Posts Tagged ‘nativity scenes’

Christmas in Brazil

July 28, 2016

brazil_treeThose who would love to spend Christmas on Christmas Island might enjoy spending Christmas in Brazil.  Temperatures range from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  A Brazilian Christmas, a blend of Portuguese, African, and Indian customs, is a holy time of remembering the birth of Christ celebrated with close friends and family. 

Papai Noel:  Although pictured as doing so Santa Claus, or Papai Noel as Brazilians know him, does not travel by sleigh and reindeer.  Instead he travels by helicopter.  In early December thousands of children fill Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro waiting for the arrival of Papai Noel.  The helicopter lands; Papai Noel steps out, and the children flood the field.  He greets the children shaking their hands and giving them small toys, such as balloons, water pistols, whistles, and more, as gifts.  After the gift-giving Papai Noel steps to a microphone on stage and leads everyone in a sing-a-long.  Local singers and musicians accompany the throng as they sing Christmas carols and other popular songs.

Children in Brazil do not hang stockings for Papai Noel to fill on Christmas Eve.  Instead, in northern Brazil, children put their shoes by the tree, by their bed, or near a window to be filled with all sorts of small toys and goodies by Papai Noel when he arrives later that night after the children are asleep.

Papai Noel personally visits the children in the southern regions of Brazil earlier in the evening on Christmas Eve.  He takes time to talk to each child before giving presents to the child.  Often Papai Noel is a relative, a friend of the family, or a co-worker.

Presepios:  With the vast majority of Brazilians being a religious people it is not surprising that every church and nearly every home puts up a presepio or nativity scene.

Many churches display life-sized versions of the presepio including life-sized animals.  Among those animals is sure to appear a rooster to remind parishioners of the Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster).  Some church presepios are so elaborate that non-church-goers go to church to see them.

Home presepios may be set up in early December; others are not set up until Christmas Eve day.  Some are small fitting on a coffee table; others fill a whole room.  Some are simple; others are abundant.  Whether large or small, many include pieces that have been handed down for generations.

Most home presepios include the Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the three magi, angels, a star, cows, chickens, sheep, and a rooster.  One of the peculiarities of these home presepios is the figures may not be the same scale.  It is not uncommon for Jesus to be larger than some of the other figures.  Another peculiarity comes in the personal touches.  One may see Brazilian animals, Brazilian fruits, airplanes, trains, and other “impossible” figures included in family presepios.

Christmas cards:  Usually people try to send their Christmas cards so the recipients get them before Christmas; but in Brazil, people think nothing of sending their cards after Christmas.  Many cards arrive at their destinations between December 25 and January 6.

Most cards have the traditional wintery scenes showing lots of snow, Santa Claus and his reindeer, Christmas trees covered in snow, and children wrapped in heavy, warm winter clothing.  However, more cards are appearing showing traditional Brazilian weather and scenes of sandy beaches, palm trees, Christmas trees, and, more importantly, no snow.


Look for more about Christmas in Brazil at CustomsOfChristmas.com.

Christmas in Ireland

May 25, 2016

irish-christmas-cakeChristmas in Ireland, with all its religious overtones, is a time for family.  The religious nature of an Irish Christmas begins with Advent.  Starting four Sundays before Christmas Advent is a time to ponder the birth of Christ and get ready for the celebration of His birth.  It is a time for confession of sins and for expressing sorrow for wrongdoing.  One must be holy when expecting a holy Visitor.

Much must be done to prepare for Christmas.  Houses must have a thorough cleaning.  The grounds and all out-buildings get a good tidying also.  Christmas cards are sent to neighbors, friends, and family members.  Most of these cards have religious themes but Santa Claus, reindeer, and snowy landscapes may also be seen.

Christmas trees did not become a regular part of Christmas decorating until the 1960s.  Some people put their trees up the first week of December while others wait until Christmas Eve.  Electric lights, tinsel and a variety of purchased and homemade ornaments adorn each tree.

