Is it Christmas or Heiligabend? Sinter Klaas or Santa Claus? What is this crazy holiday called Christmas? What if I told you I technically celebrate two of them? Both cultural and religious Christmas.
For everyone back home in the states, this is a bigger question than you may think. Between the Netherlands, Germany, and the USA alone, you can argue traditions back and forth.
Let’s Talk about Christmas.
1. Does Santa come from Madrid or is he from the North Pole?
2. Who actually brings the presents?
3. When do you open your presents?
4. When do you put up the tree?
The answer to each of these questions is FUNDAMENTAL to each of our traditions. Whether or not you celebrate the holiday or not, we need to realize that there’s no such thing as ONE Christmas except the original one, which we’ll discuss later.
Since having moved to Germany, I’ve discovered the craziest of traditions that my American head cannot wrap around. What I do love is that it’s acceptable and even NICE to say Merry Christmas to your fellow human!
I decided to do a bit of exploring and reading from this website that discusses how the holiday is celebrated from Argentina to Zimbabwe including places like Bangladesh and Muslim majority places. It’s official: Christmas is an international thing.
Kerstmis in Nederland
I just arrived at my Aunt’s for Christmas and as I’m sitting at the dinner table I begin to ask questions. My jaw drops… Kids don’t receive presents on Christmas. They got their tiny gifts 20 days prior. Sinter Klaas (the origin of Santa Claus) comes on December 5th, goes back to his boat on the 6th and leaves back to Spain through the port of Rotterdam.
Did I mention that Sinter Klaas comes from Madrid? Like what?
Let’s put on the Peanuts as we keep reading. Music slows controversy:
Weihnachten in Deutschland
In Germany, they put their tree up two days before Christmas. This to me is bizarre and too much work for such a short time!
Depending on who you talk to, different people bring the presents. Some say it’s a guy named Weihnachtsmann. Others will say it’s the Christkind, translated as Christ Child but isn’t actually Jesus, it’s some random little girl.
You might also find it crazy that the big day is actually Christmas Eve known as Heiligabend. Kids get their presents, open them just before heading straight to church. WHAT? The whole point of presents is to enjoy them right after. Christmas itself is usually pretty quiet, which is something I CANNOT get over. To my American eyes things are really “backwards” here.
Growing up in the States
For me growing up in the states, Christmas was always a magical time. Even now as I’m writing this from Holland and listening to guitar arrangements of Christmas songs, goosebumps abound. Jazz is outta this world.
Spending a part of my life in Portland, Oregon meant we went to what was called Peacock Lane every year. This was a special street where all the houses were required by contract to put up lights every year. This is despite fact that Oregon is one of the least religious states out there. Maybe it was because I was a kid, but Christmas wasn’t a religious holiday. Peanuts were the ambassadors of Christmas. It was ok to wish people a Merry Christmas out of good will towards men. Not to mention “Good tidings we bring to you and your kin.”
Regardless of your worldview and stance on religion, we must all recognize that people often argue about two different holidays with the same name. They are what I call the American Christmas and Christian Christmas.
What’s the difference?
If we take a closer look, each storyline has different heroes. American (Commercial) Christmas is about Santa Claus flying from the North Pole with reindeer to distribute presents.
Christian Christmas poses a baby born in an animal feeding trough coming from heaven to become the ultimate present to humanity. The present from which we could be satisfied and search no longer. Huge difference.
It’s precisely these differences that are what allow $11 Million Dollar Christmas Trees in Dubai and non-religious Europeans to sing Christmas carols without feeling participation in the worship of Jesus.
I haven’t even mentioned that even if you’re Christian there will be differences. It’s worth noting that the Orthodox church will celebrate Christmas on a totally different day. In fact you’d celebrate it in the New Year on January 6th or 7th. Know why?
History. We currently use what is called the Gregorian calendar as opposed to the former Julian system with which there was an error that affected when Easter would be celebrated.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men.
We gotta admit, it’s a great line. Being from New York, some of my dearest friends are Muslim and otherwise. I wish them Eid Mubarak, Diwali, whatever the case is, and they wish me a Merry Christmas and Happy Easter in return. No one goes home offended. In fact, this is one of the best times we can love out loud.
Asking someone about how they celebrate their holidays is a great way to learn about the world around you. I’d even take it a step further and say, why not celebrate it with them?
So as you see, you can celebrate Christmas irreligiously. The people in Europe do it all the time. Just today my cousins took part in a public school concert where we sang Christmas Carols and were read religious poetry! I almost cried. I had been waiting for that magical Christmas feeling for so long.
I know I just made the conclusion that you can celebrate Christmas without religion, but to me, that simply removes the whole magic. God, creator of the universe came down to earth. A crazy horrible place, to be born in an animal feeding trough. I wouldn’t even want to be born on a human plate, pot, or bowl for that matter! So ok, he’s a helpless baby. To top it off, his earthly father isn’t a noble man of society. He’s a lowly carpenter from some random village!
That’s the magic. God became man for us and gave us the greatest gift of all. His own life. That’s hard to digest but let that sink in for a bit.
Regardless of where you stand, I realize it’s easy to just say that people want to get offended, but the real truth is that people want to be heard. Bring them in from the cold and include them.
This year, get someone a present, send people a card. Let them know you’re thinking of them. Doesn’t matter if Santa is from Spain or if he leaves coal in your shoes if you’re a bad kid. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time.
Remember the line: Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. It won’t happen, especially if we’re not trying.