A Cultured Christmas
Canada boasts a rapidly changing population, increased numbers of newcomers to Canada and a brighter cultural mosaic than ever before. One in five people in Canada are foreign born. Our diversity shines brightly, especially at Christmas, when folks celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ in contexts that are most meaningful to them, and remember the way their families and ancestors celebrated in their countries of origin. The Light Magazine is delighted to continue our tradition of “A Cultured Christmas”. A few of our wonderful writers share the stories and memories of a diverse handful of folks’ Christmas celebrations from cultures far and wide. And the common thread in these celebrations is the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas, to all our readers.
Village Christmas reunions in Nigeria
In the most ethnically-diverse country in Africa, where 200 cultural groups and 400 languages could easily be a source of division, Christmas in the villages is a unifying life-source. Rivers of humanity flow out of the cities and back into the villages to re-embrace their cultural traditions. 60 percent of the 200 million people identify as Christian and 40 percent as Islamic. The Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo make up the largest groups.
Moyosolo Ekanem-King draws on her memories of Nigerian Christmases as she shares traditions with her three children.
Traditional Christmas foods include chicken or goat. The goat dish (“nkwobi”) is especially enjoyed among the eastern Igbo people. Jollof rice with various meat stews or fried meats is served in the south with plantains and beans. In the north, rice and stew, along with a rice pudding is common. A pepper soup with various meats – including fish – is also favoured. Cassava and various wines, beers or soft-drinks are additions.
Children are treated to extra biscuits and candies as they await special gifts. Some parts of the country give a colourful section of cloth which will be worn to church or other celebratory events. New Christmas clothes, shoes and handbags show off the latest fashions and designs – along with hairstyles. Money or materials tend to be the common gift exchanged. Children tend to buy bangers (fireworks) and light up the nights. Christmas Eve is the highpoint for church attendance and then loud music shatters the night, and people party.
Some areas of the country showcase drama, dance, singing, drumming and masquerades with colourful costumes, masks and facial paint. These village competitions are not as popular as they used to be. For families or individuals still in the cities, the fairs, parks, beaches, horseback riding, carnivals and comedic acts draw anyone looking for entertainment.
Roadways are jammed with travelers finding their way home so pilgrims often travel a week or two in advance to avoid the increasing fares and expenses. Sometimes companies give bags of rice as gifts to their employees and extra rice from celebrations is distributed to needy neighbours. Father Christmas appears in the malls where children can answer questions and gain small gifts. Businesses decorate with trees and lights in competition with each other.
Christians practice repentance during this season and sometimes friends, family and neighbours actually come to accept the Lord due to the passion and delivery of the salvation message.
Gratitude is also integral here as Christians are made aware of the sacrifice of Jesus leaving all of His glory in Heaven to come and dwell among sinful men and also bringing a salvation package to save us from eternal damnation.
Merry Christmas is ‘barka da Kirsimati (Hausa); ‘Jabbama be salla Kirismati (Igbo); E ku odun, e ku iyee’dun’ (Yoruba).
– Jack Taylor
Finland – the Home of Father Christmas
Every Finnish child knows it’s true. They’ve written letters. They’ve gotten the presents. Father Christmas lives in Lapland (the northern part of Finland above the Arctic Circle called Korvantunturi). The age-old practice of declaring Christmas peace at noon on Christmas Eve (by the mayor of Turku) marks the start of the twenty days of celebration. Public transportation stops and everyone settles into place.
Seya Lahti is the youngest member of a residential care home occupied by Finnish seniors who love the magical aura of Christmas. They come from the home of the reindeer and boast a theme park called Christmas Land close to the “real home” of Santa. It doesn’t take much to capture the passion of years gone by.
The first Sunday in December starts the Advent season and children use special calendars to mark the passing days. December 13 is St. Lucia Day and marks the event of a third century martyr who fed Christians in hiding. She was noted for her candle lit wreath and candles and celebrations are everywhere. The oldest girl will usually wear a white robe and a crown of candles as she serves cookies and coffee or buns and mulled wine to her parents. This day marks the official start of the shopping season for Christmas, and cards are exchanged.
St. Thomas Day (December 21) marks the coming home of the fishermen for the holidays. Houses are cleaned in time for the three special days from December 24-26. Christmas Eve is the highest of the holy days recognized. Last minute shopping for Christmas trees is a public event where haggling on the price is an expected exchange of relationship building. Ice lanterns are hung in driveways.
