Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Christmas Around the World
Many of the American Christmas traditions came from Great Britain. These customs include sending Christmas cards, hanging stockings to be filled by Father Christmas, hanging mistletoe in a room or hallway to inspire kissing under it, and caroling in the streets. People in Ireland put a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome Mary and Joseph. People in Wales have caroling contests. Some people in Scotland decorate a Christmas tree and sing carols, but most Scottish people hold their main celebration on New Year's Day. Children in France put their shoes in front of the fireplace to be filled with gifts by Father Christmas. Many homes are decorated with nativity sets. Families attend midnight Mass and then have a festive supper. Germany has a tradition of celebrating Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. Saint Nicholas visits children's homes on the previous evening to leave candy. In the mainly Roman Catholic region of southern Germany, the Christ child brings gifts on Christmas Eve. In the northern area that is mostly Protestant, the Christmas man brings the gifts. Most families in Germany have decorated Christmas trees. People in Spain follow midnight Mass on Christmas Eve with singing and dancing in the streets. January 6 is celebrated as Epiphany or the visit of the wise men. On the previous evening children put their shoes by an open window or on a balcony for the wise men to fill with gifts as they pass by. According to legend in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas comes on Saint Nicholas Eve (December 5). He arrives on a boat from Spain wearing a red robe and then rides down the streets on a white horse. He goes down the chimney of each house to leave gifts in shoes placed in front of the fireplace. Most homes and churches in Italy display nativity sets. While the family prays on Christmas Eve, the mother places the Christ child in the manger. Italian children receive gifts from a kind witch on the Epiphany Eve (January 5). Many families in Poland have a tradition of sharing a thin wafer made of wheat flour and water and stamped with nativity scenes. The meal on Christmas Eve includes fish, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and beet soup. The midnight Mass is called Shepherds Mass. Santa Claus is a familiar figure in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but the children believe his elf brings their gifts on Christmas Eve. Christmas is celebrated in Australia and New Zealand by going to the beach or on a picnic because Christmas comes in the summer months there. The children have six week Christmas vacations from school. There is caroling in the streets. Both Santa Claus and Father Christmas are popular for giving gifts. People in Mexico hold pilgrimages on the nine days before Christmas to find lodging for Mary and Joseph. At a certain house they are admitted and a feast and celebration follows. Part of the celebration is the breaking of a piñata containing gifts and candy. Children in some countries of Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia and parts of Mexico, receive gifts on Christmas Day. In Argentina, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and most areas of Mexico, gifts are left by the wise men on the eve of Epiphany (January 6). Christmas is not widely celebrated in Asia because of the small number of Christians living there. Where Christmas is observed, the people follow Western traditions such as attending church services, giving gifts, singing carols, and decorating Christmas trees. Christmas celebrations are increasing in Japan: business districts have Christmas lights, gifts are exchanged, stores have Christmas trees and Santa. People in the Philippines attend Masses of the Cock, each morning for the nine days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve they parade through the streets carrying colorful star-shaped lanterns. Some homes also display these lanterns. In Bethlehem where Jesus was born, Christians from throughout the world gather on Christmas Eve for midnight Mass. A silver star marks the place where Jesus' birth is believed to have taken place. The people kneel to kiss the star. Christmas is not widely celebrated in Africa. Celebrations there usually follow Western traditions. Africans sing carols and hymns in their own languages. Facts for this post came from an article by Robert J. Myers in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp 528-537.