For the world’s over 1 billion Catholics and many Protestant denominations too, late November heralds the thoughtful season of Advent. Marking the four weeks approaching Christmas, Advent provides a time to reflect, fast, give alms, and ponder the historic waiting of the Jews for their Messiah Jesus.
Yet across different nations and cultures, popular seasonal traditions have developed their own unique flavours for preparing hearts to celebrate Christ’s first coming while longing for his second. Let’s tour how seven places uniquely observe the spells between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Austria lays musical claim to the world’s most beloved Christmas carol, Silent Night. Originally penned in German (“Stille Nacht”) by an Austrian priest, endless renditions of the classic fill Vienna and Salzburg as the lyrics translate global yearning for heavenly peace.
China’s minority Christian population marks Jesus’ coming by illuminating homes with colorful paper lanterns and pagoda cutouts. Their name for decorating trees as “Light Trees” proves especially fitting for Advent when the world metaphorically languished in darkness before Christ’s light pierced the gloom.
The posada tradition in Mexico literally reenacts Mary and Joseph spending nine days searching for shelter. Processions of children led by one dressed as an angel go door to door until finally welcomed on Christmas Eve to rejoice over Jesus’ birth.
Before sunrise in the early morning darkness, Polish believers attend special candlelit roraty masses during Advent awaiting the coming light. Families later set up carnival-style booths offering candy, gifts and ornaments to all passersby.
On Santa Lucia’s feast day, Swedish Lutherans join a torchlit Lucia bride — wearing a crown of real lit candles! — to process singing customary carols that pierce December’s darkest days with hope.
Meanwhile in ecclesiastical art capitol Italy, every town competes through December to stage the most elaborate nativity scenes. Figurines of villagers, artisans, vendors, and animals colorfully evoke Jesus’ first century welcome.
So amidst the fray of commercialised Christmas hubbub, pause this year to ponder how believers worldwide uniquely express heartfelt longing during Advent. Maybe even join ages-old Advent hymns or dances as we jointly turn expectant faces toward Bethlehem’s miracle that changed history