By Bob Brooke

Here's hoping that this story will bring the light of Christmas into your life and those you love.

The customs and traditions of Christmas in America as we know them today are a blending of those celebrated around the world. About the only thing that all these ethnic celebrations have in common is the birth of the Christ Child; other than that, they’re as unique as the cultures that have initiated them.

By far the closest to our own Christmas celebration is that of the British. In Great Britain„ starry-eyed children hang their stockings for Father Christmas to fill, and the day after Christmas, the Brits celebrate Boxing Day, a day when families give money to the milkman, postman, and others who have served them throughout the year.

An early traditional English dinner would have included brawn (head cheese), roast peacock,, boar's head, and mutton pies. These have now been replaced by goose, turkey and capon. Desserts still include plum pudding served with traditional fanfare, and celebrations center around the wassail bowl which was introduced in the late 1400's.

French children put their shoes on the doorstep for Le Petit Noe1(the Christ Child). Mistletoe, the yule log, the créche, liver pie, black pudding and Buche de Noel are important features of a French Christmas.

The Christmas tree began in Germany. In some homes there’s one for each member of the family. These are all decorated differently, with tiny 1ights and candy, especially marzipan in fanciful shapes.

Handmade gifts are another tradition in some German families. Christmas Eve is the time when everyone gathers for the Bescherung or tree lighting ceremony. Roast goose can be found on many a holiday table.

The day before Christmas is a day of fasting in Italy. The day ends with a family ceremony around the Presepio or miniature scene of Bethlehem, midnight mass, distribution of gifts, and feasting.

Christmas Day in Italy is reserved for church services, while La Befana, the Italian version of Santa Claus, comes down the chimney on January 6, the eve of the Epiphany, with gifts for the children. While goose may be an English tradition, the aromas of chicken and pork, fried eels, pastas, and lots of pastries fill Italian homes on Christmas.

Dancing is a large part of the celebration in Spain. After Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, revelers, dancing and singing the Jota, fill the streets. The nacimiento, or miniature Nativity scene, is also a tradition.

In the Low Countries of the Netherlands, Belgium„ and Luxembourg, people exchange gifts on December 6, St. Nicholas' Day. A man dressed in the rich robes of a bishop represents the saint. He questions children about their behavior and promises to return during the night with gifts for the good ones. The children fill their wooden shoes with cookies for the saint and leave them on the doorstep.

The Christmas season begins on December 13, St. Lucia's Day, in Sweden. Elves called Julenisse help children with holiday tasks, and they leave food on the table each night for these unseen helpers. Lutfisk, a fish dish, is the main course at many Swedish celebrations. Juulgrot, a pudding of rice and milk is also popular. Another custom is ringe in Julen or ringing in Christmas. Church bells throughout the country are rung at 4 P.M. on Christmas Eve. Also, the person who gets the almond in his portion of Christmas pudding will, supposedly, be the next to marry.

The traditional Christmas dinner in Finland includes lipeakala, a fish dish, baked ham, a casserole of stewed prunes and mashed turnips, and a rice porridge for dessert. Also, the Fins give the birds extra grain on Christmas Eve.

It’s traditional to fast the whole day before Christmas in Poland„ then feast at nightfall. Families leave a vacant chair at the table for the Holy Child and scatter straw on the table in honor of the manger. They stamp Oplatki, or wafers, with Nativity figures, which are then blessed by the priest and exchanged like Christmas cards.

In Mexico, the Christmas season lasts from December 16 to January 6. Families look forward to the Posada on each of the nine nights before Christmas Day. This custom evolved from the search of Mary and Joseph for a room on Christmas Eve. After participating in solemn processions with each person holding a lighted candle, the children then break a pinata, a papier-mache figure filled with small gifts and candies.

In other Latin American countries Christmas comes during the warm season and children believe that the wise men bring gifts. Those in Brazil and Argentina find gifts in their shoes.

Christmas customs around the world vary, but the star is an almost universal symbol of peace and joy throughout the season. No matter how it’s said or how it’s celebrated, Christmas is a joyous remembrance of a birth nearly 2,000 years ago.

Feliz Navidad     Buono Natale    Joyeux Noel
 Glucklich Weihnachten    Merry Christmas