Traditions celebrate Culture and Christmas - The Villages Daily Sun: News

Traditions celebrate Culture and Christmas

By Amber Hair, Daily Sun Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017 8:00 am

Ten days ago, Tita Dumagsa attended the first of the nine early Masses leading up to Christmas.

She and hundreds of fellow Filipinos and Filipino-Americans attended Simbang Gabi on Dec. 15 at St. Timothy Roman Catholic Church.

Simbang Gabi means midnight Mass, and it is one of the many traditions Dumagsa has continued since she moved from the Philippines to the United States.

According to the United States Census Bureau, Dumagsa is one of the more than 5,800 residents in The Villages metropolitan statistical area who moved from another country. All those people brought with them pieces of their culture, including the holiday traditions they share with fellow Villagers.

Dumagsa, of the Village of Mallory Square, is a member of the Filipino-American Club, which gives her the opportunity to celebrate the traditions she holds dear with other people of the same heritage.

“For me, it is so special because we’re not in the Philippines, we’re in America,” Dumagsa said. “Yet here we are, celebrating our cherished traditions.”


Sharing holiday customs with others is important to Dumagsa. Christmas is a time for family, and it is not unheard of for Filipinos to travel long distances to be together at Christmas, she said.

“Filipinos abroad would really travel to come home,” Dumagsa said. “It’s a time of reunion.”

Dumagsa will see her family this year when they travel to Orlando, but until then, she has been spending the season with her fellow Filipino Villagers.

Another common Filipino Christmas custom is hanging a parol, or a Christmas star, to represent the Star of Bethlehem. Parols often are lit up and hung by a window to show that the family inside is celebrating Christmas.


Having a light to hang in the window is not just a Filipino tradition. Jan Toombs, of the Village of Tamarind Grove, said lighting a candle and putting it in the window is customary in Scotland, where the light signifies that people can come in and celebrate Christmas with the family inside.

Toombs, who was born 6 miles outside of Edinburgh, left Scotland after she married her husband, an American who served in the military. She keeps the traditions she grew up with alive when she spends Christmas with her children and grandchildren.

For her, there are a lot of rituals surrounding Christmas, including what to eat and how to celebrate. She eats soup the night before Christmas, then the entire family helps make the much larger, more spectacular meal the next day. There are traditional Scottish desserts to make and special tube-shaped party favors, known as crackers, to buy.

On Christmas Day, two family members will pull on the ends of the cracker, and it will open with a bang to reveal a small toy or trinket.

“I always have (crackers) when the kids are here,” Toombs said. “I try and keep the traditions.”

Toombs also has a Christmas tree full of ornaments and decorations that remind her of Scotland, but when she was growing up, she did not have a tree. Instead, she remembers cutting up paper decorations and hanging them from the ceiling.

“Back then, it seemed like a lot of people just decorated on the ceiling,” Toombs said.


Yori and Teruko Okuda are from Japan, where there is not an extensive history of Christian influence. Celebrating Christmas was rare when they lived there, and it was much more common for people to go all out to celebrate the new year.

The Okudas celebrate both, though. TheVillage of Pennecamp couple have returned to Japan a few times and have kept up with the news there, so they have watched as Japan has increasingly embraced the Christmas holiday through the years.

“Many Japanese (people) consider it the highlight of the year,” Yori said, “For the young, it’s very romantic.”

For the Okudas, Christmas is a quiet time shared with family. Many Japanese Christmas traditions, such as putting up lights or a tree, came from American influences, and so their traditions look much like those of their neighbors.

In Japan, it is not uncommon to see streets and department stores decked with Christmas lights and displays.

“All of the town is decorated,” Teruko said.

The Japanese associate some unusual foods with Christmas. One is strawberry shortcake, which is so popular that families often need to reserve one from the bakery. Another is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which will come in holiday packaging.

“Christmas is, for most people, adopted,” Teruko said. “It’s not a foreign thing anymore.”


Working internationally can impact the way people celebrate Christmas.

Stacie Rissmann-Joyce lives in the Village of Silver Lake now, but she lived in Egypt for nine years while she worked in the international school system. While Rissmann-Joyce sometimes traveled to other countries during Christmas, she also spent the holiday in Egypt a couple of times. There, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. She once went to see an Egyptian Nativity scene, which had real camels.

For several years while Rissmann-Joyce lived in Egypt, the school breaks lasted from when Americans celebrated Christmas to when the Coptic Church did.

“Many of my students were Muslim,” Rissmann-Joyce said, “And they were always very kind; they always told me ‘Merry Christmas.’”

For the most part, though, Christmas was not widely celebrated.

“Some of the candy stores would sell chocolate Santas, but you would never hear Christmas carols,” Rissmann-Joyce said. “You would never see Christmas lights or decorations unless you were in someone’s home.”

That is changing, according to Rissmann-Joyce. Carrefour, one of the larger retail stores in Egypt, is French-owned and carries Christmas trees. Sometimes she went to privately organized bazaars, where she also could buy things for Christmas.

“Christmas is becoming very popular in Egypt,” Rissmann-Joyce said. “There are many families, even though they’re Muslim, who will put up a Christmas tree.”

Amber Hair is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or