Christmas Around the World


You asked me how Christmas is celebrated in Argentina. Well, what would you answer if I asked you how Christmas is celebrated in the United States? Would you presume to tell me how the Swedish in Minnesota, the Chinese in San Francisco, the Negro in Georgia, the Dutch family in Hudsonville celebrates? No, you would probably tell me what you know; how you celebrate. Yes, we all have our own backgrounds with their traditions which we add to the customs of the communities in which we live. In Argentina much the same thing occurs. The nationality. religion, climatic conditions all add to the individual celebration of Christmas in each home. I haven’t traveled the Argentine any more widely than I have traveled the United States. I can only tell you of the Christmases of which I know.

My very first Christmas in Argentina was a rather lonely affair. We had arrived a few weeks before and installed ourselves as best we could. Th en my husband packed a few things and was off to make a circuit of all the sheep ranches far and near where we supposed we had church members. I was pregnant, knew no Spanish, and was considered quite unworthy of the rough and rugged journey. So our first Christmas found me by myself. I remember spending those long eighteen hours of hot, dusty, Patagonia sun reading and rereading my only thumb-worn copies of a “Journal” and a “Reader’s Digest”…the fine print of every advertisement, the guarantees, warranties, conditions, and anything else that was on those pages. I still hadn’t figured out that strange Argentine money and its value, and as yet I had not been initiated into the physical contortions, grunts and groans, that can serve as communication when all words fail! So I never even ventured outside the door to the corner grocery which was open as usual.

My second Christmas more than made up for the privations of the first. Again there was nothing in the December’s hot, glaring dust storms to herald the usual Christmas celebration; no tinsel in the stores, no Salvation Army lassie on the comer ringing her bell, no daily notice in the newspapers…“only 15 more shopping days left.” But in our bare stucco church the few children that remained in the city during the summer holidays prepared the same little verses and exercises with which you are familiar. Our sparse little choir caroled the same hymns, but of course, all in Spanish. It was new and strange to them, but they were trying hard to put meaning into a day that had previously passed unnoticed. We wanted so much to use candles for some of the numbers, but that glaring sun, even at 8:00 p.m., destroyed much of the reverent atmosphere we dies for some of the numbers, but that glaring sun, even at tunity to present the birth of the Savior and his gift to men to a lot of curiosity seekers who rarely stepped over the doorsill of the church.

The very few devoted church people among our Catholic neighbors had lit candles and waited the Christmas Eve away for the big mass at 12:00 p. m. Then they feasted and made merry until dawn and spent Christmas day recuperating and picnicking at the beach.

When we left Argentina two years ago, a little of the commercialized American Christmas was slowly seeping in. But it was having difficulty for many reasons. One is that the Argentine gift·giving day is January 6, the Day of the Wisemen. Another is that the Argentines do not have the money to indulge in our expensive festivities. And more important perhaps is the fact that Roman Catholic theology does not emphasize Christ as much as the saints and Mary. They seem to feel that the birthday of their favorite saint rates more attention than that of the Savior.

– Natalie (Mrs. John S.) Boonstra



While probably only three percent of the population in Taiwan acc Christians, many more observe Christmas. Non-Christians observe Christmas as a custom introduced from the West, without having any religious significance attached to it. Christmas cards arc sent between friends; dinner parties arc held in hotels or private homes.

For the Christians, however, Christmas is more meaningful. Larger churches often have special evening services on December 24, and smaller churches usually observe Christmas on the Sunday closest to the 25th, as Christmas is not a legal holiday. Everybody has to work during the day. Certain special features arc added to the Christmas Sunday services: the choir will sing a number of hymns; adult baptism is scheduled on that day if there are any candidates; Bowers are used to grace the church as also are other decorations made of colored paper. Packages of candies and cookies are distributed to Sunday school students and to children of church members. In some churches the young people sing carols outside the homes of Christians. They are often invited in the house for tea and sweets.

