Left: Jacqueline Coz and Madelin Sardina

Christmas around the world, then and now

December 25 is so close, just days away, and the day will bring with it, once again, a message of peace, joy and hope for the world.

December 25 is so close, just days away, and the day will bring with it, once again, a message of peace, joy and hope for the world.

For many Canadians, at least the more fortunate among us, Christmas is a time of tradition, celebration and remembrance, getting together with family and friends.

In Canada, the traditional Santa is dressed in red and white, comes in a sleigh and slides down the chimney.

But for Jean Warta, who grew up in Holland, Santa (Sinterklaas) came on a ship, arriving on the morning of St. Nicholas’ Day (Dec. 6) and traveled with his servants called Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters).

When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters came ashore from the ship, all of the local church bells rang in celebration.

“We all got presents from St. Nicholas,” recalled Warta.

Although Warta has been in Rimbey for close to 60 years, she still has fond memories of the Christmases of her childhood.

“We had a tree lit with real candles and then we sat around and watched the candles so they wouldn’t burn (the tree down),” she said.

Michael Jarmoluk recalled Christmas in Poland during the ‘20s and early ‘30s.

Born in 1923, Jarmoluk lived with his parents, his older brother Leon and his sisters Halina and Lodzia in the eastern part of Poland until he was 16 years old and the country was invaded by Russia.

Up until that time, he recalled happy Christmases with lots of cooking, baking, get-togethers and the jingle of sleigh bells.

“I remember dressing up and carrying a star and going with the other children to homes in the neighborhood singing Christmas carols.”

Junnie Chung who owns Rimbey Foods with her husband Steven Yoon said Christmas celebrations in Korea are similar to those in Canada.

“The only difference is the stores are open on Christmas Day.

She said get-togethers with family and friends are common, and while the food is different, people enjoy dining together and sharing a meal.

Chung said she enjoys Christmas in both countries.

“I like the feeling. Everyone says Merry Christmas and people are more generous and nicer. Everybody is happy. It is most joyful. I wish we could have Christmas every month.”

Mary Huang, who owns Happy Valley Restaurant with her husband John Ha, said Chinese New Year’s is celebrated much more than Christmas in China.

She said Chinese New Year’s is a wonderful celebration that lasts 15 days and includes lots of good food, decorations and dancing.

“The streets are decorated and little red envelopes filled with lucky money are given to the kids.”

Huang said real orange trees ripe with Japanese oranges and flowers are everywhere and parades with people dressed as dragons fill the streets.

Jacqueline Coz and Madelin Sardina, both from Cuba, recall Christmas in the country of their birth as a quiet time.

“We didn’t celebrate Christmas a lot,” said Coz.

The ladies said their parents remembered a time when Christmas was celebrated, but after the revolution of 1959, the government changed and celebrations of the Christian holiday were frowned upon.

However, Sardina said the country is slowly beginning to celebrate, again.

“Little by little things are changing,” she said.

In Cuba, a tradition which the ladies both recalled was of The Three Magician Kings who brought gifts on Jan. 6.

These are the same Magi described in the accounts of the birth of Christ in the Bible.

Although Christmas trees can be seen in Cuba, the nativity scenes were a more important part of Cuban Christmas holidays.

Most Cuban manger sets are large and made of painted plaster.

Since coming to Canada, the longtime friends have been overwhelmed by the lavish celebrations that take place here during the festive season.

“I never knew about (hanging up) the stockings,” said Coz.

“I never had a Christmas dinner,” added Sardina.

Both ladies agreed the parties, the food, the presents and watching the kids open their presents are exciting and fun.

“We like it,” they said. “Everybody likes Christmas.”