Every family has their own traditions for the holidays. Whether these traditions are religious, like going to Midnight Mass, or cultural, like hanging lights and singing carols together, the holidays are all about celebrating the good in our lives with the people we care about most. My family’s traditions involve copious amounts of cookies and card games after dinner (a tip for anyone who comes over for the holidays- don’t sit next to my aunt. She will absolutely try to look at your cards!)
As I started my holiday preparations, I came across a charming website called whychristmas.com. It has lots of interesting information about Christmas traditions and ideas for fun children’s activities, but my favorite section was called Christmas Around the World. On this page, you can click on a number of different countries and see their Christmas traditions! Let’s see what some of our country programs do to celebrate Christmas:
In Bulgaria, the preparations for Christmas actually begin 40 days earlier with Advent, and Orthodox families will abstain from meat and dairy during that time. On Christmas Eve, the last day of the fast, Bulgarian families sit down to a vegetarian feast, with lots soups, pastries, and a special loaf of bread with a coin baked into it; whoever finds the coin will have good luck in the next year!
When the family goes to bed, all the leftovers and dishes remain on the table overnight. This is based on a superstition that the family’s ancestors may come out and enjoy the remains of the feast! I love that this tradition celebrates the family members who are no longer with us, but celebrate with us in spirit. I also love that it gets me out of doing the dishes for a night- do you think my mom will go for it this year?
Christmas in Congo is a very different tradition, as most families don’t have enough money to buy presents, but the local churches will put on nativity plays on Christmas Eve. These plays aren’t your typical Sunday School pageants- they start in the evening and last for 5 or 6 hours, and they try to time the birth of Jesus as close to midnight as possible! How theatrical is that? Because of their late night out, many Congolese families spend Christmas Day sleeping off the night before.
Now, everybody knows that Santa goes around the world handing out gifts on Christmas Eve, but he doesn’t always put them in children’s stockings. In Haiti, children will clean a pair of shoes, fill them with straw, and leave them out. In the morning, they’ll find that Santa has replaced the straw with gifts! Many Haitians go to midnight Mass, and then come home to eat the “reveillon,” the main holiday meal, which means “wake up” in French. This makes sense, as the meal can last until dawn!
In Mexico, Christmas celebrations start on December 16th, with the “Posada” processions, retelling the story of Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn, or “posada.” Every night, a different house is designated as the “inn” and a procession of people journey there, singing as Mary and Joseph and asking for shelter. After being turned away a few times, they are finally invited into the house, where it’s time for food, carols, and piñatas!
Children in Ukraine have to wait almost two weeks for Christmas; the Orthodox calendar celebrates Christmas on January 7th! On Christmas Eve, families fast all day and wait to begin their meals until the first star appears; if you’re visiting the country during the holidays, don’t be alarmed if you find a bunch of hungry Ukrainians standing outside watching the sky! When it’s time to eat, there are usually 12 dishes, one for each of the disciples, and then it’s time for Christmas carols!
One thing is for certain: no matter where you live, Christmas is a joyful time; people around the world enjoy celebrating the season, eating well, and spending time with their families. MLJ Adoptions is proud to have united so many children from these countries with loving families in the United States, where they can hopefully celebrate their heritage, and start new traditions of their own!