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The Christmas holiday in the USA starts after Thanksgiving in late November and lasts until New Year Day.  Although originally a sacred Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the holiday has evolved into a festive season of gift-giving and partying enjoyed by people of many different faiths.

Soon after Thanksgiving holiday, stores display elaborate decorations and stock their shelves with merchandise to tempt shoppers.  Many office buildings display decorated Christmas trees in their lobbies.  Television and radio play Christmas carols and advertisements for toys and candy.  Some families decorate their homes with colored lights and inflatable snowmen and Santa Clauses.

Figure 1: Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center


Figure 2: Macy’s Department Store, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New York City.

Concerts of Christmas music are held in churches and auditoriums throughout the country and feature every type of music imaginable, including classical, rock, jazz, country, and even hip-hop.  Large professional orchestras, small chamber groups, choruses, pop stars, and school children perform their favorite music in various venues.  Christmas music concerts are available to suit every musical taste and every budget.

Children especially enjoy the Christmas season in anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus.  Much like Saint Nicholas in Ukraine, Santa Claus brings toy and presents to children who have been good, but he brings coal and ashes to bad children.  In the USA, children believe that Santa Claus arrives after bedtime on Christmas Eve, December 24, in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.  Children write letters to Santa Claus to remind him of the favorite toys and games they desire.  In December, department stores and shopping malls hire Santa to meet with children and listen to their special requests.

Figure 3: Santa Claus with reindeer and sleigh
Figure 4: Christmas lights.
filled with toys and candy.

Fruit cake, eggnog, candy canes, gingerbread cookies, and Christmas stolen are among the many treats enjoyed during the holiday.   Because the USA is home to so many different ethnic groups, a wide variety of “traditional” foods are served on Christmas day, including turkey with bread or oyster stuffing, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, baked ham with macaroni and cheese, picked herring, and various types of fish.  Every family seems to have its own special Christmas foods.

Figure 5: Ginger bread house
Figure 6: Gingerbread cookies.
Figure 7: Christmas cake.

Christmas Day is a time for opening gifts, visiting family, and enjoying good food and good drink.  Christians often attend church services the evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning. For children, Christmas Day ends their long the weeks of anticipating Santa Claus’s visit and the gifts he will bring.  For adults, Christmas day ends weeks of shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, and planning events.  Families enjoy a festive Christmas morning opening gifts.  Later in the day relatives and friends may visit with gifts of cookies.  Sometimes groups of youths will gather in front of homes and sing Christmas carols. Festive lights on Christmas trees, houses, and buildings make the scenery seem almost magical.

Christmas 2014 was special for me since I was able to celebrate the holiday with my family.  The previous year I was serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine and was not able to return home for the holiday.  Even though my family is small—just two kind and supportive sisters— last year I missed being with them on Christmas Day, exchanging gifts, and enjoying the traditional foods and music.  And since I hope to return to Ukraine in 2015, spending this holiday with family and friends was the best gift I could hope for.

Figure 8: Christmas tree at my sister’s home
Figure 9: Crèche representing the birth of Jesus. The crèche belonged to my parents.
Figure 10: Christmas dinner at my sister’s home.

Gail Vallieres

December 2014