For many people at Christmas time, attending Christmas church services will play a large part in their celebrations. Many people and families come together to attend church around the festive season, celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, rather than the commercialised festival it has become in the modern world.
Candle-lighting Christmas Traditions
In Ireland, families come together at the Vigil Mass and each member of the congregation lights a candle, which has been blessed by the Bishop or High Priest. Elsewhere around the world there are a variety of traditions and services, which are famous for their unique aspects, each very different. In Wales the old tradition of ‘Plygain’ is popular, this was the main Christmas celebration in years gone by. This candle-lit practice lost its followers around the 19th century but has recently been brought back by enthusiasts. Plygain begins at around 3am on Christmas morning and lasts until the sun rises. The event features choir singing from individuals and groups.
Christmas in Spain
In Spain bells ring out for Mass at midnight. This Mass is called ‘La Misa del Gallo’, or ‘The Mass of the Rooster’ and is called so because as the rooster announces the new day, so does La Misa del Gallo. The Montserrat monastery near Barcelona is regarded as having the most beautiful service, and is where the phrase ‘one true voice’ originates, used to describe the boys’ choir. The service is followed by the main Christmas meal and then a day of feasting.
Christmas in Italy
Italy is famous for the elaborate manger scenes in its churches. On Christmas Eve, people visit many different churches to get a glimpse of the variety of beautifully created manger scenes, and competitions are held between churches to see who has the best. An ox and ass are usually featured, as Italian legend tells that they warmed the baby Jesus with their breath.
Other Christmas Traditions
Crossing the Alps into Austria we find a nation famous for its church service singing at Christmas. On Christmas Eve the traditional midnight Mass sees choirs of trumpeters playing from the church steeple or tower. Also in Austria the playing of Silent Night on the radio is an eagerly anticipated event on Christmas Eve, and once played features every hour.
Further afield in Egypt it is traditional to wear new clothes to the Christmas Mass the day before Christmas. After the service end is marked with ringing of bells, everyone returns home to a feast called ‘Fata’. On Christmas day people visit their friends and neighbours with a traditional homemade shortbread.
In England, not so much a celebration, the Holy Days and Feasting Act of 1551 has never been repealed. This means that it is still law that people must attend a Christian church service on Christmas day – and must get there by walking. The police will earn a lot of Christmas overtime if they choose to enforce this law.