I thought for April I would review the three "Christmas Around the World" books from World Book that I picked up at last month's book sale. It was a nice trip into the holidays in an annoyingly allergic spring!
Christmas in Mexico
There are certain Christmas customs from Mexico that have become universally loved, especially the poinsettia and, to a lesser extent, the piñata and La Posadas, and they certainly have their time in the sun in this book, but other charming customs come to light as well, especially the naciamiento, what the Mexican people call the Nativity scene. Like the French creche and the Italian presepio, the Mexican version mixes the traditional figures with those more familiar figures: people in serapes, tortilla makers, and other friendly faces that bring the world of the Christ child closer to His followers. Another custom I was not aware of was the performance of pastorelas, descended from the medieval mystery plays. A typical performance includes the Devil as a character who tries to tempt one or two humorous, but weak shepherd figures, but who is inevitably defeated by the angels. I also did not know the traditional Mexican celebration lasts all the way through Candlemas.
Christmas in the Philippines
The Filipino celebration, while highly Christ-centered, is also a time of great feasting and fun. Traditional Asian dishes with ingredients like coconut join foods of Spanish heritage, reflecting their history. While the Filipinos have and love Christmas trees, the decorations central to their Christmas are the belem (short for Bethlehem) or what we would call a manger or Nativity scene and the parol, the star lantern, which can range from a simple small wood-frame and colored paper decorations with a candle in its heart to huge pieces made of colored plastic and metal so large they must be carried on trucks. Celebrations revolve around church services and family, and end on the feast of the Epiphany, known as Three Kings Day.
Finally we travel from two warm locations to a cold one:
Christmas in Scandinavia
Portions of this book are expanded on in the Christmas in Denmark book, especially the story of Christmas seals and the Christmas plates, but its charm is that it includes the other Scandinavian countries, so there are pieces about St. Lucia Day in Sweden, specific culinary treats in each of the countries, Norway providing Christmas trees to barren Iceland (and one very special tree to Trafalgar Square, commemorating the British aide to Norway during World War II), the different aspects of the Christmas elves, and the Star Boys who see out the Christmas season on St. Knut's Day, January 13. Beautiful photos of candles and bonfires against the Christmas snow give this volume a warm, welcoming feel.