spirit comes alive in many ways
Kentuckiana residents represent
a diverse cultural spectrum
(December 2001) Crestwood, Ky It starts immediately
after Thanksgiving. First, there are the month-long shopping
sprees, along with the massive light and tree displays.
Holiday movies, cartoons, parades and shows fill the TV
schedule. Traditional carols and holiday music can be
heard around the clock. Christmas programs are staged
at schools and churches.
On Christmas Eve, the stores finally close
and Christian families make their way to their respective
churches and homes to be with family and friends. Christmas
Day involves gift opening, feasting and munching on holiday
treats. This has become the standard Christmas tradition
in America today. For most, anyway.
Many families in America, including those in the Kentuckiana
area, celebrate other holiday traditions, depending on
their culture or ethnic backgrounds. Heres a look
at a few of those other cultural Christmases.
German Christmas has different chronology
In Germany, Christmas is referred to as Weinachten. Just
as in America, Christmas begins at the beginning of December.
One big difference from America is that Santa Claus makes
his appearance weeks before Christmas. Well, at least
the German equivalent of Santa Claus called St. Nicolas.
According to Johanna Welch, a German native who resides
in Switzerland County, Ind., the visits from St. Nicolas
occur on Dec. 6. These are front door visits where St.
Nicolas delivers the gifts. Rather than being a rotund,
white-bearded man in a red suit, St. Nicolas is a naturally
brown bearded man in a long, brown robe with a gold rope
belt. His long robe includes a hood, which is bordered
He looks more like a monk than a Santa Claus,
said Welch, who operates the German Corner restaurant
and catering in Bennington.
She remembered receiving visits from St. Nicolas as a
child. She would sit on his lap and recite a Christmas
poem or verse for him.
I used to learn my verse perfectly so I would be
ready when he came, said Welch. After the
Dec. 6, we didnt hear anymore about St. Nicolas.
We then focused on the Christ Child.
She explained that the St. Nicolas visit was the centerpiece
of gift giving in Germany.
Germans do not go overboard on gift giving, but
we do give presents, said Welch.
While gift giving occurs early, the decorating begins
My mother and father would set up the tree on the
24th, never later, said Welch. We dont
decorate as much in Germany. But the ornaments are much
like ours in America.
Indeed, many German ornaments are seen on American trees.
Popular ornament styles in Germany include those made
of wood and also those made of porcelain. Specific ornaments
that are popular include the Hummel figurines and Goebels.
These are small porcelain miniatures of the Christ Child
and other Nativity figures.
Outside the home, Welch described beautifully decorated
Christmas villages called Krist-Kindl Markt. These villages
are filled with lights and holiday related booths.
Almost every town has one of these, she said.
Our churches are decorated beautifully, too.
When Christmas Eve and Christmas Day approach, the activity
is a little different, too. The stores close by 2 p.m.
Families start attending church services after 5 p.m.,
followed by a holiday snack. On Christmas Day, the major
feast occurs at noon, and the main course is usually a
Christmas goose. A sweet, fruit-filled bread called Christmas
stollen is also popular among Germans at Christmas.
We dont make a big spread like the Americans,
but it was always very special and very nice, said
Welch. Later that day at 3:30, we always get together
for coffee and desserts. Having a larger meal during
the midday and a smaller one later in the day is a German
practice year round.
Welch moved from Germany to America in the late 1950s
to marry American Jim Welch. She said she now celebrates
Christmas the American way.
I kept the German tradition for years, but weve
had children and so weve had to shift a little bit.
Ive adjusted to my life here. Besides, I decorate
early for the restaurant, and geese are so hard to find
Religious roots highlight Hispanic Christmas
Like the Germans, those raised in the Hispanic culture
focus on Christianity at Christmas.
Maria Cruz, a Mexican native who owns Mexico Lindo grocery
store in Carrollton, Ky., said that the major beginnings
of Christmas happen on Dec. 12. This is what Mexicans
believe is the Virgin Marys birthday. Cruz said
that this is even bigger than the festivities on Christmas
Every year, people go to Mexico City to make a promise
to the Virgin Mary, said Cruz.
She said many of these people walk on foot from far away
small towns. I dont know if they do this in
other Hispanic counties, but people from other Hispanic
countries go to Mexico that day, too.
This festive event is only the beginning. From Dec. 16-24,
Cruz described an event called Posadas, which is a group
worship. In Posados, a statue of the Virgin Mary known
as the Santos is removed from the Catholic Church building
for a period of eight nights. Each night, it visits a
different house and it is at this house where people go
to gather each night. A group first gets together to call
on the house.
Every night they sing a song, asking the people
in the house to let them stay and then the people let
them in, said Cruz. They are pilgrims asking
for a place to sleep until the baby is born on the 24th.
Actually, the visitors do not spend the night, but that
idea is more in the theme of the event. After visiting
each house, the Santos returns to the church on Christmas
Eve. From there, the Christmas Eve church worship lasts
through the night until 5 a.m. Christmas Day.
There are others in Mexico who celebrate Christmas Eve
by dancing in the streets all night. Some also have big
feasts that night. Cruz herself will carry on the Mexican
Christmas Eve tradition with dinner and dancing at 8 p.m.
on Dec. 24 at Mexico Lindo.
Anyone who wants to come, who doesnt have
anything else to do, can come, said Cruz. We
are trying to make this a tradition.
Other Hispanic countries have different traditions from
Mexico. Juan Sanchez, the pastor at Rykers Ridge
Baptist Church in Madison, Ind., hasnt lived in
Puerto Rico since he was 8 years old but recalled the
Christmas traditions his family once celebrated. He is
trying to bring those traditions back into his childrens
Sanchez remembered how Epiphany on Jan. 15 was considered
an even larger celebration than Christmas.
