History books refer to the United States as "the melting pot" where all nations and traditions blend together. Indeed, our Christmas celebrations would indicate just that. We have carols from England and Australia and trees from Germany. Santa Claus, or St. Nick. in a red suit originated in Scandinavia and his arrival through the chimney to fill stockings is reminiscent of the Netherlands. His sleigh drawn by reindeer began in Switzerland, and our parades may be a carry-over from Latin processions. Of course the traditional feasting is typical of all nations. We, in turn, have fattened up the jolly old man in the red suit and blended all the traditions until he comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve, leaves gifts and stockings filled with treats and departs in a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. The media has helped to make this a universal Christmas image. Yet each regions of the U.S. has its own peculiarity.
From ancient times, American Indians have held religious dances to coincide with the winter solstice. Franciscan monks succeeded in bringing this Indian celebration and the Christmas Holy Day together. Thirty-five miles south of Santa Fe, in the San Felipe Pueblo, is held perhaps one of the most unique Christmas Eve dances. Shortly after the priest has delivered his Christmas Eve sermon and departed, birdcalls burst from the loft (sounds produced by blowing into a shallow dish of water through a split, perforated hollow reed). An insistent drum takes over and dancers move into the blazing light of the altar. Dressed in masks, animal skins, feathers, coral, shells, turquoise and head dresses with real antlers, they perform the deer, turtle, eagle and buffalo dances. Women carry a sprig of HAKAK, the sacred spruce tree, which represents eternal life and which they believed helped to create mankind.
From the Appalachian mountains came one of today's most popular Christmas songs, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." This was originally a "counting song" of magical or pagan origin, and no one seems to know what it originally meant. However, today it has become the theme of many Christmas cards and displays.
Downtown shopping centers in Hawaii display Santa's helpers as "menehunes," the legendary little people who are supposed to have been the first inhabitants of Hawaii before the Polynesians seized the islands. Palm trees are strung with decorate delights and fragrant flowers are hung in leis around the indoor Christmas tree.
Pennsylvania's Moravian population embrace Christmas with a "Love-Fest." These are musical services in which the congregation partakes of simple food while the choir sings appropriate hymns and anthems. Usually, the congregation must be served sweet buns and coffee in the time it takes to sing three hymns. Candles are distributed, made of beeswax (for until the 15th century, it was believed bees were made in Paradise), and as the final anthem is sung, all raise their lighted candles to "Praise to Our Heavenly King."
The greatest variety in the traditions, however, comes in the taste of Christmas feast:
New England has Lumberjack Pie ( a mashed potato crust, filled with meats, onion and cinnamon.)
Pennsylvania Dutch serve Sand Tarts (thing, crisp sugar cookies)
North Carolina features Moravian Love-Feast Buns (faintly sweet bread of flour and mashed potatoes.)
Baltimore serves Sauerkraut with their Turkey (which includes apples, onions and carrots.)
Virginia gives us oyster and ham pie.
Southern states have Hominy Grits Soufflé and Whiskey Cake (with one cup of 100-proof whiskey.)
Louisiana's treat is Creole Gumbo. It can include ham, veal, chicken, shrimp, oysters and crabmeat.
New Mexico has the Empanaditas--little beef pies with applesauce pine nuts and raisins.
Hawaii blesses us with Turkey Teriyaki marinated and cooked over an outdoor pit.
Whatever the region, Christmas is one of the most celebrated and enjoyed holidays in the nation.
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From two years ago (2001):