Visiting various countries and their Christmas traditions

Madrid, December 22, 2010 – Christmas is Christian and, therefore, universal. It is a feast that is celebrated in every corner of the globe for the same purpose: to celebrate the birth of Jesus with those dear to us. However, not every country celebrates it the same way. There are hundreds of traditions around the world. There are also countries that cannot openly celebrate Christmas and they need the prayerful support of the entire Church.

Posadas de Mexico

Mexican “Posadas”

The traditional Posadas of Mexico are famous around the world. They recall Mary and Joseph in search of a place to stay for the birth of Jesus. Led in procession by a child dressed as an angel, along with family and neighbors, they walk from house to house knocking on doors without anyone giving them lodging until they reach the chosen home. Once inside, the people pray and celebrate with great joy and love, sometimes even with fireworks, for the approaching arrival of God. This ritual is performed during the novena, the nine days leading up to the night of December 24th. Daniel Saavedra, a Mexican, mentions that “during the Posadas, the piñata, which represents the seven capital sins, is broken and sweets fall from it, representing the blessings that God gives in recompense for having overcome temptations. This has been my favorite part since I was kid. Now, at age 28, I continue to enjoy it as much as ever.”

Paroles Filipinas

Philippines, full of “Parols”

If we change continents and visit the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, we see that the religious spirit of the feast is maintained. Here, everything begins on December 16th, with the “Midnight Mass” that is attended by all Catholics at 4:30 am for nine days, until December 24th. After each Mass, as Jaime Agon comments, “it is traditional to eat rice cakes (‘bibingka’) that are sold at the doors of the churches.”

Jaime, a young Filipino, tells us how he, like all Filipinos, puts a “Parol” (a light) in his window that symbolizes the star that led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (See photo)


The twelve-course Polish dinner

In Poland, the high point of the Christmas celebration is December 24. This day, which is marked (as is the case in many countries) by a family dinner, has several special characteristics. They are all concentrated around the table, where the family will come together. Hay is placed under the table cloth to symbolize the origins of Baby Jesus. In setting the table, there is always an extra place set, in memory of relatives who are no longer present at the celebration.

That night the meal consists of twelve courses, none of which contains meat, and no alcohol is consumed, as it is a day of preparation for the central celebration, which is the Nativity. There is always the traditional wafer (“oplatek”), which for centuries has symbolized reconciliation between people.

Iraq, churches without Christmas decorations

After the attack on the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Iraq, this year there will no longer be a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve – not even in Baghdad, or Mosul, or Kirkuk. For security reasons, the churches have no wreaths or decorations and Masses will be held in broad daylight and in more sober conditions.

There is great concern about the future of young people who, for two months now, have been unable to attend classes at college. Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk says that despite everything, “Christmas always brings a message of hope.”

Like Iraq, there are other countries without religious freedom and they need the prayer and support of the entire Church.


The Three Kings visit Spain

The most typical Spanish tradition at Christmas time is the visit of the Three Kings. They arrive in Spain on the night of January 6 to reward children who have been good all year round. On the eve of the feast, the Kings go out in the streets on floats and throw candies out to the children along the way.

In Spain, as in other parts of the world, the tradition is to put up a “Belén” (Nativity Scene) with the stable, the shepherds, the angels, and the Magi on their way to Bethlehem, following the Christmas star.

Maligayang Pasko! Świat Wesołych Bozego Narodzenia! ¡Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas!


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