As you all know, Christmas in America has basically become a commercial holiday. However, it’s not always like this! Many other countries, especially in Europe, celebrate this holiday beautifully.
One of the countries that is able to celebrate Christmas quite artfully is the Philippines. Each year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu) is held in the city of San Fernando – the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” The festival attracts tourists from all over the country and even from across the globe. Eleven barangays (villages) take part in the festival and competition is fierce as everyone pitches in trying to build the most elaborate lantern. Originally, the lanterns were simple creations around two feet in diameter, made from ‘papel de hapon’ (which is Japanese origami paper) and lit by candle. Today, the lanterns are made from a variety of materials and have grown to around 20 feet in size. These lanterns are illuminated by electric bulbs that sparkle in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
In Sweden, ever since 1966, there has been an approximately 40 foot tall Yule Goat (the Gävle Goat) which is in the center of Gävle’s Castle Square for the Advent. Unfortunately, this Swedish Christmas tradition has led to another “tradition” of sorts – where people try to burn down the goat. Since 1966 the Goat has been successfully burned down 29 times – the most recent destruction was in 2016.
Germany celebrates a totally different way, but with a unique meaning behind it. Not to be confused with Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas), Nikolaus travels by donkey in the middle of the night on December 6 (Nikolaus Tag) and leaves little treats like coins, chocolate, oranges and toys in the shoes of good children all over Germany, and particularly in the Bavarian region. St. Nicholas also visits children in schools or at home and in exchange for sweets or a small present each child must recite a poem, sing or draw a picture. In short, he’s a great guy. But it isn’t always fun and games for everyone. St. Nick often brings along Knecht Ruprecht (Farmhand Rupert). He is a devil-like character dressed in dark clothes covered with bells and a dirty beard, Knecht Ruprecht carries a stick or a small whip in hand to punish any children who misbehave.
While these festive celebrations are all fun, most of us are totally used to the traditional holiday we celebrate in America, usually simply with stringed-up lights all around and Christmas songs flooding the radios. It is sad to say that we may not see any burning goats this year.