Divine Word Missionaries blog will share some of the latest mission updates from around the world. The more than 6,000 Divine Word Missionaries are serving in 84 countries with a variety of provinces/regions that are then grouped into four zones, namely, the European zone (EUROPA), the Pan-American zone (PANAM), the Asia-Pacific zone (ASPAC), and the Africa-Madagascar zone (AFRAM). The zones may work as geographical sub-zones wherever this seems suitable. Check back often for real-time stories from the missions.
Dec 20, 2017
Christmas is fast approaching now, and many of us are making last-minute preparations for our family celebrations. Every family has its own Christmas traditions. What are yours? Is your big Christmas meal breakfast, lunch or dinner? Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Or do you open a few on Christmas Eve and save the rest for Christmas morning?
Divine Word Missionaries will be celebrating Christmas in 80 countries this year. Every country, like every family, has its own holiday traditions. Here’s a look at a few of the Christmas customs our missionaries will experience around the world:
PHILIPPINES—The Philippines is one of the most Catholic nations in Asia, with 80 percent of the population practicing the religion. Their religious celebrations start early, December 16, with the first of the Simbáng Gabi Masses. The Simbáng Gabi is a novena of pre-dawn Masses that culminate on Christmas Eve. The most common start time for these Masses is 4 a.m.!
Christmas Eve is of great importance in the Philippines, with people celebrating late into the night and sometimes staying awake until Christmas morning. Families will attend midnight Mass and then partake in the Noche Buena. This is an open-house style celebration filled with food and holiday cheer. Fare traditionally served at the feast includes queso de bola (cheese ball), fruit salad and hamón (Christmas ham).
Filipinos have adopted many Western Christmas customs, including Santa Claus and Christmas trees, but their most popular Christmas decoration is homegrown, the paról. A paról is a star-shaped lantern mounted on a bamboo pole or hung from a bamboo frame. The lantern is made of bamboo strips or paper. It represents the star that guided the Magi to Bethlehem.
BRAZIL—Midnight Mass, called Missa do Galo or “Rooster’s Mass,” is also popular in Brazil. After Missa do Galo, many large towns and cities will have a fireworks display to celebrate the coming of Christmas. This would normally begin sometime after 1 a.m.
Lunch is the most important meal on Christmas Day. Afterward, families will head out to visit relatives. Because Christmas falls during summer in Brazil, many people spend some of the day at the beach. (That’s hard to imagine here in the Chicago area.)
Nativity scenes, known as Presépio, are popular in Brazil and can be found in homes as well as churches.
KENYA—In Kenya, Christmas might be the only time of the year large families get to see each other, so they make the best of it.
As in the Philippines, families will attend midnight Mass followed by a party that could last until dawn. This feast is often a barbeque (something else hard to imagine here in Chicago) that serves goat, sheep, beef or chicken. This grilled meat is called nyama choma.
Christmas decorations in Kenya include balloons and ribbons. A Cyprus tree will often serve as a Christmas tree instead of an evergreen. Santa Claus does visit children in Kenya, but his reindeer have been replaced by a camel, a bike or even a Range Rover.
No matter how Santa gets around, Kenyans typically exchange only small gifts at Christmas.
NEW ZEALAND—Caroling is a big part of Christmas celebrations in New Zealand. Most towns across the country, even the smallest, will have carol services. New Zealand has several Christmas carols of its own, including the beautiful “Te Harinui.”
While children in New Zealand leave carrots for reindeer, as American children do, they don’t leave milk and cookies for Santa but beer and pineapple chunks. After a particularly spirited Santa has left his gifts, families open presents on Christmas morning before settling down to Christmas lunch.
POLAND—Advent is treated a bit like Lent in Poland. People will give up favorite foods or drinks as they try to set their minds at peace and contemplate the Nativity story.
Catholics in Poland fast during the day on Christmas Eve, which they call Wigilia. They save their appetites for that evening’s meal, Kolacja wigilijna, which is the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration. Traditionally, no one can eat until the first star is spotted in the sky, so eager (and hungry) children will press their noses to the window waiting to see the night’s first star.
The meal consists of 12 dishes, which symbolize Jesus’ 12 Apostles and also are meant to bring luck during the 12 months of the coming year. The dishes are traditionally meatless in honor of the animals that looked after Jesus in the manger. Everyone is supposed to eat from each of the 12 dishes during the meal.
Presents are not opened until Kolacja wigilijna is finished, and the meal is often prolonged by a family singalong of Christmas carols. It’s easy to imagine the same children who were eager for the meal to begin becoming impatient for it to end so they can open their gifts.
After the meal is finished and presents are opened, families attend midnight Mass, called the Pasterka or “Shepherd’s Mass.”