THE RIGHT MOVE
While foreigners are often amazed and even quite perplexed why the Philippines celebrates Christmas for four months starting September, this is still not the most unusual way of celebrating the Christmas season.
All around the world, different countries have their unique ways of celebrating the most festive month of the year. In Japan for instance, where only one percent of the population is Christian, Japanese families troop to an international chicken fast food franchise to celebrate. A tradition dating back in 1974 after a marketing campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” the said fast food chain has continued to serve their popular chicken dishes during the Christmas season when it starts receiving orders months ahead of December.
Moving toward Europe, particularly in the Netherlands where the Vikings have long set its own traditions even before Christianity arrived but has revolved to celebrate Christmas as we now know.
In Denmark, “Christmas” is a celebration of the winter solstice. Today, traditional winter solstice rituals mark the occasion including preparing winter solstice foods that puts an emphasis on food from nature including nuts and berries, and celebrating the sun’s rebirth through spiritual reflection.
In Iceland, children have Santa Claus, but they also get 13 naughty trolls on Christmas Eve. The 13 “jólasveinar” or Yule lads, go around homes to drop off gifts for the nice kids while those falling under the naughty list are left with rotting potatoes.
In Norway, the winter solstice is still very much alive as traditional winter solstice quotes are still recited while Norwegians set their intentions for the coming season. In addition, stories say that some believe that Christmas Eve coincides with the arrival of witches. It is said that many households hide their brooms before going to sleep unless they wake up to find their brooms broken into pieces!
In Austria, it is said that there's a character named Krampus who goes around punishing children who are in the naughty list. He is supposedly this half-goat, half-demon monster who takes on the evil counterpart of St. Nicolas. Men wearing devil costumes and carrying baskets to “abduct” misbehaving children to bring them to hell is still a common “Christmas” tradition in this part of the globe.
In Italy, folklore says that there are households that do not leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, but a glass of wine and sausages instead for a witch named La Befana. Folklore has it that La Befana offered the three Wise Men who were then searching for the baby Jesus, shelter during their travel. She was asked to join their search but declined because of household chores – a decision she regretted after. So up to this day, she goes around households across Italy to search for the Baby, leaving gifts and candies for good children and coal, onions and garlic for the bad children.
In Spain, some Catalans are said to observe two Christmas traditions based on “poop!” Caganer or “the pooper” is a figurine of a peasant without pants that finds its way into nativity scenes alongside the Holy Family. Caga tió, the “pooping log,” is a small smiling stick covered in a blanket, which is laid out on dinner tables during December. The caga tio is “fed” daily with sweets and on Christmas Eve, then gets beaten with sticks to “poop out” gifts for children.
In Ukraine, Christmas ornaments may seem more like Halloween decors as spider webs replace Christmas lights. Legend has it that a poor woman and her children could not afford decorations, and so they settled with a Christmas tree from a pine cone. They woke up the next day finding the tree covered in cobwebs but the sunlight transformed the web into gold and silver. To this day, Ukrainian trees are decked with spider ornaments called “pavuchky” and fake spider webs.
While Christmas may take different forms in different countries, there are still nations that do not celebrate or even observe the nativity of Jesus Christ. For instance, in Afghanistan, those who choose to observe Christmas risk persecution. In the Comoros archipelago, Christianity is prohibited and so is any form of Christmas celebration.
In Brunei, since 2015, there has been a ban on publicly celebrating Christmas. Violators can face up to five years in jail or a fine of US $20,000, or both. According to its Ministry of Religious Affairs, these rules are “intended to control the act of celebrating Christmas excessively and openly, which could damage the aqidah (creed) of the Muslim community.” But Christians are still allowed to celebrate provided they do so only within their communities.
While the majority of the Philippine population being predominantly Christians, find December to be the most joyous time of the year because of Christmas, may this season serve as a reminder of the true message of the season which is love. If there is something the birth of Jesus should remind us believers, it is love and respect for all humankind regardless of their beliefs and traditions. Respect for cultural diversity is integral in building empathy for other people, which will allow us to build bridges of trust and understanding across cultures.