Christmas cheer around the world

Christians around the world observe the birth of Jesus at Christmas. While their adoration of Jesus is the same, cultures celebrate differently. Here, we hear from several people about their family experiences at Christmas.


When the school holidays begin in December, every child would always look forward to going to their ancestral village in the outer islands, writes Gordan Stanley Smith who was born and raised in Suva.


The first week of December is the start of an eight-week holiday that coincides with the Christmas and New Year season. We meet up with our cousins and relatives from overseas and play till the sun comes down. Visiting waterfalls and swimming in the sea and river are some of the activities we enjoy.


My grandparent’s house was always so full of children that we had to erect tents outside so they had some where to sleep. The night before Christmas everyone is expected to attend the vigil Mass which starts at 9pm. Fiji is so religious that if you miss Mass on Sunday people will talk about you.

Because the parish is located on the River Delta of Rewa, the only means of getting to the church is by motor boat which we call Rewa or “water taxi”. This makes for an exciting journey. Crossing the river by boat at night to attend Mass is lots of fun. After Mass, the young adults are expected to gather materials for the underground oven. Preparing the stones and firewood is an all-night affair.


In the early hours of Christmas morning the underground oven is ready. The young men, supervised by the older generation, place food in the oven like pork, taro, fish, and taro leaves in coconut milk and beef. Once the earth oven is buried with the red-hot stones, the food will take about an hour to cook.


A long table cloth is then laid out for the food and everyone sits on the floor to eat. Sitting cross legged is part of our culture and all our traditional gatherings are done this way. After a big lunch and a few hours of rest under a mango tree, we drink kava (a beverage that is made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands) and people sing Christmas carols till the sun goes down.

The celebrations can continue well into Boxing day which in Fiji we call ‘hangover day’.


Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations in Vietnam for both Christians and non-Christians, says Anthony Tran CSsR.


On Christmas Eve, most Catholics gather at their local parish church, or at the cathedral in the city before Vigil Mass to sing carols and watch a nativity play on a high stage that is usually erected on the church grounds.


After Midnight Mass people return home for an intimate family Christmas dinner with hot chicken soup or chicken congee (rice porridge) and chopped chicken or duck salad (some families use duck instead of chicken.) However, there are different foods in different regions in Vietnam.


Non-Christian families also celebrate and gather on the streets on Christmas Eve to enjoy the celebrative atmosphere. In the big cities, people tend to gather in the centre of the city. The streets are lit up with Christmas decorations long before Christmas Day with colourful lighting on trees and in front of houses.


In every church, decorations are normally set up with a large nativity crib with life-sized statues of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds and animals. Vietnamese children are very excited by the Christmas decorations.


Christmas means a lot to Vietnamese Christians. It is very important for families to gather together and go to Midnight Mass and to pray to the baby Jesus.


Tony and Margaret Biviano, who are of Italian descent, say they gather with their children and grandchildren on Christmas Eve for dinner and to exchange gifts.


We celebrate the birth of Jesus by attending Midnight Mass which has always been an important part of Christmas and we like to recount the nativity story to our grandchildren. We gather as a family and celebrate ‘being family’. It is also an occasion that provides laughter and joy and we thank God for the countless blessings we have as a family.


On Christmas Day, one side of the family, including about 30 people and four generations gather for lunch. We do it all again at dinner with the other side of the family, involving another 30 people and four generations. We are from the Aeolian Islands in southern Italy, so our gatherings are always noisy and big! We wouldn’t have it any other way!


Being Italian, food plays an important part and there’s always plenty to go around. Typically, antipasto, seafood, pasta and turkey are on the menu.


Preparations for Christmas begin well before December 25. Family members gather days before to bake crostoli or Aeolian nacatole biscotti (ornate delicate pastries). This can take up to a day and nonna’s delight in sharing their age-old recipes with their grandchildren. Just as our parents passed on these traditions to us, we are passing them on to our children and grandchildren.


Dishani Subasinghe from Sr Lanka writes that Christmas for her is a season of loving and sharing.


Christmas is my favourite season. It’s the time to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus and to show love and gratitude to my family and friends. I remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus by attending Midnight Mass with my family.


The Mass is celebrated in three languages – Sinhala (my native tongue), Tamil and English. Christmas Mass is the centre and heart of the season for my family.  


I show love and gratitude to my family and friends by sharing gifts with them. I enjoy spending time selecting gifts and then watching big smiles as the gifts are opened around the Christmas tree. 


Christmas is a busy time with work and preparations, but the weather is more pleasant when the temperature here in the tropics is a little cooler.


My family and relatives gather for a big evening dinner. We enjoy lots of food, such as chicken, biriyani, and a selection of curries and vegetables. For dessert we have custard, jelly and ice-cream while particular treats are the Sri Lankan sweets – Kokis, Keum and Kiribath


Preparing food for our Catholic and Buddhist neighbours is a highlight. We also receive food in return from the Catholics and from the Buddhists during their Buddhist New Year celebrations. We also offer a sense of goodwill to poor families by giving them hampers and other essentials.


My beautiful mother’s death a couple of years ago means Christmas is also tinged with sadness for my family. We miss my mother very much, but we believe that she is watching over us as we celebrate the beautiful family season of Christmas.


This article first appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of The Majellan.


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