The Y.M.C.A. regularly spOnsors an oratorio of Handel’s Messiah. For the past two years the conductor is a minister of the Taiwan Presbyterian Church, and his wife is the piano accompanist. Most of the choir members are students of seminaries and colleges. The Messiah is sung in English, and the performance is held in the middle of December each year.

Most Christians send greeting cards at Christmas time. hut the custom of exchanging gifts is not widely practiced. In the homes of some Christians, Christmas trees are placed in the living room and gift packages are given by parents to their children.

Last year the Chinese government in Taiwan proclaimed December 25 as the Constitution Day, thereby making it a holiday for all government workers and students of all schools. Banks and some corporations free their employees for the day. There might be a special significance in making the Christmas Day a legal holiday, when we remember that many government officials, including the President and the First Lady, are Christians.

Merry Christmas!

– Lily (Mrs. Isaac) Jen


All true Christians commemorate Christmas by giving thanks to God for Jesus Christ who as the Savior came into the world to save sinful men and to be the Master of their lives. “Thank you, Father, for Christ Jesus who is our only hope of redemption and life eternal in glory with Thee.” This is the prayer of all those born again.

By a variety of celebrations this day is commemorated throughout the world. These celebrations are largely determined and colored by customs, traditions, weather, etc., of the respective countries. Sad to say, too many celebrations have lost this commemorative aspect.

In Australia, as in America, there is Santa Claus, here called “Father Christmas.” There are decorations, spending and giving of gifts, although not nearly so widespread and elaborate as in America. Business men, of course, make their wares as attractive as possible. Very early they advertise on a limited scale. But they must contend with a country which has hot summer weather in December, with people who are eager to spend their holidays on the beautiful beaches.

In addition, the Australian school children finish the school year just before Christmas. At this time shop and factory personnel also receive their annual two-week holiday. These are then combined with Christmas. So, what do we have? The workers hold their “break-up” parties, which are little more than big beer-drinking sprees. The men often arrive home very drunk, summing up their state by saying, “We had our Christmas celebration!” At school children have their “break-up” parties, eating sweets and playing a few games under the balloons and colors of a few Christmas decorations.

During these weeks the beaches hum with activity. Many families spend their time in tents pitched within five feet of each other. Here they eat dust and are surrounded by flies. Yet they have little thought for anything else than the “good time” they’re having.

On the whole the Australian churches do not hold a Christmas commemorative service. Some feel this is against the Reformed interpretation of Scripture. Others feel this is unnecessary or meaningless. A few groups have tried to make the Christmas commemoration like a Sunday worship. We believe the Australian Christians should work together for a proper commemoration of our Savior’s birth. In that way they could be a more effective witness to the non-Christians around them. But Christmas celebrations don’t end on December 25. The next day is a holiday, called “Boxing Day.” It is supposed to be a day for fun, but again many men make of it an all-day drinking affair. What a sad anti-climax for many homes! Pray for these homes without Jesus, that he may be received in them and there be commemorated with thanks to God for his gift of love to the world.

How different the celebration for a missionary-pastor’s family. On the Saturday before Christmas our daddy and the two girls left home with the tent. Where did they go? To Portland, one hundred and eighty-five miles away. Here there were meetings on Saturday. worship on Sunday, Christmas program on Monday evening, and tho Christmas service on Tuesday which was Christmas day. He returned home to Geelong on that day just in time for supper with the rest of the family. At home we had two teenage guests who spent their holidays with us. On Monday we made our preparations. On Tuesday we attended the Christmas worship service. We spent the afternoon rather quietly waiting for father and the girls. When they returned, we had “family time.” The children enacted the Christmas story in their own way, and we all joined in singing carols. The next day, “Boxing Day,” was also our son’s birthday. Father spent some time With the boys; mother and the girls prepared the Christmas dinner. After dinner each of us had a gift to open. By 2:30 we were all ready for a long hike into the bush. [n this way we had opportunity to commemorate God’s great gift to us. Though far from our homeland and in mid summer, all of us received the spiritual blessing of remembering the Savior’s birth.

