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A candle in the window

Although more popular in the 1970s, and usually more typical in rural Ireland, Catholics place a candle in the window to welcome Joseph and Mary in honor of their search for somewhere to stay. The candle is ideally lit and extinguished by a Mary in the family, in honor of the Blessed Mother.

Advent calendar made of fir

In Germany, an Advent calendar is made from a wreath of fir tree branches, decorated with 24 boxes. As with the regular Advent calendar, a box is opened each day to reveal a little gift inside.

The Christkind

In Nürnberg, Germany, a young girl is designated as the Christkind, or Christ Child, who is dressed like an angel in white and gold with a crown placed on her golden curls. The girl joins in the parade that is held before the opening of the annual Christmas market that starts the Friday before Advent. The chosen Christkind also carries out over 150 duties in the community.


In various regions of Spain, locals gather to partake in a big play about the Christmas story, called the pastoret. With readings from the Bible and a selection of songs, different towns bring Christ's birth to life.

Novena prayer and carols

During Advent in Italy a special prayer called a Novena, which is linked to the Rosary, is said. The prayer is repeated 15 times a day from the feast day of St. Andrew, on November 30, up until Christmas Day. Traditionally, in the nine days preceding Christmas the Rosary is also said daily, and nowadays children go into the streets after the prayers to sing carols and receive candies.

Prayers in front of the Nativity scene

In Italy, the Nativity scene takes pride of place in the home. From the start of Advent, the family gathers in front of the Nativity each morning to say prayers and light a candle. Children also write letters to their parents to wish them a Merry Christmas and to promise that they'll behave.

The developing Nativity scene

The Nativity scene is very important for French families. Many little figurines, called Santons, can be bought in markets to add to a huge "créche." Just be sure not to add baby Jesus until Christmas morning, and the wise men at Epiphany and not before!

The Roraty Mass

In Poland there are frequent Masses, including the beautiful Roraty that is said before sunrise. The name comes from the Mass' first prayer, the introit, whose first words are Rorate coeli, meaning "Drop down ye heavens from above." Worshipers carry torches and lanterns to light at certain moments. The Mass begins in darkness and ends in light, symbolizing Christ's birth.

Getting spick and span

Polish people also like to celebrate the arrival of Christ by cleaning their homes from top to bottom -- including carpets and windows -- in preparation for the big day.

Adventsfenster (Advent windows)

In villages and small towns in Switzerland, locals select 24 homes or businesses to decorate their windows in a holiday theme. During each day of Advent, people gather to see a window revealed at a certain time each night, to the sound of carols and often with drinks and snacks. The windows remain lit until Christmas Eve and beyond.


In the Philippines people prepare for Christmas by making bright and colorful lanterns to place in a strategic point in their home. The parol is like a star shining above the home, reminiscent of the star guiding the Magi.


Every night in Mexico from December 16 to 24, children take part in a procession called posada -- meaning inn or shelter. Reenacting Joseph and Mary looking for lodgings, the children process in the street with candles, visiting different houses until they find a willing host. There are celebrations, songs, Bible stories, and candy. Each night the children reflect on different qualities: humility, strength, detachment, charity, trust, justice, purity, joy and generosity.


In the state of Kerala, India, the native home of many saints, Catholics are encouraged to fast from December 1 until Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Christmas tree hilltop


Stealing baby Jesus!

Like most Latin American countries, Brazilians pay particular attention to their Nativity scene, but they also like to put on plays called Los Pastores -- the Shepherds -- an unusual take on the Christmas story where the newborn baby Jesus is kidnapped!