CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS GLOBALLY
Christmas is a public holiday in Singapore, and is widely celebrated. The famous Singaporean shopping belt Orchard Road and Marina Bay area will feature lights and other decorations from early November till early January. The Christmas light-up and decorated shopping malls along Orchard Road often attract numerous visitors, locals and tourists alike. Other than the light-up, other activities such as caroling, concerts and parades can also be experienced in Orchard Road. In addition, companies in Singapore usually arrange gift exchange programs on the last working day before Christmas.
The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah falls at approximately the same time, but it has not undergone the same osmosis of Christmas-like practices that the holiday has in the United States and Europe. Christmas is not a public holiday in Israel. Most Israelis are Muslim and do not celebrate Christmas either, but there is a minority of Christian Israeli Arabs who do celebrate Christmas. Although Christianity is a minority in Israel, Christmas is important in both areas due to the region’s significance as the place where Jesus lived, and as a destination for Christian pilgrims around the world, especially during Christmas time. Bethlehem, with the Church of the Nativity (where Jesus was born) being a prominent symbol of the city for Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as a site of pilgrimage for thousands annually. Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown and another pilgrimage site, is a mixed Jewish/Israeli Arab city lying in northern Israel.
Christmas is observed as a holiday across Jordan where governmental bodies, banks, and other institutions take the day off to observe the holiday. Christian families exchange visits and gifts on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Christmas is an official holiday in Lebanon. All Lebanese celebrate Christmas on December 25th. On Christmas Eve, Christian Lebanese attend midnight mass. Santa Claus is known by the French, Papa Noël. Gifts are either dropped off at church or Papa Noël makes a personal appearance at the home. Lebanese place Christmas trees in their homes. They place a nativity scene as well, usually below it or next to it. On Saint Barbara’s Day, which falls a couple of weeks before Christmas, the Lebanese plant seeds, like chickpeas, wheat grains, beans and lentils in cotton wool, and water them every day. By Christmas time, the seeds have sprouted, and the Lebanese use them to decorate the manger in the nativity scenes.
Christmas in Greenland is a particularly festive time of the year. Greenlanders celebrate Christmas with lots of candles and masses of red and orange Christmas stars, which are so characteristic of Greenland. You can see them hanging in the windows of people’s homes. In the towns the Christmas tree lights are lit on the first Sunday of advent. For most families this means a cozy time with Christmas decorations, mulled wine and Christmas goodies. Most towns put up a Christmas tree. The trees are ordered many months in advance and are shipped over to Greenland from Europe. People come out to see the Christmas lights being switched on and to sing Christmas carols. It is customary for children – and young people particularly in the villages – to go out on Christmas Eve to sing Christmas carols outside people’s homes. People will then come out and give them Christmas goodies. The sky in Greenland at Christmas time is often full of the beautiful northern lights. St. Lucia’s day is celebrated on December 13th, and is the day when children in schools and youth clubs take part in a traditional procession in which they sing, carry candles and wear wreaths on their heads. The Greenlanders celebrate Christmas on the evening of Christmas Eve by dancing round their Christmas trees, and some of the children start opening their presents in the morning.
Singing, communal singing and choral singing are a big part of Christmas. Greenlanders listen to Christmas carols and Christmas music in church, on the radio and on television. You can often hear 2-3 part choral singing on church pews as many Greenlanders are regular churchgoers and singers. People will spend Christmas with family and friends. They like to arrange spontaneous coffee gatherings which compete with traditional family Christmas dinners. For many Greenlanders, Christmas is not complete without attending a Christmas service. One of the old favorite Christmas carols is called ‘Guuterput’ (‘Our Lord’) which seldom leaves a dry eye in the house. Christmas in Greenland is always white. The churches in all the towns and villages are packed in the days over Christmas. Greenlanders sing carols in Greenlandic and Danish and vicars preach their sermons. It is traditional to take down the Christmas stars and other Christmas decorations on the 6th of January (Epiphany), but before this happens the words ‘Juullimi Pilluarit’ (‘Merry Christmas’) will have sounded many times throughout Greenland.
In El Salvador, children celebrate Christmas by playing with firecrackers, fountains, such as small little volcanos and sparklers shaped as little stars. Teenagers and young adults display bigger fireworks or Roman Candles. Families also have parties in which they dance and eat. At 12:00 a.m. on December 25th everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and opens their presents.
