Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
Barbara Klein. This week on our program, our subject is Christmas in America.
This Friday, millions of American Christians will
celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, their lord. Many families will sing traditional
Christmas carols and exchange gifts around decorated trees. And many will attend
special church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Reporter Jerilyn Watson spoke with David Denoon, senior
minister at the First Congregational Church of Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago.
This is his second year there.
He says that at the early service on Christmas
Eve, he will begin with a question for the children. What might Jesus want for
his birthday? Then he will turn his talk toward the
DAVID DENOON: "My intention is to spin that for the
adults as well, to be talking about our relationship with God and that we find
that relationship most special in our relationship with Jesus."
Reverend Denoon will also lead a second service on the
night before Christmas.
DAVID DENOON: "One of the great traditions that I
really appreciate here at First Congregational is that we do an annual service
of 'Nine Lessons and Carols,' which is in the old King's College tradition from
England. And the ending of the service is, everyone has just sung 'Silent
Night.' We've lit candles, we've turned off the lights, everyone is sitting in
darkness except for the lights of their candles as the final reading is read. And
at the conclusion of the reading the bell is tolled at midnight and we then
sing "Joy to the World."
Major holidays are often when houses of
religious worship are most busy. And that means extra work for members of the
Kurimsky is the priest at a Roman Catholic church in Oakmont, Pennsylvania,
near Pittsburgh. Saint Irenaeus Parish is celebrating one
hundred one years in existence. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Father
Kurimsky will be busy with four services, and another priest will lead a fifth.
Christmas is observed on January seventh, based on the Julian calendar. However,
the Orthodox Church in America says most of its members follow the revised
Julian calendar and celebrate on December twenty-fifth.
"Merry Christmas" is the traditional holiday
greeting used by millions of Americans. But these days a great many say "Happy
Some people are happy about the change. But others are
not, including this woman in the state of Mississippi named Merry.
MERRY TIGERT: "Not everyone is Christian. But I would
hope that most people who celebrate Christmas in any form understand its
origins. And even though historically there's no indication that Jesus Christ
was born in December, that's just the day that has traditionally been used to
celebrate the birth of the Son of God on Earth. Other people may choose to say
'Happy Holidays,' but to me that just doesn't say enough."
Tigert says people like to have fun with her name at Christmastime. But her
name also causes misunderstandings. Many people hear it and think it is Mary,
M-A-R-Y, instead of M-E-R-R-Y. We asked how she got her unusual name.
MERRY TIGERT: "When my mother was expecting me,
she was expecting a boy to come along in January. And instead a little girl
came along in December, oh, about a week before Christmas. So she didn't have a
girl's name picked out. She had been addressing Christmas cards, and the only
thing that came to her mind was 'Merry' as in Merry Christmas."
So is Merry merry?
MERRY TIGERT: "For the most part, yes. We all have our times, but I do tend to have an optimistic attitude."
Merry arrived seven years after her mother had her
first child -- and she was quite a Christmas gift. You see, the doctor had told
her mother that she could not have any more children.
That was Merry Tigert's favorite Christmas song. But adults
are not the only ones who have something to say about the holiday season.
HANNAH:"My name is Hannah"
REPORTER: And what's your favorite thing about Christmas?"
HANNAH: "That we get to spend time with our family."
Reporter June Simms talked to some schoolchildren.
CHILDREN: "We get to open presents." "Getting
to see my family." "Celebrating with our family." "Presents!"
"I usually get presents that say Santa Claus on them but I'm not really
sure if they're from him."
Now, about Santa Claus ...
CHILDREN: "He has a sleigh with flying reindeer. Kids go tell him what they want for Christmas and then he's kind of like
the spirit who brings you presents."
"On Christmas Eve we lay out
cookies and milk and carrots. The carrots are for the reindeer, and the cookies
and milk for Santa Claus." "We put out some vegetables for Santa
Claus and a glass of water, and then when we woke up there was a note from
"He gives presents that children want for Christmas, and give it to
them under their tree."
