Christmas Traditions

By Anamaria Scaperlanda BiddickA Christmas tree is featured prominently Dec. 8 in front of Rathaus, the Vienna City Hall. People pack into the popular Christkindlmarkt in front of the landmark to shop and see the Christmas illuminations. Vienna is known for its outdoor Christmas marke ts with handcrafted Christmas ornaments, which are popular destinations for locals and tourists during Advent. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

With Christmas Eve comes beauty and joy in many different cultures. In some places, it takes the form of carols, cookies and a newly-decorated tree, while in others, it manifests itself as a feast of black beans and pork followed by Mass.

According to Stephen McNamara, “In Ireland it is a tradition that on Christmas Eve, lighted candles are placed in windows. It is a symbol to welcome people and to remember Mary and Joseph’s journey on the first Christmas Eve.”


Cuban immigrant Maria de Jesus Paez de Ruiz, parishioner of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, remembered Christmas from her childhood.

“When I was a kid, they would have to wait for the Pope to say it’s okay, you can have a big meal before Mass. This happened every year because you’re not supposed to have a big dinner before Mass,” she said. “After that, we would go to midnight Mass and then the celebration, with dinners and Christmas plays.”

For dinner, Ruiz said they would eat black beans and rice with pork, Cuban tamales and fried plantains, followed by cheese and guava, figs, apples, almonds and the Spanish candy turron for dessert. During the night, baby Jesus would bring some presents for the kids. Everyone would receive presents with the coming of the three kings on Jan. 6 for the other presents, because “Christmas doesn’t end on the 25th, it starts there, but it goes through the Baptism of the Lord,” Ruiz said.

Baby Jesus, or the Christkind, brings the Christmas day presents in Germany, too. Peter Keupen, member of Saint Mark the Evangelist parish in Norman, remembered growing up that on Christmas Eve, “the public TV channels would have shows with the theme of ‘warten auf das Christkind,’ waiting for the Christ child.”

Every year on Christmas Eve, Keupen and his sister would be relegated to the kitchen while their mother decorated the tree.

“She would set up our living room with the tree and all the decorations, little artsy wooden toys. She would keep the door locked so nobody had the chance of ‘accidentally’ walking in,” Keupen said. “Then, just after dusk, we would enter the living room with the Christmas tree lit, presents under the tree just delivered by the Christkind, listen to a Christmas carol or two and then start our celebration.”

For dinner, they would eat a roasted goose with potato dumplings. The next day, they would visit relatives to exchange presents and have lunch with their grandmother. For dessert, Keupen’s grandmother would make Christmas cookies, a special cookie that they would only have during Christmas.

Like in Cuba, Germany holds special traditions throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, comes during Advent, on Dec. 6, his feast day, filling kids’ shoes with candy.

Also during Advent, “most larger cities will have a Weihnachtsmarkt, a Christmas market,” Keupen said. “Small wooden stalls are set up where small businesses or artisans offer crafts and art, Christmas decorations, food and Gluehwein, German mulled wine, which is guaranteed to warm you up on a cold day.”

Keupen also recalled a tradition on the Feast of the Epiphany.

“The altar servers of the local parishes dressed up as the wise men and went around the neighborhoods, blessed each house and sang carols,” he said. “Usually they would leave a chalk inscription on the doorframe with the date of the year and their initials: 20 C + M + B 14 (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar).”   

In northern Italy, the main meal is a Christmas Day lunch. Eleonora Pin, an Italian teacher, described the meal with her family.

“A traditional dish that we eat is lasagna or cannelloni as first course, and meat as second course,” she said. “We have the traditional ‘panettone’ and ‘pandoro’ with the mascarpone sauce. My mum usually prepares many mascarpone sauces with a lot of different flavors, such as brandy, coffee, cacao, lemon or orange.”

As an adult, Pin normally attends Mass on Christmas Eve, but “when I was younger, I went to Mass on Christmas Day with my family,” she said. “Before going to Mass, we opened Christmas presents and we had breakfast all together. After the Mass, we went to my grandma's for lunch with my uncles, aunts and cousins.”

In each culture, Christmas is marked by an exchange of gifts, special food, time with family and the coming of Christ.

Anamaría Scaperlanda Biddick is a freelance writer and columnist for the Sooner Catholic.

Merry Christmas around the World

United States: Merry Christmas

Czech Republic: Prejeme Vam Fasele Vanoce

Ireland: Nollaig Shona do gach duine

Italy: Buon Natale

France: Joyeux Noël

Germany: Frohe Weihnachten

Poland: Wesolych Swiat

Spain: Feliz Navidad