MPR’s Rich Dietman presents a sound print of what Christmas is in other countries. Segments include music and discussion with Willa Ramos (Mexico), Theodora Geokazus (Greece), Maria Moran (Philippines), and Florence Hart (Scotland). The group share the different traditions and celebrations.
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The Christmas Lantern is one industry and almost every home has a Christmas Lantern hanging by the window very seldom in all areas. Very seldom can one miss a Christmas letter. One of the very special items that is included on the Christmas table is what we call Cristobal Christ bread, which is a beautiful round loaf of bread that hasThe symbol of the Cross baked into it and it's garnished with walnuts. What I think is important in Mexico is January 6th. Now that would be when the gifts would come in see here in America. It's Santa Claus and presence and the stocking hung up and in Mexico. It is not the Christmas tree is a piñata and the Christmas is all more religion and January 6th is the exchange of the gifts because that's when the three wise men came in with the gifts. So that's how we celebrate the exchange of the gifts there where the children put their shoes outside the door instead of hanging up their sock. Well the day after was boxing day and that was a holiday and that was supposed to go back to the times where the rich people boxed up gifts for their servants the next day.To give them for Christmas and like the garbage collectors and the mailman and and I think it was probably more English but came in to Scotland to and so we had Boxing Day and Christmas day together descriptions of Christmas and other lands from people who have come to this country, but keep alive the holiday traditions of their respective homelands for about the next 45 minutes on weekend will be visiting with these people to get an idea of what the holidays are like in four countries. We do not often hear much about this time of year. Those countries are the Philippines Greece Mexico and Scotland will A Ramos came to this country from Luzon in the Philippines in 1958. She and her husband live in the North Minneapolis suburb of Fridley where she told me she still keeps in touch with her roots.Preparing Christmas displays for The International Institute in st. Paul The Institute serves as a gathering place for people from around the world who now call the Twin Cities their home. Mrs. Ramos says anticipation of Christmas in the Philippines begins early even earlier than in this country when we hear the Carol or Christmas carols strainer starting September Filipinos feel that Christmas is just around the corner. So you start that early and since September. Yes, the stores play the music all over town. Did they always used to do that? Even before there was a Western influence Western influence has started since the American occupation in 1898. And I remember very well that these things happened even before World War Two. So in September you start hearing Christmas carols played at the stores do people start.The doing anything else in preparation for Christmas then yes, they start shopping. What are some of the things that what are some of the other things that they might be doing right now in just a few days before Christmas I would think most of the shopping is done is Christmas a very religious period in in the Philippines if he said religious thing nine days before Christmas Don't Mess start and the peeling of the Bells wake up the church goers and after Mass breakfast is a head that the Stalls are lining the street leading to the churches which is composed breakfast is composed of put the boom boom and Bianca and T. And these are the special goodies for Christmastime. What are they? What are they made up ofSweet rice and they are ground and made into this goodies and the error cooking special our stoves. So people go to church on the ninth day before Christmas and then nine days before and then they come out of church and there's Breakfast waiting for them along the along the streets. Yes. What what might be going on right now in the Philippines in preparation for Christmas the that that day that you spoke of his already passed what are some of the special preparations that people might be making now just a few days before Christmas. Are there any Christmas trees is also copied from the American way and pine trees grow there but just like the American way it has changed colors from from green to white or pink or colors that are popular nowadays trimmings are also the American ways very few use the ethnic Christmas decoration. What are the ethnic Christmas decorations bamboo made of copy shells like the stars angels. And the trimmings the bamboo chain instead of the paper chain or the thin cells and they would use those to decorate their homes. Yes. Otherwise, it's generally American way. What about Christmas Eve? Are there special things that happen on Christmas Eve in the Philippines Christmas Eve is just like the midnight mass because the Philippines is generally a Catholic country and I remember very well since I was little that on Christmas Eve, there's a star that would fall from above the altar to the manger. It's depicting the Star of Bethlehem that has shown on the manger in over the great baby cries, and they would do that before Mass and Christmas Eve. It's it happens during the mass. So it depicts. It's usually a good timing midnight and then after Mass is over. Would people likely to be doing after Mass people will go home table is ready with the dummy. Fillers. What are they now? Oh, well, it's there is a rice. There is rice cake. There is the tea and all the Filipino goodies made of rice cake or rice. Sweet