Celebrations around the world (Part II)

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In Part II of the “Celebrations around the world” series, TNN takes a look at how different countries celebrated the birth of Jesus.

Jamaica

Christmas time in Jamaica is marked by the John Canoe parade, which dates back to the times of slavery, where people dress up in wacky masks and costumes.

John Canoe parade

Russia

Following the Julian calendar for religious celebrations, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January, after about 39 days of fasting, until 6 January Christmas Eve, when the first evening star appears in the sky.

On Christmas Day, people gather in churches which have been decorated with the usual Christmas decoration.

People celebrating Christmas in Saint Petersburg’s Church

No Santa here, Babushka is the traditional Russian Christmas figure who distributes presents to children. Her name means grandmother and the legend tells that she declined to go with the wise men to meet Jesus because of the cold weather. However, she regretted not going and set off to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents. She never found Jesus, and that is why she visits each house, leaving toys for good children.

Babushka

Ukraine

Christmas tree decorated with spider webs

During Christmas season, Ukrainians usually hide a spider inside their Christmas tree or even decorate their Christmas trees with spider webs. Legend says that a magic spider once visited a poor family at Christmas and turned the webs in their home into gold and silver. But today, the person who finds the hidden spider is said to have good luck.

The Netherlands

People greet Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus and his assistants.

For millions of Dutch children, Christmas is the most magical time of year. Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, arrives from Spain on a steamship, bearing sweets and gifts.

Sinterklaas arrives on a steamship

The legend says that Sinterklaas lives in Spain during the entire year. He comes to Holland every year on the first Saturday after 11 November. Every year he chooses a different destination to arrive. All children can put their shoe under the chimney. The Black Peters will climb down the chimneys during the night (this explains their skin colour), and fill the shoes with candy and small presents. The children are told to fill their shoes with gifts for the Black Peter or Sinterklaas.

However, a polemic has emerged in recent years in the country, as more an more people consider the representation of the Black Peters as a racist one.

Germany

German St. Nicholas Day

For many Germans, Christmas starts with St. Nicholas Day on 6 December. He is also the origin of modern-day Santa Claus. On the previous night, children leave their shoes or boots outside the front door. The legend says that the saint will come on a white horse on the night of 5 December, and fill the shoes and boots of good children with chocolates, oranges and nuts. But if they’re naughty, his servant Knecht Ruprecht will leave bundles of twigs in their shoes and listed them in his ‘black book’.

German Christmas market

Another colourful German Christmas tradition is the Christmas market. Starting from mid or late November, one or more Christmas markets pop up on the local squares and in several other locations in most German cities offering warm drinks, roasted chestnuts, and local crafts. These Christmas fairs usually continue through the four December weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.

Spain

Jota dancing in Spain (photo: ownersdirect)

Christmas season officially begins on 8 December in Spain. On Christmas Eve, as the stars come out, tiny oil lamps are lit in lots of house, and after Midnight Mass and Christmas Dinner, streets fill with dancers and onlookers. There is a special Christmas dance called the Jota which words and music have been handed down for hundreds of years. People dance to the sound of guitars and castanets.

Thousands of children in Spain anxiously await Sunday’s El Dia de los Reyes celebration. They believe that the Three Wise Men are the gift bearers. According to tradition, they arrive on 6 January, the date the Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus. Shoes are filled with straw or barley for the tired camels that must carry their riders through the busy night. By morning, the camel food is gone and in place of the straw or barley are presents. Shoes also may be placed on balconies on that night in the hope that the Wise Men will fill them with gifts.

In the region of Catalonia, traditional Nativity scenes get a cheeky addition in the form of a character called the ‘caganer’. The figure is squatting as if going to the toilet. Sometimes they are shepherds, but can even be footballers or politicians.

Italy

The Christmas season in Italy goes for three weeks, starting 8 days before Christmas. In the week before Christmas, children go from house to house dressed as shepherds singing and reciting Christmas poems. They’re given money to buy presents. And on Christmas Day noon, the pope gives his blessing to crowds in the huge Vatican square.

Santa doesn’t distribute presents on Christmas in Italy. Children wait until 6 January for La Befana, the kind ugly old witch who arrives at night, slides down chimneys, and fills their stockings and shoes with presents. But bad children should expect lumps of coal. According to legend, La Befana was told by the three kings that the baby Jesus was born; she was busy and delayed visiting the baby. She missed the star, lost her way and has been flying around ever since, leaving presents to children.

La Befana