Sunday, December 19, 2010



  Christmas means cold weather fun for many parts of the world, but in Brazil, Santa turns in his fur-lined coat, hat, and warm boots for warm-weather silks!  That's just the beginning.  Christmas in Brazil is a diverse celebration of many cultures and heritages that mirrors our own in some ways, but is vastly different in others.
   Brazil started out as a colony of the Portuguese, which is the official language of Brazil.  Because of this, the most common Christmas tradition, the presepio, will likely be an enduring one.  Presepio refers to the bed of straw that Jesus was laid upon at birth, and thus, the nativity scene is central to most who celebrate Christmas.
   Catholics attend a Midnight Mass (Missa de Galo) on Christmas Eve night, and then on Christmas Day.  Late afternoon masses are held so that people sleeping late after midnight mass can rest, or go to the beach, as it is summer time during Christmas in Brazil.  Afterward, traditional Christmas dinner is served, consisting of turkey, ham, vegetables, colored rice, and fruit dishes.  It is known as "Cela de Natal", and is held in homes across Brazil, amongst decorations of Christmas trees, fresh flowers, and other decorations.
   Outside, most decorations consist of nativity scenes (presepios) or huge Christmas trees made from strings of electric lights.  Festivities are held to enjoy the decorations, folk dancing, and singing, among other things,  to create the holiday spirit, until January 6th, which is when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus to give him their gifts.  It is known as Three Kings Day.



   Santa Claus is known as Papa Noel, and wears silken clothes to keep cool in the heat.  Children leave their shoes outside, in hopes that Papa Noel will fill them with candy and small treats.  Parents hide presents throughout the house, but children must first make breakfast for their parents and serve it to them in bed before they can be opened.  That sounds like a tradition that we Americans should adopt, it might teach our children a little patience!
   One of the most popular events in Brazil is the Christmas of Light event.  it was started in 1986, by Elezar de Carvalho, who was one of Brazil's greatest conductors.  Through the years, the Christmas of Light event has evolved into a complex,  light-filled show, that involves over 2000 volunteers to prepare.  With a green theme, its popularity only rises.  Decorations are made using recycled soda bottles, collected year round at Gramado schools, and the decorations are reused year after year, causing the event to grow bigger each and every year.  Natal Luz, or Christmas of Light, usually runs from mid-November to mid-January. 

    Families looking to travel at Christmas time might consider Brazil, a warm alternative to the snowy Chrstimases in the Untied States and similar countries.  For those of us not so fortunate to be able to travel at Christmas, perhaps breakfast in bed!  So as they say in Brazil, "Feliz Natal"! Merry Christmas to you and yours!


    We have all heard the silliness of the Twelve days of Christmas and the litany of gifts bestowed by the true love.  Have you ever wondered what that song is really about?  Whether you believe it or not, there is a much deeper message to the song that has spiritual roots.
During the Protestant rule of England the teachings of Catholic church were forbidden and the church as a whole was outlawed.  It was during this time that the church went into hiding and sought ways to teach their doctrine in secret.  One of the ways that the doctrine spread was through the Twelve days of Christmas.
   Before we launch into the meaning of the song, we need to remember that there were twelve days to Christmas.  These twelve days began on Christmas day and went through the celebration of Epiphany twelve days later.  The song begins on a specific day of Christmas and my true love gave to me.  The true love in the song is God the Father and the many gifts are different aspect of faith.

   The first day of Christmas was a partridge in a pear tree.  The partridge is considered one of the most protective birds and shelters their young with their own bodies.  The partridge represents the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  The cross is often referred to as a tree and it seems fitting that the partridge is in a tree.

   The two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments.  The Bible is divided into two major books of the two Testaments.  Christians regard the Bible as the inspired word of God and the most sacred book of faith.  The Bible is clearly vital to Christian faith.

   The three French hens are for the three major virtues: faith, hope, and love.  The Apostle Paul writes of the three vital aspects of Christian character in 1st Corinthians 13.  These virtues are important points to developing a Christian perspective in life.

   The four calling birds represent the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The gospels contain the message and ministry of Jesus.  It is in these first four books of the New Testament that we find the message of salvation and the good news of Jesus Christ.  These are considered, the most important books in the Bible.

   The five golden rings are the first five books of the Bible also known as the Pentateuch.  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  They contain the creation of the universe, the establishment of the nation of Israel, the story of Moses, and the giving of the Hebrew Law.  The Pentateuch is the section of Biblical literature called the books of the law.

   The six geese a laying stand for the six days of creation.  The Bible clearly teaches the belief that God created the universe in six days.  This belief is core to much of the teachings of the Bible.

   The seven swans a swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These gifts are prophecy, ministry, exhortation, teaching, giving, leading, and compassion.

   The eight maids a milking are for the eight Beatitudes taught by Jesus in the sermon on the mount. 

   The nine ladies dancing stand for the nine fruits of the spirit.  The Apostle Paul records nine character traits that are imparted through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

   The ten lords a leaping stand for the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments are the basis for the Jewish Law and are the foundation for most moral codes found in modern society.

   The eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples.  Jesus chose twelve disciples to serve as leaders known as apostles.  Judas betrayed Jesus and turned him over to the Jewish authorities.  Jesus was crucified the next day and Judas committed suicide.  This left only eleven apostles.

   The twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of the Apostles Creed.  The Apostles Creed is the first statement of faith established by the early church.  The creeds were statements that communicated the understanding of faith and the basic beliefs of the church.


   In the cobwebs and dust of old farmhouse loft in Denmark, it is reported that there lives a mischievous elf named Julenisse, or Nisse.  He is said to wear gray wool clothing, a red bonnet, red stockings, and white clogs upon his feet.  Though he is usually kind and helpful around the farm towards good children, he does love to play jokes.
   During the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Danish celebrate Advent.  Each Sunday in Advent, family and friends gather to light candles in the Advent crown.  Refreshments of sweet fruit juices are served to the children, while adults drink a cocktail of red wine, raisins, and spices.  Little fire-baked cakes sprinkled with sugar provide a tasty snack.


  On December 13th, Lucia processions are held at many hospitals, schools, and rest homes.  Children's choirs perform a parade in honor of Lucia, "the saint of lights".  The children dress in white, carry candles, and follow one child who is portrayed as the Lucia bride.  She wears a wreath of fir and lit candles upon her head.  The lights are dimmed as the procession winds its way down the aisles, singing the Lucia song.
   Danish families keep Nissse in mind when they are preparing to celebrate Christmas. It is a proud and joyful time as families share in the duties of making their own baubles and decorations from bright paper, straw, and scraps of wood.  Writing Christmas cards to friends and relatives is popular in Denmark.  It is a cherished tradition for most to send and receive wishes for a "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year"!  After the decorations are made, the parents secretly decorate the Christmas tree.  The children are not allowed to see the tree until Christmas Eve dinner, which consists of rice pudding (that holds a magic almond worth a prize for its finder), goose, red cabbage, and browned potatoes.  At this time, the tree is lit, and the families gather near it to sing Christmas hymns and carols.


   After Christmas Eve dinner, the Christmas Eve, or Juelaften celebration,  is the most popular and biggest event of the year.  Friends gather for parties that last through the night, and continue to feast on goose, red cabbage, fried pastries, and rice pudding (also called grod).  Grod plays an important role in Christmas celebrations in Denmark.  The Christmas elves (Julenisse) are left an offering of rice pudding, in order to appease them and keep their pranks mild.
   For those looking for a Christmas experience a bit more quaint and old-fashioned, the Danish may have what you are looking for.