JAPANO-Shogatsu, which lasts January 1st through January 3rd, is the traditional Japanese New Year. It is a time for reflection, family, friends, delicious foods, and of course, fun!
An important New Year symbol and good luck charm for the Japanese is the Daruma doll, which has no pupils in its eyes. Tradition is to make a wish and paint the pupil of the left eye. If your wish comes true before the end of the year, you paint the right pupil. The Daruma, which looks like a child’s punching doll, reinforces the concepts of patience and persistence.
Bell ringing is also a big part of the O-Shogatsu. The Japanese New Year is announced by bell ringing at the Buddhist temples throughout the country.
A special New Year’s decoration called the kadomatsu appears at the front entrance to many homes. The kodamatsu’s plum blossom, which grows even in cold weather, symbolizes hope for the New Year. Its pine branch represents everlasting strength, and the straight bamboo represents rapid growth. Everyone in Japan enjoys the spirit of O-Shogatsu and the symbolism and beautiful customs of the New Year.
UNITED KINGDOMMany wonderful Christmas traditions originated in the countries of the United Kingdom. Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Each have unique holiday customs, and many of these have been shared worldwide. Well-known Christmas carols such as “Deck the Halls” and “Here We Come a Wassailing” were first sung in the United Kingdom.
The tradition of Christmas cards also began in the United Kingdom. In 1843, John Calcott Horsley sent a card depicting an English family brimming with cheer to his friend Sir Henry Cole. The original card caught the attention of a British giftbook company, which published a thousand lithographed copies and sold them for a shilling each.
Not surprisingly, the hanging of mistletoe is one of the United Kingdom’s oldest and most popular traditions, dating back to the Druidic ceremonies of the winter solstice. Each time a kiss was claimed under the mistletoe, the young man would pick off one berry. The kissing would end when all the berries were gone!
For children, Father Christmas, with his long white beard, green robe, and crown of holly, is still treasured as the jolly gift-bearer who brings holiday joy to the well-behaved.
CANADAFrom the waterways of eastern Newfoundland to the snowcapped mountains of British Columbia, the Christmas holidays hold special magic for the vast expanse of Canada.
Although favorite traditions such as awaiting Santa Claus, or le Pere Noel, trimming the evergreen, and singing Christmas carols are similar to those commonly found in the United States and Europe. Canada has many unique holiday traditions as well.
In some traditional Canadian homes, Santa Claus enlists the help of devilish creatures called Belsnickles to determine which children have been “naughty or nice.” The Belsnickles supposedly enter the homes of naughty boys and girls to cause mischief.
Even Canada’s Inuit children are visited by mysterious creatures called Naluyuks who travel from house to house. The children sing Christmas carols to appease the Naluyuks, who pound sticks on the floor before questioning the children about the behavior. When the children say they’ve been good, which they always do, the Natuyuks open special gift bags full of wonderful presents.
In Quebec, le reveillon, a sumptuous traditional French dinner, is served after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
Most of Canada celebrates Boxing Day on December 26, in honor of the ancient English tradition of giving filled Christmas boxes to the poor as well as to servants and tradesmen for their help during the year.
FRANCEThe magic of Christmas can be seen everywhere in France. The shops and baraques, or booths, along the beautiful boulevards are brimming with toys, glittering lights, and Christmas decorations of every imaginable kind. Children eagerly await le Pere Noel (Father Christmas), who arrives on Christmas Eve to deliver wonderful presents. Most churches and homes display a beautiful nativity scene called a crèche, which is considered one of the most important symbols of Christmas to the French. Traditionally, candles are lit around the crèche; sometimes a special Yule log is also burned on the fire.
After families return from Midnight Mass, they enjoy a feast called le reveillon, which often consists of ham, goose, oysters, salads, cheese, champagne, and Buche de Noel, a delicious chocolate cake shaped like a Yule log.
Children then set out shoes around the Christmas tree in great anticipation of le Pere Noel who fills them with all sorts of goodies!
ITALY“Natale con I tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi”
This old Italian verse truly expresses the strong feelings the Italian people have for the celebration of Christmas. It means “You celebrate Easter with whomever you please, but Christmas only with your own.”
In fact, Christmas is often described as the warmest, most intimate Italian holiday because it is a special time when family members get together to enjoy age-old traditions.
On Christmas Eve, a ceremony takes place around the presepio, a nativity scene of Bethlehem. Then, after Midnight Mass, there is a cemone which is a delicious feast of rich Italian food.
Children eagerly await the presents brought to them by a good-hearted witch called la Befana. She is the Christmas gift-giver who climbs down chimneys to fill good children’s shoes with treats. Naughty children may find a lump of coal instead!
