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Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 6 - Iceland

Jólasveinarnir (Yule Lads) - photo courtesy of Iceland 24

 

In Iceland, Christmas (called Yule or Jól) festivities start at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, December 24th, and last until Twelfth Night (Epiphany, January 6th). In the high north, Christmas is linked to ancient traditions related to the winter solstice, called Yule.  Celebrations took place on a full moon during the time of year when the day was shortest. Not much is known about how the feast was celebrated then except that Icelandic chieftains were in the habit of inviting scores of people to Yule drinking and eating feasts.  Later, Yule was superseded by the celebration of the birth of Christ with the coming of Christianity around 1000 AD.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 5 - Portugal

 

In Portugal, Christmas is celebrated with festive fun, but since it is a predominantly Catholic country, there is also much solemnity to the holiday.  A family Christmas tradition is setting up the presépio (nativity scene), the representation of Christ's birth in the stable at Bethlehem. While some families keep the creche simple, displaying only the Holy Family, many set up elaborate scenes, including the Three Kings, shepherds and the sheep, angels, other animals, lakes (made with mirrors) and hills (made with stones, moss, and clay).  The materials used to decorate the presépio are traditionally collected by the children.  A few days before Christmas Eve, the Baby Jesus is taken out of the manger.

 

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 4 - Kenya

 

 

Since Kenya is predominantly a Christian country (approximately 82%), the celebration of Christmas is very important. A few days before Christmas, a mass migration of people from the cities and other parts of Kenya is made, back to the villages of their parents’ home in the "upcountry." Family members and relatives all congregate to celebrate.  For many people, this is the only time of the year they have the chance to see their families, so it is a very important time to reconnect.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 3 - Ukraine

Christmas caroling in Ukraine

 

Even from a very early age, I have always been fascinated with words and languages.  When I was in college, I took several languages, including Russian.  Russian was challenging, especially trying to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and wrap my tongue around and pronouncing words with a string of strangely placed consonants.  But what made the class VERY special was our instructor.  I don’t remember her last name but her first was Natasha and she was from Ukraine, then a part of the Soviet Union.  She was very kind and very understanding with a great sense of humor.  We all loved to listen to her stories of growing up and the family traditions. She and her family had a very hard life but the countryside itself sounded enchanting.  And I’m sure we learned to speak Russian with a Ukrainian accent!  So I have always had a fascination with Ukraine (and am so sad about what is happening there right now).  So, Natasha, wherever you might be right now, you inspired this edition of the Countdown to Christmas.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 2 - Italy

Carved life size presepe, Santa Maria d'Aracoeli Presepe Christmas Day Rome, 2012; photo by Margot Balboni

 
 

Traditionally, Christmas in Italy is celebrated over several weeks, from December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.  On St. Nicholas Day, children write letters to St Nicholas asking for gifts and they hang up either a sock or put a plate on the table on the eve of Nicholas Day’s.  If the children have been good throughout the last year, they will get some fruits, nuts and sweets from St. Nicholas while the naughty ones will also get a sweet, but one looking like lump of coal. The main gift giving day is January 6 - the day on which the Wise Men brought their gifts to the Christ Child.

Countdown to Christmas 2016 - Week 1 - Norway

Christmas in Trondheim, Norway; photo by PLANET LEW

 

This past weekend started the fifth annual “Countdown to Christmas 2016” collection hosted each year by Julie and Blu of Blue Morning Expressions.  It is a way for handmade artisan and vintage sellers to share three of their items each week, each one perfect for Christmas gift giving.  I will pick my favorite item each week and share them here in this blog.  


Also, I plan on sharing a bit about how different countries around the world celebrate Christmas.  This week, Norway is highlighted:

Countdown to Christmas - Week 11 - Handmade and Vintage

Can you believe there is only 1 (yes, only 1!) more weeks left of this year’s Countdown to Christmas 2015??? Thanksgiving has come and gone and now Christmas is looming.  Less than a month now!  According to the Christmas Clock (at the time this post went live), there are only 23 days, 18 hours, 12 minutes and those rapidly descending seconds until Christmas is here . . . again!

 

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