rice. I should say. So there's a big Feast afterwards. It's a big Feast for the whole family friends and relatives. So it's the time to be with family and friends. It's not a not a quiet time to be by oneself after that time. No, no and it's also to open gifts and on Christmas Day those who have not gone to the midnight mass. Go to mass any time that is convenient for them and then lunch or it's the dinner time and that is the festivities for Christmas day weddings and christening take place on this day 200. Really? That's a special time to be married or have a baby baptized. Yes, because it's a time for rejoicing What about the time between Christmas and New Year's are there special celebrations that go on during that time dances or whatnot not really but it seems the spirit is are going on. It's going on and there is still visiting going on. So there are still good is ready to be served to whoever comes to visit many don't have telephones or visiting is without notice but everybody's welcome. It just shows the Filipino hospitality and on New Year's Eve. There are also the New Year's Eve parties the noisemakers. Is New Year's Eve in the Philippines a whole lot like it is here. I think so. There are firecrackers. Nice. Noisemakers. Mainly still make their own noisemakers out of our bamboo. How did how did they do that? Bamboo more than a foot 3 feet long or a meter long? with Like a torch we kerosene and it sounds like a cannon so they what they do with it. Drop it on the ground or Stamp It On The Ground. No, we we stamp the like a torch put it in and the sound will go out of the bamboo. So it's like a it's like a cannon. Yes, so there it's not a quiet time and on the Philippines on New Year's Eve. No, I think it's a common just like anywhere in this world. I repeating merrymaking New Year's Day is Like A Christmas Day? Weddings christening parties visiting Antilla epiphany epiphany because as I said a while ago, it's a Catholic country. So Epiphany or January 6 is observed holidays is also for a chance. For the Filipinos to show the best finally it's a time for new shoes new clothes. because I think it makes everyone happy. Mrs. Willow Ramos a native of the Philippines. She and her husband live in the Minneapolis suburb of Fridley. Our tour of international Christmases takes us next to grease. It is from the Greek island of leros that the parents of Theodora joke has came mrs. Joe causes keeps in close touch with her Heritage both through her church and her kitchen. She's an expert in Greek cuisine and teaches classes on the subject in area schools. She also serves as an advisor to chefs in Cool Greek restaurants. Mrs. Joke is this says Christmas in Greece is a special time of preparation. I think it's important to note that this time of year in Greece. People are preparing for Christmas. They're preparing to receive the birth of Jesus Christ. They're preparing for the Nativity not only in the sense that they prepare their homes and prepare the very special kinds of foods, but also in the sense that they prepare themselves spiritually so they seem to focus in to the Christmas day as a church holiday, they prepare for the sacrament of confession. The sacrament of communion on Christmas Day is there less emphasis on rushing out and buying gifts for people that we find like like we'd find here in this country. I would say that gifts and the exchange of gifts plays a minor role at this time. There is a certain amount of gift exchanging. Between family within a family I should say but the gift-giving very often takes place on st. Basil's day, which is also New Year's Day and you see because st. Basil in the Orthodox Church was noted as being a very great philanthropist giving all he had to the needy that came to him. The gift-giving has kind of taken place on his day on his Feast Day the first of January what role is food play in a typical Greek Christmas celebration food plays a very important role and maybe partly because In preparation for Christmas day people fast from meats and other Foods in order to prepare themselves physically as well as spiritually for communion how long might that fast be? According to the calendar the fast is 40 days. Now. I'm sure that that varies a good deal from Individual to individual family to family and various families interpret that fast period in different ways. They may fast say from maybe one item such as meet the whole time. Maybe they will only choose to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays the one item or they may choose to observe that fasting period in a different way. But at any rate by Christmas time many families have been voluntarily given up something they like so so that's that's to be had again. So they're more than happy to take those goodies up again when Christmas day comes and one of the very special items that is included on the Christmas table is what we call kristaps MM. Oh Christ bread, which is a Beautiful round loaf of bread that has the symbol of the Cross baked into it and it's garnished with walnuts. Is it baked in a special way or their special ingredients on the inside? I think the special ingredients vary depending on which part of Greece the family is from so that for instance maybe in the in Corinth the crystal personal might be a plain bread that goes along with the meal perhaps in one of the islands such as the island that I'm familiar with lettuce the bread might have some anise baked into it a little anise flavoring maybe a little musty key, which is a very special spice that we use this time of year in the baking. What would you be likely to do on Christmas Day if you were back on the island of leros at Sunrise would they're likely be Church Attend