Christmas traditions around the world
Christmas traditions around the world, from Portugal to the Philippines.
Christmas is celebrated in all Christian countries around the world, from Poland, to the Philippines. Each country and culture has it’s own tradition depending on the local story and sometimes previous pagan religions and folklore before Christianity settled in.
Although Christmas is not an extremely special holiday for me, I was lucky to experience this date in different parts of the world, experimenting with different celebrations and traditions, from Portugal, Spain, Poland, India, UK and USA.
CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
CHRISTMAS IN PORTUGAL
Alda Moreira sais: “The most part of family set up a Nativity scene (called Presépio), with Mary, Joseph, the cow and the donkey, the three wise men, and lots of other figures The figure of the Christ Child is added to the scene after the family attends Midnight Mass or after midnight…
The consoada is the reunion of the family, until they wait for the coming of Father Christmas at midnight when children open their presents, and takes place on the dinner of 24 th December/Christmas Eve. There are families who reserve an empty place for the persons who died, but it doesn’t happen very often.
During the consoada we dinner (boiled codfish and Portuguese sprouts (in pure olive oil) normally) and then everybody puts lots of desserts in the table and typical plates (rice pudding with cinamon, “rabandas”-seems like french toast, “filhoses”-fried desserts, “broas de mel” (pastries made with honey) “Sonhos” -pumpkin fritters ) Another very traditional desert is the “Bolo Rei” (King’s cake) “which is a wreath-like very rich fruit cake laced with crystallized fruits and pine nuts.” There is a little present inside the cake and a broadbean-who find the broadbean in one slice, must pay the next “King Cake”.
At midnight, there are also families who attend to the church for a special Midnight Mass, called “Missa do galo”-“Rooster’s Mass”, but it happens more in the interior, who are more religious.”
CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN
In Spain Christmas time is filled with traditions and events, some of them unique, like the “Bonfire” jumping. This ancient tradition remotes to times before Christianity settled in. People gather to observe the winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and starting point for the winter season. People jump over the bonfires, which symbolizes protection against illnesses for the coming year. These particular tradition can be seen in Granada and Jaen.*
As an active Catholic country, the birth of Jesus and the representations of the Nativity scene with the Virgin, the baby Jesus, Joseph and the 3 kings can be found in every city and village across the country. It’s quite normal to see different neighborhoods competing for the most beautiful and elaborate nativity scene and sometimes, you can find actors and real animals playing this scene.
On the night of the 24th of December, families gather for a special dinner, usually based on heavy meat dishes, like lamb, duck, and sea food. This is a very religious day for most Spaniard, so part of it it’s spent at church with the famous “misa del gallo” literally meaning “the rooster’s mess”.
Here Santa doesn’t play a special role and the presents are only open on the 6th of January, the date when people celebrate the three wise kings, who actually are believed to give the presents.
CHRISTMAS IN POLAND
Some ceremonies take place before the Christmas Eve supper. Among farmers, a popular ritual is the blessing of the fields with holy water and the placing of crosses made from straw into the four corners. It is also believed that animals can speak with a human voice.
Poles are famous for their hospitality, especially during Christmas. In Poland, an additional seat is kept for somebody unknown at the supper table. No one should be left alone at Christmas, so strangers are welcomed to the Christmas supper. This is to remind us that Mary and Joseph were also looking for shelter.
One of the most revered Polish customs is the breaking of the oplatek.
The oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water. For table use, it is white. In Poland, colored wafers are used to make Christmas tree decorations. In the past, the wafers were baked by organists or by religious and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent.
On Christmas Eve, the whole family gathers and waits impatiently for the appearance of the first star. A vacant chair and a place setting are reserved for an unexpected guest, always provided for in hospitable Polish homes.
The father or eldest member of the family reaches for the wafer, breaks it in half and gives one half to the mother. Then, each of them breaks a small part from each other’s piece. They wish one another a long life, good health, joy and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but also for the new year and for many years to come.*
CHRISTMAS IN THE PHILIPPINES
The Tagalog word Pasko derives from the Spanish word Pascua. Although the wordPascua means Easter, Pascua de Navidad refers to Christmas.
The Philippines is known for having the world’s longest Christmas season. The four months that end with the syllable –ber are considered Christmas months, which is why stores and households start playing carols on the first day of September! And the holiday season extends beyond December 31st. It doesn’t end until the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) which falls around January 6.
Mostly Catholics, Filipinos begin a novena (a series of nine masses) on December 16th. The masses are part of the cherished religious tradition of Simbang Gabi, which literally means “Night Worship.” Filipinos go to church at four o’clock in the morning and afterward have breakfast together. A traditional drink during this season is a warm ginger tea called salabat and a traditional treat is a flat but thick yellow rice cake called bibingka.
On Christmas Eve (Bisperas ng Pasko), a few Filipino towns commemorate Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay with a reenactment called panunuluyan, a tradition very similar to the Mexican posadas.
What every Filipino looks forward to is Noche Buena, the grand family dinner after the midnight mass. Christmas morning is the time for visiting relatives.*
CHRISTMAS IN INDIA
Christians in India decorate banana or mango trees. They also light small oil-burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill their churches with red flowers.
They give presents to family members and baksheesh, or charity, to the poor people.
In India, the poinsettia is in flower and so the churches are decorated with this brilliant bloom for the Christmas Midnight Mass.
In South India, Christians put small clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses at Christmas, just as the Hindus do during their festival called Diwali.*
HOW DO YOU SPEND CHRISTMAS AT HOME? WHAT ARE YOUR TRADITIONS?