Have you ever wondered how they celebrate Christmas around the world? I wish I could tell you how they celebrate it everywhere, but I want to share how they celebrate it in at least three countries where I have lived.
In my home country, Christmas is celebrated differently depending on where you are from. For most Mexicans, the holiday season starts on Dec 12th with some religious celebrations from the Catholic church. Soon afterward, the celebrations begin for everyone. We have these Christmas parties called “posadas,” which, according to tradition, come from Catholic priests using some experiential educational methods to convert the natives back in the day. They explained through theatrical simulations that Joseph and Mary went looking for shelter (translation for the word posada). Over time they evolved into parties…go figure. So we have many posada parties with family, school, friends from here and there, work, etc.
After this, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, so Christmas Eve is the day we get dinner with our families, and dinners vary from place to place. Some families eat pork, others turkey, others fish, and some others go more traditional and have delicious tamales and champurrado, a drink (I’ve actually never tasted), but it is trendy.
After New Year’s Eve, which is also celebrated with families and friends, people (especially children) start expecting The Three Wise Men or Three Kings Day. They put their shoes out to receive gifts from the Three Kings on the 6th of January. Families have a special pastry cake called “Rosca de Reyes,” which has some plastic baby dolls hidden inside, and whoever gets them is said to have luck and blessings throughout the year. They are also set to invite everyone to eat tamales on February 2, another celebration lightly translated to Candle Day, which reminds us about Jesus being presented on the Temple.
As you can see, Mexican holidays are centered around food, family, and friends.
Now, let’s travel across the ocean to Europe and land in Belgium and The Netherlands. Christmas celebrations begin around mid-November when the countries welcome Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas with his helpers, The Pieten. “Piet” is the name of every helper. This character has been a little bit controversial in past years and is changing. This character is actually the one children love most, and they dress up like him or her. Sinterklaas arrives in his boat from Spain loaded with presents. The children have been expecting him, and from that day, they start following his adventures on a news broadcast, especially for children. Some nights, the Piets bring them presents overnight.
Children leave their shoes out with carrots for Sinterklaas’ horse, and they leave some tiny gifts or cookies. On December 5, called Pakjesavond, a neighbor pretends to be the Sint’s helpers and knocks loudly on the door leaving a pre-bagged special sack full of gifts (parents most likely leave them the night before). This brings neighbors closer to each other since they offer help to keep the magic alive. The children get so excited and believe Sinterklaas left the bag. Some people even go to the extent of hiring actors to appear on windows and running through neighborhoods for the children to see them.
After this, the Christmas season really begins, and people put up their trees and start decorating. Christmas is celebrated on the 25th with religious celebrations and family dinners, but the presents are normally given on Sinterklaas day.
Now, around this season, Christmas Markets are a big thing all around Europe. Germany has the best ones, and you can get delicious food, treats, and gifts there.
New Year’s Eve, especially in The Netherlands, is a day where up to 2018 (I don’t know if they have changed things around), people celebrate in their homes with friends and neighbors, and they light up fireworks around the country. The skies light up, and it’s really nice to see.
So, as you can see, every country has something special around the holidays. I love benefiting from this cultural exchange of traditions and celebrations because it makes the season even more magical. We have incorporated some traditions into our family that we love.
So, I encourage you to look into your ancestry and search which traditions happen around Christmas from your country of origin and share them with your families and friends. This year, we all need a little bit more magic.