Christmas Around the World

Ana Castellanos and Janelle Green

December is the month millions of people around the world sharing the Christmas spirit anxiously await.

For some it means snow, and for others it means tanning out by the beach, but for most it means gathering with family and close friends to celebrate in peace.

The traditions, beliefs and rituals change in every country when it comes to the festivities for Christmas.

Christmas celebrations are becoming more popular in China itself. Particularly in urban areas, Christmas trees, lights, and other decorations on the streets and in department stores are more commonly found as the years pass. Children hang muslin stockings in hopes that “Dun Che Lao Ren,” the Chinese version of Santa Claus, will visit and leave gifts.

Attendance at Christmas Eve mass has also become more popular in recent years. “Ta Chiu,” a Taoist festival, takes place Dec. 27 in Hong Kong. An interesting tradition of this festival tends to come near the end of the celebration when the priest read the name of everyone in the area participating in the mass. When the priest has finished the list, the names are attached to a paper horse and burned, the purpose being that they will rise to heaven.

“People just want to party. We go to an Italian or French restaurant,” said Sachie Nakamura, 25, business. “[Christmas] is about being with friends and your boyfriend or girlfriend more than it is about being with your family. It’s about togetherness and not the birth of Jesus. We spend time with family during Chinese New Year; it’s a pretty important holiday. We spend all day with our family.”

In Mexico, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Lord Jesus. A nativity scene is set up with the Virgin Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, who is usually placed into the scene on Dec. 24. Before the symbolic commemoration, people in Mexico have “Posadas,” celebrations that take place everyday for nine days before the holy night. That night the family has a large Christmas dinner with a roast leg, light pastas and other sweet treats. Most of Mexico isn’t accustomed to Santa Clause, and children tend to believe in “Los Reyes Magos,” or the three kings who come every Jan. 6, leaving the Mexican children gifts.

“We exchange gifts with each other and it’s really expensive,” said Luis Garcia, 18, history. “I have a huge extended family.”

In Africa, Christmas Day begins with groups of carolers walking through the village and along roadways with candles lit singing the popular carols that have been translated all around the world. Once the carolers return home, they dress in their best outfits to look presentable for the Christmas offering service.

The most important part of the ceremony is the love offering to Jesus. Everyone who attends brings a gift. Christmas in Africa is during the summer, so there are beautiful flowers all around that people use as an oil palm for Christmas trees that are decorated with bells.

Their dinner consists of either turkey, roast beef or suckling pig with yellow rice, vegetables and puddings.

“I’m Christian; we go to church on Christmas Day,” said De’Jon Prescott, 18, business. “I celebrate with my family. We get a Christmas tree and exchange gifts.”

The Christmas season in Italy is mainly celebrated from Dec. 24 through Dec. 6., following the celebrations that being with “Samurnalia,” a winter festival. Christmas trees and bright lights are becoming more common around the towns of Italy. People begin decorating at the start of December to prepare for the anticipated feast of the Immaculate Conception. The nativity is also very popular among Italians, and almost every church has one. In other parts of Italy, people eat fish because of the Vigil. Naples is well known for its Christmas Eve fish dinners. Children are visited by “Strega Buffana,” a good witch that flies around Italy on a broom leaving treats for good children. It is also a tradition of the Italian to give good friends a bag of lentil soup with the purpose of prosperity.

“I get together with family,” said Jay Musal, 18, engineering. “I’m a mix of Italian and Indian and I don’t eat meat. Some of my family does, but I don’t like the wine. Santa comes for the kids, but it’s not a religious holiday.”

Brazilians adopted many of their Christmas traditions from the Portuguese colony. One special tradition is to create a nativity scene of “Presepio,” which is displayed in houses and churches. The gift bringer is “Papa Noel” or Father Noel, and legend has it that he lives in Greenland. The traditional Christmas dinner includes turkey, ham, colored rice, fruit dishes and vegetables. Catholics attend Midnight Mass, or “Missa do Galo,” until 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. On the night of Christmas Eve, people gather together for a dinner called “Ceia de Natal,” or “go to the beach.” They usually attend mass again on Christmas night, but only after sleeping in. They decorate with fresh flowers and celebrate with fireworks and folk dancing. The festivities continue until Jan. 6, which is referred to as the Three Kings Day. This is the day that the Brazilian believe the three wise men visited Jesus to bring him gifts.

“Since its summer time, we usually go to mass and then go to the beach for a bonfire,” said Jeffrey Lima, 22, business. “Most houses have nativity sets, but churches have life size ones that “peregrinos,” peasants that come to visit the newborn baby Jesus, come to see.”

The Christmas feast, in Denmark, is celebrated at midnight Christmas Eve. Everyone looks forward to dessert when a special rice pudding is served in which a single almond is hidden. Whoever finds the almond will have good luck for the coming year.

The jolly bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics. Children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding for them and are delighted to find the food gone on Christmas morning.

According to American tradition, Santa Claus was born in U.S. in the 1860’s. His signature white beard and big belly appears throughout department stores and malls in the nation. Adopted from the Dutch in the 17th century, Americans added a few homey touches to the legend.

It was the Americans who introduced the reindeer, Santa’s red uniform and his home in the North Pole. Because of the vast diversity in the U.S., Christmas celebrations vary greatly between regions. From state to state, carolers are popular as well as Christmas trees. Families usually decorate the inside and the outside of their homes with strings of lights along with holly, mistletoe, tinsel, candy canes, strings of popcorn and ornaments.

The traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. Desserts tend to be various forms of pudding, minced pies, or pastry cases filled with a mixture of dried fruit. On Christmas morning, most families exchange gifts with their loved ones. Many begin Christmas on Christmas Eve with the Midnight Mass.

“I celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. It’s about family,” said Dawn Hotopp, 21, undecided. “We get a tree and decorate it together as a family. If another family invites us over, then we’ll conjoin our families, but it’s usually just a big group of families. It’s a holiday for everybody.”

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