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Christmas Across Cultures

By Tom Lowrey, Education Assistant

Wigilia (Polish pronunciation:[viˈɡilʲa]) is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland. The feast begins with grace and breaking of the “Christmas wafer” oplatek—tosymbolize the gift of daily bread and wishing each other blessings for the coming year. Some families even leave a g ift under the tree for the Baby Jesus.

Growing up in a large Polish Catholic family in Elmira, Michigan, Connie Dullock and her nine siblings loved Christmas and the traditions that surrounded the holiday. And though the traditions were old, they never grew “old” for Connie. Quite the opposite! She still exchanges Christmas cards with cousins in Poland.

Christmas has grown so special for Connie that she has researched holiday traditions in many different countries, and every year she shares what she’s learned with family, friends, and various local groups. She is fond of German Christmases…gingerbread came from there, along with the first Christmas tree. She enjoys the things that Mexicans and other Latin Americans do with their Navidad…all the colors, music, piñatas and las posadas. She loves the Ethiopian feast of Ganna, when the priests dress in turbans and red and white robes as they carry beautifully embroidered fringed umbrellas. Connie also appreciates other holiday traditions, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

In our own country, although Christmas remains a very important holiday, it isn’t like it used to be. “We’ve gotten very materialistic and into the bustle,” says Connie, “and we sometimes forget the real meaning of Christmas. We’re so busy with gifts and parties and going lots of places and wanting to please everybody. So by Christmas Day, I’m pretty exhausted!”

Connie prefers the more traditional Christmas, “like the kind people celebrated about fifty years back.” She still enjoys favorite childhood memories. “When I was four or five,” recalls Connie, “Santa Claus came to our door. I was very quiet and shy when I was little, and I just ran and hid under the bed, scared to death. My sister came in two or three times and said, ‘You’ve got to come out. Santa wants to see you!’ And I said, ‘I can’t come out. Just tell him I want a doll.’ I never did come out, and I found out later it was my grandpa.”

Years later Connie was actually married to Santa Claus! “My husband played him for 25 years. I made a Santa suit out of a pajama pattern I bought at Woolworth’s. Eventually we went to Bronner’s and spent the big money on a real Santa outfit.” One year a lady got her earring caught in his beard, and they had a heck of a time getting it out.

The Christmas Story, and our own personal Christmas stories, live on in our hearts, as do our holiday family traditions. Come see Connie at Senior Services’ next Lunchtime Learners on December 7 as she shares “Christmas Around the World.”