Joy from around the world

Tri-State area residents practice Christmas traditions of their homelands and heritages

December 23, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN |
  • Hagerstown Korean Church members sample a traditional holiday meal Tuesday. Soyoung Lehtimaki, foreground, prepared thucok, or rice cake soup, with other dishes of beef, noodles and vegetables, and seaweed. From left, Harold Pereschuk, Hyo Chong Pereschuk, pastor Yo Han Chin, Un Hee Thacker, and Soyoung Lehtimaki.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

In Germany, St. Nicholas visits children Dec. 6, accompanied by Krampus to take away those who were bad.

Charles Sekula, 67, who grew up just outside Munich, Germany, was taken away when he was 5.

“Krampus takes away the bad children until they promise to be good,” Sekula said. “He takes you downstairs and around the corner and lets you out, but at that point you don’t know where you are, and you just run until you find your way home.”

Sekula, who has lived in Hagerstown for 42 years and practices the common holiday traditions in the United States, said parents contacted people ahead of time to play Krampus and St. Nicholas.

Other traditions practiced where Sekula grew up in Germany included attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a visit from Christkind, the traditional gift bringer, similar to the gift bearer referred to by Americans as Kris Kringle.


St. Nicholas delivered small gifts Dec. 6 and placed them in a shoe at the door.

Residents who have roots in different parts of the world might have adopted American holiday traditions but still celebrate their own.

Soyoung Lehtimaki, 53, of Chambersburg, Pa., who was born in South Korea and attends Hagerstown Korean Church, said that on New Year’s Day, it is common for her family to eat rice cake soup and for people to bow to their elders.

“We respect them, and you are respected as long as you have children,” she said.

Lehtimaki mentioned a superstition that says if people do not eat the rice cake soup, their age will not increase in the new year.

HMTV6 reporter Raychel Harvey-Jones, who grew up in Wales, mentioned the Queen of England’s speech, Christmas Crackers and Boxing Day on Dec. 26 as common traditions.

“My parents always instilled in me that the queen would always have a message for you,” she said. “She makes a speech that addresses the entire United Kingdom at 3 p.m. Everyone gets their Christmas dinner out of the way by then.”

She said she was taught that Boxing Day originally was the day that servants received gifts from those for whom they worked, but now it is the day to clean up trash, such as boxes and wrapping paper, from Christmas Day.

Christ Reformed United Church of Christ Pastor Gregg Meserole, whose roots are Norwegian, said his family brought a Scandinavian tradition to the United States when they arrived, one that involves almonds and pudding.

“In Norway, there used to be rice pudding on Christmas Eve, and an almond would be hidden or put in that somewhere,” he said. “The lucky one who got the almond in their dessert was the one who got a prize or a gift.”

Meserole said he and his family continue the tradition with vanilla pudding instead of rice pudding.

Former Hagerstown Community College Professor Tom Clemens said the Scandinavian culture had a big role in shaping holiday traditions, particularly Christmas, before it even acknowledged the birth of Christ.

Christmas trees, for instance, began with pagans in that area, he said. People brought evergreen trees inside during the winter and decorated them as symbols of eternal life because the trees could survive the harshest conditions, Clemens said.

“In the wintertime, all the trees looked dead, all the leaves were off, all the grass looked dead,” he said.

“The evergreens stayed green year-round, and that was very symbolic of this ongoing life.”
Meserole mentioned how the Christmas tree with its pagan roots can be applied to the Christian religion today.

“There is that sense of continuing life in the midst of whatever, but as Christians we’ve also gone the second step of adding lights,” he said. “So not only is it a symbol of the eternal life but also the eternal light that Christ brings.”

The tradition of Santa Claus was popularized in the 19th century with Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” and the way it depicted St. Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century. Editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast began creating the image of him that is known today.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” brought to light the importance of generosity around Christmas.

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