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December 7, 2004 > A Touch of Christmas From Around the World

A Touch of Christmas From Around the World

by Praveena Raman

Last year the first "A Touch of Christmas From Around the World" article was published in the Tri-City Voice. In that article we visited Fremont families from Britain, Denmark, India, Lithuania, Philippines and Sweden and learned about Christmas traditions in those countries and how they celebrate Christmas in the U.S. This article can be accessed in TCV's archives at

This year we visit the Kanemitsu family from Hong Kong and Japan; the Bonaccorsi family from Italy, Lupita Angst from Nicaragua, the Bryzek family from Poland and the Ariathurai family from Sri Lanka.

Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. The story of Jesus' birth is described in the Gospel according to Mathew and according to Luke. Even though the birth of Jesus is described in the Bible in great detail, the date of His birth is not known. According to historical records available, Christmas was first celebrated on January 6, following to the old Julian calendar. The day was also observed as an official Roman holiday starting in A.D. 534. In 1743, the celebration of the day was switched to the Gregorian calendar and the date for Christmas celebrations was chosen as December 25. Historians believe that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. The word Christmas originated from the Old English words Cristes maesse or "Mass of Christ." The Christmas season begins on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on Epiphany which is January 6th.

In the U.S., Christmas arrived rather late and was declared a national holiday on June 26, 1870. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston. The Christmas spirit was fined. As an immediate result of the American Revolution, English customs like celebrating Christmas, fell out of favor. Though some places like the Jamestown settlement did celebrate Christmas with all the related gaiety, they remained an exception. With the beginning of the 19th century, the need for a festival to have some commemorative time, made Americans embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday.

During Christmas many churches and homes display a crˇche, or Nativity scene. These scenes include figurines of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus in the stable. They are usually surrounded by shepherds, angels, the Magi and animals. Some churches also have a live nativity service. Many Christians attend a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at churches which are usually decorated with poinsettias, candles and greenery. These services are often followed by another service on Christmas Day. Christmas has also incorporated some secular traditions like Santa Claus, singing Christmas carols, sending Christmas cards and giving gifts. Christmas is one of the few holidays that is celebrated in most countries around the world but with a few differing traditions.

Hong Kong and Japan

With a visit to the Kanemitsu family we learn traditions from both Hong Kong and Japan. Letty Kanemitsu is Chinese and grew up in Hong Kong. Her husband Dennis's family came from Japan. The Kanemitsu's lived in Japan for a few years experiencing the culture first hand. "We were very westernized when I was growing up," says Letty. "In Hong Kong, most of the families where we lived observed the western traditions for Christmas. We had Christmas trees, exchanged Christmas presents and sang Christmas carols in English." Most of the people in Hong Kong and Japan are Buddhists and hence Christmas is celebrated religiously only by a very few people. "In Japan Christmas parties are very popular with most people but the celebrations are very superficial," continues Letty. Christmas cakes with snow themes and Santa Claus are an important part of holiday parties. Christmas decorations, singing jingle bells and exchanging presents also prevail.

The Kanemitsu family now follows both the religious and secular traditions of Christmas. "I am a Christian and we do go to church on Christmas Eve," mentions Letty. They have a Nativity, a Christmas tree with gifts from Santa, family members and friends. Letty's family opened presents on Christmas Eve while Dennis' family opened presents on Christmas Day when they were growing up. The Kanemitsu's now have their own family tradition. They spend Christmas Eve with their extended family members and have Christmas day as their own family day. They spend the Christmas morning opening presents with their three children. This is done slowly one at a time so that everyone participates in the pleasure of giving. The gift wrapping is left lying around and the children at the end have the pleasure of diving into them.

Sheng Tan Kuai Loh!

Shinnen omedeto!

Kurisumasu Omedeto!

To be continued in the December 21 issue: Italy, Nicaragua, Poland and Sri Lanka.
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