and then after that what I think the very first thing would be going to church in that going to church is something that takes place very very early in the day on Christmas Day and then probably after what it would be a very lengthy church service. I would say maybe two and a half to three hours. We would probably gather at home for maybe a little Christmas ceuta key, which would be a Christmas bread a sweet bread that would tide us over until our big luncheon or our big dinner later in the day that probably all the family would come to and all the friends would very much as we would observe it here in that sense turkey and ham. I don't think ham perhaps turkey or regalo Pula as we call it. Perhaps also leg of lamb. The Greek people favor lamb a great deal as you probably know and even though the turkey has played an important role on festive tables for the Greek people in the latter years lamb is also very special. Would we be likely to see a Christmas tree in the corner? Not really a Christmas tree now in Greece is fairly common, but the Christmas tree is something that has come to Greece in the latter years. It's a from the Western World and from other European countries. Is there something that's comparable to the Christmas tree in terms of greens or something like that that we might see at this time of year pine cones evidently are used in the home as decorations, but I don't think that the The fresh greens are used to the extent that they are used in this country. I get the feeling that that cooking especially baking of Breads and things like that is very special you mentioned a bit ago st. Basil's day and there's a special bread that's baked on that day too isn't there. Yes, that's the vessel or Peter. St. Basil's cake. And st. Basil's cake is baked by the Homemaker after Christmas and the family gathers around it on New Year's Eve and cuts into it. Now. The very special thing about it is that a coin is baked right into it. So then the the family member that receives the piece with the coin in it is said to be especially blessed for the coming year. And st. Basil's cake goes back to st. Basil. Again, this great philanthropist and it is said I don't know if this is true. But I grew up with a story that when Saint Basil did his philanthropy. He would bake coins into the bread for the poor so that when the poor people would receive the bread they would be not only pleased with the bread that they would be surprised by the coins baked in them to Theodora joke is this of Minneapolis her family came from the Greek island of leros. Aside from how Christmas is celebrated in the Scandinavian countries and in Europe, we in this country are probably most familiar with the Christmas of Mexico St. Paul has a large Mexican American population and the expression of Mexican customs. There is prevalent, especially on the city's West Side Maria Morano's the Mexican-American community of West st. Paul. Well, most afternoons. She can be found in the Mexican American Center teaching folk dance or advising students on projects designed to teach them more about their Heritage. Christmas is very Important in Mexico first of all because the majority of the people over there are religious very religious and Christmas in Mexico is religious in America. It's you know, it would be Santa Claus and it makes go it's not and one of the things that is so important is a Christmas program, which is called Las posadas Las posadas means in or lodging and what what we do here in the community as of now, even you know that has come from the old country and has been left here when Mexico all the southwestern states were once Mexico has been left here and it's still going on very very strong, especially like here in the west side where you have the largest concentration of Mexican Americans. We start with a portrayal of Mary and Joseph, you know, though wanderings of Mary and Joseph and what we do is we go from home to home and sing the song asking for lodging you see it's in song form and the people inside will answer. Well. This is not a hotel go on your way and the versus go back and forth see so in one of the last verses the the people portray the outside which would be Mary and Joseph reveal their identity. Okay, and then the innkeeper's and all of us on these things are well, I did not know you come right in saying that since in song form also they come in and once they're inside and they've been admitted then the atmosphere just Changes Everything Changes. It changes from a very solemn at the beginning to a very very fast. Type of an occasion see then they bring out all the food which would be your tacos tamales and the whole thing and candy and then of course one of the important things that that we always have is the breaking of the piñata C and in America, we have a Christmas tree and a Mexico. Our Christmas tree is a piñata so the music begins understand seing and then the climax of the evening is the breaking of the piñata now, when would this take place with this take place on Christmas Eve or a couple of days before this would take place nine days before Christmas, which would be the nine Daisy the portrayal of the wanderings which would be nine days prior to Christmas Eve which would be December 16th. And this goes on in every hole and new home every night and the whole thing goes on like as if to be the nine days. What about Christmas Eve? What would we be likely to to experience if we were in Mexico if we lived here in this part of st. Paul? Christmas Eve What would most families be doing? There would be doing the very same thing here in the community. We also get together in homes. And one of the the important main dish I would say that that they like to make