Arunima Maini, 26th December, 2019
BRICS CCI content writers
Christmas as a festival has two distinct aspects – the religious part and the festivities. With the increased globalisation, the latter has increased tremendously with a large number of non-Christians participating in the celebrations. The BRICS nations also conform to this trend with Christmas being celebrated with increased fervour in most of these countries. Although local traditions and customs play an important role, the Christmas culture essentially involves merry making.
In Brazil, Christmas is considered ‘dia de festas’ or the mother festival and is celebrated on 25 Dec. It is unique in the sense that it falls in the early summer season. As a former Portuguese colony, much of the Christmas customs are similar to that of Europe though there are certain differences.
In Brazil Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than the Christmas Day. The Midnight Mass or “Missa do Galo” is an important family affair. Before the midnight mass, the entire family gathers for the Christmas dinner which in other countries is celebrated on the 25th. An important part of Brazilian Christmas is creating the nativity scene locally known as “Presepio”. Another common tradition is folk plays which are enacted at various places. The most famous is the Los Pastores or “The Shepherds”. In this instead of the male shepherds, there are female shepherds who visit Jesus and a gypsy attempts to steal the baby.
Santa Claus is replaced by Papai Noel (Father Noel) and Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). According to fables, he can be seen wearing red silks to keep him cool instead of the typical red fur coat and boots.
The capital city of Rio houses the world’s largest Christmas tree, which of 278 feet floating on the Rodrigo de Freitas lake. The tree is lit up by nearly 3.3 million bulbs.
Christmas became an official festival in Russia in 988 A.D. under Prince Vladimir. However with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Christmas was banned. This resulted in merging of Christmas celebrations with New Year festivities. Christmas traditions like decorating the tree and distributing presents now became part of new year celebrations. Similarly, Santa Claus was replaced by ‘Grandfather Frost’ and ‘The Snow Maiden’ who gave gifts to children. It was only with the disintegration of USSR in 1991 that Christmas began to be celebrated the traditional way.
Interestingly in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on 7th January because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar which celebrates Christmas on 25th December. Christmas celebrations called “Yuletide” last for 12 days.
Russian Christmas traditions also includes fasting for 40 days known as the Nativity Fast which ends with appearance of the first star on Christmas Eve which is symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem. The fast is broken by eating a special meal known as “sochivo’ or “Kutia’, often eaten from a common bowl to symbolize harmony and togetherness.
India has a relatively small Christian population (2.3%) yet Christmas is celebrated with a lot of pomp and gusto in the country. The Christian population is largely concentrated in north eastern states, Kerala and Goa. India being a deeply religious country, the midnight mass constitutes the main part of the festivities. The Christmas crib is the Indian version of the nativity scene and is a core element of Christmas traditions. Like all other Indian festivals, Christmas is marked by bright lights, candles and flowers adorning churches, houses and markets. Food is a big part of the festivity and a variety of traditional western dishes fused with local flavours are available in different states.
Christmas is not an official holiday in mainland China. However, the fast growing Christian population and growing commercialisation of the festival has led to greater celebrations. However, with government cracking down on Christian religion and traditions, religious celebrations of the holiday are minimal. Hence, Christmas in China is less focussed on religion, and is seen as a festival to relax, shop and meet with friends and family. Christmas however is an important festival in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan due to their links with the British and Portuguese.
Christmas Eve in Chinese is known as “Ping’an Ye” meaning peaceful night which can be traced back to “Ping guo” or Peace Apples. This finds its origins in a peculiar Chinese Christmas tradition of gifting apples to mark a happy and peaceful new year. The Santa is known as ‘Sheng dan lao ren’ meaning Old Christmas Man who gives gifts to children on Christmas morning. The food generally includes traditional Chinese food and includes a special delicacy of Eight treasures duck which is the Chinese version of stuffed turkey.
Just like Brazil, South Africa celebrates a summer Christmas. Instead of cold and snow, people often celebrate by going out for camping or other outdoor activities. The traditional Christmas dinner is replaced by an outdoor barbeque lunch locally known as ‘braii’.
Religious activities are at the heart of South African Christmas celebrations. Nativity scenes are played out, carols are sung and folk dances are performed. While gift giving is done, it is not as common as it is in Europe or North America. Christmas treats include mince pies, yellow rice with raisins, and plum pudding and the famous Malva pudding which is a traditional South African dessert with Dutch origins.
Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever. Wherever you may be it is a time to cherish peace and goodwill and indulge in merry making. Merry Christmas to all our readers.