What does Christmas look like in your corner of the world?
Leading up to Christmas, the most common decorations you would see in Brazil would be nativity scenes. These “presépio” are everywhere. They have pageants just as we have in the States but these aren’t confined to kids in a church. They are community affairs much more similar to what you would see at Christmas time in Mexico. In Brazil, these plays are called “Os Pastores” (The Shepherds). Most people will go to a midnight mass on Christmas eve at their local church and it is common after the service (which ends around 1AM) for there to be a fireworks display. Even though “Noite Feliz” is said to be the most popular Christmas song in Brazil, they don’t tend to be very silent on Christmas Evening. Gift giving is popular here just as it is in the States, but it isn’t always limited to Christmas Day. All through the season people will give others gifts, but they use a pseudonym when doing so. After all, it is supposed to be a secret. Just as we do on New Year’s Eve, people will commonly give a toast exactly at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is then, not when the kiddos wake up in the morning, that the real Christmas presents are given out and opened.
Six out of seven people in Croatia are Catholic and so the entire Advent calendar is important here. Most people will have a traditional Advent wreath made from evergreen twigs that has four candles representing hope, peace, joy, and love. There is usually a fifth candle in the center lit on Christmas Day. The Advent Calendar in Croatia begins with Saint Catherine’s Day (November 25th) when people start the holiday season and decorations. There are other traditional things done for various Saints as part of the Advent Calendar. On Saint Nick’s Eve (December 5th) kids will leave their shoes by the window. If they have been good, Saint Nick leaves them chocolate. If they haven’t Krumpus leaves them golden twig to remind them that they still have a couple weeks to change their ways. On Saint Lucia’s Day, people will sow wheat on plates. This wheat is then left under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day. Although Christmas Trees are very popular, most people don’t decorate them until Christmas Eve and when they do, the most popular ornaments come in the shape of fruits.
Christmas in Georgia isn’t celebrated on December 25th. Like the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church uses the old Julian calendar for their holidays and so Christmas doesn’t arrive until January 7th. On Christmas Day many people in the community will go on a parade. In this parade (Alilo) caroling is very popular and most of their songs will include the words: Otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao. That translates “On 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem.” I am guessing this is a bit of a passive-aggressive act of defiance against the rest of the world that insists on using the “wrong” calendar. The “Western” Christmas tree is popular but Georgians also have their own small tree. It is made the shavings from walnut branches that form long curled strips.
Christmas decorations in Kenya often include things like balloons, ribbons, and flowers. For trees, you are much more likely to see people decorating Cypress trees than the Western pine or spruce. Traditionally, Santa came by camel here but in modern times kids are far more likely to see the jolly old man arriving by Land Rover. Also coming home is the entire family. The family is very important this holiday season and usually, those who have moved for work into the cities will return to their home villages for what is often the only time all year they can be with their family. The traditional Christmas dinner called the “nyama choma” is a barbecue. What is barbecued, be it goat, chicken, or sheep can be determined by what is available, affordable, or what is the family favorite. Like many throughout the world there will be a midnight Christmas service, but here it is only when you get home afterward. It is not uncommon for this Christmas party to last through the night and into the morning when it is time to head back to church so everyone can sleep through the Christmas service. (At least I would be) Boxing Day, the day after Christmas is also a national holiday in Kenya but my guess is because everyone would call in from work so they can catch up on sleep.
For those who like to complain that Christmas seems to start in Walmart and other American stores earlier and earlier every year, I have a piece of advice. Don’t move to the Philippines. There you will begin to hear Christmas carols as early as September. The Philippines really only has two seasons: 1) hot and wet, 2) hot and dry. Since December tends to be the coolest month of the year and it falls between the two, it is a great opportunity for people to break the norm and celebrate. You will see plenty of Christmas trees here, but you will also see the “parol”. That is a bamboo pole with a star lantern lit on the top. The real Christmas celebrations start on December 16th and most people will go to a predawn service every day from then until Christmas. The last mass on Christmas Eve, the “simbang gabi” is followed by a midnight feast (Noche Buena). This feast is one big open house and friends and neighbors will all drop in to enjoy some of the lechon, ham, steamed rice, bibingka, puto bumbong, fruit salad and other tasty dishes and sweets.
Throughout the world, Christmas looks very different. Like James Taylor (and Santino Fontana) sings, some children see Jesus as lily white. Some see him bronzed and brown. Some see Jesus almond-eyed. Some see him as dark as they. But no matter where in the world we go, no matter how it is done, children see and celebrate Jesus. From every corner of the globe, billions of people will celebrate on one day (or perhaps another) the coming of God as man to save the world. The celebrations might change, but the reason is always the same.