I firmly believe that teaching tolerance and understanding for other’s cultures, religions, races, and what have you can never start too early. Christmas, growing up as a Catholic, was always a time of prayer, recollection, and learning about the beginning of the faith. However! This is also an amazing time to teach these same students about other cultures and practices.
These lessons can span over various grades, you are really never too old to learn about other cultures.
Italians do celebrate Christmas in a very similiar fashion to what we are used to; they exchange gifts, put up a Christmas tree, and bake delicious meals. However, they do some pretty interesting differences that I would like to introduce to my students.
One tradition I read about that I thought was really cool was the idea of the parent letter. A lot of children in the U.S. write letters to Santa asking him for a certain gift (or gifts as it usually is). In Italy the children write a letter to their parents, thanking them for all of their blessings throughout the year. The letters are placed under the father’s plate and read aloud after Christmas Eve dinner. That is an activity I would love to introduce to my students!
(Click picture to be taken to the source)
Italy is known for its amazing food. Christmas time is no exception. Above are pizzelle cookies. You need an iron to make those special designs but they are said to taste very sweet, like a waffle cone. The dinner usually consists mostly of fish in any number of forms.
You can’t really talk about an Italian Christmas without mentioning La Befana. To Catholics, the Feast of the Epiphany is to mark the end of the Christmastide. In Italy, it is also the day that the witch la Befana brings presents to children. It is said that the Three Wise Men stopped and asked her for directions to the stable where Jesus was born. They asked her to go with them to see the baby Jesus but she said no. Then a shepherd stopped and asked for directions, also asking her to go with him, but she still said no. Then, she saw the bright star in the sky and wondered if she should have gone. So she rounded up all of the toys she had from her own child who had passed, and wandered off to find the baby Jesus. When she couldn’t she left the gifts for the other children. Every year she is said to do this on January 6th.
Guatemala is special to me because it is where my mother and I went to visit our CFCA adopted child and to find a new one. We were there for three weeks and it was a really memorable experience. Getting to know the people made me curious about their Christmas traditions.
We stayed mostly out in the countryside away from Guatemala City but we were there for a night or two. It is here that Paiz, a local department-store chain, has a parade in November to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. I also read this “For nine evenings prior to Christmas, the beat of drums and the explosion of fireworks are heard as posada (“inn”) processions move through the streets of Guatemala, with participants carrying farolitos (small tin lanterns) to light the way. On each of these posadas, which are re-enactments of Joseph’s and Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth, figures of the couple are carried to a designated house as special carols are sung and ritual questions and answers are recited. The figures are then placed on the nacimiento or Nativity scene of the house, where they will remain until the following night when the search for shelter resumes, and a great party takes place with food, drink, music, and dancing.” Source here.
While we were in Guatemala, we saw men and women hike miles to get to mass on Sunday morning. Their faith is truly inspiring. So for Christmas, I expect that faith takes precedence over any other tradition.
Italy and Guatemala are both predominantly Christian countries. So what about the countries that aren’t? Japan does have a small Christian population but businesses and schools remain open on December 25th. In fact what has become popular is the celebrating of December 24th, Christmas Eve, as a romantic holiday much like our Valentine’s Day. It is said that getting a restaurant reservation for Christmas Eve can tend to be impossible if not done in advance.
There is also the newer tradition of “Christmas Cake” which is eaten on December 26th. It is sold throughout Japan and is supposed to be purchased by the man of the house. The price of the cake drops dramatically on the 26th in order to sell them all.