Various cultures’ Christmas traditions on display at EP Library

By F. C. Blake

Of the Independent.

A varied assortment of traditional artifacts from parts of Europe, Asia, and North America adorns the display cases at EP Library this holiday season. On December 7, Branch Director Charlene Prinsen imparted an impressive knowledge of each object’s historical and cultural background.

In Sweden, during longer fall and winter evening hours when frigid weather curtailed outdoor work, families enjoyed making handicrafts such as the colorful Dala horses.

From Russia, the matryoshka or matrushka dolls, consisted of several hollow, increasingly smaller figures that nested into single stacks, or sat arrayed in rows.

The metal tree-shaped candelabra sharing space on the library shelf hails from Mexico. A music box that plays “O Holy Night” derives from Swiss origins. The Emerald Isle claims space with its bodhrán, a wooden and goat-skin drum considered the heartbeat of Irish music.

Prinsen explained the background of a Nativity set from Oberammergau, Germany. In the 1630’s when the bubonic plague ravaged Europe, most of Oberammergau‘s population survived. In gratitude, town residents have continued to stage an elaborately detailed Passion play (story of Christ’s crucifixion) every ten years.

Prinsen also noted variations in tradition among cultures regarding the kind-hearted man who delivers gifts to deserving youngsters. In the Netherlands, he’s Sinterklaas, Sint Nicolaas or Sint Nikolaas. The French call him Saint Nicolas; German children say Sankt Nikolaus, while Finland’s kiddies know him as Joulupukki.

Recollecting folklore from her Netherlands roots, Prinsen told of a pair of travelers who visit Holland on Dec. 5, the eve of their designated feast day. Clad in red Bishop’s robes, astride a white horse, Sinterklaas leads a street procession through town. His record-keeping servant, Zwarte Piet, determines which kids earned rewards or punishments depending on their deeds or misdeeds. At Sinterklaas parties that evening, household members stage treasure hunts and eat marzipan, a confection made with honey, almond meal, or fragrant almond extract. The super-fortunate child might hear a knock on the door, and then find a sack full of presents on the doorstep.

A highlight of EP Library’s displays features hand-made items including felt nativity figures brought from Kyrgyzstan by Upper Rogue resident, Mahabbat Snell. At 18, following childhood schooling in the Sunni Muslim faith, Snell experienced a turbulent event prompting her to cry out to her Maker for answers. At an American University in her homeland, she encountered a Californian reading a Bible. He shared his Christian beliefs with her, and she embraced them. She became a transfer student at S.O.U. and now holds Advanced Degrees along with employment at Pacific Bible College.

Snell’s Christmas display comes from her mother in Kyrgyzstan. “There, women who’ve lost their male breadwinners (through widowhood or abandonment) have no way to survive,” she said. Her mom brings these items to them and shows them how to make similar ones, plus hats and bags they can sell to earn a living. In the process, she also demonstrates her faith, and comfort to them.

All these unique items and more beckon visitors to EP Library, 239 W. Main Street, Eagle Point. For hours, or more information, please phone (541) 826-3313.


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