Even churches get in the spirit of the season by decorating the pillars and the altar with garlands of holly leaves.  A nativity scene is also part of every church’s display usually found near the altar, in the back of the church, or outside in front of the church.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve day final preparations are made for the Christmas celebration.  As expected, unmarried children, no matter their age or how far away they live, arrive at their parents’ house.  Most, if not all, Christmas shopping is done; but many shops stay open later than normal for those last-minute shoppers.  The house fills with glorious odors as food preparation begins in earnest.  The family goes through the house giving it a final tidying before the celebration begins.  Some of the more religious families fast on Christmas Eve until dinner when a simple meal of fish and potatoes is served.

Many families wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree.  Candles are placed in the windows.  For many the Christmas season is about to begin, with the lighting of the candles.  Traditionally the main candle is lit by either the youngest child in the family or a daughter named Mary.  Some children hang their stockings before the family goes to Midnight Mass; others wait until after mass.  After returning from mass the children go to bed.  After the children fall asleep the parents place the children’s gifts under the tree or around the room often arranged in piles on chairs with the child’s name on the chair.

Christmas morning children awaken and rush to see what Santa Claus has left for them.  Most gifts are practical, but as Irish affluence increases the gifts become less practical.  Some who did not go to Midnight Mass, and some who did, attend “First Light” Mass at either 6:00 AM or 8:00 AM.  After mass the men and boys enjoy games of hurling (a game similar to field hockey), Gaelic football (a game like soccer), shooting competitions, and hunting rabbits with greyhounds.

The women prepare the Christmas feast and deliver gift baskets to less fortunate neighbors filled with the ingredients for a “proper” Christmas dinner.  The Christmas table is covered with a linen or lace tablecloth and set with the best china, polished silver, and cut-glass stemware.  The traditional Christmas dinner may consists of roast goose or turkey (often served with ham) stuffed potatoes heavily seasoned with black pepper, mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy, and one or two vegetable dishes.  Desserts may include Christmas cake, Christmas puddings such as bread pudding or plum pudding, mincemeat pies or tarts, sherry trifle, soda scones, fairy cake, and cookies.

After the Christmas feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing and playing musical instruments, and telling stories.  Irish history was once passed from one generation to the next via stories told at family gatherings like Christmas.  Therefore, it is not surprising that some of these stories are of family ancestry, the famine, Irish heroes and villains, the countryside, as well as the Nativity.

Nollaig Shona Duit  (Merry Christmas!)

For more information about the Irish Christmas season visit CustomsOfChristmas.com.

First and Second Christmas Day in the Netherlands

August 24, 2015

On Christmas morning in the Netherlandsoliebollen many families attend church services especially if they did not attend the previous night.  After church services they return home for Koffietafel, coffee table, an elaborate brunch consisting of such things as smoked salmon or pate and Kerstkrans (a pastry similar to Banketletter shaped like a large wreath decorated with lemon icing, candied fruit, holly, and a red bow).  Families in most areas do not exchange gifts on Christmas day; but for those families who do, especially in the southern regions, Father Christmas brings the gifts.

Because Christmas day is a holiday of family togetherness, many families will either visit the homes of family and friends or entertain family and friends at their homes.  They will talk, play board games, listen to the radio or other recordings, watch television, attend concerts or ballets, and sing and play Christmas carols.  Throughout the day they will snack on Kerstbrood, a sweet bread filled with raisins, currants, and candied fruit peel then dusted with powdered sugar.  If the weather is cold enough during the month of December the family will go to the rivers and canals to enjoy some ice skating.

At approximately 7:00 P.M. Christmas dinner is served.  Poinsettias, holly, fresh flowers, and other Christmas greenery may decorate the table.  In many families either the youngest person or the oldest person at the table reads the Christmas story from the Bible before the meal begins.  The meal may begin with Bitterballen (small croquettes of finely minced veal or beef in an herb-laced gelatin), cocktail meatballs, Zoute Bolletjes or salted bullets (salty dabs of pastry baked to a fine crunch), Groentensoep (vegetable soup), Erwtensoep (pea soup) sometimes served with little fried meatballs, Mossel-Rijstschotel (and Indonesian-style casserole of mussels over cream-smothered rice), Haringsla (herring salad), and Matjes (salted herring).

The main course may consist of rolled beef, roast hare, roast goose, or roast venison.  Turkey is gaining popularity on the Christmas table.  Pureed potatoes seasoned with a variety of spices is also a popular item.  In many homes the Christmas dinner is served using a table-top grill.  Each guest cooks their own bite-sized pieces of meat and vegetables as they eat.  Popular Christmas desserts in the Netherlands are Bessensappudding (tart currant pudding), cookies, and chocolates.

