Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 24/25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. It is a feast central to the Christian liturgical year, and is prepared for by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast, and it initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an Octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated culturally by a large number of non-Christian people, and is an integral part of the holiday season.
The celebratory customs associated in various countries with Christmas have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes and origins. Popular modern customs of the holiday include gift giving, completing an Advent calendar or Advent wreath, Christmas music and caroling, lighting a Christingle, an exchange of Christmas cards, church services, a special meal, and the display of various Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, Christmas lights, nativity scenes, garlands, wreaths, mistletoe, and holly. In addition, several closely related and often interchangeable figures, known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Christkind, are associated with bringing gifts to children during the Christmas season and have their own body of traditions and lore.
Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman's Agreement. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".
Santa Claus is an amalgamation of different characters from various cultures renowned for their generosity. He can be traced to Saint Nicholas, a Greek-Byzantine Christian Bishop who lived in modern day Turkey. Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity: he paid the dowries of three poor girls so they could marry. The reformer Martin Luther adapted Saint Nicholas gift-giving customs but changed the gift-giver in German speaking countries. As a result in Germany, Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, the gift-giver is known as Christkind (Christ child) and not Saint Nicholas. However, in other countries Saint Nicholas remained popular.
Santa has also been influenced by Nordic mythology, especially in terms appearance, outfit and companion reindeers. In Nordic mythology, Odin would go on a Wild Hunt during Yule on the winter solstice, which coincides with Christmas. Odin had a long, white beard and would ride through the sky on his magical horse. He would also enter through chimneys and fire holes on the solstice.
A combined character called Sinterklaas, who was generous like Saint Nicholas and had the appearance of Odin, was popular among the Dutch. Dutch colonists brought Sinterklaas with them to New Amsterdam, which we now know as New York, and influenced the development of Santa in the USA. Later Sinterklaas/Odin's horse became a team of reindeers.
Santa's Workshop in North Pole, a hamlet in Wilmington, New York, USA, is an amusement park that has been in operation since 1949. It was one of the first theme parks in the United States. It is open from June to December.
The idea for the village originated in a story that Lake Placid businessman Julian Reiss told his daughter about a baby bear who visits Santa Claus at the North Pole. The design of the park was done by artist Arto Monaco, of Upper Jay, and built by Harold Fortune, of Lake Placid, who also owned the site, and helped promote the park. The park drew immediate media interest, with more than 14,000 visitors on one day in September 1951.
In the Bahamas, Junkanoo festivals are held from Christmas Day morning until sunrise on December 27 after Boxing Day and held again on New Year's Day. It is a carnival featuring parading bands in colorful costumes, singing, dancing, and decorations. The Junkanoo parade has featured in movies including the James Bond film Thunderball, After the Sunset and Jaws The Revenge.
Bahamian Christmas foods include black cake, imported apples, pepper pot, pickled onions and ham. Drinks like ginger-beer, sorrel, mauby, and sweet potato fly are served on Christmas.
Poinsettias are indigenous to Central America, especially southern Mexico, where they flower during the winter. So how are poinsettias associated with Christmas? One legend says:
Once upon a time there was a poor Mexican girl called Pepita, who was so poor that she had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve mass. She was extremely sad. On her way to the chapel, she told her cousin Pedro that she did not have present for baby Jesus. He comforted her: "Pepita, don’t worry, I'm sure that you love Jesus, so even the smallest gift you give him will make him happy."
Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, she sincerely knelt down, placed the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw the scene were surprised and were sure that a miracle happened. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Nochebuena or 'Flowers of the Holy Night'.
Mexico is the origin of the poinsettia, also called locally noche buena, which means "good night" referring Christmas Eve. In the pre-Hispanic period, they were called cuetlaxochitl, where they were a symbol of the new life; it was believed that fallen warriors would return to earth as hummingbirds and butterflies and drink its nectar.People believe that the shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are symbols of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves represent the blood of Christ, while the white ones demonstrate his purity.
The name for this plant is also used to refer to a dark bock-style beer which is only available during the Christmas season.
On December 24, 1948, the United States Air Force issued a communique claiming that an "early warning radar net to the north" had detected "one unidentified sleigh, powered by eight reindeer, at 14,000 feet, heading 180 degrees." The Associated Press released this 'report' to the general public. It was the first time that the United States Armed Forces issued a statement about tracking Santa Claus's sleigh on Christmas Eve, although it was a one-time event, not repeated over the next several years.
NORAD Tracks Santa has since become an annual Christmas-themed entertainment program, produced under the auspices of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Every year on Christmas Eve, NORAD Tracks Santa purports to track Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world.