How various cultures have celebrated Christmas from ancient to modern times

For many Christians, the joy of Christmas begins with the arrival of the evergreen boughs from the churchyard at dusk on Dec. 25. But for Christians in other parts of the world, the feast of Christ’s birth has been an opportunity to practice community and social bonds, as well as more secular-minded holidays.

For some, Christmastime is associated with the weekly school field trips to the holiday village, and other activities. Others take advantage of the close proximity to Christmas, holding “friendsgiving” gatherings and crafting “cookie baskets” for the local Girl Scouts.

That’s why the Global Center for Christmas (GCC) invites people from across the globe to join in a unique holiday that transcends the holidays themselves: “Christmastime” in New York City, which began Jan. 19, 2011.

In the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, a small cluster of family-owned stores, restaurants and coffee shops leads to a shared space, dubbed the Christmastime Village. Kids and families can enjoy cookies, hot cocoa and photos with Santa.

In past years, many GCC events have encouraged people to host or attend a “tradition,” so that friends might introduce one another around a cosy table and share a meal together. Past year’s Christmastime Village celebrations in Dumbo included a “panna cotta” party in September for a “happy hour,” and a pet cemetery “silent night” event in which people signed their deceased pets’ graves.

Lovers of poetry were also celebrated at GCC, and a tumblr that noted the names of those invited to each event was a hit among its audience. A community-sourced placemat was created, a nod to tradition, that was part of one event, and a nominative determinism quilt was modeled in another.

But to these communities, there’s more to the season than just an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is a time for meeting people, for sharing blessings, for meeting a wide variety of individuals.

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Jake Shaham is the editor of The Ledge, the alternative and “a-political” weekly that reaches the English-speaking world from Berlin. He has been quoted on “60 Minutes” and in the New York Times. You can read more of his work on his site, and his Facebook and Twitter pages.

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