HOW PEOPLE SPEND CHRISTMAS IN THE USA
The United States is a melting pot where people of all nationalities meet. This is why it might seem that the USA does not have a homogeneous and coherent way of celebrating Christmas and that each nation cultivates its own different traditions. What's it really like?
The most important day of Christmas is 25 December. The present way of celebrating began in the 19th century. That is when buying gifts for children became popular. The "Christmas shopping spree" was gaining increasing importance from an economic point of view. The 19th century was also when Santa Claus entered the American consciousness. His origins can be found in Denmark, where we could encounter an old sage called Sinter Klaas, or in Germany, where Saint Nicholas already existed at that time. In all these cultures, Santa Claus was associated with goodness, help and gifts. The image of reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh has become memorable thanks to the poem of 1823 called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and probably many others like it. As the sales of consumer goods increased significantly during the Christmas season, this period began to gradually extend. It is now considered that the Christmas sales period starts right after Thanksgiving and has a catchy name – Black Friday. Another tradition that began during the 19th century is the mass production of Christmas cards which people send to their loved ones.
One of the common elements of Christmas celebration is the nativity scene. The nativity scenes are of all possible types and sizes, from miniatures which can be put on a shelf to stagings performed in towns or cities with real actors. In the United States, the word creche means the scene of the birth of Jesus in a stable, which can be a little confusing to a person from the United Kingdom, where it simply means a nursery school (a place for childcare).
Trees, which are commonly called Christmas trees, are grown in 50 states in the USA. Even in ancient Egypt, people brought green palms to their homes, symbolising the victory of life over death. In ancient Rome, the period of winter solstice (from 17 to 23 December) announced the imminent arrival of omnipresent greenery. To celebrate the upcoming events, the Romans decorated their homes with evergreen plants. In the 19th century, for many Americans, a Christmas tree at home was a peculiarity and many of them considered it to be a pagan symbol of German origin. For a certain time, in the United States, any form of Christmas celebration outside the church walls was considered a profanation and even was prosecuted as a crime. It was only when Queen Victoria and her husband Albert, together with their children, were depicted on the front page of the London News as a happy family standing around the Christmas tree when the people started to treat the tree slightly less suspiciously. Soon afterwards, the trend of having a Christmas tree reached every house on the east coast of the United States. While in Great Britain they were relatively small, the American ones had to reach the ceiling.
Let's take a look at some of the most important public Christmas trees in the United States.
Washington, the White House
New York, Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Coeur d'Alene Resort
Indianapolis, Monument Circle Tree
The settlers brought many specific beliefs and customs along, including the legend of Santa Claus. Originally he was called Father Christmas, which was taken directly from the Danish name Sinter Claas, but later the name evolved into Santa Claus. It was the Americans who gave Santa Claus the look which today is associated with him all over the world. The red suit and the long white beard were their idea. American children believe that Santa Claus together with his wife live in Lapland, where, all year round, they watch all children around the world from their wooden hut. He gives naughty children rods, while well-behaved children receive a present and their names will be entered on the List of Well-Behaved Children. Thanks to the technological progress, children can expect not only a letter from Santa Claus, but also a personalised video from Santa in which their names will be used in greetings where they will see pictures of themselves and their loved ones. Elves, Santa’s little helpers, always do their best to make sure that no child is left behind.
The United States is a huge country. So it is no wonder that, even there, specific regional rituals were created. In the South West of the country, we have the so-called luminaries, i. e. lanterns made of brown paper, loaded with sand, with lighted candles inside. They are displayed outside on Christmas Day.
The Americans from Mexico celebrate Las Posadas as a part of their Christmas celebration. They imitate the route of Mary and Joseph seeking a place in Bethlehem where they could rest. The whole procession is joyful and incredibly colourful. Both children and adults participate in it. The procession helps people feel the Christmas spirit and focus on the spiritual aspects of the rituals. Displaying lanterns in front of buildings in the Mexican culture is called farolitos. The lanterns symbolise the route of the travelling couple – Mary and Joseph, which is illuminated so that they can peacefully reach their destination.
In the south of Louisiana, on Christmas Eve, members of town and city communities gather along the Mississippi River to make small bonfires. The aim of this is to help Santa Claus to take on the right path while looking for homes of well-behaved children.