Sinterklaas as depicted in the Netherlands. Wikimedia Commons

Speaking Out: Traditions come in many forms

By  Bernadette Timson, Youth Speak News
  • December 18, 2019

Going through grade school, Christmas was always my favourite time of the year. 

One year, my teacher decided that it would be a fun activity for my class to learn about how Christmas is celebrated in various countries and in many different cultures. Some seemed very similar to the North American practice of Santa Claus coming down the chimney and leaving presents under the Christmas tree. 

Yet, there were some notable differences. In Italy, Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) brings presents to the children, but they are not exchanged until Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Following this, La Befana (an old lady) comes to the house looking for the Christ child and her arrival is celebrated with panatone. In the Ukrainian tradition, Christmas is not celebrated until January due to the use of the Julian calendar in the Orthodox Church. In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has become the cultural dish for Christmas Day, along with Christmas cake. 

In England, it is customary to say “Happy Christmas” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.” The British refer to Santa Claus as Father Christmas, while in Holland, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th and the 26th. However, the traditional exchange of gifts is done on Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, or Sinterklaas.

St. Nicholas set a tone for the season that fits perfectly in the foundations of the Catholic faith. He was known for his charitable contributions, particularly towards the poor and children. Sadly, that spirit seems to take a back seat to the consumerism of recent times.

My family’s personal Christmas traditions include midnight Mass and opening presents in the late morning after we have all slept in and enjoyed brunch. A whole day is spent in pajamas on the living room sofa going through a Christmas movie marathon, concluding with a festive dinner. In the weeks leading up to the big day, we invest time decorating the house to get into the festive mood. 

We make it a point to visit with family and friends to enjoy each other’s company and hospitality. Caroling in church was always a personal favourite while growing up.

The Church also has her traditions and customs. Beginning with Advent, as it marks the New Year in the liturgical calendar, the countdown for Christmas is marked with the four candles; three purple and one pink. Nativity scenes are put up and many saints’ feast days occur in the month of December, including the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, without whose “fiat” we would not have Christmas. 

In Catholic tradition, devotions are offered, including rosaries, novenas and corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger into one’s home. Mass is offered at three different times on Dec. 25 (sometimes more depending on the parish); midnight (the Angel’s Mass), dawn (the Shepherd’s Mass) and Christmas Day (the King’s Mass). 

Confessions are offered more frequently so as to encourage the faithful to fulfil their obligation of receiving the sacraments. If one is fortunate enough to be visiting Rome around this time, St. Peter’s Basilica offers tickets for individuals to attend Mass celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. 

Many may think these traditions as being out of fashion and irrelevant towards enjoying the Christmas season properly, but as time goes on, some things do remain timeless. 

Why are these traditions so important? Simply put, traditions are symbolic. They are rituals, they tell stories and they show signs of family and peace. May your Christmas season be filled with such good things this year, including your traditions.

(Timson, 21, is finishing her Event Management studies at Humber College in Etobicoke, Ont.)

(Note: dates for celebration of Christmas in Holland were corrected.)

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Intriguing, and well done Miss Timson.

Brandon Joseph Braga
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Wonderful article Timson! I enjoyed reading about the different traditions around the globe, and especially found the KFC in Japan mention quite humorous. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

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