The people of the Netherlands also celebrate Second Christmas Day, December 26.  This is a day to reach out to friends and do things outside the home.  Many people attend performances both professional and amateur at churches, concert halls, and auditoriums.  These performances may be choral, instrumental, or theatrical in nature.  Churches and schools offer choral presentations and Christmas plays often depicting the story of the Nativity.  Families living in and around Rotterdam may attend the Ahoy Kerstcircus (Christmas circus) featuring a live band, aerial acts, animal acts, and clowns.  This circus has performed annually since 1917.

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Oliebollen  (I would love to try these.  They sound good.)

SERVINGS 36

PREP TIME 20 mins  

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped apple (optional)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Cooking oil for deep-fat frying
  • Sifted powdered sugar

Directions

1.  In a large bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt; stir in the raisins and, if you like, apple. Make a well in the center. Combine eggs, milk, the 1/4 cup cooking oil, and the vanilla; add to flour mixture. Mix thoroughly.

2.  In a large saucepan or deep-fat fryer, drop by tablespoons, 3 or 4 at a time, into deep, hot oil (365 degree F). Cook about 3 minutes or until golden, turning once. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about 36.

 

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland

April 26, 2015

My daughter at Bronner's CHRISTmas WonderlandAbout five years ago my daughter and I visited the world’s largest Christmas store.  It was a great experience.  Walking through a store the size of one and a half football fields, enjoying the Christmas music being piped through the store’s public address system, and perusing shelf upon shelf of Christmas decorations we were mesmerized by the CHRISTmas Wonderland that is Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.

Located in Frankenmuth, Michigan, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland opened for business in 1954.  Over time the business grew.  The original building was expanded and two more buildings were added to enhance their customers’ Christmas shopping experience.  Finally in 1977 it was decided to consolidate all their holdings under one roof on a forty-five acre site at 25 Christmas Lane, Frankenmuth, Michigan.  In 1991 the store expanded again doubling its size.  Further expansions allowed them to add a shipping department shipping their ornaments all over the world and brought the size of their building to five and a half football fields.

At Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland one will find a treasure trove of Christmas ornaments, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, outdoor decorations, nativity scenes, and Santa suits and accessories, and much, much more.  Click here for a virtual tour of the world’s largest Christmas store.

For more information about this wonderful store and to order this year’s Christmas decorations go to www.bronners.com or better yet take a trip to Frankenmuth and visit the store for yourself.  I hope to visit Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland again with my family real soon.

Christmas in Mexico

February 24, 2015

Las Posada lead by children dressed as Mary and Joseph.The Christmas season in Mexico lasts about two months and is filled with traditions that have lasted, in some cases, for nearly five hundred years.

Christmas was brought to Mexico by Catholic missionaries who brought the Christian faith to the natives of Mexico after it was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.  In 1538 Fray Pedro de Gante invited all the Indians within twenty leagues of Mexico City to attend the first Christmas celebration.  These Christmas masses and the parties and feasting that surrounded the celebration became so popular that Fray Diego de Soria in 1587 received permission to hold the Christmas masses out of doors.  These outdoor Christmas masses were held nightly from December 16 to 24.  As time went on the natives of that area added their own touches to the Christmas celebrations and art to make Mexico’s Christmas celebration what it is today.

On or around December 16 families all over Mexico put up their nacimientos or nativity scenes.  This is also the first of nine nights of posadas.  The last night of posadas followed by a special midnight Mass occurs on December 24.  After Mass finishes on the 25th of December families return home to a Christmas feast of turkey, tortillas, fried peppers, vegetables, fruits, candies, hot chocolate with vanilla and cinnamon, and a Christmas salad of fruit, nuts, beets, and sugar cane sprinkled with tiny colored candies.  Other food items may be served as well or in place of these items as desired by the family.  Children may get small gifts at this time, but they usually do not receive gifts until January 6.  December 28 is El Dia de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents.  On this day children play tricks on their friends much like children do in the United States on April Fool’s Day.  The people of Mexico welcome the new year with parties, fireworks, and lots of noise, games, and food.  January 6 is El Dia de los Reys, the Day of the Three Kings or Epiphany.  Children receive their gifts from the Magi, not Santa Claus, on this day.  During the parties and feasting on this day a cake called La Rosca de Reyes or King’s Ring Cake is served.  Baked in this cake is a small Christ Child doll.  The finder of this doll has to host a party on February 2.  February 2 is the last day of the Christmas season.  Known as El Dis de la Candelaria or Candlemas, the day is filled with huge fireworks and partying.  Each family takes the Christ Child from their nacimiento to the priest to be blessed before packing the nacimiento away for another year.

