Christmas Around The World
United States: Many people in the United States celebrate Christmas Day on December 25. Although celebrated in many ways, the day celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. In the days or weeks before Christmas Day, many families decorate their homes with lights, wreaths, Christmas trees and many other festive decorations. Radio stations begin playing Christmas music, churches organize holiday events, plays and put up Nativity displays. Non-profit organizations hold fund-raisers and clothing and food drives. Typically children receive gifts from their parents and other family members from a mythical figure we know as Santa Claus. The day is often celebrated with a Christmas feast where many people overindulge.
Brazil: Brazilians have many Christmas traditions. One tradition is to create a Presepio or nativity scene. Papai Noel (Father Noel) is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to legend, he lives in Greenland. When he arrives in Brazil, he usually wears silk clothing due to the summer heat. A large Christmas dinner includes turkey, ham, colored rice, and fruit and vegetable dishes. Catholics often attend Midnight Mass or Missa do Galo (rooster). The mass has this name because the rooster announces the coming day and the Missa do Galo finishes at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. Fireworks are set off over the cities.
China: Since the majority of Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year which takes place toward the end of January and is celebrated for sixteen days (from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival). Chinese do not follow traditional Western cultures like going to church or sending out Christmas cards. The “Spring Festival,” is a time when families eat lavish meals, and children receive toys and clothing. Fireworks are set off and used to drive away the evil in China. Right after midnight on New Year’s Eve, fireworks are launched to celebrate the coming of the New Year as well as to drive away the evil. It is believed that the person who launched the first firework of the New Year will obtain good luck. Red packets are given to young children in the New Year days. A Red packet is a red envelope with money in it, which ranges from one to a few thousand Chinese Yuan. It was believed that the money in the red packet will suppress the evil from the children, keep them healthy, and give them a long life. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.
Italy: The Nativity scene originated in Italy by a man named Giovanni Vellita. In Rome, cannon are fired from Castel St. Angelo of Christmas Eve to announce the beginning of the holiday season. A 24-hour fast ends with an elaborate Christmas feast. Small presents are drawn from the Urn of Fate. Presents are generally exchanged on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration in remembrance of the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child. La Befana brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad.
Scotland: The Scots celebrate Christmas rather somberly and reserve their merriment for New Year’s Eve, which is called Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oatcake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as “first footing.”
Wales: Caroling is particularly popular in Wales where it is called eisteddfodde and is often accompanied by a harp. In some rural areas a villager is chosen to be the Mari llwyd. This person travels around the town draped in white and carrying a horse’s skull on a long pole. Anyone given the “bite” by the horse’s jaws must pay a fine.
The celebration or activities listed above are the earliest history for each country and may not represent the current Christmas celebrations of today.