– Harriet (Mrs. Gerard) Van Groningen


Come with me to the busiest place at Rehoboth this time of the year—the post office. The mail has just come in and the postmaster is very busy sorting and put· ting it into the boxes. Many children and workers are made happy by the mail that comes from people all over. How joyous they are that friends have remembered them again this Christmas. Look at the boxes that also came. Some of them are for various people but some of them are addressed only to the Rehoboth Mission. These boxes are opened in the office or by the matrons. But, where do they all come from, and whom are they for? They are from friends of the mission over the whole United States and Canada, and are to be given as Christmas gifts to the school children.

Shortly before the Navajo children leave for their homes to spend the holidays with loved ones, each class, with their teacher and another worker, has a party. Excitement is in the air at the whole mission! The children gather for games first and then a small gift is given to each one. The things that came in boxes are now used for these gifts. What a thrill it would be if you could peek in on one of these parties and sec the shiny, sparkling eyes, of the little ones especially, when they see their gifts. Some of the children receive few other gifts. A little later the cooks bring refreshments to each class and this too is something special. In closing, songs are sung of the Birthday of the King. As the children run back to the dormitory, the workers are happy for the extra work they have done and are thankful for the many supporters who remember them and the children again.

After the party and fun, the high school students go out Christmas caroling to share with others the glad tidings of great joy.

The afternoon the children go home, a Christmas pro· gram is given by them for the workers and parents. Every number on the program tells of the birth of the Christ, illStilling in the children and audience alike the true meaning of Christmas.

Some of the missionaries at the outposts have the privilege of holding religious classes in the government school. They, too, present a small gift to each of the children signed up with the Christian Reformed Church and remind the children that a more wonderful and greater gift came to earth whose birthday we celebrate this season of the year.

Christmas is a joyous day at each of our chapels too. Christians in some areas gather and celebrate this day together by having dinner and a special speaker or activities; others gather with relatives and friends but all join in their chapels, as people from all nations and ages do, to thank, praise, and glorify our Savior who came into this world as a babe to die for our sins.

– Thelma Vander Ven


To begin, I would like to qualify my impressions about Christmas in Cuba by saying that we spent only two Christmas seasons there. I know that if we were still living there, my story of Christmas in Cuba might be altogether different. I say this because [ remember how different the two Christmas times seemed to me, not only for political reasons but also because by the second year we were better prepared to accept new customs and traditions.

We celebrated our first Cuban Christmas just two months after we arrived there. We were in a period of adjustment, did not know the Spanish language yet, and everything was still very new to us. Having always lived in snow country until we moved to Cuba, it might as well have been July as December to us. We had been transferred to such a different environment that it was difficult to convince ourselves that this was actually Christmastime. I am sure that most of us would admit that as much as we regret the commercialization of Christmas, without it and without our traditions, we would find ourselves a little lost.

All around us there was some activity. It is the season for giving in Cuba also, but there was no evidence of this from outward appearances. No carols were played in the streets, no bell-ringers, and no busy shoppers were seen. Christmas day was much like any other day of the year the stores were open until noon. In Cuba, gifts are given to the children on January 6—the day of the Kings.

As Christmas received little commercialization, there was even less of a religious note. This, in itself, was most depressing. This birthday of a King was not heralded by the townspeople in any way. The time for celebration is on Christmas Eve or “Noche Duena.” On that night families get together and have a real feast of roast pig roasted whole—and all the special dishes that go with such a dinner. Since the country of Cuba was nearing the end of a severe revolution, there was little celebrating Christmas of 1959.

The Christmas of 1960 was much more joyful for the people of our town—a very false joy because they were celebrating their new and unpredictable government instead of the birth of their eternal King. Streets were decorated with colorful lanterns and papers; homes were decked out with decorations of every description. Even then, there was some uneasy laughter and shrugging off of some of the government’s strange orders -no Christmas trees and no Santa Claus talk! This was unnecessarily American. Cubans had to have a Cuban Christmas. As onlookers we felt strange forebodings at these early antiAmerican tendencies.