In traditions long ago, a Christmas Goat (Joulupukki) was a scary being who demanded presents rather than distributing them. Likely, through the influence of Christianity and western tradition, the getter became the giver, although he still will give out bags of coal to naughty children.
Special treats start early. For breakfast on the 24th, rice porridge and plum juice are part of the fare. After the tree is secured and decorated, a special radio broadcast is shared at noon from a city mayor. Before it gets dark in mid-afternoon, the family visits the family grave sites. Lighted lanterns placed on the gravestones leave the memorial parks aglow in the snow. A sauna or church could be next. Saunas were viewed as holy places associated with birth, death and healing. They are also seen as a symbol of purification.
Salted fish (Lutefish) used to be the first item on the evening menu for the Christmas meal. Pork roast, mashed potatoes (baked traditionally in birch-bark boxes), vegetable casseroles, beetroot salads and perhaps fish or turkey round out the festive platters. The rice porridge and plum juice from breakfast could also be eaten as dessert. A hidden almond in the porridge designates the lucky person for the year to come but also requires them to sing a song for everyone at the table.
Even animals get gifts they might appreciate. Trees are decorated outdoors with suet or nuts for the birds.
Father Christmas enters each home with gifts, inquiring if there are children and if they’ve been good. Family members gather to watch the gift opening and to enjoy Christmas carols. The Christmas story is read with its focus on the birth of Jesus. Christmas Day is quiet but the day after (St. Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day) is time to enjoy the outdoors with skating, sleigh rides or skiing. The holidays are about enjoying the people who are close to you. The holidays officially end 13 days after Christmas with Epiphany on January 6. All traces of Christmas must be put away as the new year is embraced.
In Finnish, you want to wish everyone “Hyvaa joulua.”
– Jack Taylor
Jamaica – An “Irie” Christmas
Christmas in Jamaica is a celebration like no other owing to the country’s traditional European influences and a deeply rooted religious culture. The encroaching significance of Santa and his bag of treats could not overshadow the significance of Christ and the church. This may be because of the unbridled teaching of Christianity in schools and the respect the church still commands in the Jamaican society.
Regardless of the meaning behind it, Christmas Day in Jamaica is spent at Church and with the people you love. The week before Christmas is another story that is punctuated with sporadic partying and hysteric revelry.
After spending the first 359 days of the year ignoring the existence of God, then the 360th day, which is the 25th of December, will be spent at church. The ‘Sunday best’ outfits are dusted off, boots shined and kids dressed in stiffly starched trousers and ruffled dresses.
The regular female church goers bring out their most dazzling hats and fascinators while the men brave the sweltering heat and come dressed to the nines in their best suit–most likely the one worn on their wedding day.
There will not be enough seats to accommodate the crowd despite Jamaica being rumoured to have the most churches per square mile than any other country.
Normally, Sunday worship lasts for 6 hours, but on Christmas day, because of the plays, musical numbers and the Pastor’s expanded sermon, Christmas day worship can last up to 8 or 9 hours. At the end of which, everyone is more than ready to dig into the feast laboured on the night prior of baked ham glazed with pineapple juice and brown sugar and decorated with cherries and pineapple slices; oxtail; curry goat; jerk chicken; rice and peas; fruit cake; and every Jamaican’s favourite – sorrel juice laced with red label wine.
Christmas for most begins in the church; it often ends with either the children playing with their gifts while the adults lazily look on as they urge their metabolism to kick in and digest their overindulgence or in revelry on the streets.
Jamaica is the party capital of the Caribbean and the days leading up to Christmas are filled with ‘Grand Markets’, street parties and premium events. The end is no different, and the revelry stretches on until January 1. The most well-known street event, post-Christmas, is ‘Junkanoo’ where the English speaking Caribbean culture is expressed in dress, music and dance. So keen are Jamaicans on holding on to the euphoria of the Holiday Season that they resist taking down the ‘pepper lights’ and other decorations until well into the New Year, when another event takes the spotlight.
Christmas in Jamaica is a celebration of Christ, food and culture. In the land of wood, water and the fastest man on the planet, Christmas is always “irie”.
– Danielle Moffatt