As much as we try to make the winter holidays about other things, it always comes back to being together with loved ones and remembering that we are all one people. In honor of the holidays of winter, I thought we would take a look at the plaques surrounding World Showcase, as each details specific festivities, stories, and histories of their respective country.
Beautiful candlelight processions, the happy sounds of children laughing, and the sweet smells of the season make Christmas in Mexico a magical, meaningful time of community. In Mexico, Christmas is called La Navidad and its main celebration in Las Posadas, which means “shelter.” During Las Posadas, Mexican families recreate the journey of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem. For nine nights, beginning December 16, Mexican children dress up like the holy family and visit their neighbors as part of a candlelight procession. Beautifully carved Nacimientos (nativity scenes) are set up in different homes. The prayers and festivities begin when the procession of Mary and Joseph is welcomed in.
On January 6, the day the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem brining gifts to baby Jesus, Mexican children leave their shoes on the doorsteps in a special celebration called Dia De Los Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day). When the children awaken the next morning, they are delighted to discover wonderful toys and gifts in and around their shoes.NORWAY
Christmas is a festive time in the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” On Christmas Eve, farm animals are traditionally treated to the finest oats and barley. Birds are remembered during julenek, when they are offered large sheaves of grain placed high on spruce poles. After darkness it’s “lights out” as homes are illuminated by only the warm glow of candlelight.
An elf-like gnome named Julenissen lives in the woods and barns across the countryside. Julenissen is the guardian of ever family’s welfare, so children leave a steaming bowl of porridge in the hayloft during the holiday period to than Julenissen.
On Christmas Day, many attend church before spending time quietly at home with family members. On Second Christmas Day, children celebrate julbukke by dressing up in costumes and going door-to-door for goodies.
The story of Sun hou-kong, the Monkey King, is an ancient Chinese legend that tells an exciting tale of redemption and enlightenment. Sun hou-kong, a monkey raised by humans, became the Monkey King when he single-handedly defeated a horrific monster in his homeland. Then, the Monkey King acquired incredible powers when he cleverly uprooted a magic stick guarded by the Dragon King. With this magic stick and the ability to do just about anything, the Monkey King started to look for adventure and mischief. Buddha was not pleased with this abuse of power and decided to seal the Monkey King inside a mountain for eternity. The Monkey King quickly realized the error of his ways! Fortunately, a monk named Thang Seng believed in the Monkey King’s redemption and asked Buddha to release him. The Monkey King was then asked to join Thang Seng on a journey to India to bring back Buddha’s original teaching texts. The Monkey King proved to be a loyal comrade to Thang Seng. Like many holiday legends, this heartfelt story sends an important message of hope.GERMANY
The German Yuletide season is a magical time when friends and family celebrate together! Many of the rick customs and traditions of the season have been adopted all over the world.
It was Germany who produced the first Tannenbaum (Christmas tree). According to legend, while walking in the woods one snowy evening, Martin Luther was overcome by the beauty of the starlight sparkling on the fir trees. As the light from the heavens shone all around him, he was reminded of the star that shone on the night the Christkindl (Christ child) was born. He wanted to share this magic with his children, so he brought home a fir tree from the forest. He even fashioned a way to clip candles on the tree to make it look as though the branches were covered in glistening snow.
On Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), German parents secretly decorate the Tannenbaum with candies, nuts, glass baubles, and twinkling lights. A bell is rung, the Tannenbaum is presented, and the children race to open presents and snatch goodies from the tree.
“Natale con I tuoi, Capo D’Pasquo con chi vuoi”
This old Italian verse truly expresses the strong feelings the Italian people have for the celebration of Christmas. It means, “You celebrate other holidays with whomever you please, but Christmas only with your own.” In fact, Christmas is often described as the warmest, most intimate Italian holiday because it is a special time when family members get together to enjoy age-old traditions. Children eagerly await the presents brought to then by a good-hearted witch called La Befana. She is the Christmas gift-giver who climbs down chimneys to fill good children’s shoes with treats. Naughty children may find a lump of coal instead! Unlike Santa Claus, who appears on Christmas Eve, La Befana arrives on the eve of Epiphany (January 6). La Befana supposedly wanders the countryside looking for Gesu Bambino (baby Jesus) year after year, and leaves gifts just in case she finds him. On Christmas Eve, a ceremony takes place around the Presepio, a nativity scene of Bethlehem. Then, after Midnight Mass, there is a cenone, which is a delicious feast of rich Italian food.KWANZAA
Kwanzaa is an African-American harvest and community festival that has its roots in the civil rights era of the 1960s. It was founded as a way of reaffirming African-American identity, instilling knowledge and pride in African roots, and reinforcing bonds among members of the community.
Kwanzaa is devoted to seven principles, known collectively as Nguzo Saba:
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
Although it was first observed solely by African Americans, Kwanzaa is now celebrated by an estimated 18 million people in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Britain, India, and some African nations.