We had a Christmas tree and put gifts under the
tree, but we exchanged more on Jan. 15, said Sanchez.
The actual Dec. 25 was not as emphasized in terms
of gift giving.
According to Sanchez, the day commemorating the Wise Mens
visit to the Christ Child was the major theme for gift
giving. He remembered that the strength of this theme
even overshadowed the Santa Claus tradition.
We would put hay out for the Wise Men instead of
cookies for Santa, recalled Sanchez. We really
try to emphasize that the reason we celebrate Christmas
is Jesus Christ.
Sanchez also mentioned the traveling from house to house
singing, only he referred to it as Parrandas. Rather than
staying at one house per night, this singing was from
house to house until 3 a.m. in the morning. He also spoke
of Noche Beune, a Spanish translation for Christmas Eve.
On this day, families would gather to eat roast pig, rice
and beans, rice pudding and other Spanish foods.
Sanchez said that in his family in Madison he is trying
to re-invent some of the Spanish cultures he practiced.
We try to celebrate epiphany with our children,
and because the Wise Men gave three gifts to Jesus, we
give three gifts to our children.
Christmas comes earlier in India
Christmas comes early for other cultures as well. Praful
Paul Patel, owner of the Holiday Inn Express
in La Grange, Ky., has been in America for 23 years but
recalled celebrating Christmas in India as a child. The
Indian Christmas is called Diwalli and is celebrated for
five days, beginning Nov. 14. Diwalli honors the Supreme
Commander of the Hindu religion, Rama.
Diwalli is our Christmas. It is the coming back
of Rama after years in exile, said Patel. Hindus
believe Rama was born to royalty and exiled for 14 years
to the wilderness by his stepmother. Rama returned from
exile to purify man from sin. Patel said that the purification
is a major portion of Diwalli.
We wake up really early, and first thing we bathe
to cleanse our body, said Patel. Then we celebrate
with a ritual of recipes. We welcome a family recipe and
have a big feast.
Afterward, the festivities continue into the evening.
A symbol of the Diwalli is a small clay-oil burning lamp
that is placed on flat-top roofs and walls of houses.
There are fireworks to go along with the burning of the
We have like a Fourth of July, said Patel.
Though the majority of the population is Hindu or Moslem,
they recognize Christmas as a national holiday, only during
this November time. Also, Christmas is a little different,
depending on the part of the India in which it is celebrated.
They celebrate Christmas mostly in the big cities
and south parts of India, said Harish Mistry, who
owns the Super 8 Motel in La Grange, Ky. He was raised
in the south portion of India in the city of Bardolioli
and has been in America for five years. In the evening,
people get together and party to celebrate the Christmas
and the New Year.
While the Hindus use Diwalli as their Christmas, Christians
in India observe a variety of different customs. In the
plains of India, they decorate mango and banana trees.
The poinsettia plants are also prominently displayed,
particularly in churches.
Festive Christmas foreshadows Japanese New Year
In Japan, where the majority of the population is Buddhist,
Christmas is rarely celebrated. For the Japanese, New
Years (Shogatsu) is the larger more religious holiday.
According to Kuniaki Kondo, president of Arvin Sango,
Inc. in Madison, and John Kakimoto, the companys
administration director, Christmas is more of a festival
than a holiday. Even though Christmas is celebrated on
Dec. 25, all business and places of recreation are still
Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan,
said Kakimoto. All schools, companies and public
offices do not close.
Still, the Japanese take part in many of the traditional
The Japanese decorate Christmas trees in their home
and have champagne and a big decorated cake, said
Kakimoto. Children set big socks at their bedsides
when they go to sleep Christmas Eve night. But Japanese
are not in the habit of exchanging Christmas cards at
Rather, the greeting cards are exchanged at New Years.
It is then when the Japanese go the temple to pray for
the coming year. It is then that everything closes.
Since both Kondo and Kakimoto live in Madison with their
families, they still practice American decorative customs
but said they still focus on the meaning of the New Year.
Just changing the year, we reflect on the year change,
said Kondo. We pray for luck or good fortune.
In a survey conducted in December 1999 by the website
www.japan-guide.com, 208 people who live in Japan responded
to a survey about Christmas. Most were female (75 percent),
single (89 percent) and between 10 and 30 years old (82
percent). Less than 2 percent of the Japanese were Christians,
and Christmas is not a national holiday. Nevertheless,
the popularity of Christmas is growing in Japan especially
among young female Japanese.
According to the survey, Christmas is something special
for more than 60 percent of the survey participants. The
percentage is higher for women (67 percent) than for men
(40 percent), and it is highest for female teenagers (86
percent). On Christmas, 34 percent of the survey participants
have a special family dinner, 18 percent have a dinner
with friends and 15 percent have a special dinner with
their boyfriend or girlfriend.
The survey results also show the typical Japanese Christmas
menu: A large majority of 73 percent enjoys a Christmas
cake and 34 percent prepare chicken. Only about 4 percent
follow the American tradition of eating turkey.
Among the survey participants, a majority of 60 percent
also exchanges gifts on Christmas. Most of them exchange
presents with family members, friends, girlfriends and
boyfriends. Finally, 35 percent of the participants indicated
that they decorate their houses for Christmas, while a
large majority of 65 percent did not.
New Years, however, is widely celebrated in Japan.
The tradition of eating Osechi Ryori is still followed
by a large majority (72 percent) of the Japanese, while
61 percent visit a temple or shrine on New Year. A large
majority of people watch the television program Kohaku
Uta Gassen on New Years eve.
Many people decorate their house or car for New Years.
The New Year holidays are also known for high travel activities,
primarily within in the country.