Children around the world are anticipating the holidays, imagining delicious traditional foods and time with family! You can learn a little more about what holiday traditions look like for children in Colombia, Uganda and Taiwan and how they celebrate.
In Colombia, Christmas preparations begin on the evening of December 7th, known as “Dia de las Velitas” or “Day of the Little Candles.” Colombians decorate house and streets as they gather in the streets with thousands of little candles in handmade lanterns to light a pathway for Mary, Jesus’ mother, who according to tradition comes to bless each home that night. Firework displays explode overhead while the scent of buñuelos (cheesy fritters) and empanadas (baked or fried filled turnovers) fills each home!
The nine days before Christmas are traditionally observed in Colombia. This is a time when the largely Catholic population recites a set of daily prayers called the Novena of Aguinaldos, family and friends gathering to eat, pray and sing Christmas carols. The novena is hosted at a different home each night in honor of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and baby Jesus, who sought shelter at different places.
December 16th to 24th also heralds the “Juegos del Aguinaldos,” a set of fun games and challenges that people of all ages play for nine days! This event culminates on Christmas Eve, when gifts are exchanged.
The main Christmas meal in Colombia is eaten on Christmas Eve night and it’s called “Cena de Navidad.” The dishes often include “lechona” (pork stuffed with rice and peas), ham, turkey or a chicken soup called “Ajiaco Bogotano.” A popular Christmas dessert is “Natilla,” a set custard. After this meal, many people will go to a midnight mass at church.
Colombians prize their nativity scene Christmas decoration, or “el pesebre.” In early December, children write a “carta al niño dios” (letter to the baby Jesus) asking for the presents they want! Sound familiar? They place their letters in the nativity scene, hoping that Jesus will arrive with presents on Christmas Eve.
In Uganda, holiday traditions for children at Christmastime is called Sekukkulu and its traditions closely resemble Western Christmas. It is celebrated on December 25, and it is an annual family reunion where people travel far distances back to their home villages to spend Christmas and New Year with family! Family members from the city arrive with treats like bread, sugar, cooking oil, mobile phones and other novelties. In return, they receive piles of fresh fruit from their country-dwelling relatives and enjoy slow cooked meats from the farm.
Sekukkulu has retained much of the true spirit of the holiday. The focus is much less on consumerism and more about food, family, friends and God. Many people do not have the financial resources to buy gifts like toys. Instead, people share food and new clothes. The emphasis is on making sure that each person in the community goes home with something need, whether that be food or some other provision.
Christmas Day itself is a feast day! After attending church in the morning, the whole family prepares lunch. Prepared chicken is central to Sekukkulu feasting. Starting in October family begin to fatten a chicken for the Christmas table. Even families who can’t afford chicken at any other time of the year manage to buy a chicken for Sekukkulu. On the table you’ll find a bit of everything: matooke (steamed banana), yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, kalo (pounded millet), rice, pumpkin, and posho (maizemeal). All Ugandan foods are steamed inside banana leaves over a wood fire for hours, giving them an unbeatable depth of flavor.
In Taiwan, families in our programs are much more likely to say “Happy Lunar New Year!” than “Merry Christmas!” The great majority of Taiwanese people follow Buddhist and Taoist traditions. The Lunar New Year Holiday tradition extends from New Year’s Eve to February 15, when the Lantern Festival is held. Holiday traditions for children include family reunions, and festivals in many villages, cities and towns. The majority of people in Taiwan spend the month of December gearing up for the upcoming Lunar Holiday that is celebrated much more widely than Christmas. In 2023 (the year of the water rabbit!), the holiday will begin on January 2, 2023 and it will end on January 9.
On New Year’s Eve, families gather for a large meal of traditional Chinese foods. They eat dumplings in the morning and younger people visit their older relatives to wish them a Happy New Year! Younger family members receive red envelopes filled with money from their elders, which symbolize good wishes and luck for the coming year.
Christmas itself is a minor event for the Taiwanese people. However, because of Western influence, tidings of Christmas still show up around the country. In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, Disney sponsored an event called Christmasland starting in November 2022. It is comprised of Christmas-themed family activities and art installations. And, while people in Taiwan go to work as normal on December 25, many wear Santa hats and decorate their shops for the holiday.
So Merry Christmas to you and your family, and thank you for taking a moment to learn about what holiday traditions look like for children around the world. Children in our programs, whether sponsorship, family strengthening or adoption, rely on your support to make the holidays as bright and hopeful as they can be. Thank you!
No matter where you go, the importance of family, connection and generosity remains the same!