Christmas is a season filled with traditions. During this year when some of our traditional in-person events and happenings aren’t possible, why not consider incorporating a tradition from another culture into your holiday? Here are Christmas and Epiphany traditions from around the world that you can enjoy while you stay at home.
Christmas Eve Traditions
Celebrate at Midnight
In Brazil, Christmas celebrations take place at exactly midnight. On Christmas Eve, families gather for a late-night meal that starts around 10 p.m. At midnight, they wish each other “Feliz Natal!” and exchange gifts. Many cities also shoot off fireworks at midnight, ringing in Christmas with a bang! This year, why not stay up late and celebrate Christmas at the stroke of midnight?
In Puerto Rico, and in many Spanish-speaking countries, La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve, called the Good Night) celebrations include feasting, games (dominoes in many Caribbean countries), and nativity scenes. In Puerto Rico, families offer toasts to give thanks for the year and enjoy a meal of roast pork, called Pernil. Typically, families travel from one house to another to celebrate before going to a midnight church service, but the most important part is celebrating the coming of Christ with your family.
In Iceland, families celebrate Christmas Eve with Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood. People give one another books and then spend the evening reading and drinking hot chocolate. Since so many of us will be staying in this year, consider making Christmas Eve a quiet time for reading and, of course, for chocolate!
In Kenya, Christmas celebrations focus on family, food, fellowship, and faith. Decorations are simple but festive, with popcorn strings, tinsel, and balloons adorning Christmas trees. A favorite Christmas meal is chicken and chapati, and families often spend Christmas day at the park or the beach (since Christmas falls during Kenya’s summer). Get creative with your Christmas meal and try East African chapatis, or plan to spend the holiday outside!
Evangelism and Outreach
In Thailand, Christmas is hot and humid, but otherwise quite similar to Christmas in the U.S., complete with decorations and carols. However, as most Americans slow down and spend time with family and loved ones, Christmas in Thailand is bustling with activity. It is common on Christmas Eve—and most days during the Christmas season—for missionaries to have an outreach event and share the true meaning of Christmas celebrations, as Christmastide is peak season for evangelism and outreach.
Dia de los Reyes Magos
Dia de los Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, celebrates the arrival of the three wise men, who followed the star to Bethlehem and gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. In Mexico, families celebrate by sharing a Rosca de Reyes, a kings cake, which is a special cake with a doll figure or a bean hidden inside to represent how Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod. At a time when many North Americans are taking their ornaments down, celebrating with a Rosca de Reyes can help us continue sharing the good news of Christ into the new year.
Three Kings Gifts
In Spain and several other countries, children receive gifts from the Three Wise Men rather than Santa Claus. On the night before Epiphany, January 5, children set their shoes out for the Wise Men to fill with gifts, as well as snacks for the Magi and their camels. Filling your children’s shoes with gifts like candy, oranges, or small toys can be a fun way to keep the Christmas joy going just a little longer.
Explore Christmas around the world
Check out this Instagram series to see photos and read stories from Reformed Church in America missionaries as they share what Christmas looks like in their contexts.
Stephanie Soderstrom is coordinator for Short-term Mission for the Reformed Church in America. You can connect with her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.