Here in the U.S. it’s all about the tree, Santa, shopping and most of all – celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. But how do people of color celebrate in other countries? Discover how our brothers and sisters in other lands celebrate the season with time-honored customs and traditions.
Christmas is a very special time in Jamaica. People even paint their houses and hang new curtains and decorations. The traditional Jamaican Christmas meal includes fresh fruits, sorrel and rum punch and meat. The Christmas Day breakfast includes ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, freshly squeezed fruit juice and tea. Dinner is usually served in the late afternoon with chicken, curry goat, stewed oxtail, rice and peas on the holiday menu. Jamaican red wine and rum fruitcake is also a tradition. The fruits in the cake are soaked in red wine and white rum for months before Christmas.
Celebrating Christmas is HUGE in Dominican Republic. The main celebration happens on Noche Buena/ Christmas Eve (December 24th). On that night, families have big dinners and celebrations go on endlessly. December 25th is considered as a day to recuperate. Employees are paid “Double Sueldo” which equates to about one month’s pay. Some Dominicans celebrate Christmas as long as 3 months!!!
Christmas celebrations are called “Navidad” in Puerto Rico and begin very early in December and continue into the middle of January. Many natives keep a “pava” (traditional straw-hat) in storage just for Christmas. Puerto Ricans are known for their unforgettable “parrandas or trullas navideñas”.
A parranda is when a small group of friends gathers together to “asaltar” or surprise another friend. It’s the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling.
The parranderos arrive at the destination and then very quietly gather by the front door. At a signal all start playing their instruments and singing. The parrandas usually begin after 10pm in order to surprise and wake the sleeping friend.
The parranderos are invited in and refreshments, music and dance follow. The group grows as they offer their parranda at several houses during that night. At the last house probably around 3 or 4 in the morning the homeowner offers the traditional chicken soup or asopao de pollo. The party is over at dawn. Part of the holiday festivities includes cooking a pig on a spit!
Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) still use the old Julian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, not December 25th! The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna. Most people go to Church on Christmas day. Many people fast on January 6th, their Christmas Eve.
Ethiopians wear white or a traditional garment called a shamma. It’s a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. Everyone who goes to church for the Ganna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. Traditional Christmas foods in Ethiopia include wat which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs.
On 9th January, Ethiopians start the three day celebration of Timkat. It celebrated the baptism of Jesus. Children walk to church services in a procession. They wear the crowns and robes of the church youth groups that they belong to. Adults wear the shamma. The priests wear red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas.
Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summer. So there’s lots of sun and beautiful flowers in full bloom. Going carol singing, on Christmas Eve, is very popular in towns and cities. Carols by Candlelight services are also popular on Christmas Eve. And many people go to a Christmas morning Church Service. Just like here in the U.S. children leave a stocking out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas meal is either turkey (or duck), roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African deserts as Malva or Lekker Pudding. Dinner is most often served outside, since it’s summer and warm. If the weather is really hot, a barbecue or ‘braai’.
In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from December 12th to January 6th. From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children often perform the ‘Posada’ processions or Posadas. Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging.
There are nine Posadas to celebrate the Christmas story of Joseph and Mary looking for a room in an Inn. For the Posadas, houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. In each Posada, children are given candles and a board, with painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph, to process round the streets with. They call at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home asking for a room in the house. But the children are told that there is no room in the house and that they must go away.
Eventually they are told there is room and are welcomed in! When the children go into the house they say prayers of thanks and then they have a party with food, games and fireworks. A piñata is a decorated clay or papier-mâché jar filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or tree branch. Children are blind-folded and take turns to hit the piñata with a stick until it splits open and the sweets pour out and pick up as many sweets as they can!
In Mexico, children get their main presents at Epiphany (January 6th), which is celebrated as ‘El Dia de los Reyes’ (the day of The Three Kings). The presents are left by the Three Kings (or Magi). It’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.