Blog: The Hopeful Traveler
Ah, nothing says Christmas like a svelte Saint Nicolas crawling up the drainpipe of your hotel, right? After childhood holidays with plastic front-yard reindeer and blaring carols at the mall, my first Christmas overseas was like waking up in a childrens' story book.
Some version of Christmas is celebrated in virtually every country of the world, although most of them don't resemble the overstuffed orgy of consumerism we know as Christmas. But one thing we all have in common is the desire to be with friends and family on Christmas Eve. Experiencing a family Christmas in another culture (even another culture inside the USA!) is something you'll never forget. It may be too late for this year's getaway but here are some thoughts for next year:
In addition to strolling along the twinkly-lit Champs Elysees, I can personally recommend two more Christmas Eve must-do events in Paris. First, take an evening stroll with the Parisian families along the Boulevard Haussmann (9th arr.) to gaze at the amazing (and often bizarre) holiday window displays at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. My favorite window at Galerie Lafayette featured Barbies from outer space locked in mortal combat with flying, diapered babies.
Later, you can join what appears to be the entire world at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for the Christmas Midnight Mass. This is where it's been happening for well over 600 years and it's a powerful spiritual experience from the moment you enter, regardless of your faith.
Rome—The big ticket for Christmas in Rome is the Papal Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and the Pope reading his Christmas message in the piazza in front of St. Peter's at noon on Christmas Day. In St. Peter's Square there is also a famous life-size nativity scene.
As well as the grand display outside St Peter's, and a smaller effort in Piazza Navona, other nativity scenes (presepi) can be seen in most of Rome's churches. At the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona you can buy the components for your own nativity scene, as well as sweets, wooden toys and all sorts of Christmas-related ornaments and goodies.
Oaxaca, Mexico- Noche de los Rabanos
Go on, guess. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more unusual Christmas celebration than this one. This tradition was created over a hundred years ago to celebrate native folk art and agriculture. Each year on Dec 17, local artisans are given 5 days to carve locally-grown radishes (long, monstrous radishes-- not the tiny red ones we have) into intricate religious tableaux, nativities, and images of saints. The hundreds of finished artworks are displayed around the Zocalo (plaza) on Dec 23, but only for a few hours. A winner is chosen at the end of the night, and it's all over until next year. Truly amazing.
Santa Fe, NM—
The Farolito walk. It's cold, the smell of piñon is in the air and, if you're lucky, it's snowing. Santa Fe's signature seasonal event is always on Christmas Eve. You start at the bottom of Canyon Rd at dusk, follow the crowds, sipping cider, oohing and aahing at the thousands of farolitos- small candles nestled into brown paper bags filled with sand. There's no real historical tradition since it only started in 1971, but it's Christmas magic nonetheless.
Santa Fe is one of the few cities in the US that has a palpable sense of "foreigness" to it. It's a mix of Indian, Spanish, Mexican and American, tucked into gorgeous surroundings. It's a wonderful destination any time of the year but Christmas is when it really blooms.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico--
Christmas in San Miguel is a tradition that begins on December 16 with nine nightly Posadas leading up to Christmas Eve. Posada is Spanish for "Inn". It commemorates the nightly search by Joseph and Mary for shelter on the way to Bethlehem and the birth of the Baby Jesus. The Posadas may be organized by a church or a neighborhood but they are similar in that they all include the Virgin Mary, Joseph and an angel to watch over them.
In San Miguel the Posadas usually begin at the Parroquia, the church located on the plaza, ending at a particular home or church where refreshments are served and treats are given to the children. The procession is led by locals portraying Mary, Joseph and the angel who may be riding in the bed of a truck, or represented by statues carried by devoted followers. The followers include children dressed in traditional costumes, adults with candles, sparklers or lanterns and a variety of musicians.
Oh, and by the way, the title of this blog is Merry Christmas in Esperanto. So Gajan Kristnaskon!
Steven Berrier 2007
posted on: 12/14/2007 1:00:00 PM by Steven Berrier and Leslie Coles
The Hopeful Traveler: < Previous Post - Next Post >
Blog Central: < Previous Post - Next Post >