For Christmas customs involving the use of fire and bonfires

Feast of the Circumcision

The GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE (2:21) reports that eight days after JESUS was born, JOSEPH and MARY named him and had him circumcised. In doing so, they conformed to an old Jewish custom whereby all male infants are circumcised as a sign of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Father Time

Two old men with white beards have come to symbolize the holiday season. The first, SANTA CLAUS, visits homes on Christmas Eve (see also FATHER CHRISTMAS; WEIHNACHTSMANN).

Father Christmas

Father Christmas is an English folk figure who personified the CHRIST-MAS SEASON for centuries. Unlike SANTA CLAUS, Father Christmas originally did not distribute GIFTS.


In the American Southwest glowing paper sacks decorate the outlines of buildings, patios, walkways, and plazas at night during the CHRISTMAS SEASON. These ornamental lights are called farolitos (pronounced fah-roh-LEE-tohs), meaning “little lanterns” in Spanish.

Emancipation Day

Christmas was a mixed blessing for many African Americans during slavery times. On the one hand, many plantation slaves received GIFTS, time off, extra food rations, and visiting privileges (see SLAVES’ CHRISTMAS).


Many Americans celebrate the CHRISTMAS SEASON by imbibing a curious mixture of beaten eggs, spirits, and spices known as eggnog. This drink dates back to the colonial era. In those days, people sometimes called rum “grog.”

Devil’s Knell

According to an old European custom, local deaths were announced by the ringing of church BELLS. In England this sound was known as a “death knell.”