| Maybe it was the French teacher in grammar school, or teachers in general, but I've always been fascinated by how Christmas is celebrated in other places. For instance, the French teacher told us about the creche scene which always included peasants. Now that's not Biblical, but it was a French tradition. The yule log in the fire place would still be burning when they got home from midnight mass. They would eat a chocolate "yule log". Santa was called "Pere Noel".
The Germans, we learned, had stollen, real fruitcakes, and other rich pastries. Danish decorated with hanging apples, drank glug, and would have a special rice dish. In Holland, they put out shoes instead of stockings on the mantle. Now, I hear that on the rocky islands of Italy, Santa uses a donkey instead of a sleigh to deliver his goods. Present day isn't always December 25, but could be January 6. In Great Britain, you have Boxing Day, and you get "crackers", little surprise packages you pull open with a snap.
I love the Jimmy Buffet song "Christmas Island", a real place. He sings of hanging your stocking on a coconut tree. With Jimmy, you stay up "late like the islanders do, and wait for Santa to sail in with your presents on a canoe." I'd love to do that one year!
We grew up listening to Bing Crosby. Songs are an excellent way to remember things. With the Andrew sisters, he sang "Melekeliki Maka is Hawaii's way to say Merry Christmas to you." I admit as a kid, trying to learn the words, I thought they were singing "is the wise way . . ." I finally figured out as an adult, it was "Hawaii's". Still it paints a beautiful picture of a sunny day, green and bright, and clear skies and "stars at night".
On the same album, Bing sang "Christmas in Kilarney", where "the door is always open, the neighbors come to call, and Father John, before he's done, will bless the house and all." It always made me try to take on an Irish accent and talk blarney. I finally found a true Irish man who taught me a basic Irish jig, so that I could "click my heels, and join in the fun of the jigs and reels".
After knowing a few people from Iraq a few years ago, I did some research. Very few Christians live there, so it isn't even a secular holiday. But those who do celebrate have a small bonfire in the front yard. The younger men and women try to jump over it. If successful, they believe you will have good luck the coming year. The roofs are flat, so you can pick out the Christian homes where a single candle is placed on the roof. It is to guide the Christ child to safety.
It's true we like our traditions. We like things the way we've always done them. We want to set new traditions with our children. But there is something so universal about Christmas, or the idea of Christmas. It makes me want to be more culturally diverse. I want to feel the connection to people from all over the earth celebrating the same thing.