Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Strangers smile at each other more, people perform random acts of kindness, and families and friends make time for their favorite traditions.
At Ria Money Transfer, we believe that the best part of Christmas is that it is celebrated around the world, and that every different culture has its own special variations and customs. So if you’re looking for a new tradition to try with friends and family this year, check out the way these five countries observe the holiday, and become inspired!
- Mexico: Flores de Noche Buena and Las Posadas
Did you know that poinsettias—a traditional staple in many Americans’ homes—were actually first associated with celebrations leading up to Christmas Day in Mexico? Known as Flores de Noche Buena (flowers of Christmas Eve), poinsettias are native to Southern Mexico and bloom during winter months. The flowers of the plant are said to resemble the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus.
During the days leading up to Christmas nativity plays called pastorelas are performed, followed by processions and parties called Las Posadas. A girl and boy are chosen to lead the procession dressed up as Mary and Joseph, reenacting their search for shelter on Christmas Eve. Once the procession is complete, children are blindfolded and given sticks to break star-shaped piñatas filled with candy. Families and friends gather to eat a delicious meal of tamales and buñelos. At the very end, guests receive a small gift and unite to sing villancicos (carols).
- The Philippines: Months of Celebration and Simbang Gabi
Looking for a country that radiates Christmas spirit? Look no further than the Philippines, where many begin their holiday celebrations in September! With one of the longest holiday seasons in the world, you’ll often find beautiful light displays, masses, festivals, and more from September to January. Many of these displays feature various forms and sizes of the Paról, a star-shaped lantern that represents the Star of Bethlehem.
Given that 80 percent of the population is Catholic, church services play a major role in Christmas tradition. Beginning December 16, a series of masses called Simbang Gabi are held in the nine nights leading up to Christmas. A very common belief is if you make a wish after the nine masses, that wish will come true.
Christmas Eve mass is followed by Noche Buena where friends and families visit each other’s homes to share traditional foods, like bibingka, a cream of coconut flour rice cake, and putò bumbóng, a steamed sticky rice topped with brown sugar and coconut meat. On Christmas Day, families have more quaint celebrations that honor their elders.
- Nigeria: A Family-Focused Celebration
Christmas in Nigeria, for those who celebrate, is centered around family traditions and helping those who are less fortunate. With Christmas being a public holiday, there’s always a frenzied rush to buy chickens, goats, and cows for traditional dinners before the markets close. Nigerians who live in the cities will then return to their childhood villages to spend time with family and share their successes.
Church services are held on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve celebrations often last into the early morning hours. Families gather to prepare a variety of traditional foods to share with family and friends. Children light firecrackers and bangers, and in some areas, wandering companies perform live folk dramas where children get to wear masks or heavy makeup. City-dwellers will often visit fairs, street carnivals, or head to the beach to play games.
- Brazil: A Blending of Christmas Traditions
Christmas traditions in Brazil are incredibly similar to that of their European and North American counterparts, as many of these traditions were imported over the years.
However, Brazil does have its share of unique traditions.
One of the most important events during the Christmas season is Missa de Galo, or Midnight Mass. This mass is held in churches across the country. Following mass, Brazilians gather for midnight dinners where presents are exchanged.
Thousands also flock to Rio de Janeiro to watch the lighting of the world’s largest floating Christmas tree, which stands a staggering 85 meters high and is decked out in millions of LED lights. This lighting celebration includes fireworks, music, and dancing.
In the city of Natal, which translates to Christmas in Portuguese, the celebrations are oriented around the birth of Jesus. The city, which was founded on Christmas Day, houses the Auto de Natal, a live reenactment of the nativity scene in the amphitheater at the University of Rio Grande de Norte.
- Bangladesh: Bara Din and Delicious Desserts
In Bangladesh, Christmas is called Bara Din, which means “Big Day”, and is a festival that celebrates love, joy, and sharing. While not all of Bangladesh celebrates Bara Din, Bengali Christians (also known as Firingis) have unique community gatherings and sing kirtan.
After a morning church service, some congregations will share a feast together, and the rest of the day is spent visiting friends and family.
What makes Bara Din especially delightful is the traditional sweet cakes called pitha and payesh. Pitha are sweet cakes that come in various forms, but are often made of rice flour, coconut, molasses, milk, and sometimes fruit. Payesh is a tasty rice pudding made with milk.
Embrace Christmas celebrations of the world
While Christmas traditions, foods, and festivities vary around the globe, the underlying good-natured spirit of Christmas remains the same. No matter how you choose to celebrate your holidays this year—and whichever new traditions you decide to try out—we’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Ria Money Transfer