December 3, 2006 - January 28, 2007
300 Somerset Street, New Brunswick, NJ
The American Hungarian Foundation's
18TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF TREES
INCLUDING the MENORAH
and the Traditions of DENMARK, ESTONIA, FINLAND,
HISPANIC-LATINO People, HUNGARY, IRELAND, ITALY,
JAPAN, LATVIA, POLAND, SCOTLAND and UKRAINE
Descriptions: Patricia Fazekas, Curator, American
The origin of the
Christmas tree is often credited to the Germans who reportedly
began the custom in the eighth century. St. Boniface dedicated a
fir tree to the Holy Child in the spirit of Tertullian of
Carthage, who stated during a third-century treatise on
idolatry, "You are a light of the world, a tree evergreen...".
A popular legend
says that in the 16th century Martin Luther cut down the first
Christmas tree and decorated it with candles inspired by the
starry skies of the Holy Night in Bethlehem. Another story
describes the first use of an evergreen tree in a Christmas
celebration in Riga, Latvia in 1510, while the first "tree of
record" is one raised in Strasburg in 1605. More than two
centuries later, Princess Helen of Mecklenburg brought the
custom to France after her marriage to the Duke of Orleans. In
1844, it spread to England when Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince
Albert of Saxony, brought the German custom with him.
As with many
holiday customs which partially have their origins in
Pre-Christian practice, the Christmas tree may have some
connection to the tree worship of Druids in Europe. At the
winter solstice, they tied apples to the branches of oaks and
firs to thank Oden for blessing them with fruitfulness. They
also placed lighted candles honoring the sun god Balder in the
boughs and made offerings of cakes shaped like fish, birds and
The Christmas tree
has become one of the most popular Christmas traditions. It is
not just a pretty decoration, but a reminder of the ancient
symbolism that is embedded in our familiar modern religions, as
well as a reaffirmation of our connection to the earth.
THE MENORAH AND
THE CELEBRATION OF HANUKKAH
Hanukkah in Jewish
history observed the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his four
brothers over the Syrian-Greeks. The Temple was recaptured and
rebuilt in eight days; therefore; Hanukkah is observed for eight
days. In the Temple only a small undefiled jug of oil was found
for lighting the Temple Menorah (candelabrum). Kindled by the
High Priest, a miracle happened, the menorah flame burned for
eight days rather than one. To commemorate the event, the
holiday annually observed the kindling of lights for eight days,
and Hanukkah became known as the Feast (or Festival) of Lights.
Welcome and opening remarks by Professor August J. Molnar,
of the Hungarian American Foundation and by
Patricia L. Fazekas, Curator of the Museum of the Foundation
widow of painter Paul Takacs and
sculptor Gyuri Hollosy
talked about the current exhibition:
"HOPE, DESPAIR AND TRIUMPH"
Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian
Revolution in Art and the Photos of Erich Lessing
by Polish children's choir
"A Vers Hangja"
Literary Circle recited Hungarian Christmas poems and songs
Zsolt Balla and Eniko
Danish Archive, Northeast, Edison, NJ
AND THE DANISH ARCHIVES
The decorations of
the Danish Christmas tree are typical of those that have been
used by the Danes throughout the centuries. They were made by
Danish senior citizens in Denmark and by members of the various
Danish lodges in New Jersey and New York who remember the more
than 3,000 Danes who lost their lives in the fight for freedom
and peace during World War II. At the end of the war, as the
blackout was lifted, candles were placed in all the windows to
herald the return of freedom. The custom of window lights has
since become an annual tradition.
North East (DANE) is pleased to again have the opportunity to
participate in the annual Festival of Trees. DANE was organized
in 2000 and has opened offices at the Danish Home, 855 New
Durham Road, Edison, New Jersey. The facilities of DANE will be
set up to serve as a cultural center, archive, and museum. One
aim of DANE
is to bring to the forefront the contributions of immigrant
Danes who settled in the northeastern area of the United States.
Initial research indicates that there is a wealth of information
available about these Danes who gained prominence as statesmen,
educators, businessmen, and industrialists.
family photos as well as local scenes from earlier days are
welcome and will form an integral part of these historical
documentations. Families of present-day Danes are welcome to
contact the genealogy department for assistance in tracing their
lineage. DANE may be reached, toll free at 1-866-855-3263.
Lakewood Estonian Association, Inc., Lakewood, NJ
holidays in Estonia are known as "Jöulupühad". Many of the early
Christmas traditions in Estonia evolved from pre-Christian
beliefs and folklore when people celebrated the winter solstice
with customs that were associated with the bestowing of good
fortune on families, animals, and crops which were needed for
sustenance. The display of evergreen trees and singing of
Christmas carols and hymns were part of Estonian celebrations as
early as the 16th and 17th centuries.
