Tag Archives: christmas



Hungarians celebrate their version of Christmas, or Karácsony, on the night of December 24th. All day long, children are sequestered from their families and sent upstairs while the rest of the family prepares the Christmas tree and presents downstairs in secret. Come evening, all of the parents come upstairs and tell the children that they have spent the whole day preparing the Christmas feast, and that it is time to wait for the tree and presents to arrive. The parents often would use strings to set up a bell contraption which they would ring after a certain amount of time to signal that the tree and gifts arrived. In Hungary, Jesus and the angels were supposed to bring all of the gifts and decorations on Christmas, and the disembodied bell signified when they had arrived. After the bell rang, the whole family would go downstairs where the food and gifts were waiting for them. Then, they would then gather around the tree and sing hymns for 15 minutes before opening presents and having the feast. 


The informant participated in this tradition when he was living in Hungary as a child. He noted how Christmas in Hungary was more centered around religion, specifically in that Santa Claus was not part of the holiday (and had his own separate holiday earlier in the month) and instead it was Jesus and the angels who brought the presents. 


Many Western countries, especially the United States, celebrate Christmas in a more secular way. However, Christmas celebrations in Hungary are more closely aligned with the biblical tradition. In Hungarian Christmas traditions, there is an emphasis on the “miracle,” the spontaneous and magical appearance of gifts and Christmas decorations. Jesus and his angels themselves come down and bring all of the presents, food, and decorations instead of Santa Claus, who is a fictitious, secularized version of St. Nicholas. The purpose of this holiday is reflected in its form: to celebrate the quintessential “Christmas miracle,” or the immaculate conception where Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin. Hungarians do not lose sight of the central Christian focus of Christmas: to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the immaculate conception. And in Hungarian tradition, the central miracle which Christmas represents is mirrored by the simulation of a miracle in how it is celebrated. In other words, the miracle of Jesus’ birth is celebrated by the fabrication of another miracle, where the parents try to make their children believe that Jesus and the angels magically came down to give them presents. In addition, Hungarians celebrate Christmas on the night Jesus was actually born (Christmas Eve), not the morning after like many Western traditions. So clearly, Hungarian Christmas celebrations more accurately reflect canonical Christian tradition, adhering more strictly to Christian values. This stands in contrast to Western society which remains more impartial towards religion and how it is practiced. Christmas has become such a widespread holiday in America that much of its religious significance has been forgotten. However, in Hungary, I firmly believe that Christianity still has a very strong influence over the politics and customs of the nation. 

Las Posadas

“They have Las Posadas during Christmas which is like a…., not a parade, but it’s kind of like a parade, it’s like a procession. And basically they have actors play the virgin Mary, Joseph, and then they reenact the whole birth of Christ and stuff like that. It’s like about nine days before Christmas and lasts until Christmas eve. It’s like a whole set of holidays.”

Background: The informant has not attended the Las Posadas procession herself as it primarily takes place in Mexico and other Latin American countries. She says at some point her and her family were planning on going but unfortunately were not able to. 

Analysis: Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion in Latin America because of Spaniard colonization so Los Posadas is celebrated throughout Latin America. Latin American immigrants have since brought this tradition to the United States and it’s now also practiced by Latin American people in the United States. It’s common to find people who practice Christianity, mainly Catholicism as it is the most dominant branch of Christianity, recreating the events that lead to the birth of baby Jesus. The importance of the event can also be seen in the use of nativity sets that many Christian households have and display during Christmas time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The Christmas Eve Nativity

Context :

W is my 17 year-old brother. He was born and raised in Utah, like me. Ever since he was little, he has participated in his family’s Christmas Nativity scene (yes, even now). His father’s side of the family is all Mormon and extremely religious, whereas his mother’s side of the family is atheist. Although W is not Mormon, he is expected to contribute to the nativity as part of the family.

Text :

“My aunt S makes us do the Christmas nativity every freaking year. We pick our roles out of a bowl and then get a costume. All the girls wanted to be Mary. Most of the boys didn’t care if they were Joseph. It’s kind of weird since we’re all cousins. It used to be fun when we were young cause we dressed up and put on a show for our parents. But we’re like, old now, so it’s boring. We literally just stand in the living room in front of the family while one of us reads the scriptures or whatever it’s called. But like we’re five so we can’t really read. My aunt B loves the nativity because she leads everyone in song. She always makes my sister (me) sing a song with her. There has never been a family Christmas without the nativity. My dad and his sisters did it when they were kids, too.”

Analysis :

Christmas traditions are popular with many American families, even those who aren’t religious. Though W grew up in an atheist household, his extended family is Mormon, who means they all take part in a religious tradition of putting on the nativity. The reason they put on the nativity, like many other Christian households, is because it’s a chance to reflect on the past. Their religion is centered around Jesus Christ, so since Christmas is a time to honor him and his “birth”, they nativity scene is put on tell his origin story. In order to keep the tradition going, the nativity is passed down through generations. In doing so, the children grow up with the notion that this is a normal part of their Christmas, and once they have kids of their own, they will pass it on. This is how traditions are created and kept throughout generation to generation.

Posada Parade-The Inns: Mexican Festival/Holiday


Me: “Do you have any festivals that you participate in?”