Unlike Santa Claus, who appears on Christmas Eve, la Befana arrives on the eve of Epiphany, January 6. Year after year, la Befana wanders the countryside looking for Gesu Bambino, the baby Jesus and leaves gifts just in case she finds him.
CHINAThe story of Sun hou-kong, the Monkey King, is an ancient Chinese legend that tells an exciting tale of redemption and enlightenment.
Sun hou-kong, a monkey raised by humans, became the Monkey King when he single-handedly defeated a horrific monster in his homeland. Afterwards, the Monkey King acquired incredible powers when he cleverly uprooted a magic stick guarded by the Dragon King.
With this magic stick and the ability to do just about anything, the Monkey King started to look for adventure and mischief. Buddha was not pleased with this abuse of power and decided to seal the Monkey King inside a mountain for eternity. The Monkey King quickly realized the error of his ways! Fortunately, a monk named Thang Seng believed in the Monkey King’s redemption and asked Buddha to release him.
The Monkey King was then asked to join the Thang Seng on a journey to India to bring back Buddha’s original teaching text. The Monkey Kin g proved to be a loyal comrade to the Thang Seng. Like many holiday legends, this heartfelt story sends an important message of hope.
GERMANYThe German Yuletide season is a magical time when friends and family celebrate together! Many of Germany’s rich customs and traditions of the season have been adopted all over the world.
It was Germany who produced the first tannenbaum (Christmas tree). According to legend, while walking in the woods one snowy evening, Martin Luther was overcome by the beauty of the starlight sparkling on the fir trees. As the light from the heavens shone all around him, he was reminded of the star that shone on the night the Christkindl (Christ child) was born. He wanted to share this magic with his children, so he brought home a fir tree from the forest. He even fashioned a way to clip candles to the tree to make it look as though the branches were covered in glistening snow.
On Heilgabend (Christmas Eve), German parents secretly decorate the tannenbaum with candies, nuts, glass baubles, and twinkling lights. A bell is rung, the tannenbaunm is presented, and the children race to open presents and snatch the goodies form the tree.
MEXICOBeautiful candlelight processions, happy sounds of children laughing, and sweet smells of the season make Christmas in Mexico a magical, meaningful time of community.
In Mexico, Christmas is called La Navidad and its main celebration is Las Posadas, which means ”inn.” During Las Posadas, Mexican families recreate the journey of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem. For night nights, beginning December 16, Mexican children dress up like the holy family and visit their neighbors as part of the candlelight procession. Beautifully carved nacimientos (nativity scenes) are displayed in homes. Prayers and festivities begin when the procession of Mary and Joseph is welcomed in.
On January 6, the day the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, bringing gifts to baby Jesus, Mexican children leave their shoes on the doorsteps in special celebration called Dia De Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day). When the children awaken the next morning, they are delighted to discover wonderful toys and gifts in and around their shoes.
NORWAYChristmas is a festive time in the “Land of the Midnight Sun.”
On Christmas Eve, farm animals are traditionally treated to the finest oats and barley. Birds are remembered during julenek, when they are offered large sheaves of grain placed high on spruce poles. After darkness it’s “lights out” as homes are illuminated by only the warm glow of candlelight.
An elf-like gnome named Julenissen lives in woods and barns across the countryside. Julenissen is the guardian of every familiy’s welfare, so children leave a steaming bowl of porridge in the hayloft furing the holiday period to thank Julenissen.
On Christmas Day, many attend church before spending time quietly at home with family members. On Second Christmas Day, children celebrate julbukke by dressing up in costumes and going door-to-door for goodies.
MOROCCOTwo major holidays of Morocco are Eid al-fitr and Eid al-Adha.
One of Morocco’s holiest celebrations is the month of Ramadan, which commemorates the month in which Allah revealed to the Muslim People, the Holy book, The Quran.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a strict fast and participate in various activities including charitable giving and peace-making. It is a time of intense spiritual renewal for those who observe it. At the end of Ramada, Muslims throughout the world observe a joyous three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking.
Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking.
Eid al-Fitr falls on the first day of Shawwal, the month which follows Romadan in the Islamic calendar. It is a time to give charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy.
On the 10th day of Zul-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Scarifice.
People of Morocco also celebrate Ashura.
People of Morocco also celebrate Ashura. The word ‘Ashura’ literally means “10th,” as it is on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. Ashura is an ancient observance that is now recognized for different ways among Muslims. In Morocco, one of the most beautiful traditions of Ashura happens afer the sunset. On the night of Ashura, families join together to eat traditional Moroccan dishes and sweeks. Kids are given gifts, toys, sweets, and often a special drum called taarija. From the largest cities to the smallest, bonfires are built by children who sing and dance around it all night. People of Morocco celebrate the joy, color, and traditions of Feast of Ashura.
This storyteller left so quickly we couldn’t get our picture with him….and after we rushed over to hear his story.