REPORTER: "How does he know what they want?"
CHILD: "Well he lives in the North Pole, I don't
know if there's like a speaker or anything, for them to hear what children
The children are all fourth-graders at a
Washington-area elementary school.
CHILDREN: "My name is Seth Montuori. I was adopted.
I usually go up to my grandpa's and my grandma's house. It's one of my best holidays, and, because
you get lots of presents and stuff. I'm
just really glad that I could be with my family."
"Well, first we go to church, then we come
home on Christmas Eve and then we open our presents. And then the next morning
our stockings are full and we wake up, go downstairs and empty our socks. And that's the German way. My mom's German."
"Christmas was when Jesus was born, his
birthday. They have Christmas trees, and
you put ornaments. And it usually snows,
and we also have like lots of lights."
Not all the children celebrate Christmas, though.
CHILD: "I celebrate Hanukkah. Well, you have to light candles every
night. And you get presents for eight
days because -- I mean seven days, because God made the, created the earth in
seven days and on the seventh day he rested."
Well, sort of. Hanukkah -- the Jewish Festival of
Lights -- really is eight days. But the history goes back more than two
thousand years. Jewish rebels defeated a Greek-Syrian army and reclaimed their
temple in Jerusalem. The first night this year was December eleventh.
Christmas, black families in the United States might also celebrate Kwanzaa,
which means "first fruits" in Swahili. This modern festival of
African-American culture includes lighting candles each night from December
twenty-sixth through New Year's Day.
now, the severe recession that began in December of two thousand seven may be
technically over. But millions of American families are still hurting. For
many, the best gift would be a job and freedom from worry about losing their
families have different worries. For military families, the best gift would be
a way to protect loved ones getting ready to be sent to war, or already serving
in Afghanistan and Iraq.
the United States, holiday gift giving is important not only for the usual
reasons, like showing friendship and love. It also represents an important part
of a national economy driven mainly by consumer spending.
December, as the recession hit hard, Americans held on to their money. This
year, stores and online sellers are seeing a little more willingness to spend.
Reporter Caty Weaver talked to shoppers in the Tysons Corner
area of Northern Virginia, outside Washington.
TINA: "My name's Tina. I have two girl and one
is shopping with Kevin, and they say the difficult economy forced them to
Christmas shop a little differently this year, to save money.
KEVIN: "Instead of shopping in just the regular
shopping mall we were kind of forced to go to these bargain type shops."
And by the look of their shopping cart,
overflowing with boxes and bags, they must be finished.
KEVIN:"We're pretty much done."
TINA: "For everybody. [Laughter]"
But they still have one more purchase to make: their
TINA: "We're gonna put it up tonight."
couple out shopping, Duncan and Alexandra, look happy with their results.
DUNCAN: "This year a lot of stores are trying to
reduce prices to help bring customers in during this time of recession. And we've
had tremendous success in getting different things that we wanted for the
We asked Alexandra her favorite Christmas song.
ALEXANDRA: "'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like
Johnnie Truesdale is shopping with two other women --
who point to her to be the one to talk on the radio. She has a thing or two to
say about the prices.
JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "Still high. Could be better."
And the shopping conditions.
JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "The stores are very crowded. And
I'm glad I'm finished shopping."
she has praise for the people who work at the stores.
JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "The lines were moving pretty fast. The
salespersons were doing a good job."
And her favorite Christmas song?
JOHNNIE TRUESDALE: "'Silent Night.' It's the
there is Vincente Carbajal. He is shopping with his wife and little girl. But
not Christmas shopping. He says his family does not celebrate Christmas,
although they are Christian.
CARBAJAL: "We think every single day is very valuable. We celebrate every
single day with our family, with our community. We don't hate anyone. Every
single day can be a Christmas."
program was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein. We hope you join us
again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.