Read more about Christmas in Mexico including some very unique customs here at CustomsOfChristmas.com.


As we are now in the middle of the Easter season visit our sister site CustomsOfEaster.com to explore the origins of many of our customs of Easter.

Christmas in France

July 25, 2014

Christmas-in-france-eiffel-tower

Christmas market in front of the Eiffel Tower

The Christmas season in France begins on December 6 with St. Nicholas Day and continues through January 6 or Epiphany. In eastern France children receive gifts of candy, fruit, and small toys from the good saint. Some of these children hit the jackpot receiving gifts on both St. Nicholas Day and Christmas day. For the religious people in France the Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent, four Sundays before Christmas.

Houses are given a thorough cleaning. Floors are swept. Furniture is dusted and waxed. The silver is polished to a bright sheen, and the finest china is brought out to grace the Christmas board. After that the house is filled with the glorious sounds and aromas of Christmas cooking and baking.

In nearly every house a manger scene is lovingly brought out of storage and given a place of prominence in the living room. The manger scene first appeared in Avignon between 1316 and 1334 B.C. but did not become popular until the 16th century. Legend says that ancestors of St. Francis of Assisi brought the tradition with them to France. Many families have figures that have been handed down from generation to generation and may be a hundred years old or more. These scenes may be simple scenes with just the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and a few animals; or they may be very elaborate forming a complete village with many figures called santons, little saints, representing Bible characters and villagers seen in everyday life, such as a mayor, priest, policeman, butcher, and baker. Many families purchase new santons to add to their nativity scene every year at a local store or outdoor Christmas market. Even children get involved gathering moss, stones, and twigs to be included in the scenery.

At midnight Christmas Eve adults and older children attend midnight masses at beautifully decorated churches and cathedrals where joyful choirs and peeling bells welcome Christmas Day. Younger children, instead of attending mass, are sleeping dreaming of the presents they will receive in the morning.

After midnight mass families return home or visit a restaurant to enjoy a feast known as le reveillon. The foods served for le reveillon vary according to the region. Served in many courses, the meal may include such meats as roast beef, leg of lamb, goose, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, quail, grouse, and baked ham. Wild boar and venison are considered delicacies for this Christmas meal. The fish course may include all kinds of fresh water fish, oysters, snails, sea urchins, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster. One region of France makes buckwheat cakes served with sour cream a must-have dish for their reveillon. Salads and fruit such as oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tangerines, and plums are enjoyed by celebrants as well as all kinds of bread. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes and an assortment of pates made with goose, duck, or rabbit liver which may be mixed with minced ham or pork are integrated into this extensive meal. Wait! The meal is not finished yet. There is still dessert. Boxes of chocolates, hard candies, candied fruit, and other pastries like tartes, pies, tartlets, petit fours, napoleons, éclairs grace the table accompanying the piece de resistance, the buche de Noel or Yule Log cake. This sponge cake is rolled with a chocolate butter cream filling and frosted with a brown icing. It is often marked with lines to make it look like a log. It may also be decorated with confectioners’ sugar, nuts, images of Pere Noel, roses, sugar or real, elves, or sprigs of fresh holly. Wine and/or champaign also accompanies the meal.

For more about Christmas in France and other Christmas customs please visit my website, http://www.customsofchristmas.com.

Christmas in Italy – part 2

June 25, 2013

Wooden puppets depicting Italy's gift giver, Befana.

Wooden puppets depicting Italy’s gift giver, Befana.

