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"We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions — bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities."
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  Volume No. 15 Issue No. 2 February 2018  

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Front Page   |   Feature Stories   |   Search This Issue   |   Log In
  Christmas traditions
  By Mark Stoller

   Mark Stoller is a nine-year resident of Colorado. He and his wife, Andra, both U.S. Air Force veterans, moved to Falcon in 2007 and are now raising their three teenage daughters in Latigo. They enjoy their home on the prairie with plenty of room for their six adopted dogs, bagpipes & Celtic Festivals and beekeeping. Mark enjoys the privilege of his wife and daughters being his muse for topics, people to meet and places to investigate.
Christmas is a season many look forward to for assorted reasons. Special foods, seasonal music and movies, travel and family customs take center stage to define the observance. Here are some interesting tidbits on Christmas traditions that have shaped the celebration throughout history and the world.
   Christmas caroling used to be a community, fellowship activity. The word “carol” means “dance or a song of praise and joy.” It has subsided over time for reasons of personal safety and the availability of modern radio.
   Carols written hundreds of years ago may also need a little translation. Take, for example, “Troll the ancient Yuletide carol. Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!” Troll is a 16th century word meaning, "to sing in a full, rolling voice; or to chant jovially." Fa, la, la, la is nonsensical, but you can sing it with great gusto and merriment!
   Yuletide is an antiquated word for “Christmas” or “Christmastime.” The word Yule comes from the Old English gēol(a) for “Christmas Day,” and resembles the Old Norse jól. Tide has origins in the Old English tīd, “time, period, era.” Each year, we sing these uncommon, old sayings without a second thought.
   Burning the Yule Log is a Nordic custom that dates back before medieval times. Burning the “log” is an understatement. It really involves burning the entire tree! Carefully chosen, the tree was brought into the house with great ceremony. The trunk was placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree protruded into the room. Lit from the carefully preserved remains of the previous year's log, the tree was slowly fed into the fire to last through the Twelve Days of Christmas.
   The Midnight Mass Communion Service (or 'Christ-Mas') was a very special service for the early church, as it was the only mass allowed to start after sunset.
   In several European countries (Germany, Sweden and Portugal), Christmas Eve is the day when people first bring their Christmas tree into the house. They decorate and exchange their presents the same evening. My family decorates our Christmas tree well before Thanksgiving!
   My mom is German, and I grew up with her national tradition of celebrating with dinner, church services and gift giving on Christmas Eve. Now, with my family, we celebrate Christmas Eve at my parent’s home after church service, too. We eat from the Kalte Platter (German for “cold tray”), filled with fresh breads, butter, cheese and meats; sing Christmas carols; and exchange gifts. The next morning, Christmas Day, our family exchanges gifts in the way Andra is accustomed.
   Icelanders have a centuries old tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in their culture that they have identified a season called the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood.” It is the time between September and December when most books in Iceland are sold in preparation for Christmas.
   Andra and I have always placed a gift of books on the kids’ beds after they go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Our original intent was just to stay asleep until 7 a.m. Christmas morning. Now, our girls request we continue this “foot of the bed” gift as our own tradition.
   In its simplest form, Christmas Eve and Day is the exchange of nicely wrapped, thoughtful gifts. The depth of the day comes from your heritage, religion and how you celebrate with specific food, music or traditions to make it your own special occasion.
   Now, as you prepare for the season, may you gift from the heart and be blessed by the gifts you receive. I wish you a very Merry Christmas.
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