Christmas around the world

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

Fun-loving Filipinos celebrate what is probably the lengthiest Christmas season in the world: ours starts on Sept. 1 and lasts until the Feast of the Three Kings on Jan. 6 the following year.

Some Filipinos even celebrate Christmas until early February!

That’s how fun-loving or pleasure-seeking we, as a people, are.

Remember that for many days of the year, there are fiesta or feasts that honor Catholic saints in barrios or towns.

That’s why the Philippines is considered a country of fiestas. Our Department of Tourism once described this country as such.

On Christmas D-Day (Dec. 25), cash-strapped ninongs or ninangs (godfathers or godmothers) play hide-and-seek with their godchildren.

Before Christmas Day, small-time employers worry about where to get money to give their employees the obligatory 13th-month pay and the extra bonus.

But that’s part of the fun of Christmas in the Philippines.

The traditional Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, when families partake of rich food at the dinner table, is the most joyful of the months-long festivities.

Members of a family, who have gone to various pursuits in life, get reunited at the Noche Buena table.

Even Filipinos who have established themselves abroad try their best to come home for the Christmas season.

The Noche Buena is to Filipinos as Thanksgiving Day dinner (on the fourth Thursday in November) is to Americans.

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Now, let’s look at how people in different countries celebrate Christmas.

In Spain, which ruled our country for three centuries and from whom we copied our fun-loving ways and indolence (The long siestas and lengthy stays at the dinner table and in the toilet are examples of such indolence. – RTT), the Christmas season lasts from Noche Buena (literally “Good Night”) on Christmas Eve to the Epiphany on Jan. 6.

We acquired traditions like the belen (Nativity crib scene) and the Christmas tree to decorate our homes during Christmas from the Spaniards.

On the evening of Jan. 5, a large parade welcomes the Three Magi (Kings) to the city. Children put their shoes in the window on this day, hoping that the Three Wise Men will deliver them presents.

In short, there is no Santa Claus in Spain, only the Three Magi.

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In Mexico, another former Spanish colony, Christmas is observed from Dec. 12 to Jan. 6, with one added celebration on Feb. 2.

Nativity crib scenes and Christmas trees also decorate most Mexican homes during this festive season.

Mexican children believe in Santa Claus, an influence from its neighbor, the United States. But they also believe in the Three Magi and prefer them over Santa Claus because “there are three of them” – as opposed to one Santa – who give presents.

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In Italy, one old custom is for children to go out caroling. We Filipinos also have this custom.

No meat is served at the Christmas table, and sometimes no dairy products. Light seafood meals are often eaten, then people go to the midnight mass service.

The common types of fish eaten at the Christmas table are baccala (salted cod), clams, calamari, sardines and eel.

Christmas celebrations start eight days before Christmas Day on Dec. 17, with special “novenas” or a series of prayers and church services.

On Epiphany night, Italian children believe that an old lady called “Befana” brings presents to them. On Christmas Day, “Babbo Natale” or Father Christmas (no Santa Claus for them), also brings gifts to children.

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The Christmas and holiday season starts around the end of November in the United States when Americans are bombarded with commercials for shopping.

Most Christmas decorations in American homes are taken down by New Year’s Day or Epiphany. The exterior and interior of houses are decorated during the week leading up to Christmas Eve.

Christmas trees cut down from pine trees decorate homes across the US.

Christmas stockings are hung on mantelpieces for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts for children. It is a tradition in US homes for children to leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for Santa Claus.

Presents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets. The opening of presents takes place on Christmas Eve, like in most middle-income Filipino homes.

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In England, carolers go from house to house at twilight, ringing handbells and singing Christmas songs.

On the day before Christmas, families wrap presents, bake cookies and hang stockings over the fireplace. Everyone then gathers around the Christmas tree as a member tells the Christmas Carol, a tale told and retold for centuries.

After hearing their favorite Christmas story, the children write to Father Christmas with their wishes. They then toss their letters into the fire so their wishes can go up the chimney.

A typical English family feasts on turkey with chestnut stuffing, roast goose with currants or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas Eve. Brussels sprouts are likely to be the vegetables.

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The Japanese are peculiar in the way they celebrate Christmas. They have KFC fried chicken for dinner on Christmas Day!

Every year since the mid-1980s, life-sized Colonel Sanders statues – dressed as Santa Claus during the holiday – are all over Japan.

Figures released by the American fast-food chain say KFC Japan earned $63 million from Dec. 20 to 25 in 2018.

KFC Japan’s busiest day is usually Dec. 24, when sales are about five to ten times more than on typical days.

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Sources: cnn.com, the-sun.com, whychristmas.com, wikipedia.org and various blogs

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