The most cherished custom of the Italian Christmas is setting up and displaying the crèche or nativity scene. As the focus of the family’s decorating, the crèche may be simple and homemade or very elaborate with hundreds of pieces and many scenes. The tradition of the nativity scene was started in the early 1200s by St. Francis of Assisi who told the story of the birth of Christ using a living nativity complete with live animals. Contests are held every year for the best nativity display. Some towns get into the spirit by hosting living nativities some with up to 600 actors involved.

No matter how simple or how fancy the crèche, the Christ child in the manger is most cherished by the Italian people. Many will place their presents near the manger instead of under a Christmas tree, and families may even pray together in front of the manger.

A favorite set of figures found in many nativity scenes are the shepherds playing bagpipes. Legend has it that shepherds playing bagpipes played for Mary in Bethlehem when Christ was born. At one time bagpipe-playing shepherds would come from the fields in the mountains to play at Christmastime in the marketplaces and other locations in Rome. Today folk musicians, called zampognari, keep the tradition alive. These zampognari visit every carpenter’s shop and ever nativity and sing and play in front of the manger scene especially during the Christmas Novena. It is no wonder that the sound that most characterizes the Italian Christmas is that of bagpipe-playing zampognari.

Christmas trees are not as popular in Italy as they are in other areas of the world. Trees are most popular in the northern regions of Italy. Christmas trees may be imported from northern Europe, be artificial, or be live, potted trees. Many good things to eat are hung from the branches accompanied by many lights and other baubles. In Southern Italy many people hang fresh fruit and foil-covered chocolates on their tree. Children are allowed to eat the trimmings on January 6.

On Christmas Eve day a strict fast is observed until evening when a meatless meal is served. Fish may be served at this meal but no meat. Christmas day is a feast day. There is no “typical” Christmas menu. The main dish usually varies according to the region and the tastes and traditions of the family. In southern Italy baked, roasted, fried, or steamed eels served with rice may be the main dish while squid is a favorite along the sea coast. Other dishes enjoyed during the Christmas feast include clams, codfish, many kinds of beans, vegetables in vinegar, salads, bread, and pasta.

Gift giving in Italy is not associated with Christmas, as it is in many parts of the world. Instead Italians give gifts to each other on the day legend says the three kings gave their gifts to the Christ child, Epiphany or January 6. The story goes that as the three kings were on their way to Bethlehem they stopped at the house of an old woman to ask for directions. The old woman was busy cleaning her house and was angry at the kings for interrupting her work. The kings explained they were on their way to find a baby, the Christ child, born King of the Jews and worship him. Would she like to go along with them? No, she did not know how to get to Bethlehem nor did she want to find a squalling baby and worship him. “Now go away and let me get back to my work.” The kings left. The next morning the old woman had second thoughts. She started following the three kings hoping to find them. She could not find them. She stopped to ask about the kings and to ask for directions for Bethlehem. No one could help her. She traveled on looking for the baby and his parents. As she traveled she started leaving presents for the children in houses she passed. She wanted to give presents to the Christ child, but she did not know where he might be living. Legend says she is still wandering through the Earth looking for the Christ child.

This old woman known as Befana gives gifts to Italian children on January 6. The name Befana comes from the Italian word for Epiphany, Epifania. She is personified with white, disheveled hair, a hooked nose, and dressed in black. She is often portrayed as riding a broomstick. The first mention of Befana in Italian literature was in a poem written by Agnolo Firenzada, a poet from Tuscany. Children write notes to Befana asking for toys during the weeks preceding Epiphany.

Today, while Befana is the gift bearer for Italian children, Santa Claus is making inroads in Italian society.

As the Italian people say goodbye to the old year Befana appears again. In many towns and cities across Italy people go to the town square and burn a Befana puppet or a straw effigy of Befana. This time Befana symbolizes the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new year.

The Italian people have many wonderful customs for celebrating Christmas. From the intricate nativity villages to the bagpipe-playing zampognari to gift-giving Befana: these traditions bring Italian uniqueness to the world’s customs of Christmas.

If you wish to have an Italian Christmas this year you may want to have this favorite Italian Christmas dish.

Fried Eel

2 ½ pounds eels, cleaned and dried
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
Lemon slices

Cut eels crosswise into 3-inch pieces. Coat with flour and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Heat oil in a skillet. Add coated eel pieces and fry over medium heat until golden brown on both sides (about 10 minutes). Accompany eel with lemon slices. Makes about 6 servings.

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