According to an old
Estonian holiday custom, the first sheaf of rye reaped at
harvest was saved until Christmas when it was brought indoors
into the living area. A few straws were taken from it and thrown
against the ceiling to wish for an abundant crop next year. The
whole floor of the parlor was usually covered with rye-straw to
bring into the home the wholesome influence of the grain spirit.
In preparation for
the three-day Christmas holiday, the house, hearth, and family
had to undergo cleansing ceremonies to ensure good health, and
festive clothes were donned. On Christmas Eve, an evergreen tree
was placed in the parlor and decorated with handmade ornaments
of straw, paper, pine and spruce cones along with strings of
fruits and berries, nuts, sweets, and live candles.
A ride to church to
attend Christmas Eve services was a deep-seated tradition of the
Estonian people. After the service, candles would be lit on the
graves of family members at nearby cemeteries.
Feasting on a
traditional meal of roast pork, sauerkraut, jellied pigs feet,
barley sausages, and other delicacies was a treasured part of
the celebration. After the meal, carols were sung around the
tree with an appearance by Santa Claus (Jöuluvana) bearing gifts
for the children, who were expected to recite poems or sing.
Holiday celebrations continued until the Epiphany.
"The New Jersey Finns"
The yuletide season
in Finland starts with the first weekend of Advent, when many
people attach ornamental Christmas wreaths to their front doors.
Many such ornaments are handcrafted items made of straw or
twigs, which for hundreds of years were the most common
materials for Finnish Christmas decorations.
The Christmas tree
is brought home on Christmas Eve at the latest and it is usually
decorated by the children of the house. Christmas trees used to
be decorated with real candles but now they are normally lit
with electric lights. A star is placed at the top of the tree.
Christmas Eve, according to the Finnish calendar, is the name
day of Adam and Eve.
The great hero of the Finnish Christmas
celebration is Santa Claus. According to legend, he lives on top
of Korvatuturi, which is such a secret place that only Santa
Claus, his wife, and hundreds of elves, Santa’s helpers, are
allowed there. Santa is so old that he can't really remember his
age. But that does not make any difference, for ageless Santa
Claus is loved by all.
Sister City, Debrecen
and The American Hungarian Foundation
HUNGARY: THE NATIVITY PLAN
Nativity plays in Hungary are centered around amusing jokes,
songs and acts performed by shepherds dressed in huge fur capes
worn inside out. The players carry a homemade manger with them
or a small house in the shape of a church. Nowadays, it is the
children who perform the Nativity plays, except for one or two
Székely villages in Transylvania, where grown men present the
miracle plays, with the peculiar addition of formidable masks
made of animal skins worn by the shepherds.
The oldest parts of
these Christmas plays in Hungary are the Latin liturgical plays
that were introduced in the eleventh century. The most important
scene in the Hungarian play is the pastoral. The contrasts
between good and evil, rich and poor are depicted with great
simplicity and expressiveness.
In Hungary the
Christmas trees appeared in towns in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The
honeybread, mézeskalács hanging on the tree here was decorated
with designs by Patricia Fazekas, curator of the Museum.
New Brunswick's Sister City, Limerick County,
St. Joseph's School (Coláiste Jósaef)
With greater access
to commercially produced Christmas decorations in recent years,
most homes in Limerick City and County are now festooned in
glittering displays of lights, shiny baubles and trinkets. In
many ways the "Irish Christmas" has been greatly influenced by
our neighbors across the Atlantic in the U.S.A.
Christmas is still very much a family celebration, with family
members going to great efforts to "make it home" for Christmas,
no matter which part of the country or world they may be in. The
Christmas trees and decorations seem to grace the homes earlier
each year, with the honor of placing the star or angel on top of
the tree falling to the youngest member of the household.
Many homes still
place a nativity or "Crib" as it is known in Ireland, in their
homes in a prominent position. A tradition, especially in the
country, is the placing of a lighted candle in the window as a
sign of welcome to visitors. This practice grew from the Holy
Family of Nazareth's difficulty in finding a room at the inn,
and people's wish to extend to them a welcome at this special
Many people still
make a Christmas pudding, the recipe for which is handed down
from generation to generation, with each of the family members
taking turns stirring and mixing ingredients while at the same
time making a wish.
