No matter the language, culture or tradition, Christmas is celebrated throughout the world. As followers of Christ, we rejoice in hope and long for the peace as prophesied in the Old Testament. At WRDA, a part of God’s provision for immigrants and refugees in the western suburbs of Chicago is our employees. Our staff is comprised of people from all over the world and includes PhD’s and engineers, teachers and social workers, pastors and legal professionals, licensed mental health counselors, accountants and dedicated specialist—each with the calling to stand-up against injustice and a heart to serve the vulnerable. This year, we would like to share the gift of our staff with you through the retelling of Christmas traditions from staff members whose country of origin is not the U.S.
Wishing you the gift of faith and the blessing of hope this holiday season!
WRDA Immigrant Legal Services Associate
Culinary, musical, and cultural traditions make the month of December very special in Venezuela. As a predominantly Catholic country, starting on the December 16, Christmas festivities celebrate the birth of Jesus with mass very early in the morning (Misas de Aguinaldo). During this time period, alarm clocks are not needed because the bells sound and firecrackers fill the early morning air to let everyone know it’s time. One unique custom is that early risers roller-skate to the local church to attend service.
The final worship service takes place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena de Navidad and is held at midnight (Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster). Families return home afterwards for a large meal, which includes traditional Hallacas. Surround by cornmeal dough, Hallacas are similar to tamales— wrapped in plantain leaves and filled with a variety of meats, raisins, capers and olives. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve after mass, but unlike the tradition of Santa Claus, Venezuela children receive presents from baby Jesus and the wise men.
Issam Smeir /Palestine and Jordanm. Senior Mental Health Counselor
Christmas is more relationship-oriented in this part of the world. On Christmas day, from early morning to late in the evening, people visit neighbors, friends and family. You are expected to visit those who have visited your home or it is considered rude; however, exchanging gifts is not expected. Instead, visitors are greeted with Arabian Coffee and served homemade date-cookies and sometimes wine.
Susan Bachmeier / Peru
Immigrant Lregal Services Senior Specialist
Christmas in Peru is one of the most celebrated holidays. Elaborate nativity scenes are set-up in homes with a variety of figurines representing whose who came to see baby Jesus. At midnight on Christmas Eve, fireworks and the uncovering of baby Jesus in the manger signifies Christmas has arrived. Peruvians dance to popular music and share a traditional meal of turkey, tamales, panettone (Italian sweet bread), and Peruvian hot chocolate. After dinner, gifts are exchanged and families visit with their relatives.
Durmomo Gary / Sudan
Support Services Coordinator
Visiting friends and family is synonymous with Christmas in the Sudan. Sudanese women bake for days preparing a variety of cookies and sweet treats, while the men shop and wrap gifts for the entire family. By the time Christmas arrives, everyone is prepared to feed many guests in their home.
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve families attend a midnight church service and then spend Christmas Day going from house-to-house celebrating; everyone is welcome. A meal is eaten at each location because in the Sudanese culture it would be considered rude for a guest to turndown food offered by their host.
Esther Myahla/ Burma
Medical Case Specialist
In Burma, every family invites their neighbors and relatives to a special worship service in their home. People bring food to share as a gift and the pastor gives a message and offers a blessing.. Depending on the pastor’s schedule, each the family selects the date for worship in their home, with the exception of December 25 when Christmas mass is celebrated at the church together.
Jessica Fernandez / Mexico
Immigrant Legal Services Associate
Festivities for Christmas in Mexico begin with Posadas— from December 16 through the 24. The posadas recreate Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of shelter. Each night, the posada is held in a neighborhood home. At dusk, guests gather outside the home with children dressed as shepherds and angels. An angel leads the procession, followed by Mary and Joseph, and adults carrying candles. The pilgrims sing a song asking for shelter, and the host (inside the house) sings a reply. Finally, the host opens the doors to the pilgrims offering hot ponche, buñuelos, and tamales. The posada celebration ends with a piñata in the shape of the Christmas star.
Counseling Center Director
Serbians follow both the Gregorian and Julian calendar, which means Christmas is celebrated twice—once on December 25 and then on January 7. For the Serbian Orthodox Christmas on December 25, families gather for dinner. Special round bread with decorations on top is served and torn into as many pieces as there are guests. Tradition says that good luck will follow the person who finds the silver coin baked inside the bread. Historically, on Christmas Eve morning, Serbian fathers take their eldest son to the forest to chop down an oak tree branch, which becomes the Yule Log. Today, Serbians have two branches— one branch from a nearby tree on December 25 and a second branch from the church on January 7. When the branch is burned, sparks from the fireplace represent blessings from God. The Serbian Christmas in January is celebrated by going to church, engaging in prayer, and visiting friends.