A CHRISTMAS HEARTH STORY- Holiday Celebrations Around the World
As I lay on the rug in front of the crackling fireplace, squishing up with Dante, my Saint Bernard, I stare at the ceiling, breathe in the sweet scent of our newly decorated Christmas tree, and wonder what my friend, Jose, is doing to celebrate Christmas this year in Mexico. He once told me the story of the Posada (inn), which honors the bible’s story of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter to give birth to baby Jesus. Lasting nine nights, each night focuses on a character trait such as humility, trust, joy, and generosity. He said the fun part is being in a procession with family and friends, and visiting someone’s house which represents the Posada, and is adorned with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. I can almost feel the energy and see the vibrant colors of their celebration; and I imagine my friend, running and yelling “Feliz Navidad”, singing traditional songs, striking pinatas, eating tamales, and wrapping up the festivities with prayer. It would be so cool to be there with him.
For many of my friends, including Carlo in Italy, Christmas is a religious celebration. Italians celebrate ‘Epiphany’ (Jesus’s baptism), and children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men; although in some households it is Befana, an old lady, who fills children’s stockings, and Babbo Natale who brings gifts. Katharina told me that in Germany they celebrate ‘Advent’, the coming of Christ, on Christmas Eve, and children are visited by Nikolaus, who places chocolates and small gifts in children’s shoes on December 6th. Krampus (half goat, half demon) may also visit, punishing or takes naughty children away. I shudder when I think of Krampus. I reflect for a moment, and feel pretty good that Krampus wouldn’t visit me, thankfully.
I’ve always been curious about my friends Levy, Jafari, Sergy and Akihiro’s celebrations. They live in Israel, Africa, Russia and Japan. Levy celebrates Hanukkah, or Festival of Lights, which lasts for eight days and celebrates the historical uprising against their Greek-Syrian oppressors, and rededication to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Each night Levy lights a candle, recites blessings, and sings hymns with his family. Jafari also lights candles, seven of them, representing principles such as self-determination, purpose, unity, and creativity. Jafari’s celebration, Kwanzaa, celebrates and gives thanks to his black culture and community. In Russia, where Christmas was once banned, Sergy said people celebrate on New Year’s, when Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and his granddaughter, Sneguorchka, bring children gifts. Akihiro says that they give gifts to each other to spread cheer and happiness; and their special day is Christmas Eve when they celebrate romance, like our Valentine’s day. My friend, Arjun, says in India they decorate banana or mango trees; in Singapore, trees are decorated with candy and teddy bears; and in the Ukraine, they add spiders – eek!
As I reach for one of Santa’s cookies, only because I put too many out, Dante rolls over, pinning me down, and stares at me with that “Are you going to share?” look. Of course, I share, and lay back and imagine the foods my friends all around the world eat during their celebrations. The gingerbread tingles in my mouth, and I think about panettone in Italy, Israel’s latke’s, France’s bûche de Noël, Russia’s sochivo, England’s Christmas pudding, and even Finland’s salt-fish, which I am not sure I would like more than turkey! Oh, and did you know, in Japan they eat fried chicken for Christmas! When I think of my friends and their families gathered around their dinner table in celebration, what I realize is that food is often at the heart (or belly!) of all the celebrations, bringing people together.
Dante drools on my leg, but his head is too heavy to move and I don’t want to wake him as he could bark and scare Santa, who I’m quietly waiting to greet. I stay put, anticipating the sound of reindeer hooves. My Finnish friend, Kaapo, told me about all the reindeers, more than 20,000, that the people look after for Santa. I hope I get a glimpse of one tonight. As I lay here in anticipation, I know there is so much more to the rich history of my friends’ unique celebrations, but the common thread we all share is the celebration of life, family, and community!
Hyvää joulua, Śubh krisamas, Chag Molad Sameach, Buon Natale, and Meri Kurisumasu! Cunae International School wishes everyone a safe Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Cunae International School is a small, independent private school, that has, for 15 years, engaged in developing smart minds and warm hearts, through a relevant and challenging curriculum, and a compassionate and supportive culture of community. To learn more, visit www.DoorToMyschool.com, or call 281.516.3770. Location: Creekside Park, The Woodlands.