Epcot is the second of four theme parks built at Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, Florida, near Orlando, Florida. It opened as EPCOT Center on October 1, 1982, and spans 300 acres (120 ha), more than twice the size of the Magic Kingdom park. It is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, namely technological innovation and international culture, and is often referred to as a “Permanent World’s Fair.” In 2013, the park hosted approximately 11.22 million guests, making it the fifth most visited theme park in the world. The park is represented by Spaceship Earth, a geodesic sphere that also serves as an attraction.
Although I would have loved to have met Mickey & Minnie we decided that theme parks and rides were not really our thing. Epcot came highly recommended by a few people that we had met so we decided that was the Disney park for us. We got there early but already people were streaming in. Cars were lining up in the carpark one after the other – the carpark has capacity for 11,000 cars.
First stop was The Perfect Storm where they replicate a storm and show you the effects on a standard house. You then do a quiz where you select the best construction methods etc… and they replicate the storm again to see how your newly constructed home stands up to the storm. It was really interesting and we are pleased that we generally don’t suffer such extreme conditions in NZ.
We then went on Ellen’s Energy Adventure. Ellen DeGeneres’ is a contestant in a game show about energy and she has no idea. She then has a dream which the audience get to be part of and you go on a journey through the ages learning about the early energy sources and then the more modern sources. You sit in blockades of seats that move so you go beyond the screen where they have moving dinosaurs etc… before returning to the 360 degree theatre where you think you are moving through the jungles etc… It is very well done.
We then went to the World Showcase where they have various countries on display – they showcase some of the traditions of each country amongst a village replicating the type of buildings you would find in that country. Each village had a Christmas theme given the time of the year. Most of the country set ups had a 360 degree theatre where they showed a movie highlighting the country’s key features. We went to the Chinese and Canadian ones. We also went to The American Adventure where they explore the past and future through film, music and audio animatronics.
Because it was Christmas they were highlighting the Christmas traditions around the world:
In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from the December 12th to January 6th.
From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children often perform the ‘Posada’ processions or Posadas. Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging. There are nine Posadas. These celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for a room in an Inn. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns.
In each Posada, children are given candles and a board, with painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph, to process round the streets with. They call at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home. The song they sing is about Joseph and Mary asking for a room in the house. But the children are told that there is no room in the house and that they must go away. Eventually they are told there is room and are welcomed in! When the children go into the house they say prayers of thanks and then they have a party with food, games and fireworks.
Each night a different house hold the Posada party. At the final Posada on Christmas Eve, a manger and figures of shepherds are put on to the board. When the Posada house has been found, a baby Jesus is put into the manger and then families go to a midnight Church service. After the Church service there are more fireworks to celebrate the start of Christmas.
Christmas Eve is known as ‘Noche Buena’ and is a family day. People often take part in the final Posada and then in the evening have the main Christmas meal. At midnight, many people go to a Midnight Mass service, known as the ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Mass of the Rooster). There are lots of fireworks to celebrate Christmas Day.
In some states in Mexico children expect Santa Claus to come on December 24th. In the south of Mexico children expect presents on January 6th at Epiphany, which is known as ‘el Dia de los Reyes’.
On el Dia de los Reyes the presents are left by the Three Kings (or Magi). If you’ve had a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, you might also get some candy on el Dia de los Reyes!
It’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
Christmas Eve is the time when presents are exchanged. The gifts are sometimes brought by Santa Claus (called ‘Julenissen’ in Norway). Presents are also brought by the small gnomes called ‘Nisse’. There are also hobgoblins (Nisse) decorations. Children pick up the presents from under the Christmas Tree and read the cards on the presents out loud.
As in Finland, a sheaf of wheat is often left out for the birds to eat over Christmas. Also a type of rice porridge is sometimes left for the ‘Nisse’ who is believed to guard the farm animals.
In some parts of Norway, children like to go carol singing and most children do! Often children will dress up as characters from the Christmas Story, such as the Shepherds and Wise Men, and go singing from house to house in their local neighbourhood. Sometimes they carry with paper stars on them.
Another tradition in parts of Norway is that families light a candle every night from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.
