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Reflections: How do you celebrate Christmas?

How do you celebrate Christmas?
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer

It's that time of the year again! Christmas is here! But what is the real meaning of Christmas? If you celebrate Christmas, what are your traditions on this day? How do your relatives and friends celebrate the holiday? By going to church? Decorating a Christmas tree? Exchanging presents? Singing and dancing? Eating massive amounts of turkey or pie? But amid all these activities, don't miss the real meaning of Christmas!
On December 25, people around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Some people celebrate by giving gifts. Children may be thanking Santa Claus for new toys. They may also be going to church with their families. Christmas has many traditions and symbols associated with it.
Having worked in retail sales and advertising throughout most of my lifetime, it is impossible for me to forget that from mid-November onwards, Christmas is coming. Colored lights began to appear decorating our towns, shopping centers and shops, along with shiny decorations, and artificial snow painted on shop windows. Throughout the town and the shops, real or green plastic Christmas trees were also being decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments.
Shopping centers and department stores had Santa Claus to greet the children, usually from the day after Thanksgiving, which has earned the name Black Friday. That is the day when many stores open hours before sun-up with special sales events to attract the customers.
People celebrate Christmas Day in many ways. In the days or even weeks before Christmas Day, many people decorate their homes and gardens with lights, Christmas trees and much more. It is common to organize a special meal, often consisting of turkey and a lot of other festive foods, for family or friends and exchange gifts with them. Children, in particular, often receive a lot of gifts from their parents and other relatives and the mythical figure Santa Claus. This has led to Christmas Day becoming an increasingly commercialized holiday, with a lot of families spending a large part of their income on gifts and food.
Father Christmas is based on a real person, St. Nicholas, which explains his other name 'Santa Claus' which comes from the Dutch 'Sinterklaas'. Nicholas was a Christian leader from Myra (in modern-day Turkey) in the 4th century AD. He was very shy, and wanted to give money to poor people without them knowing about it. The legend goes that "he climbed the roof of a house and dropped a purse of money down the chimney. It landed in the stocking which a girl had put to dry by the fire!" This may explain the belief that Father Christmas comes down the chimney and places gifts in children's stockings.
In England, the day following Christmas Day is called 'Boxing Day'. This word comes from the custom which started in the Middle Ages around 800 years ago: churches would open their 'alms boxe'. These were boxes in which people had placed gifts of money and distributed the contents to poor people in the neighborhood on the day after Christmas. The tradition continues today.
The custom of sending Christmas cards started in Britain in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. As printing methods improved, Christmas cards were produced in large numbers from about 1860. Traditionally, Christmas cards showed religious pictures - Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, or other parts of the Christmas story. Today, pictures on Christmas cards take on all types of artwork.
Many people do hope for more than presents at Christmas. They want to somehow return to a time in their childhood or some other good time in the past. Many Sunday schools, churches and communities organize special events. These can include decorating the neighborhood, putting up a Christmas tree, and planning a Nativity display, concert or performance. Some community groups arrange meals, shelter or charitable projects for people without a home or with very little money.
However you celebrate Christmas, remember that this special day was named after the birth of Jesus Christ, so be sure to greet people with "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holiday!"

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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