By: Kirsten Barron
As the church bells chime for early morning mass on Dec 24 in Caracas, Venezuela, the streets fill with traffic: roller skate traffic. For over a week preceding Christmas, the streets of Caracas are closed to motorized vehicles before 8 a.m. to ensure the safety of those skating to mass.
This unique practice is one of the many diverse traditions surrounding the Christmas holiday celebrated by people around the globe. Here Christmas means Santa, Christmas trees, and shopping for gifts, but the holiday has inspired a range of beautiful traditions worldwide.
The Christmas season begins early in the Philippines, where Christmas carols fill the playlists as early as September. As the holiday approaches, city streets light up with elaborate displays of multi-colored lights and star-shaped paper lanterns called parols. The lanterns, which are constructed of paper on a bamboo or metal frame, average 24 inches in diameter, though some towns who hold giant lantern contests boast of lanterns up to 40 feet across.
Further north in Japan, families begin to make their Christmas Day dinner reservations in October – at the nearest KFC. The tradition began in 1974 when the fast food chain advertised a “Christmas Chicken” special for Americans in Japan, and the menu caught the attention of the locals. The chicken dinner, which comes with wine, cake, and champagne, is so popular that lines stretch far down the street despite the snow and cold.
Meanwhile, in Australia, families spend Christmas Day on the beach, riding the waves and enjoying grilled seafood. Christmas is during summer Down Under, and daytime temperatures often topping 100°F. Traditional carols such as “Deck the Halls” are supplemented by Australian favorites including “Six White Boomers,” a song describing Santa’s preferred mode of transportation in the sweltering climate: a sleigh pulled by six kangaroos.
Up in Italy, children await a mysterious visitor, but it’s not Santa. It is a kind, wrinkled old woman named Befana who leaves gifts for well-behaved children on the eve of Epiphany (January 5). According to legend, Befana heard of Jesus’ birth from the three wise men who passed her house en route to Bethlehem. She set out to follow them but paused on her way to minister to destitute children and never actually reached her destination. According to legend, La Befana still wanders, showing her devotion to Christ by caring for children.
Churches in the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrate all night on Christmas Eve. Members of the congregation perform a play depicting the lineage of Jesus, beginning with Creation and continuing to his birth, which occurs at midnight. The play typically ends around 1 a.m. Then the singing begins, and often doesn’t end till dawn.
Whether it means roller-skating to church, relaxing on the beach, or gathering with friends and family around a tree, Christmas is a universal season of joy and peace. As Tiny Tim of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the world’s most beloved Christmas story) proclaims, “God bless us, everyone!”