In lots of homes, Christmas gifts are placed
under the tree, and are opened on Christmas morning when all the
family members are gathered together after returning from
morning Mass. Later in the day, the family gathers around the
table where traditionally, turkey and ham are eaten, followed by
During the Season
of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, an Advent
Wreath is made and placed in each church throughout the city and
county. The wreath is circular in shape and is made from
evergreen branches. This symbolizes God without beginning or
end. Four candles, three purple and one pink, are placed around
the wreath, and each week a candle is lit until at Christmas all
four adorn the wreath. The purple candles signify our need for
repentance as we prepare for the birth of Christ. The pink
candle, which is lit on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudet
Sunday), symbolizes the joy of Mary as she awaited the birth of
her Son, and is a reminder to us that Christmas is very near. On
the last Sunday before Christmas the final purple candle is lit
as a reminder that Christ’s birth is imminent and we need to
make a final effort to prepare ourselves for his coming.
On Christmas Day, a
single white candle, announcing to us that Christ is born,
replaces the four candles.
St. Mary of Mount Virgin Church, New Brunswick, NJ
In Italy, the most
popular Christmas tradition is the ‘presepio’; that is, the
Nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, as the family gathers around
the presepio singing traditional carols, the oldest woman in the
household places the Christ Child in His straw bed. Afterwards,
the family decorates their Christmas tree with both fresh and
dried fruits, candies, and cookies wrapped in bright paper and
tinfoil. After a hearty dinner, they enjoy some ‘panettone’,
which is a sweet bread made with pignolli nuts, candied fruits,
New Brunswick's Sister City: Fukui and Tsuruoka
Japanese people who
celebrate Christmas decorate holiday trees that look very
similar to their English or American counterparts. Therefore,
the decorations adorning the Japanese tree are replicas of items
which represent important elements of their culture. They were
made by Japanese school children.
Japanese dolls are dressed in the ceremonial robes of a Japanese
court lady. The kimono is a traditional Japanese dress. Today,
it is rarely worn as part of daily life, but it remains an
important symbol of the Japanese culture and students are taught in
school to respect and value the beauty and tradition of the
kimonos on the Japanese tree are made using paper with colored
figures. The art of making washi paper of high quality has been
in Japan from old times. Due to its durability, washi became to be
a material for making books and sliding doors (shoshi and fusuma).
Many other things such as umbrellas, raincoats, lanterns and
waterproof items are made of washi, too.
decorations were each created from a single sheet of paper. The
traditional art of origami has been in Japan for a long time.
Even small children know how to make paper animals or flowers
characteristic of each season in Japan. No event throughout the
year goes without origami, some very simple and lovely which set
your mind at peace, and others which are very artistic in
Other decorations on the tree are wind bells, which in summer
give the illusion of coolness as they move in the breeze, folded
paper fans that capture the color and air of a Japanese summer,
sushi, a typical food of Japan, teacups, used to drink hot
Japanese tea, and kotatsu, which can warm you up during the
winter. These decorations, in their color, shape and texture,
express the heart and culture unique to Japan.
Latvian Lutheran Church Ladies Aid, East Brunswick, NJ
Elvira Levans, Daina Lucs and Zigrida Tobiens
Far to the north of
Europe, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, lies Latvia. Winter
comes early with deep snow and long nights. In ancient times,
when Christianity had not yet arrived, Latvians celebrated the
In anticipation of
the Winter Solstice, one of the ancient traditions/rituals was
to prepare a large oak log and pull it from farmhouse to
farmhouse during the day. At night, accompanied by folksongs, it
was burned in hopes that it would aid the ascent of the Sun and
signified the conquest of last year’s hardships and failures. It
was believed that the brighter the fire, the richer and luckier
the coming year will be.
decorated with evergreen branches which hung on walls and around
windows and doors. Other decorations were made and displayed
from materials found in nature. Various foods were prepared in a
round form symbolizing the sun (breads, sausages tied in rounds,
food made from peas and beans). Special emphasis during this
festival was placed on brightly burning candles and bright fire
in the fireplace to drive away the darkness.
With the arrival of
Christian religion in Latvia there also arrived the new meaning
of Christmas. While some of the old customs remain, new
traditions make this such a special season of the year in the
The Christmas tree
came into Latvia from Germany and brought new decorations, such
as wax candles set on the tree branches, little red apples,
special colorful candies, cookies (piparkukas) were hung in the
Christmas tree and garlands made of cranberries and straw
However, one of the
most beautiful traditions is for the family and extended family
members to gather on Christmas Eve and attend together the holy
evening church service that usually begins at dusk. After the
last hymn (Silent Night, Holy Night) has been sung and Christmas
greetings are exchanged with friends, Latvians gather for the
traditional family Christmas Eve meal. Then they sing more
Christmas carols, children recite poems and verses from Latvian
folklore and all exchange presents.
The peace and
Christmas joy that has entered every heart is carried into
Christmas Day which is set aside for visiting relatives and
Polish Language School, Bound Brook, NJ
AND THE CHRISTMAS EVE VIGIL
The Christmas Eve
Vigil or Wigilia is an important part of the traditional Polish
Christmas celebration. The anticipation of the four long weeks
of Advent culminate in this reverent and beautiful tradition.
