Christmas Traditions Pt.2
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Since there were so many really cool traditions I thought I would do a part two of this topic and see what else I could find.
Although nowadays many children receive presents from Father Christmas on Christmas Eve, a uniquely Italian tradition is that of 'La Befana', the old woman who brings gifts on Epiphany Eve. Legend has it the Three Wise Men came to her house and invited her to join their search for Christ.
She was too busy with housework so declined, but later changed her mind, and to this day is still searching for the child, leaving presents for any good children she comes across.
During Advent, people also prepare their houses for Christmas. There's lots of cleaning and people wash their windows and clean their carpets very thoroughly. Everything must be clean for Christmas day! Before Christmas, children in schools and preschools take part in "Jasełka" (Nativity Plays). They are very popular and often more secular than religious. The Christmas story is also sometime put into modern times. The smell of tangerines in schools or workplaces is widely thought to mean that Christmas time is about to start! Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh). Traditionally, the house is also cleaned and everyone wore their best festive clothes. The main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening and is called "Kolacja wigilijna" (Christmas Eve supper). It's traditional that no food is eaten until the first star is seen in the sky! So children look at the night sky to spot the first star! On the table there are 12 dishes - they are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. The meal is traditionally meat free, this is to remember the animals who took care of the baby Jesus in the manger. Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish. For Catholics the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus's 12 disciples. Like in many Catholic countries, Christmas Eve is often a 'fasting day' meaning that some people don't eat anything until after sunset (when the Church day officially ends). So that's where the custom of the first star come from. Some people in central Poland say that at midnight the animals can talk.
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was made into the important time. Following the revolution in 1917, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday in 1929 and Christmas Trees were banned until 1935 when they turned into 'New Year' Trees! If people did want to celebrate Christmas, they had to do it in secret just in their families. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it's still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations. The New Year is the big time for spending lots of money and eating and drinking lots. Christmas is much more religious and private. New Year is also when 'Grandfather Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz' or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year's eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is 'S Novym Godom'.
Christmas in Russia is normally celebrated on January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December). The date is different because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old 'Julian' calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so it's 40 days long. The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th.
Christmas celebrations in The Netherlands are separate from the visit of Sinterklaas!
Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day in The Netherlands, with a Church Service and family meal. Sometimes there is a special Christmas Day 'Sunday School' in the afternoon at the church, where the Christmas Story and other traditional stories are told. These are often the only presents children will get on Christmas Day because they have already received most of their presents on St. Nicholas Day. On Christmas Eve night, Dutch Children believe that Santa Claus, (who is also called 'Christmas man' / 'Kerstman' to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas!) comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!
Christmas Day is known as 'Eerste Kerstdag' (first Christmas day) and the day after Christmas is called 'Tweede Kerstdag' (second Christmas day). On the second day people tend to visit their families and big shops are also often open on Tweede Kerstdag. The traditional way to eat with the family is called 'gourmetten', which is a little stove that is put on the table and where everyone prepares their own meal while seated.
Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or 'La Misa Del Gallo' (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena. In the days before Nochebuena, children might take part in 'piden el aguinaldo' where they go and sing carols around their neighbors hoping to get some money! Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner was 'Pavo Trufado de Navidad' which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!) or 'Pularda asada' (a roasted young hen), although they are not commonly eaten now. In Galicia (a region in north-west Spain, surrounded by water) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood. This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks, to lobster and small edible crabs. Popular deserts and sweets include 'mazapán' (made of almonds, sugar and eggs), 'turrón' (made of honey and toasted almonds) and 'polvorones' (made of flour, butter and sugar). After the midnight service, one old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is 'Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir' which means 'Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!' Apart from Christmas, there is another festival that is celebrated in Spain that is about the Christmas Story. It is called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. In Spanish, Epiphany is called 'Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages': in English this means 'The festival of the three Magic Kings'. Epiphany celebrates when the Kings or Wise menbrought gifts to the baby Jesus.Children have some presents on Christmas Day, but most are opened at Epiphany. Children believe that the Kings bring presents to them at Epiphany. They write letters to the Kings asking for toys and presents. And on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) they leave shoes on windowsills or balconies or under the Christmas Tree to be filled with presents. Gifts are often left by children for the Kings, a glass of Cognac for each King, a satsuma and some walnuts. Sometimes a bucket of water is left for the camels that bring the Kings! If the children have been bad, the Kings might leave pieces of coal made out of sugar in the presents!
In Jamaica, the main event in Christmas happens on Christmas Eve: the Grand Market. This is the most exciting day for everyone. It is a day and night event where everyone goes shopping for last minute items and every town is buzzing with music. Some sections of the towns are blocked off to facilitate vendors and shoppers. Children spend money on all sort of candies, toy cars, dolls, whistle, dolls, sunglasses, etc. They also get their faces painted and get a chance to sit on Santa’s lap. As night falls everyone heads to the town squares where street dancers, stage shows and shopping is still in full swing as stores are open beyond midnight. This is usually a night for the children as they are given pocket money for rides such as merry-go-round and go-carts. Local food vendors come out in numbers with jerk pans, soup & hot-dog stands, roasted corn and many more. The festivities last until the wee hours of Christmas morning. A traditional Christmas for Jamaicans dinner has to have curried goat, chicken or ham, rice and peas and salads. The most favored drink is sorrel and, of course, there is always a Christmas fruit cake for dessert.
St Nicholas (known as Svyatyi Mykolai) visits children in Ukraine on December 19th which is also when Ukraine celebrates St Nicholas's Day.
In Ukraine, Christmas Trees are often decorated with artificial spider's webs! The story of The Christmas Spider is very popular in Ukraine and finding a spider on web on your tree is meant be good luck. There are also little spider's web decorations, made of paper and silver wire, called 'pavuchky' (which means 'little spider') which people hang on their trees.
Hope you enjoyed today's post.
See you next time :)