That year, 1960, we were invited to a roast pig dinner at the home of one of the families of church—a Christmas Eve we will never forget. Uniquely Cuban and an evening of true Christian fellowship in every way.

These are my impressions of Christmas in Cuba as an onlooker of the activities of the town of Jaguey Grande. There were also activities and preparations going on in our various churches. Each young people’s group gave a well-rehearsed program, programs that we found much more realistic to the meaning of Christmas than many of their American counterparts. Christmas carols were sung in church and Sunday School during the month of December. The Ladies’ groups performed a very special service by sewing clothing for all the needy children that came to Sunday School—and this included the majority of the pupils.

In a way, the church and religious activities stand apart from a typical Cuban Christmas in my mind, because these songs and activities are not really a part of the original Cuban tradition.

Today in Cuba those who celebrated their Christmas without Christ and used this season as an excuse to praise the wonders of their government are silent and confused and many of them are suffering. The Christians are celebrating their Christmas in their churches if they receive government permission. If not, they have the joy and knowledge of Christmas and Christ in their hearts and celebrate it quietly in their family—what family they have left around them.

For every Cuban, in Cuba or in exile, Christmas is a memory. For the Cuban Christian in exile there is the beautiful Christmas story—the birth of a King. the peace of heart and soul that only this great truth can bring.

There is also the most deep, heartfelt prayer and desire that “next year we will celebrate Christmas in Cuba.”

– Arlene (Mrs. Clarence) Nyenhuis


A first Christmas away from home is a strange experience. In fact, for many it is a time of homesickness. But for an American family a mid-summer Christmas in New Zealand is almost bewildering. Then one must face up to the question: What really makes Christmas Christmas?

Is it the cozy atmosphere spent in a warm house on a cold, winter day with snow falling outside? Is it merely a matter of going through the old routine of last minute shopping and maintaining certain traditions and customs to which everyone else also seems to be clinging?

The most popular place in New Zealand on Christmas day is the beach. The schools have completed another year of activity. Vacations have begun.

Everyone is asked, “Where are you going for Christmas?”

Most of the factories close down for several weeks. And as the assembly lines grind to a halt, the New Zealanders indulge in Christmas parties with all the trimmings. By all means these trimmings must include beer and “Scotch” so that walking the streets, or riding the buses becomes a most unpleasant experience. Everyone is in a hilarious mood, wishing one and all “happy Christmas”.

New Zealanders have a way of trying to do the same thing everyone else is doing at the same time. They love the out-of-doors and their climate and their countryside lends itself to a vacation in tents. During the Christmas holidays New Zealand virtually becomes a land of tent-dwellers. Prior to Christmas they pack up and many of their heroes are vacated for several weeks.

In some ways, the celebration of Christmas is much like ours in the Northern Hemisphere. For instance, there is the same exchanging of gifts. The stores are decorated in much the same way. Even though it is the heart of summer, they have the same tinsel, snow Hakes painted in windows, and Santa pictured in a sleigh.

Nearly all the children are taught to believe in Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as he is normally called. It is the accepted thing even among Christians. Seemingly children must believe that “Santy” brings them gifts. They do have Christmas trees, but not very many, since most people are away from home. The few that are at home have a big Christmas dinner with ham and plum pudding. Last Christmas there was an item in the local paper, lamenting the fact that New Zealanders were replacing their big Christmas dinners with the picnic basket.

Now I know this has nothing to do with the real Christmas, but this is how it is celebrated in New Zealand.

The Reformed Churches have a divine service which is looked upon as something quite foreign by the New Zealanders. In many respects the Dutch immigrants are inclined to take a radically different view of Christmas. They seem to regard Christmas as a day more sacred than Sunday. Even though they may attend church very irregularly otherwise, by all means, they must attend the service on Christmas day. Our Reformed people have started the practice of having programs during the Christmas season. However they must be satisfied to have these programs some weeks in advance because it is “just too busy” around Christmas time.

