Christmas Party Ideas A time to rejoice and give unto others, Christmas celebrates the birth of the Christian savior. 'Tis the season for Christmas parties and merriment! Weve got plenty of fun and easy Christmas ideas to help you plan the perfect Christmas party and celebrate the most wonderful time of the year! From Christmas crafts and party games to cookie and candy recipes and decoration tips, our Celebrations experts are brimming with ideas to help make your Christmas season merry.
Christmas in Russia St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th- century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost. Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babouschka would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babouschka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the
Christmas season. Babouschka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees. Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheat berries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
Christmas in Brazil Brazilians are a mix of people from many parts of the world, and as a former Portuguese colony, they have many Christmas customs which originate from this heritage. One tradition is to create a nativity scene or Presйpio. The word origins from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presйpio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahia, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraнba, Maranhгo, Cearб, Pernambuco, Piauн and Alagoas). The Presйpio was introduced in the 17th century, in the city of Olinda in the state of Pernambuco by a Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho. Nowadays presйpios are set up in December and displayed in churches, homes, and stores.
The people of Northern Brazil, as in Mexico, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores or "The Shepherds." In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child. Papai Noel (Father Noel) is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to legend, he lives in Greenland. When he arrives in Brazil, he usually wears silk clothing due to the summer heat. A huge Christmas dinner, unusual in the hot summer time, includes turkey, ham, colored rice, and wonderful vegetable and fruit dishes. Devout Catholics often attend Midnight Mass or Missa do Galo. (A galo is a rooster.) The mass has this name because the rooster announces the coming day and the Missa do Galo finishes at 1 AM on Christmas morning! On December 25th, Catholics go to church, but the masses are mostly late afternoon, because people enjoy sleeping late after the dinner (Ceia de Natal) or going to the beach. Decorations include fresh flowers picked from the garden. Fireworks go off in the skies over the cites and huge Christmas "trees" of electric lights can be seen against the night skies in major cities such as Brasilia, San Paolo.
Christmas In Netherlands In the Netherlands St. Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas. Dutch children are told that he sails from Spain on his feast day, December 5. They fill their shoes with hay and sugar for his horse and awake to find them filled with gifts such as nuts and candy. Sometimes Sinterklaas appears in person in the children's homes, bearing a striking resemblance to the children's father or an uncle. He questions the children about their behavior during the past year. In the past he carried a birch rod, but these days he is more kindly. The people of Twente in east Holland hold a special Advent ceremony in which special horns are blown to chase away evil spirits and to announce the birth of Christ. Horns are homemade out of one-year-old saplings and are three or four feet long. Blown over wells, they sound a deep tone, similar to a foghorn.
Halloween The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre- Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle. The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread
Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers. As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship. In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John's Day was set on the summer solstice.
Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell. The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches. The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions. The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day--a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises. All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en--an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year's Day in contemporary dress.
Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called "Allison Gross" tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch's spell on Halloween. O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower the ugliest witch int he North Country... She's turned me into an ugly worm and gard me toddle around a tree... But as it fell out last Hallow even When the seely [fairy] court was riding by, the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank Not far from the tree where I wont to lie... She's change me again to my own proper shape And I no more toddle about the tree.
In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went "a' soulin'" for these "soul cakes." Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover. Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day. Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o'lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.
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