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Traditional christmases around the world

Here in T&T, we make a bold statement that “Trini Christmas is de best,” sometimes without really knowing how Christmas is celebrated in other parts of the world. Well, let’s take a virtual tour to see what traditional Christmases in certain countries are like, before we come to any conclusions.

Christmas in Brazil
Brazilians are a mix of people from many parts of the world, and as a former Portuguese colony, they have many Christmas customs that originate from this heritage. One tradition is to create a nativity scene or Presépio. The word originates from the Hebrew word “presepium,” which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presépio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahia, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Maranhão, Ceará, Pernambuco, Piauí and Alagoas). It was introduced in the 17th century in the city of Olinda in the state of Pernambuco by a Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho. Nowadays, presépios are set up in December and displayed in churches, homes and stores. The people of Northern Brazil, as in Mexico, enjoy a version of the folk play, Los Pastores or “The Shepherds.” In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds, and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child.

Papai Noel (Father Noel) is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to legend, he lives in Greenland. When he arrives in Brazil, he usually wears silk clothing due to the summer heat. A huge Christmas dinner, unusual in the hot summertime, includes turkey, ham, coloured rice and wonderful vegetable and fruit dishes.
Devout Catholics often attend Midnight Mass or Missa do Galo. (A galo is a rooster.) The mass has this name because the rooster announces the coming day, and the Missa do Galo finishes at 1 o’clock on Christmas morning! On December 25, Catholics go to church, but the masses are mostly late afternoon because people enjoy sleeping late after the dinner (Ceia de Natal) or going to the beach. Decorations include fresh flowers picked from the garden. Fireworks go off in the skies over the cites, and huge Christmas “trees” of electric lights can be seen against the night skies in major cities such as Brasilia, San Paolo, and Rio de Janeiro.

Christmas in Japan

Christmas was introduced in Japan by the Christian missionaries, and for many years the only people who celebrated it were those who had turned to the Christian faith. But now the Christmas season in Japan is full of meaning and is almost universally observed. The idea of exchanging gifts seems to appeal strongly to the Japanese people. The tradesmen have commercialised Christmas, just as our western shops have done. For several weeks before the day, the stores shout Christmas. There are decorations and wonderful displays of appropriate gifts for men, women and children—especially children. The story of the child Jesus born in a manger is fascinating to the little girls of Japan, for they love anything having to do with babies. In the scene of the Nativity they become familiar for the first time with a cradle, for Japanese babies never sleep in cradles.

They decorate their houses with evergreens and mistletoe, and in some homes Christmas carols are sung gaily. In Japan there is a God or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus. He is always pictured as a kind old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head. It is well for the children to be good when this all-seeing gentleman is abroad. New Year’s Day is the most important day of the whole calendar in Japan. On New Year's Eve the houses are cleaned thoroughly from top to bottom, and are decorated for the morrow. when everything has been made clean and neat the people of the house dress themselves in their finest clothes. Then the father of the household marches through the house, followed by all the family, and drives the evil spirits out. He throws dried beans into every corner bidding the evil spirits to withdraw and good luck to enter.

Christmas in Mexico

Several weeks before Christmas, elaborately decorated market stalls or puestos are set up in the plazas of every town and city. Some people travel for days from remote areas to get to these markets. The puestos offer craft of every conceivable kind, foods such as cheese, bananas, nuts, and cookies, and flowers such as orchids and poinsettias. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and is believed to have first been used in connection with Christmas in the 17th century when Mexican Franciscans included the flowers in their Christmas celebration. There is a legend connected with the flower. A little boy named Pablo was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity scene, when he realised he had nothing to offer the Christ Child. He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered them up. Other children scoffed, but when he laid them by the manger, a brilliant red star-shaped flower appeared on each branch.

The main Christmas celebration in Mexico is called las posadas, which refers to processions reenacting Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The processions begin nine days before Christmas because the original journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem took nine days. Friends and family members divide themselves into two groups—pilgrims and innkeepers. The pilgrims travel from house to house asking for a shelter and are refused at each until they finally reach the house where an alter and Nativity scene have been set up. Here the pilgrims are admitted with great rejoicing, a traditional prayer is spoken, and the party begins. Food and drink are served and then children take turns trying to break open the pinata.

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