By Oscar Gonzalez
As the snow falls in some parts of the world and lights twinkle, it's clear that the holidays season is right here. Christmas, a holiday celebrated globally, is a time of joy, giving, and togetherness. But did you know that the way we celebrate Christmas can be completely different depending on where we are in the world? Today's Sunday Readings will take you on a little journey to discover the diverse traditions and customs that make Christmas a truly global celebration.
Let's start our Christmas journey in North America. In the United States, Christmas is considered a magical time filled with joy and wonder. Children eagerly await the arrival of Santa Claus, who, according to tradition, travels from the North Pole on Christmas Eve to deliver presents. Homes are decorated with twinkling lights and festive decorations, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The holiday meals often include a roast turkey or ham, cranberry sauce, and an array of pies for dessert.
In Canada, with its multicultural society, people celebrate Christmas in many different ways. Winter festivals and outdoor activities like ice skating and snowman-building are popular. Many Canadians also celebrate with dishes like tourtière, a meat pie that originated in Quebec, and butter tarts, a sweet and delectable treat.
Moving across the globe now, in the UK, Christmas is a time for family, friends, and traditions. Carol singing is very popular, and many people enjoy attending choral performances. Exchanging small gifts inside Christmas crackers is a fun tradition, and everyone looks forward to the Queen's Christmas speech, a significant annual event. Also, Boxing Day is a holiday celebrated on December 26, the day after Christmas. It originated in Great Britain and it was a day of giving gifts to people in need, but today, Boxing Day is more associated with shopping, sales and sporting events. Today, it is celebrated in several Commonwealth nations.
Germany is known for its magical Christmas markets and advent calendars. But there's also Krampusnacht, a tradition involving Krampus, a horned creature who, in contrast to Saint Nicholas, punishes children who have misbehaved. Traditional treats include Lebkuchen, a type of gingerbread, and Glühwein, a warm mulled wine. In Italy, nativity scenes, or 'presepe', play a central role in Christmas celebrations. Children await La Befana, a kind witch who brings gifts. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a meal consisting of seven different seafood dishes, is a traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
Let's move east. The Philippines is known for having one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. Simbang Gabi, a series of early morning masses, is a significant tradition. Parols, star-shaped lanterns, light up homes and streets, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem. Noche Buena, a grand family dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve, is eagerly anticipated.
In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday but is celebrated widely. An interesting tradition is eating KFC on Christmas, thanks to a successful marketing campaign in the '70s. Illuminated winter displays are popular, and Christmas Eve is often celebrated as a romantic holiday, similar to Valentine's Day.
Coming back to this side of the globe, in Mexico, Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas, involves reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. Piñatas are a fun part of the festivities, and tamales, a traditional dish made of masa and filled with meats, cheeses, or fruits, are a holiday staple. For Brazilians, Christmas is a time for music and dance. Nativity scenes, known as 'presépios', are common, and Papai Noel replaces the traditional Santa Claus. Floating Christmas trees, particularly the one in Rio de Janeiro, are a sight to behold.
And we cannot forget Africa. In South Africa, Christmas is a summer holiday. The Candlelight Carol Service is a cherished tradition. Many South Africans celebrate with a 'braai', a barbecue that brings everyone together. Gift-giving and indulging in festive desserts are part of the fun. And in Ethiopia, Christmas, known as Ganna, is celebrated in early January. The festivities involve lighting a ceremonial bonfire and attending church services. Traditional dishes like 'doro wat', a spicy chicken stew, are enjoyed.
From Santa Claus to La Befana, from roast turkey to tamales, from carol singing to Simbang Gabi, Christmas is celebrated in so many different ways around the world. These diverse traditions remind us of the richness of human family. Christmas is about more than just the traditions and customs—it’s about spreading kindness, joy, and peace. No matter how you celebrate, the spirit of Christmas is a testament to the diversity that colors the holiday season. It’s a bridge that connects us across continents, emphasizing the beauty of cultural richness.