As the days get shorter in the northern hemisphere and the winter solstice draws near, people all over are gathering close to share food, burn candles, and celebrate. Equal Exchange works with producer groups on four continents — and our coworkers here in the U.S. hail from many different lands, too. We checked in with three Equal Exchange worker-owners to learn about Christmas and New Year holiday traditions in their home countries.
A Peruvian Holiday
Gladys Minaya comes from Peru. There, she says, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year — a birthday party for the Baby Jesus. They begin preparations with an advent wreath, lighting a new candle on each of the four Sundays before Christmas.
The main celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, when it’s common to attend midnight Mass, Misa de Gallo. Afterward, family members gather at home to eat different kinds of salad, lamb, and desserts. They set up a Nativity and play music for the Baby Jesus, Villancicos de Navidad. To emphasize giving, not receiving, they also collect for people who are less fortunate. On Christmas day, it’s traditional to eat a turkey dinner and visit friends in the neighborhood, bringing cookies!
And after Christmas, on January 6th, they bless their home for the New Year, praying and writing with blessed chalk on the front door of the house C+M+B. This stands for Christ Might Bless and is also is the initials of the traditional Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
A German Holiday
Martha Griem was born in the US, but both of her parents are German, so she grew up celebrating German traditions alongside American ones.
December 6th in Germany is Nikolaustag. Before going to bed the night before, children leave their shoes out to be filled with goodies by St. Nikolaus. Sometimes in the days that follow, St. Nikolaus himself will visit a group of neighborhood kids. As he passes out gifts to each girl or boy in front of all the others, he’ll tell them (thanks to intelligence provided by their parents) what they did well that year and what aspects of their behavior need improvement. Advent calendars and Adventskränze — advent wreaths — are popular ways to count down to the holidays. People decorate their homes with trees and Weihnachtspyramide, spinning wooden carousels powered by candle-heat, depicting nativity figures.
The big celebration — once again — happens on December 24th. Germans share Christmas Eve dinner with neighbors and extended family. Martha’s family eats beef fondue. After the festive meal, the Christ Child personally visits each house! Children are made to hide while the adults meet with him in the living room. He leaves behind presents and sparkly things — glitter or small bells — as evidence for the skeptics.
A Guatemalan Holiday
Marlon Cifuentes hails from San Felipe Reu on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. Just like in Peru and Germany, here it’s also traditional to celebrate on the night of the 24th, a Catholic observance that has become so popular that even the non-religious join in. Guatemalans spend Christmas with siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles and cousins. If you go out with friends beforehand, you’d better be back home for a dinner with your family by the stroke of midnight! Typical foods include tamales, apples, grapes, and perhaps a turkey. They enjoy ponche de frutas, a sweet drink made from fruits and cinnamon — usually non-alcoholic, so the kids can try it, too — and exchange gifts. And they share food with neighbors.
Because the holiday is so family-oriented, Marlon says that it reminds him more of American Thanksgiving than of Christmas. At midnight, you can see and hear fireworks going off everywhere. In small towns, they close off the streets for singing and dancing.
Here in Rhode Island, where he lives now, Marlon usually celebrates with friends. This year, he’ll go to the house of a friend — also a Guatemalan — so they can pretend they’re at home!
¡Feliz Año Nuevo!
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