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Today's word on journalism

Friday, January 20, 2006

Variations on "truthiness":

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please."

-- Mark Twain, author, newspaperman and humorist (1835-1910)

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Wishing that Christmas was less commercial? Take a peek at celebrations around the world

By Brittany Nelson

December 19, 2005 | The day after Thanksgiving brings the holidays rushing into everyone's lives. Children whine for the latest and greatest gadget on the market and adults scurry to buy their children's happiness.

The Christmas Americans celebrate today does not celebrate what it originally was intended to. Commercialism has seeped into the very heart of the holiday's meaning creating a holiday filled with money and stress. Some Christians may celebrate Christ's birth, while other people take advantage of the time off from work and merriness to celebrate other things dear to their heart. So to be politically correct, Christmas has become the "holidays" and many don't even know the reason for the celebration.

But this transformation has been taking place for hundreds of years, beginning with the pagan celebration of the solstice. According to, early Christian leaders appointed the Christian holiday to take place in December to encourage a common celebration for both Christians and pagans. The shortest days of the year occur in December and the pagan rituals that delighted in the solstice years ago are still present in celebrating the holidays today.

Just like the Christmas holiday is a mixture of pagan and Christian symbols and values, American Christmas traditions are a mixture of traditions from all over the world. Much to many Americans' surprise, their jolly Santa and gift-giving rituals are not practiced around the world. The December holiday season has many variations. By simply taking a trip in words around the world Americans can see how their Christmas holiday traditions came to be.

First up, hop over the Atlantic to America's roots. England shares many cultural traditions America does. In the Victorian era, the English championed the art of Christmas cards, according to the History Channel web site, which America adopted. Unique to the British Isles, however, is Boxing Day. According to this day originated with the alms box in every church being opened and the contents being given to the poor. Today, Boxing Day is a day designated to giving to those less fortunate and having a day of rest.

Leaving the British Isles and moving to Scandinavia, one may discover that the holidays start a little earlier than normal. December 13 is one of the darkest days of winter and is St. Lucia Day, which honors Saint Lucia who brought food and light to those in darkness.According to Lynn Bryan, author of The Christmas Heirloom Book, the eldest daughter in the house dresses in a white robe and a crown of candles, resembling St. Lucia. She wakes her family with a prepared breakfast and leads songs and processions in the house. This day begins the Christmas festivities with a theme of light.

The Christmas Tree is also seen around Europe, originating from Germany, and is decorated as well. Ron Wolford of the University of Illinois states that in Norway, the tree is hidden until Christmas Day when the children see it for the first time brilliantly decorated with candles and other symbols.

Moving through the rest of Europe, many other traditions are seen with a local twist.

Mary Heers, an instructor at Utah State, spends most of her Christmases abroad, including one in Warsaw. One tradition she said she always enjoys anywhere she goes is the Christmas feast. Heers said her seven course meal in Warsaw began when the evening star was spotted and ended with Midnight Mass. The Polish twist on the feast is one she said she would love to incorporate into her own family traditions.

"In Poland, every family sets an empty plate," Heers said. "It's a wonderful family tradition with the idea that there's always room at the inn."

Poland also features the nativity scene in many churches. Heers said people walk around to the churches admiring the many scenes artists have decided to portray. These nativities, called creche, are very modern, Heers said, and are generally depicted symbolically from the artist's perspective.

Nativity scenes are seen in many countries around the world. Heers said she remembered seeing them in Rome, where she spent some of her childhood years.

In Rome, caroling as Americans know it is taken to the next level. Heers said shepherds come down from the hills to play carols on recorders and sing in the streets. She said the sound of their carols would fill the night air, and many people would throw money from their windows to show their appreciation.

While many other religions dominate the Eastern world, Christians who are minorities tend to have more religion in their holidays. Kenyans feast on barbequed meat and receive new clothes in celebration of the Christ child.

Kenyans go to church for Christmas, which is also an important practice in India. Midnight Mass is very important and communion is taken at exactly midnight. For the few Christians that reside there, Christmas celebrates religious dedication and family. Children receive money from their realtives, but Vipin Varghese from India said he looks forward to spending time with family.

"The spirit of Christmas is having fun with family and friends," Varghese said.

Moving across the Pacific, America's neighbors to the south have their own religous traditions. Countries in South America enjoy the manger scene, which they call presepio, and also the three wise men, known as the Magi. Epiphany celebrates their coming on January 6. According to Bill Egan, Christmas Historian, children leave shoes beside their beds and goodies outside for the Magi's horses on the eve of Epiphany. They are rewarded with treats in their shoes.

Many cultures worldwide celebrate Epiphany and exchange gifts on that day instead of Christmas. In Mexico, according to, the holidays start nine days before Christmas and end on Epiphany. The days before Christmas consist of processions of a reenactment of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem, and on Christmas there's a party with pinatas. The country is decorated with markets and poinsettias, where the flower originated from.

The party atmosphere of Mexico can also be found in Jamaica. Sophia Watchman grew up in Jamaica, and she said that she enjoys a much more relaxed holiday season in her native country.

"Christmas is a chance to party," Watchman said. "It's more merry and less stressful." Jamaicans celebrate the season with food and drink. Traditional spice cake filled with rum and white wine are cherished by all and washed down with sarrel, a rum drink. Watchman said Jamaicans don't give many gifts and no one really cares if Santa comes or not.

"Maybe it's because we don't have chimneys," Watchman said. "Gifts just aren't a big deal."

After a trip around the world it's easy to see how the world celebrates. Whether celebrating a miracle baby, light, family, or a visit from Santa, the holiday season carries a universal message of peace on earth, goodwill towards men.


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