O-Shògatsu, which lasts from January 1st through January 3rd, is the traditional Japanese New Year. It is a time for reflection, family, friends, delicious froods, and, of course, fun! An important New Year symbol and good luck charm for the Japanese is the Daruma doll, which has no pupils in its eyes. The custom is to make a wish and paint in the left eye. If your wish comes true before the end of the year, you paint in the other eye. The Daruma, which looks like a child’s punching doll, reinforces the concepts of patience and persistence. As the Japanese say, “Nana Korobi, ya oki” which means, “Knocked down seven times, get up eight.” Belling ringing is also a big part of the O-Shògatsu, and the Japanese New Year is announced by bell ringing at the Buddhist temples throughout the country. A special New Year’s decoration called the kadomatsu appears at the front entrance to many homes. The kadomatsu’s plum blossom, which grows even in cold weather, symbolizes hope for the New Year. Its pine branch represents everlasting strength, and the straight bamboo represents rapid growth. Everyone in Japan enjoys the spirit of O-Shògatsu and the symbolism and beautiful customs of the New Year.MOROCCO
Ashoora is a festive, music-filled day celebrated once a year throughout Morocco. Ashoora, which means “number ten,” is celebrated on the 10th day of the first month of the Islamic New Year. On this day, every household gives a certain percentage of its earnings to the needy. During the afternoon, families gather together for the Feast of Ashoora. Children are given gifts of new clothes, sweets, toys, and often a special drum called a taarja. Legend has it that the tradition of giving gifts to children began after Hussein, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, was killed in battle. Hussein’s children were given gifts to lessen their grief. For dinner, the whole family joins together to eat the traditional Moroccan lamb with couscous. One of the most beautiful traditions of Ashoora happens at sunset. From the largest cities to the smallest, bonfires are built on the streets by children who sing and dance around the fires for hours. From dawn to midnight, the people of Morocco celebrate the joy, color, and tradition of the fun-filled Feast of Ashoora!
The magic of Christmas can be seen everywhere in France. The shops and baraques (booths) along the beautiful boulevards are brimming with toys, glitter lights, and Christmas decorations of every imaginable kind. Children eagerly await Le Père Noël (Father Christmas), who will arrive on Christmas Eve to deliver wonderful presents. Most churches and homes have a beautiful nativity scene called a crèche, which is considered one of the most important symbols of Christmas to the French. Traditionally, candles are lit around the crèche; sometimes a special Yule log is also burned on the fire. After families return from Midnight Mass, they enjoy a feast called Le Réveillon, which consists of ham, goose, oysters, salads, cheese, champagne, and Bûche de Noël (a delicious cake in the shape of a Yule log). Children then set out shoes around the Christmas tree in great anticipation of Le Père Noël who will fill them with all sorts of goodies!UNITED KINGDOM
Many wonderful Christmas traditions originated in the countries of the United Kingdom. Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each have unique holiday customs, and many of these have been shared worldwide. Well-known Christmas carols such as “Deck the Halls” and “Here We Come a Wassailing” were first sung in the United Kingdom.
The Christmas card tradition also began in the United Kingdom. In 1843, John Calcott Horsley sent a card depicting an English family brimming with cheer to his friend Sir Henry Cole. The original card caught the attention of a British giftbook company, which published a thousand lithographed copies and sold them for a shilling each.
Not surprisingly, the hanging of mistletoe is one of the United Kingdom’s oldest and most popular traditions, dating to the Druidic ceremonies of the winter solstice. Each time a kiss was claimed under the mistletoe, a young man would pick off one berry. The kissing would end when all the berries were gone!
For children, Father Christmas, with his long white beard, green robe, and crown of holly, is still treasured as the jolly gift-bearer who brings holiday joy to the well-behaved.
From the waterways of eastern Newfoundland to the snowcapped mountains of British Columbia, the Christmas holidays hold special magic for the vast expanse of Canada. Although favorite traditions such as awaiting Santa Claus, trimming the evergreen, and singing Christmas carols are similar to those commonly found in the United States and Europe, Canada has many unique holiday traditions as well.
In some traditional Canadian homes, Santa Claus enlists the help of devilish creatures called Belsnickles to determine which children have been “naughty or nice.” The Belsnickles supposedly enter the hones of naughty boys and girls to cause mischief. Even Canada’s Inuit children are visited by mysterious creatures called Naluyuks who travel from house to house. The children must sing Christmas carols to appease the Naluyuks, who pound sticks on the floor before questioning the children about their behavior. When the children say they’ve been good (which they always do!), the Naluyuks open special gift bags full of wonderful presents.
In Quebec, Le Réveillon, a sumptuous traditional French dinner, is served after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
On December 26, Canada celebrates Boxing Day in honor of the ancient English tradition of giving filled Christmas boxes to the poor as well as to servants and tradesmen for their help during the year.