Christmas Eve is the holiest night of the year in Polish,
Slovak, and Lithuanian homes. In preparation for the evening’s
observance, the home has been made clean and tidy. The room
where the celebration takes place is hung with multi-colored
paper decorations and garlands. The atmosphere is a pleasant
blend of the scent of freshly cut evergreens and the aromas of
ceremonial foods tantalizing the palate.
Earlier, the father has
entered the home with a sheaf of grain which he has placed in a
corner. This represents the home’s Guardian Angel. The family
table, adorned to be a symbolic manger of Bethlehem, has been
hallowed by the hay placed under the fine linen cloth. Since
sunset, the youngest child has been peering through the window
pane, waiting for the first star to appear in the night sky.
Soon a the child exclaims: "It is here! The Star!" Patricia Fazekas, curator of the Museum. Then, with warm
hearts the family members and guests gather around the
food-laden table. They begin the ages-long Christmas Eve Vigil
with the breaking and sharing of the sacred oplatek - the
The Vigil centers
upon the importance of the Christmas wafer. It literally unites
family wherever they are on the face of the earth. Christmas
wafers are mailed to far-flung family members during this holy
season to remind them of their kinship. This ancient ritual
unites the past with the present, heaven with earth. An empty
place is set in memory of the family’s ancestors, and Jesus
Christ. There is high hope that Christ, as the unexpected guest,
will come and bless the gathering. "A guest in the home is
Christ in the home." As each of the odd-numbered courses is
served, a small portion is set aside for the animals. At the
first Christmas, when Christ was born, the animals were, after
all, the only honored "eye witnesses" and they are remembered
for this distinction.
The culmination of the Vigil of Christmas Eve is the family's
journey to the parish church. There, after the sacred and joyous
observance in the home, everyone praises God for His Wondrous
Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, Branch 20, Trenton, NJ
In Scotland, as
elsewhere, adapting and miniaturizing the symbols of the country
to the Christmas tree is common. Small round shortbreads, baked
extra-long and sometimes varnished, miniature bagpipes,
sporrans, tam-o’shanters and ribbons depicting the various
plaids and tartans are all typically Scottish ornaments.
A Calvinist and
Presbyterian country for most of its post-pagan history,
Scotland was late in adopting a custom seen by church fathers as
frivolous. Even now that Christmas trees are common in Scotland,
they tend to be less tinseled and glittery than those in America
Though not a quintessentially Scottish custom, the tree is
always a perfect backdrop for the most indigenous highland
tradition, the New Year’s piping of the haggis.
SPAIN, LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Roosevelt School, New Brunswick, NJ
SPAIN, LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
In Spain, Latin
America and many Caribbean Islands, like in most countries where
Christmas is celebrated, there is much joy. However, in Latino
Culture the celebration of the birth of the Messiah is not
limited to one day. This celebration begins with the coming of
the Advent season and continues through Epiphany, or as it is
better known, "El Día de Los
Reyes" or Three Kings Day, which is on the sixth of January.
The season is also
characterized by a tremendous enthusiasm expressed through "parrandas,
asaltos or matutinos", which are very exuberant caroling after
midnight. It is also customary to exchange gifts, not on
Christmas Day, but with friends and loved ones on "El Día de Los
Ukrainian National Women's League #65, New Brunswick, NJ
eagerly await the appearance of the first star on Christmas Eve.
The star tells them that it is time for the official beginning
of the Christmas holiday, the "Sviata Vecherya" or Holy Supper.
In preparation for the meal, the father brings in a sheaf of
grain and places it in a corner of the room.
The sheaf is called
the "didukh", or "forefather", representing their forefathers
who first tilled the land. Straw may be placed under the table,
or atop the table under the tablecloth, representing the manger
straw upon which Jesus lay. An empty place is set at the table
for those family members who have passed on, and a lit candle in
the window welcomes those who have no family of their own. The
Holy Supper has twelve courses, symbolic of the twelve Apostles,
with all courses being meatless and non-dairy. After the meal,
the family attends the Christmas Eve Vigil service at church.
On Christmas Day,
after church services, groups of children go from house to house
caroling, carrying a star symbolic of the star of Bethlehem.
Carolers, considered bearers of good news, are welcomed and
offered treats. The Christmas holidays extend for twelve days,
until the celebration of Jesus’ baptism. The national origin of
many Christmas ornaments has been obscured. Ornaments such as
doves or eggshells and tissue paper, roosters, straw crosses and
spiders of straw and tissue paper come to us from Ukrainian
villages, where they were made by each housewife and her
daughters. In modern times, traditional Ukrainian motifs are
often used to decorate contemporary Christmas ornaments.