By: Marines Muñiz and Ledinés Hernández
Christmas Day is a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For the past decades, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are religious and secular in nature. Popular traditions include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends, and of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. It is a holiday generally celebrate on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. The exact birthday of Jesus is not known, and historians place his year of birth sometime between 7 BC and 2 BC. This holiday became a federal holiday in 1870 at the United States. Also on Christmas Eve (December 24 at night) a figure named Santa Claus, goes to all the good children’s houses to leave the presents that they wanted.
A tradition in the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus is the activity “Encendido de la Navidad”. This was celebrated on December 1, 2011 at the tennis court. The activity began at 7:00pm with a representation of the marching band of the university and the “abanderadas” (flag girls). They started with an animated song, followed by the Hymn of the College which caused euphoria in the audience. The architect Wilma Santiago Gabrielini gave a welcoming speech. Then, Jorge Rivera Santos, Rector of the UPRM, addressed the audience by thanking the assistance of people and very excited since this is on the centenary year. “This year the activity is more special than usual because it is our # 100,” said Rector. The moderator took the opportunity to tell the person charge of the lights when to turn them on. The Rector said, “do not count for so long, we will start at three.” This caused much laughter in the audience. All those present told the fife to one and that was when two Christmas trees and a hallway decorated with huge lights came on and everyone started clapping. The place was decorated with Christmas lights and the Campus offered free food for the guests. In addition, guests who were artisans located on the second floor of the court. At first the place was a bit empty but then the people could barely walk. Many students, families and children, took pictures with the Three Wise Men and Tarzan, the dog mascot of the UPRM, which were there to share in the activity as well.
The college band, directed by Gregory Efrein opened the show with the famous song “El Villancico Yaucano” interpreted by Karmary Franco an integrant of the band. Then the band played “Merry Christmas”, “Seis Celinés” starring Karmary Franco and “Canto a Borinquen” played by Emanuel Mercado. “La Coral del Recinto”, directed by Edgar Velez Montes performed several songs in Spanish, Latin and English as “The Shack”, “Glory to the New Born Kid,” “Gloria” and a mix of Christmas songs. A group that is part of the college band, Alma Latina directed by Santos Torres Toro performed several Christmas songs. He continued the string orchestra, which was eagerly awaited by the public.
In Puerto Rico, people celebrate Jesus Christ being born in Nazaret and also Santa Claus coming. For many years children have to learn both reasons to celebrate because more than a tradition it is cultural. The reason of learning both is, the real meaning of Christmas is that Jesus is born but, by tradition the parents also tell the children that Santa is coming. The myth of Santa Claus is an American tradition. People usually decorate their houses with lights and a Christmas tree.
Another Christmas celebration in Puerto Rico is the Three Kings Day, celebrated on January 6. The Tree Kings travel with their camels to give kids gifts. Like Santa, they have a good list and a bad list. They observe how the kids behave during the year and just the parents and grandparents can talk with them about the good or bad behavior. On January 5, the kids collect grass, put it into shoes boxes for the camels and place it under the Christmas tree. Also, they put water glasses or milk for the Kings. The tradition says the Three Kings have a little bit of magic and they can enter in the houses through the doors.
When in Puerto Rico it is considered Christmas Season, in China it is “Spring Festival,” it is a time when children receive new clothing, eat luxurious meals, receive new toys, and enjoy firecracker displays. Christmas by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “Trees of Light,” with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Chinese children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means “Christmas Old Man.” Due to the vast majority of the Chinese people not being Christians, the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year, which takes place toward the end of January. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.
In Colombia the Christmas Season starts on December 8 with the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception celebration. On December 7 night the Christians put candles on their houses and decorate the outsides. On December 8, people put altars on the front yard and there is a procession with music where a priest passes and blesses the altars. Also, from December 16 to December 24 they celebrate a ninth. On this celebration families agree for being the hosts; one family per day. Every day there are food, desserts, and musical instruments like guiros and tambourines. “I can see the difference between Christmas in Puerto Rico and in Colombia. In my land, we believe that baby Jesus is the bringer of the gifts, but Puerto Ricans adopted too much the Saint Claus tradition and are missing the Jesus birth,” said Miguel Goenagas a Colombian student who has lived a few years in Puerto Rico.
On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children read about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. Afterward the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is lit and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish. On Christmas Day another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the Baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards he blesses one person with a touch; that person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the “touch of peace.”
In France, Christmas is a time for family and for generosity, marked by family reunions, candy for children, gifts and candy for children, gifts for the poor, midnight mass, and le Réveillon. In 1962, a law was passed decreeing that all letters written to Santa would be responded to with a postcard. When a class writes a letter, each student gets a response.
The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate Christmas on December 25, which is a holiday. However, in eastern and northern France, the Christmas season begins on December 6, “la fête de Saint Nicolas” (the celebrations of Saint Nicolas). In Lyon, December 8 is “la Fête de lumières” (the party of the lights), and Lyonnais put candles in their windows to light up the city.
Although fewer and fewer French attend “la Messe de Minuit” on Christmas Eve, it is still an important part of Christmas for many families. It is followed by a huge feast, called “le Réveillon” (to wake up or to revive). Le Réveillon is a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ’s birth and it is the culinary high point of the season, which may be enjoyed at home, in a restaurant or in a café that is open all night. Each region in France has its own traditional Christmas menu, with dishes like goose, chicken, capon, turkey stuffed with chestnuts, oysters, and boudin blanc (similar to white pudding).
French children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, in the hopes that Père Noël (Dad Noel) will fill them with gifts. Candy, fruit, nuts, and small toys will also be hung on the tree by Saint Noel overnight.
Despite the different traditions in all the countries around the world, on Christmas season families come and eat together, share, exchange gifts, decorate the houses with trees and lights and can breathe an atmosphere of happiness. On Christmas people forgive and just want to laugh and share.
Interview to: Miguel Goenagas Jiménez , from Colombia.
Google: History Channel: Christmas
Event: UPRM “Encendido de la Navidad”