Christmas Around the World
Wonder • The Journal • December 2020
As we hunker down into mid-winter to our homes and hearths at the centre of our Christmas, we might take for granted the holly and mistletoe decking the hallway, the tree set for presents and our cars readying for journeys across the country. Not for everyone, though, this very British way of celebrating Christmas. Around the world there are many wacky and wonderful ways of honouring the season.
In Venezuela, in the week leading up to Christmas people attend a daily church service called Misa de Aguinaldo (early morning Mass). There is a twist here, though. In the capital, Caracas, roads are closed off to all traffic except those on tiny wheels. It is customary for people to strap on roller skates and glide their way to the early morning Mass every day from 16th to the 24th. On their way, skaters tug on the ends of long pieces of string that dangle out of house windows, a tradition remaining from a time when the other end of the string was attached to children’s toes, so they would know when to wake up in the morning!
In the Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January because they use the old 'Julian' calendar for their church festivals. The main Christmas meal, called 'Sviata Vecheria' (or Holy Supper) is eaten on their Christmas Eve on 6th January. The most unusual element of their Christmas is how they decorate their trees. In addition to fairy lights and baubles, they like to place an artificial spider and web on the tree as well. Known as pavuchky, literally ‘little spiders’, the tiny decorations are usually made of paper and wire. The tradition has its origins in an old tale of a poor woman who couldn't afford to decorate her tree and woke on Christmas morning to discover a spider had covered it in a glorious, sparkling web. It spells good luck for the family and some say the tradition of using tinsel has come from this.
In Mexico, in the run up to Christmas, children perform the ‘posadas’ – a series of nine processions to re-enact the part of the Christmas story of Joseph and Mary searching for an inn. On the final night of the posadas, a Church service is held featuring food, games and fireworks. The ultimate game is the smashing of a pinata – a decorated clay or papier-mache container filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or a branch. To play, children are blind-folded and take turns hitting the pinata with a stick until it breaks open spilling its contents (usually sweets or other treats) onto the floor.
The hunt for the Christmas pickle is not a reference to looking for the Branston! In the USA, it’s something of a tradition. In parts of the Midwest, it is common to hide a glass pickle-shaped ornament among the decorations on the tree. The children search for it and the first to spot it will have good luck for the rest of the year. Some say that this custom was brought to the States by German immigrants, with many even calling it by the German name, weihnachtsgurke. However, it is almost unheard of in Germany. One theory suggests the German link was invented by 19th-century department stores to sell more glass baubles.
Whatever your traditions, we wish you the merriest of Christmases.