Youth from across the Diocese experienced Christmas early on Saturday, Dec. 14, during the inaugural Around the World event. Coordinated by the Diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries, the event celebrated the Christmas traditions from various cultures, explaining their unique, yet similar, ways of celebrating the birth of Christ.
Before decorating stockings and playing a variety of games, the nearly 75 youth attending from throughout the Diocese learned about the Christmas traditions in Vietnam, Peru and Nigeria.
Angela Fernandez shared several Christmas traditions from Peru, her parents’ home country.
“We have something called Black Christmas. It’s more of how to keep our culture and how to make sure our children don’t forget where we are from,” said Fernandez. “In Black Christmas, we have these kids dancing this type of dance called Savedeo. The kids dance for hours. The parents gather around and are clapping and it’s to know that Christmas is more than just opening gifts or what Santa is going to bring us. It’s more about having time with our families and spending time together. And of course having the Nativity Scene to make sure God is first.”
Another tradition in Peru is celebrated in Lima, explained Fernandez. The city streets are closed and people from all over gather at a very large tree, starting in the early evening on Christmas Eve.
“All the families are sitting around this tree. They sing songs, have a nice time, share what they do and just wait until it is 12 a.m. to say “Merry Christmas” to everybody and to celebrate with each other,” said Fernandez. “It’s more like a family reunion. They have a nice dinner and celebrate and make sure Christmas is more than just opening gifts. It’s Jesus birth and having a nice time as a family.”
Similar to Peru, Christmas in Nigeria is also focused on family.
“Christmas in Nigeria is a family event,” said Gina Tarendale. “Christmas is a time of reunion in families. We go to Mass, families throw parities that last all night long on Christmas Eve, we go to Church (on Christmas day) to give thanks to God, and homes and streets are decorated.”
Tarendale explained that after Christmas Eve Mass, families will party until very early in the morning, singing and dancing.
“It’s an African tradition that the family is where the union starts. It’s really a family reunion,” said Tarendale.
Deacon Peter Quach, who is completing a pastoral year at St. Rose of Lima Parish in York, spoke of how the traditions in Vietnam have considerable differences to those in the United States.
“In Vietnam, Christmas isn’t a huge thing because the popularity of Christmas isn’t big,” said Deacon Quach. “Not many people in Vietnam are Catholic, let alone Christian. It’s primarily a Buddhist country. But that doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate it.”
Deacon Quach explained that Christmas Eve is often considered more important than Christmas day because of the festivities.
“Unlike here, Christmas is still a working day, so people still go to work. They still go to school on Christmas day,” said Deacon Quach. But on Christmas Eve, there is a huge celebration in the city with music and lights.
Gift-giving is also different in Vietnam.
“In Vietnam the people don’t often exchange gifts,” said Deacon Quach. “They still exchange cards, but presents are not very common.”
“Being in charge of many ethnic apostolates, I know how proud we are of our cultural heritage and how important it is to incorporate different elements of our heritage at important events or feast days such as Holy Week, Christmas or the Feast of Corpus Christi,” said Jaclyn Curran, coordinator of Multicultural Ministries for the Diocese. “After meeting with the Pastoral Juvenil Council, I realized that Christmas is the perfect occasion for this, since not only will it connect the youth with their cultural heritage, but at the same time parents understand the importance of keeping a connection with what makes us unique.”
Curran added the event was also used as a reminder of “what this season is about and realizing how blessed we are that we are able to honor and praise Jesus the way we do. The slideshow that I shared with those present shared many beautiful and positive traditions, but it also shows us that many people out there are not as blessed as we are, with countries as North Korea celebrating Christmas underground.”
Curran hopes to make Christmas Around the World an annual event, saying she already has ideas for next year.
“I am absolutely thrilled with how it went,” said Curran.
To see more photos and a video from Christmas Around the World, please visit our website at www.hbgdiocese.org.
By Rachel Bryson, M.S., The Catholic Witness