during the holidays is your tamales and in every home every just about every home everybody's making tamales ready for for you know, the midnight mass which again we end up with the Posada sat at the church or lady while the Lupe and then from there a lot of the people go home and have their tamales Christmas Eve. So the main event of Christmas Eve is midnight mass and then as many people do afterwards they come home and have have a meal some sort. That's right. That would be the Christmas that will be the way the Mexican celebrate Christmas. How about how about Christmas Day? Is that a pretty subdued day or do this more go on on Christmas day? No. Nothing more outside of your dinner, you know on your tamales or it could be any other many other food, but actually what goes on that day is nothing Christmas Eve is the end of moralist. How about New Year's? Is that a particular particularly important celebration in Mexico or among Mexican Americans here? Not bad not know year so much. Yes, there is, you know the celebration of the new year coming in and so forth. But what I think is important in Mexico is January 6th. Now that would be when the gifts would come in see here in America. It's Santa Claus and presents and the stocking hung up and in Mexico. It is not the Christmas tree is a piñata and the Christmas is all more religion and January 6th is the exchange of the gifts because that's when the three wise men came in with the gifts. So that's how we celebrate the exchange of the gifts there where the children put their shoes outside the door instead of hanging up their sock. Have have people in this country Mexican Americans in this country adopted many of the customs of the northern European countries. Are we likely to find Christmas trees and most mexican-americans home Mexican American Homes here? Yes. Yes. There is quite a few. In fact, not only here if you go down into Mexico down towards the border and maybe even in Mexico City now they have brought in a Christmas tree. However, they're not that easy to be had over there, but they do come out with the Santa Claus now and they cause Santa Claus and this sort of thing but not totally the real meaning of Christmas is just as I told you there's a lot of there's a lot of other things that go on during the during the Christmas so, you know the Christmas month while we call it a Christmas month because A lot of things go on in Mexico, like perhaps, you know are familiar with the church Our Lady of Guadalupe. Now she is a patroness of all Mexicans and she is also a just seems that the church is a magnet for all the Mexican people. There's many things that go on there. Now, there's celebrations like the shepherd's when they were on the way, you know and following the star. Okay. We have what we call a bus tour Ella and that's portrayal the the shepherd's you know, the wanderings of the shepherd's also that's also done in a play form songs that go in with it. And also the The Little Shepherd's with their wives and and the when the something evil comes by and does not let them go and see, you know, the infant child and all of this goes on with the story and it's really quite quite important. Would that be a play that school children might put on at church or school? Yes. Would be a play like that. In fact, the children are the ones that usually put it on and we had one here with adults about. Let's see. What's last year. We had the pleasure of the pasteurella. That's one of the other things that go on also the the visitation of our blessed mother which would be our love you can double that Lupe the people gather and they take her from home to home see everybody receives her and this starts back even in October. Then she comes into back to the church the day that is in her honor, which would be December 12th. Now that is also a very big day because that is the the day that she appeared to a little p.m. Called one Diego and there's a story that goes with that. So that's the reason why we honor her that day and there is the Mananitas which Singing in the morning, you know like I serenade to her and after that there's a special mass for her in the evening. There's a special procession where the children dressed all in the regional costumes and they go and they offer her, you know, give donations of some kind whatever they can and of course then there's always a thing out there at the end. Maria Moran of West st. Paul describing Christmas as it is celebrated both in Mexico and among Mexican Americans in this country Christmas Eve. We hung up our stockings. And as I told you it was just a regular stockings and went to bed early and in the next and the next morning and are stocking was always a tangerine and an apple and or some candy and maybe one present or two at the most. Florence heart came to this country 18 years ago from the small Scottish town of rosyth 12 miles outside of Edinboro. She and her husband and two children have been back many times since then. Mrs. Hart's mother still lives in Scotland. Mrs. Hart describes the holiday customs of Scotland as she remembers them from her childhood. We had a big Christmas dinner, which was goose and Christmas pudding and if we were lucky there was a silver Sixpence inside of the Christmas pudding. So these six pence were baked right into the pudding. Yes. Yes. They were wrapped in wax paper something. Did you have a Christmas tree? No, not when I was a little girl, but when I was about 17 or 18 they were coming into being fashionable then and let's see we'd go to the pantomime and that was a special event for the whole family and it's not like pantomime here where there's no talking but there it was like a musical comedy and the there would be dancers