Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic-Throughout the years people from diverse cultures have developed many festive customs in preparation for Christmas. Among the most popular back home in the U.S. are putting up the Christmas tree, stringing lights outside the home or apartment, watching favorite animated videos, Christmas caroling, and sending annual Christmas cards to family and friends.
Other cultural traditions focus on gathering with family and friends in anticipation of the arrival of Jesus the Savior into the world.
The Mexican celebration of Las Posadas commemorates Mary and Joseph looking for a place to sleep in Bethlehem. Posadas means lodging. From Dec. 16 to Dec. 24, people process through the streets in the evening carrying candles and singing hymns. They knock on the doors of homes and are turned away, but finally at a previously designated spot they are welcomed in and the celebration begins. Kids love it because the celebrations include a pi?ata filled with treats.
The Philippine holiday tradition of Simbang Gabi is a novena of Masses typically celebrated at dawn, though in the U.S. it is more popularly celebrated in the early evening. The Filipino custom, some 500 years old, begins nine nights before Christmas Eve. Families make their way to church in the dark to celebrate Mass as a kind of countdown to Jesus birth.
In the Dominican Republic, where I’m celebrating Christmas this year, extended family traditionally gather for dinner on December 24 and exchange a few gifts. Then they go to midnight Mass called “Misa del Gallo” to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Kids receive most of their gifts on January 6, ” Dia de Reyes” to commemorate the Epiphany when los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men) brought to baby Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Anticipating Christmas can feel like forever for children. An Advent calendar helps them track the days in a fun way. My niece’s calendar is an active one where she’s encouraged to do something each day. Recent calendar reflections said: “Write a note inviting Jesus to come to your home,” and, “Think of a relative with white hair. Pray for him/her to be happy.”
Making homemade Christmas gifts allows children to think of others. My sister Rosie knows that her three young children will be showered with gifts at Christmas from doting grandparents, uncles, and aunts. To teach her kids the holiday spirit of giving in addition to receiving, she sets up a couple of craft days. Her kids make ornaments, bookmarks, sun catchers, jewelry, and Christmas cards. We love these precious and cute gifts. Prior to Christmas, Rosie also encourages her children to go through their toys and put together a bag to donate to others. So far my nephew hasn’t given away Woody !
My young nieces and nephews love preparing for Christmas. They can feel the over-the-top excitement in the air. When I asked my nephew Patrick, 4, his favorite thing about Christmas, he answered, “Jesus’ Birthday!”
Cristina, 8, said her favorite part about Christmas was that “all the family comes together.” This year eleven of us are flying from around the U.S. to meet up here in the Dominican Republic , where my sister, her husband, and their three kids now live.
Christmastime is special because we get to take a break from life’s routine. People make huge efforts to gather or reconnect with family and friends. And we celebrate time-honored holiday traditions and customs that mark Jesus’ arrival into the world, renewing our sense of wonder and our spirit of hope for the new year.