Perhaps these strange customs and this different atmosphere have helped us to ask more earnestly, “What is really Christmas?”

– Carrie (Mrs. Richard J.) Venema


The moon became faintly visible with an eerie amber cast sometime after dark, far above the horizon. The breeze from the north was comfortable, but it carried the Sahara dust which first hid the moon completely and now filtered its light. The higher it soared in the sky, the less its bluish grey light was impaired. The slowly waving palm fronds were clearly visible against the heavens. The glittering stars, the warm breeze, the ponderous moon and the peaceful silence made one conscious of God, especially on Christmas eve.

Meditating quietly in one’s own heart brought to mind the shepherds and the wise men. It made that night long ago seem so real and near. Time had passed -a lot of time—but God hadn’t changed. He had sent the Son He had promised and to think He had sent that Son for little creatures like— A night bird screeched in the nearby trees. My mind snapped back to the present. A smile played across the dark face next to me and he said in his own tongue, “Tomorrow is the day Jesus was born.”

I nodded and added, “For little creatures like you and me and others like us all over the world.” His eyes responded and his face reflected the light which was in his heart.

He bid me goodnight and gradually blended with the shadows as he walked into the night to his tiny home in the nearby village. His heart, like that of many others here, had been blessed with new life in Christ. Christmas morning would find him and the other Christians in the village church worshiping and singing Christmas songs in their own way and in their own language. But there were others in the village, many others, who would experience no joy on Christmas. There is also a pagan feast this time of the year, but its drunken revelry and sham provide no joy. If there were no participation in this, the day would be just one more day of toil under a relentless sun to be followed by another night of darkness without and within.

When the African pastor leads his people in prayer, he will praise God for his gift of love in his Son Jesus. He will also pray earnestly for those who won’t hear because they refuse, or who cannot hear because there is no one to tell them. And he will understand too, because it was not so many years ago that he was among them.

Thus Christmas means different things to people in Nigeria, but thankfully it means the birth of Christ the Savior to an increasing number each year.

– Ann (Mrs. Raymond) Browneye


Bustling shoppers, Santa Claus, Christmas songs, decorated trees…one finds all of these in the world’s largest city–Tokyo. The description fits all metropolitan areas of Japan, and, to a lesser extent, the rural areas during the holiday season.

Strange, isn’t it? Only 0.5% of Japan’s 95 million people profess to be Christians. Yet the birthday of our Savior seems to deserve special attention. The day is not a national holiday; it is just an ordinary working day, but the merchants have seized the opportunity to promote sales.

The Japanese Christians celebrate Christmas in somewhat the same manner as do we. The young people carol in their villages, a Sunday School program portraying the birth of Christ is usually given on the preceding Sunday, and gifts may be exchanged. Because December 25 is not a holiday, church services arc held that evening rather than in the morning. The average congregation in Japan consists of about thirty members.

Opportunist merchants are not the only cause for national recognition of Christmas, for the most important holidays of all come just a week later. Christmas just adds to the anticipation of festive days ahead. New Year’s Day is the big day; it sets off a three-day holiday for the entire nation. Special preparations for it include the buying of gifts, hanging of traditional decorations on the doors, giving the homes their annual cleaning, and the making of a special kind of rice flour cake.

Two activities highlight these holidays—family visiting and worship at the shrines. Young couples with their children return to their “home country” to visit loved ones, standing in line for hours to get a seat or standing room on trains that are crowded beyond your wildest imagination. After hours of traveling in sardine-like fashion they arrive at their destination, only to look forward to returning under the same conditions. But the holiday spirit carries them bowing and smiling through it all.

On the morning of January 1, millions flock to their local shrines to bring an offering of money and to worship their gods. Each worshiper rings a gong, claps his hands three times and bows silently in front of the shrine. So very few worship the true God in Japan. Won’t you join them in praying that the people who walk in darkness may see a great Light, that his Star may be seen in the East?

– Barbara (Mrs. Martin) Essenburg