and singers and Comedians and it was like they'd have Cinderella or dick Whittington and there were several on and Edinburgh on several on in Glasgow in Aberdeen and we'd pack up and go off for the day and that would be a special event. I can remember those with very fond memories. What was Christmas Day itself? Like it did everybody sit around and wait for dinner as many people do here and then eat it and then sit around And recover from it. Well, no, it was a working day in Scotland when I was young and then later on they started to you know have it off and then of course it was the relatives getting together just the same as here and the big family meal with a goose not a turkey as I recall or a keep on what might you have done after after Christmas dinner. Would that have been the time when you might have packed off and gone to to the pantomime? Yes, probably. Yes. We went to pantomime on Christmas day or got together with our friends and short what are gifts that gives the vehicle just like kids here. Yes, just like it see what are some of the other things that you did and the people still do in Scotland around the holiday time. Well, the day after was boxing day and that was a holiday and that was supposed to go back to The times where the rich people boxed up gifts for their servants the next day to give them for Christmas and like the garbage collectors in the mailman and and all that and I think it was probably more English but came in to Scotland to and so we had Boxing Day and Christmas day together. So would you give gifts then to people like the garbageman and people like that but we did give gifts to them. Yes, but whether it was exactly on boxing day, I don't know. So Christmas Day itself in Scotland at least until recently was not a holiday. But the day after the 26th was yes. Yes that was more of a holiday, but that wouldn't necessarily mean that you as a child would get another gift. No. No, I didn't get any more guests. In fact, you know, we just had a small amount of gifts and comparison to the children over here. Yeah. It's a did would you would Chris Stay be a church day in many families. No, I don't think in too many families. It was a quiet day, but I don't think it was really just a I'm sure some people probably wear but I'm thinking of the people I was around it wasn't a day for going to church. Especially what about New Year's the the week after Christmas was that any different any many more special or less special? Yes, that's really the big festivities and Skylanders hug my knee which is New Year's Eve. And as I recall, we cleaned the house from top to bottom my mother and I and Polished the brasses and we kindled the fire cleaned out and then put a new fire in to bring the New Year in and we'd leave the back door open and the front door opened to let the old year out and the new year and and we belong would you do that? How long would it be open all day or just for a little while at nighttime? We never did any had we never did any drinking or eating before midnight? Eight, we did all the preparation like my mother would make black bun which is I guess I've never seen it in any other country. It's like a very heavy black fruit bread with a crust and it's so good. It's so rich and I've never had it since I left Scotland and the only make it at that particular time of year as well as shortbread and we used to have ginger wine the children did and we'd always have some alcoholic beverages set out and then at midnight we all got together and song Auld Lang Syne wished each other a happy New Year, and then we waited on her first foot and that was the person that was going to either bring us good luck or bad luck for the year ahead. And preferably it was to be a tall and dark man and He would come in hopefully with a piece of coal and a kind and some salt and he wouldn't speak to you. He'd come in the door knock on the door come in put the call on the fire give you the money and the salt and then you were assured of a prosperous and palatable future year know if the person was blind or a room and then you're like was out for the forthcoming year. And and who would this be that would come to visit? Well, probably your neighbors your relatives are your friends and went on most of the night and people would go out first fruiting like in my town we get together in a group when I was older and we'd first food all of our friends and we take some sort of gift along, you know in the way of food or a drink Well, if you were a blond and blue-eyed person you might not be nearly as popular as if you were a dark-eyed dark-haired person on that time. Well, you'd still be popular. You just wouldn't get in the door first Howard hours. You keep it. How would you keep the bad luck bring her out? Oh, I don't know. Well usually in Scotland. There are some dark haired people and if it's a woman if she's dark-haired, I guess they wouldn't mind is not good enough. Yeah. Also I had from my one of my friends that they prefer man who is a breech birth now, I don't know how that ties in at all but that is another good omen if the person who comes in has been a breech birth. And all of this to bring good luck for the new year the Scots are very very superstitious people and still are to this day superstitious. I guess it ties into you know, they olden times when they were very concerned about, you know Superstition New Year's day again is would be a quiet day and not too much going on again. Some people would go after their pain to my mind. Maybe New Year's Day. If you didn't go Christmas Day Florence heart who 18 years ago came to this country from Scotland. She and her husband and two children live on Taylor Street Northeast in Minneapolis.