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Laura Hunt

Celebrate the Season

It's Christmas time again: long nights, cold and rainy weather, crackling fire in the fireplace, a Christmas tree, the smell of cookies and hot cider. This is your first Christmas with your fiancé(e), enjoy it!

We celebrated our first Christmas as a couple in a university village. We lived off my husband's scholarship and had hardly any money to spend. The small fir tree we could afford was stabilized in a sand-filled bucket and was decorated with red candles and white macramé snow flakes, which I had learned to make just a few weeks before. Each time we lit the candles a container with water stood close by, just in case. I still remember how relieved the other students were when our tree was picked up by our janitor right after new year. I also remember the two presents I received from my husband: a red university sweatshirt and a tiny pearl pendent. The sweatshirt is long gone, but we still have the macramé stars, and we continue to have real candles on our tree. We only have changed the bucket to a fire extinguisher.

With the birth of our children we added more family traditions that we truly follow every year. Our celebration starts at the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. In late afternoon we meet in the family room and light the first candle on the freshly decorated Advent wreath. We drink tea or eggnog and munch on ginger bread cookies or other Holiday sweets. Each Sunday we light an additional candle until all four candles are lit.

This is our Advents wreath. There are four wooden blocks with an insert for the candles and four bars that connect the blocks. Each year we buy a differently colored candles and select a matching decoration.

This is an simple version of the Advent wreath. I took four candles, a wooden tray, some decoration and here it is.

The Christian Advent, I am sure, had its origin in the Jewish Hanukkah celebration, where the candles of a nine-branched menorah, a candelabra, are lit on succeeding days. This custom originated in one of the struggles for religious freedom over two thousand years ago. When the uprising was over, the Temple in Jerusalem was repaired and cleaned. With the lighting of the menorah the congregation wanted to rededicate the temple to God. Unfortunately, there was only enough oil for one day, and it took another eight days to make new oil. To the astonishment of the worshipers, the small oil supply burned until new oil could be provided.

To commemorate this miracle, Hanukkah is celebrated. After the lighting of the menorah, each day an additional candle, the celebration starts. It is accompanied by traditional food cooked in oil like latkes, a kind of potato pancakes, songs, and games. The traditional gift is money, savings bonds, or chocolate coins, wrapped in gold foil.

Christmas, the birth of Christ, is also the birth of Christianity, and the presents we give commemorate the gifts the three kings brought to Jesus. The Christmas tree, however, is said to date back to heathen times when a tree was lit during the darkest time of the year. The first decorated evergreen trees were documented in pictures painted during the middle ages in Europe. They were enhanced with cookies, pieces of sugar, dried fruits, apples, and sometimes paper flowers; candles were added much later.

While most Americans decorate their Christmas tree in the beginning of this month, ours will be waiting outside until the morning of the 24 of December. Then it will be brought into the living room. Since we all have different tastes, we take turns for being in charge of the decoration. On Christmas Eve we light the scented bee's wax candles. One of us plays the piano, and we sing our traditional songs, and read the traditional story about the birth of Christ before we take turns to open our presents.

Depending on the Islamic year, Ramadan is observed around the same time. Moslems observe the birth of Islam when God revealed the Koran to Mohammed. It is the time to cleanse the body and the mind and get new insight while reading the holy book. At the end of Ramadan there is a celebration called "El Fitr" and the main meal is curried lamb.

No matter if you are religious or not or to which church you and your and your fiancé(e) belong, what you celebrate together will be important for your future life. Make your relationship richer in sharing your cherished customs or create new ones together. It will form a bond that will strengthen your marriage.

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