Holiday Celebrations Around the World

By: Malena Esposito

When we think of the holiday season, we tend to only think of what’s around us. Santa Claus, great deals at the mall, reindeer, hot chocolate, and classic holiday movies. But what about the rest of the world? What goes on all the way across the globe?

The most popular Christian holiday, Christmas, is celebrated on December 25th by people all around the world, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. Americans typically celebrate this holiday by putting up artificial or real fir trees, hosting Secret Santa gift exchanges, decorating the exterior of their homes with LED lights, and sitting on Santa’s lap in malls. Americans also celebrate by attending large feasts, plentiful with cranberry sauce, turkey, gingerbread cookies, eggnog and peppermint lattes.

Although Canadians and Americans both share Christmas traditions such as decorating with lights and trees, our friends up north do have several differentcustoms. In French-speaking Quebec, Canadians call Santa Claus Pere Noel, which translates to “Father Christmas”. Quebecoise also celebrate Christmas with a reveillon dinner, complete with tourtiere, a French meat pie. Derived from the French verb “reveil, meaning “waking,” this feast was given its name because the reveillon is a long meal, lasting from Christmas Eve until the very early hours of Christmas morning. Canadian children can also write to Father Christmas by sending a letter to the North Pole, using the postal code of “H0H 0H0”. Thanks to the help of kind-hearted people volunteering at the Canada Post, many of these children get responses. The Canadian Monarch also delivers a “Royal Christmas Message,” which is broadcasted live on national television. Queen Elizabeth II has given the holiday speech since 1952.

In Mexico, the Christmas celebration lasts 24 days, from December 12th to January 6th. It starts off with the Feast of La Guadalupana and ends with El Dia de los Reyes, also known as the Epiphany. The Feast of La Guadalupana honors the Virgin Guadalupana, another title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the Epiphany, also called the Three Kings’ Day, Mexican children receive gifts from three wise men, instead of man in a red suit. It is believed that these men, —Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar– visited Jesus as an infant on January 6th. The Epiphany is also celebrated in many other countries across the world; such as Spain, Greece, Germany, and Austria,– each with their own special customs. Occurring from December 16th to December 24th, the Posada is a nine-day reenactment of the Holy Pilgrimage of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus on their travel to Bethlehem. During the holiday season, Mexicans eat tamales, rosca de reyes, bunuelos,and pozole.

Down south, the country with the second-largest Christian population is Brazil, gettingt many of their holiday traditions from Portugal. The midnight mass service is called Missa do Galo, the “Mass of the Rooster”, because of the service ending at around 1am. After Missa do Galo, firework shows are often performed. In Brazil, Santa Claus is called Papi Noel or Bom Velhinho, meaning “good old man.” The most popular Christmas song is “Noite Feliz,” a.k.a., Silent Night. Since Brazil is hot during the holiday season, many go to the beach to enjoy tropical drinks and ice cream. Some favorite foods to eat during this time are pork, ham, turkey, salad, fruit, and rice.

Greece celebrates Christmas with more traditional customs, such as decorating with a shallow, wooden bowl with wire around the rim. Basil and a wooden cross are hung from the wire, which the mother dunks daily into Holy Water, which is then sprinkled into each room of the house. This ritual is believed to protect the house from the Kallikantzaroi, evil goblins, that only appear from December 25th to the Epiphany on January 6th. The rest of the creatures’ time is spent in the center of the Earth, where they cut down the Tree of Life with a saw. Although it is said that the kallikantzaroi enter the house through the chimney, fire is another way to repel them and protect the house. During the holidays, Greeks eat roasted lamb, baklava, and theeples, a fried pastry. For dessert, egg shaped, honey coated cookies known as melomarkarona are served.

But the party doesn’t stop on December 25th, in many European countries a holiday Boxing Day is celebrated on December 26th. The name comes from the “Christmas Boxes” that servants were given from their masters and employers on their day off after Christmas. Though this day is usually used to spend time with family and friends, people also horse race and fox hunt, as well as play soccer. Leftover Christmas food such as mince pies and baked ham are served.

However, Christianity is not the only religion that celebrates during the holiday season. Jewish people all around the world participate in an eight-day celebration called Hanukkah. Hanukkah, meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, occurs on the 25th day of the Kislev month of the Hebrew calendar. It falls on different days every year, ranging from late November to early January. Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the war between the Maccabees, a small Jewish army, and the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BC. Many can recognize the nine-branched candle, the Menorah, as being a part of this celebration. The Maccabees wanted to recreate their temple by lighting an eternal flame, but only had enough oil to last one night. Miraculousl, the light lasted eight days. More modernly, the menorah is lighted by the helper candle, the Shamash, each night throughout the eight days. One of the most common Hanukkah toys is the dreidel, a four sided block that comes to the point at the bottom. Four Hebrew letters are written on each side: nun, gimel, hei, and shien. The letters are an abbreviation for the phrase, “Nes Gadol Hayam Sham,” translating to “a great miracle happened there.” Many Hanukkah foods are fried in honor of the oil that burned the candle for nine days. Jews traditionally eat a brisket as a main course, followed with sufganiyot, latkes, potato pancakes.

Another holiday celebration is Kwanzaa, which is celebrated by African Americans in the Western American. The name comes from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza,” translating to “first fruits.” Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga in 1966 to help African American people connect with those of similar backgrounds, heritage, and culture. Lasting from December 26th to January 1st, Kwanzaa celebrates one of the Nguzo Saba, –seven principles,– each day. The first principle is umoja, uniting family and friend of the African American community. The second, kujichagulia, celebrate the ability to define, create, and speak for oneself. Ujima focuses on group problem solving, while Ujamaa centers around useful businesses that benefit all parties involved. The fifth principle, Nia, revolves around upholding the greatness of their family’s ancestors. The sixth, Kuumba, is practiced by beautifying the community, leaving it to be more attractive than how it started. Imani, meaning faith, concentrates on believing in every member of the community to be victorious through struggles they are faced with. The colors of the Pan-African flag are seen throughout this time, each with a special meaning. Green represents the fertile land of Africa, red stands for the bloodshed in the fight for freedom, and black is for the color of the people.

While you may only be concerned with the presents under the tree, consider all the other amazing traditions and customs around the world. Whether it’s a menorah or basil and a wooden cross, every tradition has a story behind it. From sufganiyot to tourtiere, everyone celebrates something special to them.