Christmas Traditions in Spain (FA 01 1269)
Spain celebrates Christmas from December 24th to January 6th.
The 24th is a day of feasting and preparing for the holiday. It is spent with family, eating Roscon de Reyes (colorful sweet bread), Turron (almond candy), Polverones (a fluffy cookie). The family will spend the day cooking pork with eggs, ham, and parsley rolled up inside. After feasting, everyone attends midnight mass. Few decorate, but most have a nativity scene. The size of the nativity is a symbol of wealth and devotion.
On the 25th, everyone wears new clothes and goes out to meet with friends for hot chocolate and churros.
Instead of Santa, Spanish children write letters to the Three Kings who brought gifts to the Christ child. On January 5th there is a parade where the three kings arrive, and they sit in thrones in department stores to listen to the wishes of children. The children leave food for the king’s camels and drinks for the kings before they go to bed. On January 6th, the Three Kings bring gifts to the children. They get three to five presents usually, and throw away the presents they received the year before.
Christmas Around the World (FA 01 2006)
Pere Noel is a skinny old farmer with a long beard who drives a cart pulled by a stubborn donkey. He comes to reward good children and punish the bad. The children leave wooden clogs for him to fill. If they’re good, he’ll put presents in the clog, but if they’re bad, he’ll take out a long stick and beat them.
A France-centric tradition is the procession of Santons, hand carved saints either three to eight inches tall. They come from the 1700′s when Christmas was declared illegal because the king didn’t want anyone worshiping anyone but him. In defiance of the king, a small town made carvings of themselves bearing gifts and moved them closer and closer to a carving of the Christ child as it came closer to Christmas. Now people buy Santons in homage to that Christmas long ago.
Italians have a huge feast on Christmas. They eat for five hours, starting with an appetizer, pasta, then meat, salad and bread, then dessert, fruit, cheese, and finally coffee. For dessert, they have two cakes, a Pandoro (powdered sugar covered sweet yeast bread) and a Panettone (a raisin filled fruit cake). Instead of a tree, each family has a manger to center their celebrations on Christ; guests kneel before it when they visit.
Like the Spanish, Italians also celebrate Three Kings Day on January 6th, even though they also celebrate Christmas day.
Christmas starts on December 5th (Mikulas Snopia) when children get candy and little presents from Saint Mikulas. Christmas itself is two days, a family day and a day for visiting friends so that no one has to choose between the two. On the family day, Hungarians eat stuffed cabbage, and if they have guests they’ll leave them to eat the feast alone.
Families open presents at midnight and shoot off lots of fireworks.
Celebrations start on December 16th and go through January 6th. They have a lot of parties with traditional food like paches and tamales passed around. They may also buy a tiny pine tree or cactus. On January 6th, the three wise men deliver presents.
Italian Folklore: Some Customs, Traditions, Religious Beliefs, And Superstitions (FA 01 204)
Italians don’t have Christmas trees. They have Presepe. It’s a huge manger scene; sometimes bigger places will have life size nativities.
In some towns in the north, sheepherders come down from the mountains with musical instruments and gifts for children
January 6th is the Epiphany, where Befana the good witch goes from house to house selling coal candy (licorice) to each family.
Latin-American Christmas Traditions (FA 01 858)
In preparation for Christmas, Mexican families spend a lot of time making tamales (starchy, filled bread). A huge group of family and friends will spend the 24th together, eating and playing together. Some families have Christmas Eve piñatas full of Christmas candies and toys for the children. Sometimes adults will participate with the piñata if they are feeling especially youthful.
There are small, fake trees, but they are difficult to procure, and expensive enough that many families choose to forgo the tradition. Instead, many families shoot off fireworks on Christmas Eve. Since Christmas is in the summer, their celebrations are later and more outdoors based.
Family stay up until midnight when Santa comes to give the children presents that their parents bought. They actually get to meet Santa at night, and open their few presents late in the night before they go to sleep. The 25 doesn’t really have any special meaning, as all the celebrating occurred the night before. The 25th is more of a relaxing family day.