No matter where in the world you live, chances are pretty good you have a Christmas tradition or two. Even if only celebrated in the home of a missionary family, the birth of Jesus reaches every time zone. Without a doubt, the holiday has evolved since early followers commemorated the event in ancient Rome. Thanks to its popularity among Christians and non-Christians, the festive period now lasts the entire month of December – or even longer for many. Wherever you go, one thing is for certain: loved ones are the key to enjoying this special day.
Christmas Traditions Around the World
As the center of the Catholic Church for centuries, it is difficult to escape the link between religious implications and the holiday itself. The festive period begins on December 17th with a traditional procession of children dressed as shepherds going door to door asking for alms. When Christmas Day arrives, families often gather for a large feast and head out as a group for evening mass but gifts aren’t exchanged until January 6th, when La Befana arrives on her broomstick to spread joy to the well-behaved children and discipline to the mischievous ones.
Warm summer weather greets the holiday Down Under, which means family and friends can gather on Bondi Beach for a large outdoor party after they open their presents. The wonderful climate has led to a variety of local traditions held under the clear skies, like Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne, where residents gather under the stars or around the Christmas bush – a flowered plant somewhat similar to the Poinsettia – to sing their favorite holiday songs.
Residents mark the coming of Christmas by placing an advent wreath in a prominent place with four candles in the middle. One candle is lit each of the four Sundays before December 25th, serving as a quiet reminder of the light of the world. The tradition of St. Nicholas began here, in large part, and remains close to its origins – children place their shoes outside the front door December 5th and hope they are filled with treats in the morning.
Further to the north, the Germans’ Nordic cousins begin to celebrate on December 13th – St. Lucia’s Day. Intended to commemorate the patron saint of light, the tradition involves the family’s oldest daughter waking before sunrise and putting on a white dress. She will then walk from room to room wearing a crown of leaves, singing and delivering pastries to her parents and siblings.
Much like Australia, the summer sun defines much of what happens here. Residents of Rio gather on Copacabana Beach to catch some rays and stake out a spot for the evening’s fireworks. At home, the family takes care to carefully construct a Presepio (“bed of straw”) to lie empty until December 25th as a reminder of Jesus’ humble birth in a manger.
Christians in this country have created a Holy Birth Festival to blend local and religious traditions. Similar to the ideas in Europe and North America, an evergreen is brought to the home for decoration. However, once it arrives, it is covered with red paper chains (a symbol of joy) and paper lanterns instead of ornaments and lights. To complete the decorating, flowers are slipped into the branches and a red pagoda is hung in the window.
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