The Christmas holiday plays a big part in the lives of literally billions of people around the globe each year. The day is set aside for the religions that believe in Jesus Christ, namely those rooted in Christianity. December 25th is dedicated to celebrating his birth, and was later named Christmas as a compounded version of the words "Christ's Mass."
Christians in a number of denominations celebrate the holiday beginning at midnight, the turn of the hour to the date of the 25th by attending a midnight mass, or simply by toasting within their homes. With such an incredible following and depth of celebration, the traditions vary throughout the world, with each carrying beautiful Christmas traditions, and inspiring tales of ceremonial customs. We all may commemorate the season differently, but it certainly holds the same cherished sentiment worldwide: We are thankful for our existence, and the people we get to share it with.
In the United States, the season begins primarily with decorations, and reflections of glee throughout the home. A Christmas tree is procured, either through cutting it down from a tree farm, or purchased already out of its root -- which is certainly easier. The tree is decorated with lights, ornaments and garland, and topped with a star, angel or larger accessory of grandeur.
Homes, inside and out, are laced with decorative appeal and illuminated for the enjoyment of passers-by, in anticipation of the actual day of commemoration. Gifts are purchased for children and adults alike and placed under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. Santa Claus, who delivers the presents while the children sleep at night, determines their level of deservedness based on their behavior throughout the year. The amount or status of the gifts determines how naughty or nice they have been.
A family meal is planned for the day or evening, where relatives near and far gather to enjoy the occasion collectively with ham, turkey and roasts. In addition, Christmas carols and sung by individuals and groups alike, spreading the cheer unanimously throughout the region. The combined appreciation that both Christians and non-Christians alike feel for the spirit of Christmas is breathtaking. The love, sharing, commitment to honor and hope that they feel as a gathered mass makes all of the gift-buying holiday hustle and bustle worth it in the end.
Similarly, in Argentina, the day of December 25th is celebrated as the birth of Christ. The difference, however, is that the Argentinians begin the celebration on the 24th with an afternoon mass, before returning home with family to enjoy a gallant meal of pork and turkey, before clearing the table to replace it with cider and sweet foods to celebrate the midnight toast that rings in the birth of Christ. Children are entertained by fireworks -- which are on public display at the stroke of midnight -- and adults dance and sing to honor the holiday. The children are invited back in to open their gifts, before they finally go to bed, normally out of sheer exhaustion from the day's activities.
As Christmas traditions go, there are a number of fun and exciting traditions that are carried out around the globe. Some of which can only be described as wacky, and worthy of note. For instance, in Caracas, Venezuela, the main roads are closed to traffic each morning for the ten days leading up to Christmas. This early morning re-route allows holiday revelers to skate -- YES! SKATE! -- to early morning mass to share their appreciation and religious following of the holiday. Imagine rolling your way to atonement! I certainly cannot think of a better way!
Elsewhere in Japan, although a very small percentage of the population (approximately one percent) practices Christianity, the latest craze of celebration focuses solely on Fried Chicken as their holiday meal. And no, not the kind you spend all day preparing in a hot and greasy kitchen. The Japanese have popularized eating at KFC on the night of Christmas to such hysteria that the restaurants will only take reservations on that day as a result. They even provide a Christmas cake as part of the meal! If the only decision you had to make on Christmas was "regular" or "extra crispy" there would be no such thing as holiday stress!
No matter which part of the world you live in, or how you celebrate the holiday, it is important not to lose sight of the joy and happiness in your life, while being thankful for everything you have. Not everyone is as fortunate as those who can afford gifts, decorations or abundant meals with family, so if you know someone who could use your help or support during the holiday season, be sure to offer. It isn't always money or material items that help people get through times of celebration, especially if they have lost a loved one who used to enjoy it with them. Sadness is just as common as the festivity around the holiday season, so support those around you who need a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or a hot meal. Reaching out to those in need is an integral part of the holiday character, and should certainly be a standard practice for all of us. If you are uncomfortable tackling a sensitive issue, contact your local shelters, churches or retailers for opportunities to give back and spread good cheer this holiday season.
The one hand you hold this holiday season, or the one gift you provide an otherwise gift-less child will make all the difference in how they celebrate the season going forward. You can spread cheer and generosity this season with more than just money. Volunteer to hand out meals to those in need, or serve dinner at your local shelter. There are a lot of people who could use a hug or an extension of kindness, and nothing proves that more than the holiday. Give back, and receive more out of life as result.