Christmas Day on December 25th is a national holiday in Brazil. The small cities in the entire country, as well as in the largest cities, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Brasília, Manaus, Belém, Natal and Belo Horizonte, the celebrations resemble in many ways the traditions in Europe and North America, with the Christmas tree, the exchanging of gifts and Christmas cards, the decoration of houses and buildings with electric lights and the nativity scene. Despite the warm tropical summer weather, some incongruences such as decorations with themes of winter and snow are not uncommon. In some cities that have decoration contests, when judges go to houses to look at the decorations, inside or outside of the house, and decide the most beautiful house. Christmas Eve is the most important day. Unlike in the North American and Anglo-Saxon tradition, Christmas takes action mainly near midnight, usually with big family dinners, opening of gifts and the celebration of the “Missa do Gallo” (the rooster’s mass) in churches throughout the nation.
Christmas is a public holiday in Columbia and is primarily a religious celebration. Presents are brought by the Baby Jesus or Santa Claus. While Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November, the unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7th, Day of the Candles. At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8th. In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual “tunnels of light.” Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event. Activities such as musical events and firework displays are planned by cities and held during this time. Individually launched fireworks were a common item during the Christmas season in Colombia, often going on at any time of the day in many cities. However, a recent ban has decreased the individual use of fireworks, and now only cities or towns are able to hold firework displays.
December 16th is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Catholic Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a manger scene, sing religious Christmas carols that are accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. Novenas serve as beautiful religious gatherings as well as learning environments for young children since kids have a central and active role in the celebration of the Novenas (they read prayers, sing, and play instruments guided by their family). Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Families gather around meals, music, and singing. Because Christmas Eve is the most important day, little occurs on December 25th. Families join Christmas Day mass although it is not nearly as festive as Christmas Eve.
The Day of the Innocents falls in the Christmas season, on December 28th. The day commemorates the innocent infants (called the innocent ones) who were said to have been killed by King Herod in fear of the power of the newborn baby, Jesus. January 6th, the day of the Revelation of the Magi (Epiphany), is called “Reyes Magos” (from The Three Magi), used to be a day of gift giving, but is celebrated less now since gifts are given mostly around Christmas Eve today. Some families still give presents, and it is also the day when godparents give Christmas presents.
In Venezuela, Christmas is celebrated as a religious occasion. As in Colombia, the presents are brought by Baby Jesus instead of Santa Claus that still has an important role during this season. The unofficial start of the Christmas festivities is after the celebrations of “Feria de la Chinita,” the second half of November. The origin of this festival is the cult to Virgin Mary of Chiqunquira, when various religious activities, processions, and music in the typical “Gaita style” to honor “La Chinita” (nickname of this Virgin). This event takes place in the Zulia Region, specifically in Maracaibo (the regional capital). After this, other cities join in the festivities and many activities take place including musical events and firework displays.
In many cities, small rural towns and neighborhoods get together for the “patinatas” night festivals where children go and play with skateboards, roller blades and bicycles. These events are usually sponsored by the local church, where neighbors organize themselves and sell typical Christmas food, hot chocolate, cookies, etc. Also still in some neighborhoods there is the “Parranda” where people go from one house to house with music and Christmas songs. The singers stop at neighbors’ houses to get some food and drinks. Also in the Venezuelan Andes there is the same tradition of this kind of event but they carry an image of “baby Jesus” and this is called “Paradura Del Nino.” Children write request letters to Baby Jesus. The presents are sent by Baby Jesus at midnight, and most people have a party, which goes on until sunrise.
In countries of Central Europe (roughly defined as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and possibly other places) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve (December 24th). The day is usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they’ll see a golden pig if they hold fast until after dinner. When the evening comes, preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, for example, in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish (or cabbage) soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes. This in fact reveals that when Christmas comes around all the kids get presents from neighbors and house guest. Even the house pet gets a little something to gnaw on.
After dinner comes time for gifts. Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas tree, with name stickers. An interesting example of complicated history of the region is the “fight” between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional “Grandfather Frost” in the place of Little Jesus won. Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production. Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic midnight mass celebration.
Other common attributes of Christmas in Central Europe include Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas garlands, and Bethlehem cribs. In many areas of Central Europe, St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus, does not come for Christmas. He visits families earlier, on the dawn of St. Nicholas Day on December 6th, and for the well-behaved children he has presents and candy-bags to put into their well-polished shoes that were set in the windows the previous evening. Although he neither parks his sleigh on rooftops nor climbs chimneys, his visits are usually accompanied by a diabolic-looking servant named Krampusz (in Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia: Krampus, in Czech and Slovak regions he is simply devil, without any name) who gives golden coloured birches for so called badly behaved children. Actually all children get both gifts and golden birches in their shoes, no matter how they behaved themselves