Christmas Around the World

Christmas is a time of celebration, joy, and hope. Each year, people from around the world gather to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. From decorations, to feasts, to celebrations, each culture has its own unique way of celebrating this joy-filled time. Although Christmas traditions around the world may look very different, the story of Christmas remains the same and our differences are a reflection of the richness of our traditions and beliefs. 

At Verso Ministries, it is our mission to empower pilgrims to discover and honor the unique history, practices, and customs of every country we journey to. This Christmas, we invite you to reflect on the various traditions and celebrations on cultures from around the world.

Italy

Christmas in Italy is marked by many presepi (Nativity scenes) found in homes and public spaces. This tradition dates back to 1223 in Greccio, Italy, when St. Francis of Assisi created the first presepi with the mission of bringing the Holy Land to Italian families who were unable to journey to the Holy Land. Both living and crafted presepi spread throughout Europe in the following centuries, eventually becoming one of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas around the world today. 

The Philippines

In the Philippines, the arrival of the Christmas season is signaled by a star-shaped lantern, called a parol, displayed outside homes. These lanterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and are as important to Filipino families as the Christmas tree is to American families. On Christmas Eve, many families attend the “Sanimbang Gabi,” an evening Mass, followed by Noche Buena, a midnight feast with celebrations extending into Christmas Morning.

France

Throughout the Christmas season, the streets of France are filled with markets featuring lights, food, and unique creations, giving locals the opportunity to share the traditions of their region and visitors the experience of authentic French traditions. 

South Africa

Many of South Africa’s traditions take place outside in the warm summer air. Many locals attend Christmas candle-lit caroling concerts on Christmas Eve, and Christians host large meals outdoors on Christmas Day in anticipation of hosting friends, family, and even strangers. 

Mexico

Families gather together each night during the nine days preceding Christmas to sing posadas. At the beginning of the night, half the group stands outside the door of the house holding a figure of Mary and Joseph while singing  an imagined conversation back and forth between them while trying to find a place to stay with the group inside the house, who play the role of the innkeepers that eventually welcome the Holy Family into their home. Afterwards, they gather to pray the rosary before a traditional Mexican dinner. 

On Christmas Eve, families gather at the Misa de Gallo (midnight Mass) before exchanging gifts. They then participate in arruñando el Niño Jesus – a tradition to welcome the Christ child into the home where a doll-sized figurine of Jesus is rocked and gently passed around by each member of the family, while together singing him a lullaby. 

Spain

Christmas Eve, known as Nochebuena, begins with a family meal followed by Mass. Sometimes families will exchange gifts on their return home, but most Christmas gifts are not exchanged until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. This celebration is known as La Fiesta de los Tres Reyes Magos, centered around the Nativity from the perspective of the kings who journeyed far to see the Christ child. Many children write letters to the kings in anticipation of the Epiphany, and on the eve of the Epiphany, children leave their shoes on balconies or window sills, where the kings will leave presents for them overnight. 

Portugal

In the days between Christmas and New Year, groups of people go from house to house singing Janeira songs (January songs) while playing instruments and carrying an image of the baby Jesus. The songs recall significant events of the past year, usually with humor. The musicians are then welcomed into the home and thanked with cured sausages, dried fruit, chocolate, and other delicacies. 

The variety of Christmas traditions around the world remind us of the communal and world-wide nature of our faith. These traditions are a great reminder of the diversity and beauty within the Church and within the world. 

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