Miners Share Holiday Traditions

By Daniel Perez

Christmas on the border could be considered a mash-up of Western and Mexican traditions from the foods that are eaten to when the gifts are opened. Such traditions are built slowly. Most are cherished and passed down by generations as families grow and blend and share customs.

PA multicultural UTEP holiday ornamentart of what makes The University of Texas at El Paso a vibrant center of education is the daily cultural exchanges among faculty, staff and students who bring their personal backgrounds to campus to enrich and enlighten each other.

Three UTEP representatives recently reflected on how the Christmas holiday is celebrated in their country of origin. While there are interesting differences, the similarities remain based in family, food and religion.

Brazil

Fernando Padula, director of the University Bookstore

Brazilians are a mix of people from many parts of the world, and as a former Portuguese colony, they have many Christmas customs that originate from this heritage, along with some local traditions such as a late afternoon soccer match at the beach as the sun goes down. Remember, winter in the northern hemisphere means summer in the south.

One tradition is to create a nativity scene or Presépio. The word stems from the Hebrew word “presepium,” which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presépio is common among Brazil’s northeastern states (Bahia, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Maranhão, Ceará, Pernambuco, Piauí and Alagoas).

Papai Noel (Santa Claus) is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to legend, he lives in Greenland. When he arrives in Brazil, he usually wears silk clothing due to the summer heat.

A huge Christmas dinner on December 24th brings the family together. The unusual menu for the hot summertime includes turkey, ham, colored rice, vegetables and fruit dishes. The post-Christmas diet starts early the next morning for some. A dawn patrol surfing session, which is my favorite, or long walks along the beach are among the favorite activities.

Devout Catholics often attend Midnight Mass or Missa do Galo. (A galo is a rooster.) The Mass has this name because the rooster announces the coming day and the Missa do Galo usually finishes at 1 a.m. Christmas morning.

Greece

Fotios Kafantaris, doctoral student in geological sciences

The Christmas period is captured in images of family gathering, an overfilled dinner table and an excess of hospitality. It would be awkward if a culture like the Greek, which has strong ties to food and Christianity, would not celebrate Christmastime this way.

On Christmas Eve, children carry music triangles and knock on the door of each and every house as they sing Christmas carols to proclaim the Lord’s birth. The homeowners offer the children, who are accompanied by family members, candies and money.

Families attend Christmas Mass and then gather at a family member’s home to eat. It’s hard to distinguish when lunch ends and dinner begins because eating is the main activity of the day. Relatives and friends, especially those who have no family around, are the special guests of the day.

While the menus can be quite extensive, there is a special dessert that truly represents my country – “melomakarona.” Translated metaphorically, it means ‘’honey-topped spaghetti.’’ It is a thick biscuit made of dough rich in olive oil and pieces of orange and lemon peel, dipped in a honey-based syrup. The housewives make enough melomakarona before Christmas because it is offered throughout the day as a snack, dessert or given as a present.

Russia

Natasha Tchoshanova, Russian teacher at Alicia Chacon International School and Mourat Tchoshanov, Ph.D., professor of teacher education 

Russians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, but they spread out the celebration for two weeks, bookended by New Year’s celebrations.

Although Russia officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, the Russian Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian calendar that lags 13 days behind. Therefore, the New Year became a holiday that is celebrated twice on Russian calendars: Jan. 1 (New New Year) and Jan. 14 (Old New Year).

For Russians, Jan. 1 is a festive day like Christmas in the western world. The president of Russia usually counts down the final seconds of the outgoing “Old Year” during a national TV and radio broadcast, and then a giant Kremlin tower clock chimes in the New Year. A New Year’s (Christmas) tree, called Novogodnaya Yolka, is in each home usually topped with a shining star. Traditional foods include Russian salad, Champagne and Mandarin oranges. 

Grandfather Frost (the Russian Santa Claus) and his granddaughter, Snowmaiden, give candy and small gifts to children who sing songs and recite poetry.

The holiday is interesting because it combines circular traditions of meeting the New Year with the Christian Orthodox Christmastide customs. It is very convenient: following the circular traditions, on the Old New Year’s Eve TV broadcasts once again all the New Year’s programs, concerts and films, and one does not need to buy another fir tree – the old one will do fine.

The most popular customs of Christmastide, which coincides with the Old New Year, are fortune telling and kolyadki (carol-singing). Divination is special on the Old New Year’s Eve. Almost everybody did it in the olden days. The elderly were curious about life, young people wanted to know about their love interests, mothers were interested in the health and fortune of their children, and thrifty managers inquired about business success.