MADRID – Christmas is coming and children are expectant, although the Yuletide season is no longer just a Christian annual festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, but a global phenomenon as can be seen Friday in a roundup of epa photojournalists’ images.
Across the globe people take part at this time of year in hectic gifts shopping, deplorable office parties with copious wining and dining, all activities that have taken center stage, displacing the original spiritual message of love and Yuletide rejoicing.
Current Christmastime customs include gift giving, Advent calendars and wreaths on entrance doors, carols sung, pantomime theater shows and Nativity plays.
There are Christmas cards, church services with heavenly choirs, decorated trees, lights, garlands, couples kissing lovingly under the mistletoe, holly and infinite representations of a North Pole denizen – a kind-faced portly white-bearded gentleman – known as Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, depending on each country’s tradition.
His association with Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, is equally celebrated, along with sleighs, toy-building elves and letters telling of good deeds and better behavior.
Our world tour began with a visit to Taiwan’s Christmas tree in Banciao, New Taipei City, where a 36-meter (yard) tree projects 3D images on surrounding buildings.
In Byblos, north Beirut, Lebanon, a 28-meter-high Christmas tree stands in Roman Street, featuring this year a 14-meter-wide Nativity crib and multi-color lighting made of illuminated steel pipes on top of a large platform featuring a world map representing the Lebanese diaspora.
In Europe, the Main Market Square in Krakow, Poland, contrasts well with a downtown Budapest tram decorated with lights in Hungary.
Switzerland shows off its lights in Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse.
Austria boasted seasonal illuminations in Vienna’s “Am Graben” shopping street or the Christmas tree and market in front of Vienna’s Imperial Schoenbrunn Palace.
In Germany, we saw Herr Peter Arndt posing as Santa Claus, or the traditional Gingerbread hearts with the inscription “Greetings from Bremen” in the so-called “Bremer Weihnachtsmarkt,” which each year is visited by 1.5 million people.
Also, a sign of the times, a woman is seen walking past red-and-white decorated roadblocks used as security measures at the entrance to Hamburg’s Christmas market.
In France, our photographers saw lights hanging from trees on a rainy night on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, or watched the 60 Secretaries to the French Santa Claus (Pere Noel) reading and replying to 1.2 million Christmas letters from 140 countries at Libourne’s post office, near Bordeaux, France.
Then, in Spain, people gathered in the old quarter of Malaga, enjoying its traditional Christmas lights.
Across the Atlantic in New York City, the United States, Rockefeller Center shows its seasonal tree illuminated for the 85th time, just off 5th Avenue.
On the banks of the Potomac River in Washington DC, President Donald Trump and his First Lady lighting the National Christmas
Tree on the Ellipse, south of the White House, for the 95th time since president Calvin Coolidge lit their first one in 1923.
And finally, Guatemala City, where for the 32nd time they lit a massive tree to the joy of the thousands attending.
Although the Christian church decided around the 4th century AD that Christ was born on December 25, the annual celebrations linked to it most likely never were exclusively Christian.
Christ was identified with the Sun in Old Testament verses, perhaps seeking to link his birth to more ancient pagan festivities related to the Sun God, winter solstice and the rebirth of life, even coinciding with the Jewish Hanukkah.
The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily in many regions and has become a key sales period for retailers and businesses.
Still, Christmas lights and sights are a joy to be seen.