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Christmas is coming in just a few days, so I’ve decided to dissect and explain some of the aspects of this holiday… with maps, of course!

First, let’s not forget that the original basis for Christmas is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem around the year 1 AD (give or take a few years).  At the time, Bethlehem and most of the area we now know as Israel was called Judea, a client kingdom of the Roman Empire which soon became the Roman province of Iudaea.  According to the gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which is West of the Dead Sea and a little south of Jerusalem, but Mary and Joseph soon had to flee with him to Egypt to avoid a massacre of infant boys ordered by King Herod.  After leaving Egypt, they settled in Nazareth, a city in the region of Galilee, to the north. Below is a map of the region at the time:

1st Century Judea (via wikipedia)

Christianity had humble origins, with Jesus being born in a manger, but it quickly grew in popularity and spread around the world.  The cultural impact of Christianity is so great that Christmas is even celebrated by many non-christians in a variety of countries.  In Vietnam, for example, a country where only 8% of the population is Christian, Christmas decorations are ubiquitous and holiday cheer is high throughout December (even though there’s little chance of snow).

As the map below shows, the list of countries where Christmas is not observed at all is pretty small:

Map of Countries that do not recognize Christmas as a Public Holiday (via wikipedia)

Speaking of snow, is anyone else dreaming of a White Christmas?  Alas, where I live, I cannot always count on it, and this year it does not seem likely to happen.  Even though we had a great deal of snow last week, warmer temperatures and rain are melting it away, and there is no snow predicted from now until Christmas.  Will you have a White Christmas this year?  Here’s a handy map put together by the National Weather Service which shows the historical probability of a White Christmas in different parts of the United States:

White Christmas probability map (via NOAA)

Along with snow, another big part of the Christmas season is Santa Claus, who delivers presents to all the good boys and girls (and coal for the bad ones).  But different countries have different ideas of just who the annual gift bringer is.  Some places (such as Greece) say it’s a saint, others (like Ukraine) say it’s Grandfather Frost, and then you have more creative versions such as the Biblical Magi (Spain) or the Yule Goat (Finland).  Who would you rather come down your chimney this year?

The names of Santa (via Buzzfeed)

Speaking of Santa, did you know that NORAD tracks the location of Santa’s sleigh every Christmas Eve?  If you want to see where he is in his trip around the world this year, you can track it here: http://www.noradsanta.org/

Christmas is a time not just for presents, but also sitting down with family and friends and enjoying a meal together.  In my family, we usually have a roast of some kind, like beef or pork, but unlike Thanksgiving or Easter, we don’t have a set traditional food.  I know that lots of Americans have turkey or chicken or ham.  What do people in other countries have?  Here’s our final map, of traditional Christmas dinners around the world:

Christmas Dinner Around the World (via Country Products)

Merry Christmas, y’all!

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