Maybe the most famous custom about Christmas in Norway is the big Christmas Tree that Norway gives to the UK every year. The tree is given as a present to say ‘thank you’ for the help that the people of the UK gave to Norway during World War II. The tree stands in Trafalgar Square in the middle of London and often hundreds of people come to watch when the lights are turned on.
Many different types of cakes and biscuits are eaten over the Christmas period in Norway. One of the most popular is a special bread called ‘Julekake’ that has raisins, candied peel and cardamom in it. Rice Porridge is eaten on Christmas Eve either as a meal at lunchtime (served with butter, sugar and cinnamon) or as a dessert to the main evening meal (with whipped cream mixed in!). If you find an almond in your portion you’re traditionally given a pink or white marzipan pig.
The main meal is normally pork or mutton ribs served with ‘surkal’ (white or red cabbage, finely chopped and cooked with caraway seeds and vinegar) and potatoes.
In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so most people only know a few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in the major cities. In these big cities there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus is called ‘Shen Dan Lao Ren’ and has grottos in shops like in Europe and America.
One a few people have a Christmas Tree (or celebrate Christmas at all!). If people do have a tree it is normally a plastic one and might be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns (they might also call it a tree of light). The Christmas Trees that most people would see would be in shopping malls!
Christmas isn’t that widely celebrated in the rural areas of China, but it’s becoming more well known.
The strange thing is that most of the world’s plastic Christmas Trees and Christmas decorations are made in China, but the people making them might not know what they are for!!!
A tradition that’s becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (which means quiet or silent night) and the word for apple in Chinese is ‘Ping Guo’ which sounds similar.
Some people go Carol singing, although not many people understand them or know about the Christmas Story. Jingle Bells is a popular Carol in China!
People who are Christians in China go to special services. Going to Midnight Mass services has become very popular.
A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that is used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called a ‘Advent Kranz’ and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning at each week of Advent.
Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the Mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas eve.
Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.
In some parts of Germany, mainly the south east of the country, children write to the ‘Christkind/Christkindl’ (‘The Christ Child’ in English) asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
The Christkind is often described as a young girl with ‘Christ like’ qualities. In Nürnberg a young girl is chosen every year to participate in a parade as the Christkind. She wears a long white and gold dress, has long blond curly hair and wears a gold crown and sometimes wings like an angel. This is similar to St Lucia is Sweden. (And it can seem a bit confusing calling the ‘Christ Child’, Jesus, a girl!)
The Nürnberg Christkind officially opens the Christmas market on the Friday before Advent starts. And before Christmas she has over 150 ‘official duties’ including visiting hospitals, old people’s homes and children’s nurseries! She also has to give TV interviews and visit other cities.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents on December 24th. You might also write a letter to Weihnachtsmann in other parts of Germany. December 6th is St. Nicholas’ Day and “der Nikolaus” brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries a birch. He will punish the children who were bad and will give them a birch as a present. He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called “Schwarzer Peter” (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland. In north west Germany Santa is joined by Belsnickel a man dressed all in fur.
Some people say that Santa/Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents and some say it is Christkind!
At small work places and school parties, secret presents are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small presents to be thrown into the room. The presents are then passed around among the people until each person has the correct present! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.
This old Italian verse truly expresses the strong feelings the Italian people have for the celebration of Christmas. It means:
“You celebrate Easter with whomever you please, but Christmas only with your own.”
Christmas is often described as the warmest, most intimate Italian holiday because it is a special time when family members get together to enjoy age old traditions.
On Christmas Eve, a ceremony takes place around the presepio, a nativity scene of Bethlehem. Then after Midnight Mass. there is a cenone, which is a delicious feast of Italian food.
Children eagerly the presents brought to them by a good hearted witch called La Befana. She is the Christmas gift giver who climbs down chimneys to fill good children’s shoes with treats. Naughty children may find a lump of coal instead.
Unlike Santa Claus, who appears on Christmas Eve. La Befana arrives on the eve of Epiphany. Year after year, La Befana wanders the countryside looking for Gesu Bambino, the baby Jesus and leaves gifts incase she finds him.
The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people in celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, Holland, Poland and Mexico.
The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne!
Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree!
Hanukkah is the annual Jewish festival celebrated on eight successive days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding approximately to December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication and Feast of Maccabees.
