast and don’t eat food that comes from animals. It is the last day of the Christmas fast. Christmas is a very religious holiday and most people go to the Christmas Services.

There are a lot of old Serbian traditions associated with the countryside, which have now lost their meaning because more people live in towns and cities. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak called the ‘Badnjak’ (Christmas Eve tree) but today people just buy one. Under the table there should also be some straw as a symbol of the stable/cave where Jesus was born.

There are sometimes large bonfires outside churches where oak branches are burnt.

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At Christmas a special kind of bread is eaten. It’s called ‘cesnica’ and each member of the family gets a piece (and the house does too). There is a coin hidden in it and whoever gets the coin will be particularly fortunate in the next year!

In Serbian Happy/Merry Christmas is Hristos se rodi (Христос се роди) – Christ is born Vaistinu se rodi (Ваистину се роди) – truly born (reply).

People in Serbia also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day, but on the 19th December. During the time when Serbia was under communist control (after World War II until about 20 years ago), the communist government didn’t like St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, so they had their own version called Grandfather Frost (Дедa Мрaз / Deda Mraz) or Christmas Brother (Божић Бата / Božić Bata), who came on New Year’s Eve.

Traditional Serbian customs have also mixed with western customs. For example people also have Christmas Trees but they are decorated on New Year’s Eve, not at Christmas!

Christmas in the United States of America


The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people in celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Mexico.

The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne!

Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree!

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In New England (the American States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), there are shops called ‘Christmas Shops’ that only sell Christmas decorations and toys all the year round!

People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowman and Reindeer.

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Towns and cities often decorate the streets with lights to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most famous Christmas street lights in the USA are at the Rockerfeller Center in New York where there is a huge Christmas Tree with a public ice skating rink in front of it over Christmas and the New Year.

In Hawaii, Santa is called Kanakaloka!

 

 

Christmas in the United Kingdom


In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents!

Most families have a Christmas tree (or maybe even two) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was  German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in to England.

Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or other buildings.

Most villages, towns and cities are decorated with Christmas lights over Christmas. Often a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are in Oxford Street in London. Every year they get bigger and better. Thousands of people go to watch the big ‘switch on’ around the beginning of November.

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Like in a lot of countries, Nativity Plays and Carols are also very popular at Christmas time.

Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus  leaves presents  in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children’s beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them.

Children write letters to Father Christmas/Santa listing their requests, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas/Santa reads the smoke.

There are some customs that only take place, or were started, in the UK. Wassailing is an old Anglo-Saxon custom that doesn’t take place much today. Boxing Day is a very old custom that started in the UK and is now taken as a holiday in many countries around the world.

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In Scotland, some people celebrate New Year’s Eve (which is called Hogmanay) more than Christmas! The word Hogmanay comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. All across the UK, in cities and towns, there are fireworks to celebrate the New Year. Two of the most famous fireworks displays are in London, along the River Thames, and in Edinburgh at the Hogmanay celebrations.

Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there! Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as ‘first footing’. In England it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.

In the UK, the main Christmas Meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It’s normally roast turkey, roast vegetables and ‘all the trimmings’ which means vegetables like carrots & peas, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages. It’s often served with cranberry sauce and bread sauce. (Traditionally, and before turkey was available, roast beef or goose was the main Christmas meal. In Scotland, some people might even have Haggis instead of turkey!). One vegetable that is often at Christmas in the UK are brussel sprouts. I love them but lots of people don’t!

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Dessert is often Christmas Pudding. Mince pies and lots of chocolates are often eaten as well! The dinner table is decorated with a  Christmas Cracker  for each person and sometimes flowers and candles.

The UK is also famous for Christmas Cake  – some people love it and some people really don’t like it! It’s traditionally a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing – and often top with Christmas themed cake decorations like a spring of holly.

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In the UK, it doesn’t snow very often, but people always want to know if it will be a ‘White Christmas’. The British definition, used by the UK Meteorological Office (who say if it has been a White Christmas in the UK or not!), is that a single snow flake has been seen falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day! This doesn’t happen a lot in the UK!!!

Statistics show that in the UK, they get an official White Christmas about every 4 or 5 years and have real snow at Christmas about 1 in 10 years (but often this is only normally in Scotland!).

Good Friday

Jesus was killed on the cross

On Good Friday Christians remember the day that Jesus was killed on the cross. He was nailed to a wooden cross by Roman soldiers. This is the reason why the cross is an important sign for Christians today. There are crosses in churches and many Christians wear a cross on a chain.

Good Friday is a sad day and churches never have flowers or decorations on this day. The church is left dark and there is just a simple cross on the altar. It is known as Good Friday because Christians believe that Jesus gave up his life for the good of everyone.

The Crucifixion is remembered in Jerusalem even today. Large crowds of Christians take the same path as Jesus. In some countries people act out the story of Jesus’ last day while others watch and think about the events which happened long ago.