By: Alexandra Sharova
Twinkling bright lights, Christmas trees, presents and family gatherings are the common harbingers of Christmas, and they don’t differ much from country to country.
As for those who believe in white-bearded man usually wearing a red coat and who carries a bag full of gifts, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, or Père Nöel – he goes by many different names – is another inseparable herald of Christmas holiday.
This year I celebrated Christmas in Italy. One of the most important Christmas traditions in Italy is the Nativity scene (or crib), called il presepe. The first Nativity play was performed by St. Francis of Assisi and his followers in 1223.
In Naples, this tradition has become such an important element of Christmas celebrations that in the course of time people started to think of crib scenes as a Neapolitan “invention.” However, Naples is still world famous for its cribs and crib-making.
The thing I liked the most about these scenes is that il presepe displays not only characters from the Christmas story, but also ordinary people and objects, such as trees, food, animals, houses, etc. Neapolitan dexterous artists even created scenes of Naples in a nutshell with its famous monuments and prominent people!
A huge presepe is erected in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and is usually unveiled on Christmas Eve.
Italians still generally celebrate Christmas with family. “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you like” (“Natale con I tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi”), as an old Italian proverb says.
They also have a special Christmas menu, or menu di Natale. The most typical Christmas dinner dishes include baccala (salted dried cod), pasta, turkey and, of course, sweets or dolci.
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on Jan. 7. The date differs because the Russian Orthodox Church uses Julian calendar for religious celebrations.
The most common dish for Christmas in Russia is sochivo, a porridge made of rice with fruits, usually raisins, honey and chopped nuts.
The food people make for Christmas festivities and holiday traditions may differ from country to country, but the spirit of the holiday – family gatherings, warm wishes, gifts – stays the same.
For me, New Year and Christmas is about the people you celebrate it with. You might be divided by long distance, thousands of kilometres; you might have arguments and not always see eye to eye, but you still get together under the same roof for the holiday.