It commemorates the re dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judah Maccabee in 165 B.C. after the Temple had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria and overlord of Palestine.
After having recovered Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to Talmud, oil was needed to keep the menorah in the Temple burning. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah.
The eight day festival of Hanukkah was declared to commemorate this miracle.
O-Shogatsu, which lasts January 1st through January 3rd, is the traditional Japanese New Year. It is a time of reflection, family, friends, delicious foods and of course fun!
An important New Year symbol and good luck charm for the Japanese is the Daruma doll, which has no pupils in it’s eyes. Tradition is to make a wish and paint the pupil of the left eye. If your wish comes true before the end of the year , you paint in the right pupil. The Daruma, which looks like a child’s punching doll, reinforces the concepts of patience and persistence. As the Japanese say, “Nana Korobi, ya oki” which means “Knocked down seven times, get up eight.”
Bell ringing is also a big part of the O-Shogatsu. The Japanese New Year is announced by bell ringing at the Buddhist temples throughout the country.
A special New Year’s decoration called the Kadomatsu appears at the front entrance to many homes. The Kadomatsu’s plum blossom, which grows even in cold weather symbolises hope for the New Year. It’s pine branch represents everlasting strength, and the straight bamboo represents rapid growth.
Everyone in Japan enjoys the spirit of O-Shogatsu and the symbolism and beautiful customs in the New Year.
Christmas in Morocco is not widely celebrated as the majority of the people in Morocco are Muslim. They regard Jesus Christ as a prophet but do not celebrate his birthday in an immense way.
In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them, not wooden ones. During December, some towns and cities such as Marseilles have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.
In French Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Joyeux Noël’. In Breton (spoken by some people in Brittany, Northern France) it’s ‘Nedeleg Laouen’ and in Corsican it’s ‘Bon Natale’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned is French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
In France, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in Holland.
The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.
Many wonderful Christmas traditions originated in the countries of the United Kingdom: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Each have unique holiday customs, and many of these have been shared around worldwide. Well known Christmas carol’s like “Deck the Halls” and “Here we come a Wassailing” were first sung in the United Kingdom.
The tradition of Christmas cards also began in the United Kingdom. In 1843, John Calcott Horsley sent a card depicting an English family brimming with cheer to his friend Sir Henry Cole. The original card caught the attention of a British gift book company, which published a thousand lithographed copies and sold them for a shilling each.
Not surprisingly, the hanging of Mistletoe is one of the United Kingdom’s oldest and most popular traditions dating back to Druidic ceremonies of the Winter Solstice. Each time a kiss was claimed under the mistletoe, the young man would pick off one berry. The kissing would end when all the berries were gone!
For children, Father Christmas with his long white beard, green robe and crown of holly is still treasured as the jolly gift bearer who brings holiday joy to the well behaved.
Canada is a very large country and people of many different cultural backgrounds live there. Because of this, there are lots of different Christmas traditions in Canada. Many of the traditions and celebrations come from French, English, Irish, Scottish, German and native/first nation influences.
The Eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia is known all over the world for its fir and pine Christmas Trees, so most families in Canada have a fir or pine Christmas Tree. One Canadian tradition is to send the biggest, best fir tree (grown in Nova Scotia) to Boston, USA because of the assistance given during the disaster, known worldwide, as the Halifax Explosion. This tradition has carried on for many years. Bostonians always love and appreciate the Nova Scotian Christmas tree. They place this tree in the city and then light it during a ceremony to begin the Christmas season.
People in Canada send Christmas Cards to their friends and family.
In northern Canada, some people plan a Taffy Pull. This is held in honour of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of single women. This party provides an opportunity for single women to meet eligible single men!
Many Canadians open their gifts on Christmas Eve. Some only open their stocking on Christmas Eve. Others choose one gift to open, then save the rest until Christmas Day.
Canadian children also believe in Santa Claus. Canadians are especially proud to say that their country is the home of Santa Claus. (Although I’m sure the people in Finland would disagree!!)
The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Santa parades in the world! It started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto. Children along the route followed Santa and marched along with him. It’s been taking place for over 100 years and now is a huge event with over 25 animated floats and 2000 people taking part! It’s broadcast on TV around the world.