No matter the greeting, December is a time of traditions. These observances range from religious traditions to family customs or occasions with friends. Here in Louisiana the festivities often include everything from a candlelight vigil and a visit from Santa to grandma’s gumbo and lighting bonfires.
Elsewhere, traditions vary widely. Some display lanterns. Some gather at the beach for a picnic. Others celebrate on December 6th, December 13th or even January 6th. Episcopal Upper School Spanish teacher Victoria Alvarez says growing up in Barcelona, Spain the celebrations typically began on December 20th and lasted until January 10th.
Alvarez says Christmas in Spain also features big nativity scenes in homes, churches and town squares. She says like in Louisiana the occasion is celebrated with family and friends. However, in Spain there are many gatherings over the course of several days. Family members take turns hosting each celebration and the food varies from house to house. Caroling is also done in Spain, but Alvarez says it’s on a more family-oriented scale with relatives singing songs together at home. One of the most popular songs sung is “Campana sobre campana” or “Bells over Bells”.
Once Christmas is over, Alvarez says families gear up for huge New Year’s celebrations on December 31st, which is considered the Oldest Night. Celebrations go well into the evening and include drinking champagne with gold jewelry in the glass, wearing red, and eating lentils. One unique tradition is that of the 12 grapes. Each family member receives 12 grapes representing the 12 months of the year. As the clock strikes midnight, relatives eat the grapes – one for each of the first 12 seconds of the New Year. Afterwards, family members laugh and enjoy a mouth brimming with fruit and the promise of another year together.
Whether in Louisiana or places further afar, traditions make every occasion even better. Learning about the traditions of others makes us more understanding and respectful of our differences and similarities. No matter whether you celebrate with Santa, the wise men or even grapes, enjoy the time together.
Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad!