Christmas Around The World
Australia. Christmas comes in their summer time only a few days after the longest day of the year for the people down under (they actually hold a different “Yule” fest during the months of June, July and August when the weather is cold and there is snow on some of the mountains). It's also one of the hottest times, so they generally aren't into big, hot, roasted dinners, favoring colder foods like salads. They sing carols by candlelight in the parks at night and exchange Christmas cards. With the influx of immigrants into Australia the celebrations have become more personal and localized -- not everyone celebrates Christmas anymore in Australia, so other customs and holidays are observed by many people now living there.
In South America the holiday season spans most of the month. In Brazil there are some U.S. customs such as the lighted Christmas tree and Santa Claus (Papai Noel). Some Brazilians also enjoy a variation of Los Pastores ("The Shepherds.") with girls playing the parts of the Shepard’s. This play, however, is mostly a part of Mexican Culture.
Besides a huge Catholic population, Mexico also has many of the Jewish faith who migrated here during the days of the Spanish Inquisitions. So many people celebrate Chanukah, with versions of the traditional Jewish food items (such as a variant of the jelly donut that is deep fried), but most do embrace Christmas.
The holiday season for those in Mexico (and some other South American nations) comes from the roots of Italy and Spain. Their Holiday traditions generally start with All Saints day, then nine days before Christmas comes The Posadas -- the period when Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter, which is celebrated with candlelight processions and parties around the 16th of December.
Their holiday feasts include items like buñuelos (fried, thin pastries covered with sugar), colación (candies), tamales and fruit punch (a home made recipe that varies from household to household). They also make use of the piñata (a big, paper animal which is stuffed with little toys and gifts -- it's sort of like pin the tail on the donkey, except you hit the piñata with a big stick while blindfolded), which is incorporated into many Mexican parties. They also sing "carols" or as they call them: villancicos.
After Christmas is over the celebrations don't end. They still celebrate the traditional date of Christmas (January 6th -- -- today's Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige -- Los Reyes Magos ). It is celebrated with a traditional ring cake decorated with sugar and dried fruit, served with hot chocolate. Baked inside the cake is a small figure of the Christ child. The person who cuts into this, presents the household figurine at church on Candlemas Day (February 2). As you can see this set of holiday traditions or rituals go far beyond the giving of gifts on Christmas day!
The Italians call this period the "natale". Prior to Christmas day the "zampognari" (Shepard’s) stroll around performing carols on flute and a bagpipe like instrument. From Christmas day to New Years day the "ceppo" or yule log is burned continually.
The figure of the "Gesù Bambino"(baby Jesus) is an important part of their culture, along with another icon of a bearded man dressed in red (Babbo Natale). The Christmas tree and nativity scene (Presepio or Presepe) are found in virtually every household.
Their festive season is celebrated with the "cenone" (big supper) which includes seafood (spaghetti with clams, mussels, salted cod and various crustaceans) in the South, meat (lamb and turkey) and seafood in the North, dried fruits (figs, dates) and all sorts of cakes (such as struffoli, panettone, pandoro, panforte and torrone).
On the eve of Epiphany (Befana -- January 6th) children hang their stockings, which are filled with candies for good children and black coal for bad children.
The United States does not formally recognize any religion, specifically, but does celebrate Christmas day as a legal holiday with government and most business closed that day -- plus many businesses close early on Christmas Eve and even throw office parties.
Starting around Thanksgiving (which is primarily a U.S. holiday tradition that dates back to the first year of colonial life in America, celebrating the successful growing and crops, harvest of grain and help from the American Indians in the growing of food) the holiday season is celebrated with festivals of electric lights and lighting displays (see our separate page on these). These displays are not always religious in origin (those are left up to private individuals who often make spectacular secular scenes for all to see) but are intended to reflect a joyous time of year. These displays run until the New Year.
Areas of the country that contain pockets of religious immigrants (Germans, Dutch and others) who migrated here long ago, still hold traditional holiday festivals that reflect the festivities originating in their homelands.
Many private houses are decorated with simple strings of lights -- some get elaborate while others are very plain. Many cities have official trees and lighting ceremonies. Then comes New Years day which is celebrated with parades, confetti and lots of football games (American football is vastly different from the sport [soccer] called by the same name [football] elsewhere -- our game is played with a more oval ball, helmets and body padding, we kick the ball once for distance, then run or throw the ball between players thereafter) -- these are held by colleges and carried on national television (Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, etc.).
The U.S. does not celebrate Boxing Day, All Saints Day or the Epiphany.
In the Philippines, Christmas has been celebrated since it was brought there by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. The festival (novena) begins on December 16th with Misa de Aguinaldo or Gift Masses (morning masses) and the novena ends on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) with a midnight mass (Misa de Gallo or the Cock Mass).
From last year (2001):