Family & Friends

The Wednesday Five

We are so lucky that our Women’s Voices contributors are global citizens — calling home places as far and wide as France, Tanzania, Denmark, and as close by as Minnesota and New York. Here are their stories about how they’ve celebrated the Christmas season with their loved ones in their cherished cities — chock full of laughter, chaos, shenanigans, joy, and love.


noel1(1) The glittering Grande Roue (Ferris Wheel) at the Place de Concorde.

Christmas in Paris: Magic, Mystery, Romance

By Tish Jett

When I think of Paris, a series of unconnected words slips into my mind: éclat, happiness, magic, romance, elegance, refinement, mystery. . . Noël(!)

Then I say to myself, “Congratulations. You have mastered all the clichés, n’est ce-pas?”

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not my fault that everything has already been said about Paris, and with profound eloquence. My words express, as best I can, the sentiments and sensations that reflect my Parisian experiences.

It’s simple, really: No matter who you are, no matter how you try to explain it, Paris changes you. It’s a magical place. It sparkles with hope and possibilities; it somehow, and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to understand why, makes la joie de vivre seem uncomplicated, obvious, attainable.

And at no other time of year does Paris shimmer and glow more brightly than during Noël. Its everyday, refined elegance is suddenly turned out in exuberant bursts of light and color, and even music in the streets. The entire city becomes a huge, over-the-top Christmas party. It’s virtually impossible not to be swept up in the festive splendor of the season.

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A Tanzanian Christmas

By Deborah Harkins

No carols, no decorated trees, no exchanges of gifts—Christmas in Tanzania is simply a religious festival—a situation for which many a priest and pastor has long expressed  yearning. Rev. Dr. Sandra McCann, the “accidental” Episcopal priest/missionary whose work we chronicled  a few weeks ago, has been posted for ten years to Msalao Theological College in Dodomo, Tanzania. She has participated in many an exuberant Sunday religious service in her parish—“each church has a minimum of four choirs, and everybody gets to sing”—but she has always been on leave in the States at Chrismastime.

So Rev. Dr. McCann asked the Rev. Canon Moses Matonya, Dean of Msalato Theological College, to draw us a picture. “We normally start to celebrate Christmas by attending what we call the “Mkesha wa Krismas” [“the Eve of Christmas”] service on December 24, beginning at 8 p.m. and going to around 2 a.m. on December 25,” he wrote. “Then we would have Christmas services on December 25, beginning at 7 a.m. We do not celebrate Christmas on the Sunday before, and we do not have Christmas carols as is done in the West. Traditionally we did not have Christmas trees, gifts, cards, etc., but all these are newly done today because of influence from the West. People tend to go house to house to share food and drinks [sodas, not alcoholic beverages] as a way of making Christmas special.

“Traditionally, the climax of any Tanzanian celebration is reached by people eating and drinking together. So we do this for Christmas as well. We read the famous passages—the ones from Luke and Mathew about the birth stories of Jesus.”

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A Danish Christmas

By Suzanne Russell

Tivoli_640x425Tivoli at Christmastime.

Winter in Denmark is dark and dreary. From November to February the sun is low on the horizon. Denmark isn’t above the polar circle, so we don’t experience polar nights, just strings of gray and charcoal-colored days.

Because of all this darkness, Christmastime in Denmark is a welcome celebration for people of all faiths. It is the season when candles and shiny decorations are used to magically brighten up the darkness, naughty elves make mischief, and people get together to eat and drink special Christmas treats.

Christmas, known as Jul in Danish, is celebrated throughout December. Christmastime officially starts on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on January 6 with the Epiphany, the visit of the Magi to the newborn baby Jesus.

Christmas Eve, December 24, is the most important Christmas day, with an annual trip to church for one-third of all Danes. Christmas mass in a sparsely decorated Lutheran church is followed by a festive dinner, dancing and singing around the Christmas tree, and the exchanging of gifts. December 25 and 26 are also holidays. On December 25, most Danes attend a Christmas lunch, a traditional smorgasbord, with family or friends.

In general, Danes are crazy about candles; they light tea candles everywhere to create the cozy atmosphere referred to as hygge. At Christmastime, there are several other important candle rituals. A calendar candle is burned for a few hours every day to count down the days until Christmas. Four Advent candles are burned each Sunday in Advent to count down the four weeks until Christmas. There are special Christmas tree candles to light the tree, and these are also used in decorations. My favorite decorations are small Pigeon apples that are cored and used as candleholders for Christmas tree candles; my children used to make these table decorations for me by the dozens when they were very young.

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