Christmas (December 25) is the most important holiday of the year, and also the most commercial. While it celebrates the birth of Christ and is important for the 85% of Americans who are practicing or nominal Christians, many Christmas rituals are of pagan or secular origin. Christmas also serves as the holiday celebrating winter. Nearly every business closes on Christmas, and sometimes on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas (or Holiday) season stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, including the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Gift giving is important for Christmas and this is America’s busiest retail selling season, with newspapers advertising warning readers that there are only X number of “shopping days” until Christmas. Americans will then exchange Christmas presents on Christmas day or eve at parties or family get togethers. In America, Christmas is a time to come home to your family.
Although Hanukkah is not an important holiday for Jews on a religious level, many Jewish families celebrate the holiday, with gift-giving, as a parallel to Christmas and as a means of taking part in the spirit of the season.
Christmas Images. Christmas is important for religious people, but there is also a secular Christmas mythology. Santa Claus is a large, jolly elf who dresses in red. Santa lives on the North Pole and rides a sleigh through the air pulled by reindeer. He and his helper elves make toys all year long, then deliver them to good boys and girls on Christmas eve by landing on rooftops and climbing down chimneys. Santa’s sleigh is guided through the night by the luminescent nose of the famous reindeer Rudolph.
Trees and Decorations. Many people, whether Christian or not, will have a Christmas tree, usually an evergreen (fir, pine or spruce), which they will decorate with ornaments and tinsel. Artificial trees are also sold for this purpose. During the weeks before Christmas, Christmas tree vendors set up temporary stores on city sidewalks and in shopping centers. Once the Christmas tree is decorated, the family members will place brightly wrapped gifts at the tree’s base. They will also put up special Christmas decorations, in red and green, all over the house and even outside. Many families create elaborate outdoor Christmas displays with colored lights, large Santas with sleighs and reindeer, and perhaps a “creche”, a re-creation, with plaster statues, of Christ’s birth in a manger.
Christmas music includes old English “carols,” which are religious, and many secular songs like the popular “Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” which have winter rather than religious themes. Christmas music can be found in hundreds of varieties, from singers like Bing Crosby, whose albums sell year after year, to electronic Christmas carols.
Television in December is heavily Christmas oriented, especially for children. The secular Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), about a man in a “typical” American community, is frequently shown. It is not uncommon to find this film playing on two or three television channels at the same time, at any hour of the day.
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