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!