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Christmas festivities take on different hues.

Byline: Unique cultural traditions add flavour to countries' celebration of the special season.

Dubai: "Oh Christmas tree! Oh Christmas tree! How lovely are your branches!"

And so goes the hymn sung throughout churches at this time of year as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ around December 25.

The Christmas tree was introduced much more recently, as have a multitude of other traditions that Christians around the world adopt.

December 25 is not thought to be Jesus' actual date of birth, and the date may have been chosen to correspond with either a Roman Festival or with the Winter Solstice.

The month of December however, irrelevant of climate and culture is a very special time.

First star

On Christmas Eve in Poland, Christians fast before they feast. The feast begins with the appearance of the first star after which gifts are given. Although gift giving plays a major role in the rituals, emphasis is placed more on making special foods and decorations.

Armenians celebrate Christmas, called surb tsnund, on January 6. Special foods include rice with raisins, fish and many other things.

In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7 and traditionally people go on Alilo, derived from Alleluia, which is a mass walk in the streets, dressed in special clothing.

The traditional German Christmas tree is uncovered on December 24 to reveal one loaded with tinsel, lights, fruit, and nuts. Cookies, treats, and gifts are customarily hidden throughout the tree.

The Philippines has the longest Christmas celebration with the first mention of the special day happening as early as September.

Roots: Tree tradition

The tradition of the Christmas tree is widely believed to have its root in the pagan traditions of Northern Europe. "Thor's Oak" of Scandinavian mythology and "Yggdrasil", the "Tree of Life", of the early Germanic tribes closely resemble the modern Christmas tree. The modern version of the tree was first seen in 16th century Germany. The first reference is to a fir tree erected at a guild hall for the members' children and decorated with apples, nuts, berries.

Do you celebrate Christmas? Which is the most memorable Christmas for you? What made it special? Do you have any unique traditions?

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Dec 23, 2008
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