Christmas for Christians around the world marks the birth of Jesus Christ. In the 4th century, Pope Julius I chose December 25th to celebrate Jesus' birth despite the fact that it is believed that he was born in the Spring. The Pope did this to establish a Christian holiday in the midst of traditionally pagan celebrations during the month of December. According to Christian belief, Jesus was the son of God born to a virgin in a manger. Countries around the world celebrate this holiday in various ways. Each of these customs as described below are ripe for investigation by students.
Below I list just a few examples of different customs that a few countries around the world have for Christmas.
- Costa Rica - The weather is warm at Christmastime. Trees are popular. Tamales and Empenadas are traditionally eaten.
- England - Santa Claus is known here by the name 'Father Christmas'. Christmas trees are decorated and stockings are hung. A drink called 'Wassail' is served. Boxing Day is celebrated on December 26th which is also the feast day of St. Stephen. On this day, it is traditional to give alms to the poor and less fortunate.
- France - A popular dessert called the 'buche de noel' or 'Christmas Log' is consumed on Christmas. Often, a feast occurs after Midnight Mass on Christmas eve called the 'rveillon'. Gifts are given by 'pere noel' which means 'Father Christmas'. He travels with a man called Pre Fouettard who tells pere noel how the children behaved during the previous year. In some parts of France, gifts are given on both December 6th (St. Nicholas' feast day) and on Christmas. Adults give gifts on New Years.
- Italy - Christmas is celebrated with a large feast after a 24 hour fast before Christmas. Children usually do not receive their presents until January 6th, the day of the Epiphany. These gifts are brought by Le Befana, a woman who flies around on a broom.
- Kenya - Lots of food is prepared, especially goat. They serve a flat bread called chapatis. Groups often go singing house to house and receive gifts of some kind from the occupants. On Christmas, these singers give any gifts to their church.
- United States - Christmas trees, real or artificial, are put up in homes early in December. They are usually decorated with multi-color lights and various ornaments. Stockings are hung, often on the fireplace mantel. On Christmas eve, children set out cookies or other goodies for Santa Claus. On Christmas morning, children rush to the tree to see the gifts there and in their stockings.
Ideas for Presentation
- Investigate the legend of Santa Claus.
- Investigate different aspects of the Christmas celebration including the tree, the decorations, the stockings, the carols, and more.
- Perform Christmas songs in either English or other languages.
- Create banners representing different holiday customs from around the world.
- Investigate traditional foods for each culture and create them for the rest of the class to sample.
- Present skits representing each cultures' customs.
- In many countries, Christmas celebrations are becoming more like that in America. Debate whether the loss of the countries' traditional celebrations is good or bad.
- Read O' Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" and discuss its meaning.
- Students could write in their jounal about numerous topics including:
- Worst Christmas experience
- Best Christmas experience
- Family Traditions
- What Santa Claus means to them
- Is Christmas too commercial?
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I hope that this information is useful in preparing your own 'winter solstice' festival or in simply presenting students with information about different cultures. I wish everyone happy holidays!