Christmas Traditions and Music

Millions of Americans will celebrate Christmas on December Twenty-Fifth. It is the most widely-celebrated religious holiday in the United States. For the past few weeks, Americans have been preparing for Christmas. I'm Bob Doughty. Shirley Griffith and Ray Freeman tell us about American Christmas traditions and music on the V-O-A Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

(MUSIC: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen")

People have been buying gifts to give to family members and friends. They have been filling homes and stores with evergreen trees and bright, colored lights. They have been going to parties and preparing special Christmas foods. Many people think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Johnny Mathis thinks so, too.

(MUSIC: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year")

Many Christians will go to church the night before the holiday or on Christmas Day. They will celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christian ministers will speak about the need for peace and understanding in the world. This is the spiritual message of Christmas. Church services will include traditional religious songs for the holiday.

One of the most popular is this one, "Silent Night." Here it is sung by Joan Baez.

Many other Americans will celebrate Christmas as an important, but non-religious, holiday. To all, however, it is a special day of family, food, and exchanging gifts.

Christmas is probably the most special day of the year for children. One thing that makes it special is the popular tradition of Santa Claus.

Young children believe that Santa Claus is a fat, kind, old man in a red suit with white fur. They believe that -- on the night before Christmas -- he travels through the air in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He enters each house from the top by sliding down the hole in the fireplace. He leaves gifts for the children under the Christmas tree.

Here, Bruce Springsteen sings about Santa Claus.

(MUSIC: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town")

Americans spend a lot of time and money buying Christmas presents. The average American family spends about eight-hundred dollars. Stores and shopping centers are crowded at this time of year. More than twenty percent of all goods sold during the year are sold during the weeks before Christmas. This is good for stores and for the American economy.

Some people object to all this spending. They say it is not the real meaning of Christmas. So, they celebrate in other ways. For example, they make Christmas presents, instead of buying them. Or they volunteer to help serve meals to people who have no homes. Or they give money to organizations that help poor people in the United States and around the world.

Home and family are the center of the Christmas holiday. For many people, the most enjoyable tradition is buying a Christmas tree and decorating it with lights and beautiful objects. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, people gather around the tree to open their presents.

Another important Christmas tradition involves food. Families prepare many kinds of holiday foods, especially sweets. They eat these foods on the night before Christmas and on Christmas day.

For many people, Christmas means traveling long distances to be with their families. Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack sing about this holiday tradition.

(MUSIC: "I'll Be Home for Christmas")

Another Christmas tradition is to go "caroling." A group of people walks along the street. At each house, they stop and sing a Christmas song, called a carol. Student groups also sing carols at schools and shopping centers. Let us listen to the choir of Trinity Church in Boston sing "Carol of the Bells."

Not everyone in the United States celebrates Christmas. Members of the Jewish and Muslim religions, for example, generally do not. Jewish people celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah. And some black Americans observe another holiday, Kwanzaa. Yet many Americans do take part in some of the traditional performances of the season. One of the most popular is a story told in dance: "The Nutcracker" ballet. The music was written by Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in Eighteen-Ninety One.

The ballet is about a young girl named Clara. Clara is celebrating Christmas with her family and friends. One of her Christmas presents is a little device to open nuts -- a nutcracker. It is shaped like a toy soldier. She dreams that the nutcracker comes to life as a good-looking prince.

Professional dance groups in many American cities perform the ballet at this time of year. They often use students from local ballet schools to dance the part of Clara and the other children in the story. This gives parents a chance to see their children perform.

We leave you with "The Waltz of the Flowers" from "The Nutcracker." It is played by the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Eugene Ormandy.

Today's program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced and directed by Lawan Davis. I'm Shirley Griffith.

And I'm Ray Freeman. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the V-O-A Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.