Christmas Across Cultures
December, in the Western world, has long been synonymous with the enchanting spirit of Christmas. Yet, amidst the shimmering lights and festive carols, this month also hosts a multicultural tapestry of diverse religious celebrations, each weaving its own unique tale of faith and festivity.
6 Christmas Celebrations Around the World
Saint Nicholas Day (6th)
This day remembers the birth of Saint Nicholas, the inspiration behind the concept of Santa Claus or, as we know him in the UK, Father Christmas. Saint Nicholas is believed to have secretly given gifts to the poor and children in some European countries leave a shoe outside their bedrooms on the eve of St Nicholas Day. Legend has it, that if they have been good, Saint Nicholas will leave them a treat, and if not, they can look forward to receiving a lump of coal or a stick! You can celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in your setting by getting the children to put out a shoe or sock on the night of December 5th and have them come in on the 6th to find a treat… hopefully!
Bodhi Day (8th)
This is the day that is observed in many Buddhist communities across the world marking the day that Siddhartha Gautama, a wandering religious teacher, and the founder of Buddhism, (the Buddha), finally attained enlightenment and the state of nirvana. He described reaching this state in three stages: the realisation of his past lives; the knowledge of the laws of karma; and the understanding of the laws of, and true nature of the universe. The day is also celebrated as Rōhatsu in Japan, and Laba in China. Why not celebrate Bodhi Day in your setting by having a meditation/relaxation session, listening to some calming music and asking the children to notice how their body feels in the moment? They could also draw pictures about what makes them happy to represent the states of bliss obtained in nirvana.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day (12th)
The 12th of December is the Feast Day of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Patron Saint of Mexico. According to tradition, in 1534, Mary appeared several times to a Mexican peasant called Juan Diego and once to his uncle, Juan Bernardino. Mary asked them to build a chapel on the site where she appeared. Juan told the archbishop of Mexico City who was initially sceptical, but when a miraculous image of Mary appeared on Juan’s cloak, the archbishop agreed, and a chapel was erected, now known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. You could celebrate this day with an art project to either draw the Lady of Guadalupe (you can find images online) or you could do a craft making red roses, which were also said to appear miraculously.
Hanukkah (7th – 15th)
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Many Jewish households celebrate by lighting a special candlestick (a menorah). Traditionally, this represents how a small group of Jewish people were able to survive in a temple during a siege after their dwindling supply of lamp oil lasted 8 days instead of just one. After this time, the group emerged from hiding victorious in their war with a powerful Greek/Syrian army. People celebrate by lighting one candle a day and you could mark Hanukkah in your setting by creating a battery-operated tea light display in one corner of your room to mark this time.
Yule is also known as Midwinter’s Day and has the shortest amount of daylight and the longest period of darkness. Wiccan and Pagan people have celebrated this time for centuries, with feasts and celebrations to mark the time of the year when the days begin to grow longer again. One tradition is to burn the Yule log to remind people that the sun will return. Yule is one of the oldest winter festivals and is commonly celebrated by Germanic and Scandinavian people wherever they are in the world. In your setting, you could collect sticks, leaves, pinecones, and other natural elements to make a display showing our connection to the natural world. You could also make a sun/ moon/stars mobile and hang them around the setting to remind you of the cyclical nature of day and night, as well as the seasons.
Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (24th - 26th)
In the Christian tradition, Christmas Eve marks the night on which Jesus was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph. The Christmas story tells of how the Romans ordered all the Jews to return to their home village for a census. Joseph and his heavily pregnant wife, Mary, journeyed to Bethlehem where they could find no place to stay since the city was full of other travellers. An innkeeper took pity on them and offered them his stable for the night. Mary gave birth to Jesus during the night and tradition tells of multitudes of angels appearing to shepherds in nearby fields, proclaiming the birth of the son of God. Christians around the world celebrate this time with feasts and by exchanging presents. Some cultures such as Germany, Scandinavian countries and Spain celebrate Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day, gathering to sing carols and dance around a Christmas tree. Boxing Day is a British tradition sometimes attributed to Queen Victoria and the British gentry who gave their servants a rare day off after the toils of Christmas Day. Others believe that the term derives from early churches opening their charity boxes to distribute to the poor on the day after Christmas. You can celebrate the run-up to Christmas by creating Christmas cards, baking Christmas cookies, offering a ‘secret Santa’ or making Christmas decorations and putting up a Christmas tree.
Zarathosht Diso (26th/27th)
Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions and was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in Iran more than 3,000 years ago. Zarathosht Diso falls around the 26th or 27th of December depending on the Iranian calendar and is when Zoroastrians mark the death of their prophet, Zarathustra. The day is marked across the global Zoroastrian community by reflecting on the prophet’s life, praying at the temple, or studying religious texts. You could celebrate this day by talking about the different beliefs that people have and showing the children a map of the world, explaining that different countries have different beliefs. You could make a display showing the origins of some of the world’s religions, marking Iran as the origin of Zoroastrianism. Did you find this blog on multicultural celebrations useful?
Take a look at some of our other multicultural blogs here: