The Traditions of Christmas

The traditions of Christmas in America have their roots in many lands, a reflection perhaps of the many nationalities and cultures that make up our nation of immigrants. In this blog we will take a look at the traditions emanating from Rumania and Syria.

From dawn until after sunset on Christmas Eve, Rumanian boys visit neighboring homes to sing a Christmas greeting, Colinde, for which they receive apples, cakes and coins. On Christmas Day they parade through the streets carrying a great wooden cross which is hung with little tinkling bells. The star is illuminated from within by a candle, and is decorated with a transparency of the Baby Jesus and the Magi. Roast pig is the principal food of Christmas dinner.

An ancient Rumanian custom, still practiced today, is called “Blessing the Danube.” Clad in costumes depicting Pontius Pilate, Herod and other biblical characters, people gather at the river bank to sing carols. A young boy breaks the ice and a wooden cross is thrown into the water. All scramble after it for the rescuer will have extraordinary fortune in the coming year.

Christmas Eve in Syria is spent in worship and prayer. A bonfire of vine stems is made in the middle of each church in memory of the Magi who were cold from their journey.

nativityMany Syrians journey to Bethlehem to attend midnight services in the Holy Land. Christmas Day is observed chiefly in the home with prayers and quiet rejoicing.

Young Syrian boys and girls, masked and dressed in gay costumes, go singing from door to door and receive coins, eggs and candies in return.

Legend tells that the youngest camel who carried the Wise Men to Bethlehem fell down, exhausted by the journey. The Christ Child blessed the camel and conferred immortality upon it. For this reason, a camel brings gifts to the children on New Year’s Day. Before going to bed that night, boys and girls set a bowl of water and wheat outside the house for the camel. In the morning, the good find gifts and the naughty find a black mark on their wrists.