CC: “Yes, this is like a mix between a festival and a holiday, it’s called Las Posadas. In my Mexican culture, we celebrate from December 16 through Christmas Eve. Every day, a different household hosts and we usually eat tamales and hot chocolate. This 9 day celebration is seen as a traditional religious celebration that honors the birth of baby Jesus. My family dresses up in costumes that signify Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph. We parade around the neighborhood while singing Catholic songs, saying prayers, and basically re-telling the story of how Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay.”

Me: “Can you explain the costumes you guys wear?”

CC: “Sure, since there are only three main characters, the younger kids in my family are usually the ones that portray Mary, Jesus, and Joseph. The rest of us dress up as angels or simply just carry a candle as we walk during night time. My grandma actually hand sewed these costumes and they are used every year, I actually don’t know how old these costumes are. As we parade around the neighborhood, it’s a good reminder of what Mary went through and it’s a time where my family and I can appreciate the comfort of a warm home to go to at night.”

Context (informant’s relationship to the piece, where they heard it, how they interpret it):

-CC’s relationship with this festival/holiday stems from her traditional Catholic Mexican household and childhood. Given that this 9 day long festival is celebrated every year, CC has been able to appreciate this practice differently all her life considering it is uniquely performed by her family; as seen within the custom made costumes and the comfort of each household. CC heard about this festival/holiday from her dad’s side of the family, considering they are the only ones that celebrate these daily festivities despite the fact that CC’s mom is also of Mexican descent. CC grew up being exposed to Las Posadas only from her dad’s side of the family as they tend to be more religious and are adamant about continuing the festival/holiday. CC interprets this holiday/festival as a religious experience that can bring one’s community closer together as it’s a reminder of the importance of family, stability, having a roof over your head, and faith during the holiday season.

Analysis(what kind of personal, cultural, or historical values might be expressed) YOUR interpretation:

-The cultural values within Las Posadas stems from a sense of community and lifestyle values that are implemented within a typical Catholic Mexican household. Not to mention, this festival/holiday can also be seen celebrated in Honduras, United States, Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. The personal values that are expressed within this 9 day long festival celebration is exemplified by the religious and spiritual beliefs of an individual and within one’s household. Considering this holiday is slowly disappearing as it is not celebrated as much, it takes a strong religious household to carry on this tradition and to evoke the importance of re-telling the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I interpret this festival/holiday as a unique story-telling practice that evokes awareness, community, and faith. I see the concept of Las Posadas as a way to teach the younger generation about the story of the birth of Jesus and as a way to increase spiritual faith within a family. Considering I only celebrate this holiday/festival with my great-grandmother (from my dad’s side of the family), I have learned to appreciate the idea that older, more religious individuals are trying to carry on such a unique festivity that is filled with love, food, family, and valuable life stories. The concept of a potloch can be seen within Las Posadas since it is typical to see each family cater to the community/household by bringing different food items and drinks to enjoy throughout the parade. A similar holiday that can be seen in correlation to Las Posadas is Easter Sunday within American culture. The idea of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus during a storytelling church service indicates the similar qualities of Los Posadas given the religious, community, and spiritual values that are evident within both holidays. 

Christmas Tradition on the Family Ranch


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any holiday rituals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They have a tight, upper-middle class family structure.


PL: Okay, Christmas, Christmas with the horses. So Christmas, our family, we have stockings and stuff, which are separate from the gifts. It honestly–it’s a separate thing on its own. That we have aside from giving gifts to each other. We have stockings from “Santa,” quote unquote.

PL: But Santa will supposedly come in the night via either a parents or honestly, recently, Fiona did it once–my sister–and she was like, “Damn, that took the magic out of it” when mom was like, helping me put the stockings up.

PL: But we’ll do that. And we’ll also we also have stockings for all of our cats on the–on the fireplace, their red stockings, fuzzy polyester with like white around the brim. And we have stockings that say each of our names and each of our cat’s names.

PL: And we’ll have stockings for when a family is visiting. We’ll have stockings for all of them. And we’ll get little toys, candies, stupid things like socks, small little stocking stuffers. And the cats will get treats and toys. And it’ll always be very equal distributed–distribution of like who gets what, and also in the barn. Have little stockings for the horses but we don’t have actual stockings with their names printed out on them that we put up. Instead, every Christmas morning, we’ll wake up and we’ll go outside and there will be little plastic stocking containers full of horse treats. Which is it’s a bought thing. It’s a bought thing like you buy it. But it’s cute, and it’s Christmassy and it’s a little stocking with full of horse treats that are little brown pellets of grain and dried fruit or something.

PL: And they’re red around the edges and they’re clear plastic and they’re hanging on the horses’ stalls.

[After a pause]

PL: Um, I believe I think we did have a chicken stocking. Duck and Shakira are my chickens. Yeah, well, were. Shakira died in a heatwave. No, Duck still lives, and we have more chickens out. Anyway. Um, but we did have. We did have a stocking and it had a it had a fresh container of blueberries, because their favorite is blueberries.


The Christmas traditions of stocking stuffing and hiding presents under the tree in the middle of the night under the guise of it being Santa are quite common in the United States. This informant being from the Midwest, it’s no surprise that these traditions are at the front of their mind when they think of their Christmas traditions.

What is most interesting to me, however, is how their traditions loop in the animals on their ranch. Their cats have their own stockings with their individual names sewn to them, and their horses and chickens get to join in the celebration regardless of their knowledge of the intricacies of the human tradition. This points towards how the notion of “family” is not simply confined blood relatives even in traditional Western family structures. Thus, the animals are afforded their own place in the folk tradition, as they are part of the family.