Christmas Around the World: Interesting Cultural Christmas Characters & Traditions, PART II

Ho, ho, ho, and a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all you readers!

Last year, we talked about Christmas traditions from Italy, the Netherlands, and Austria.

This year, we will explore traditions from countries south of the equator – Australia, Brazil, and Argentina.

Let’s jump right in!

Surfing Santa in Australia

Though it’s summer in Australia at Christmas time and there’s no real snow to be found, Aussies fold in their own fun-in-the-sun Christmas traditions.

For one, Australian Santa surfs.

Abandoning the traditional white-fur-lined red fleece suit and black winter boots, you’re more likely to see Santa in board shorts on the beach on Christmas day.

And instead of the roast turkey or ham spread found in some western countries, Aussies pack in the prawns for their Christmas meal.

This requires a “prawn run,” where an unfortunate family member will be sent to stand in line at the nearest packed seafood store in the morning to buy the freshest grub.

Thirteenth Salary in Brazil

While Christmas Day may be the more lively celebration in some countries, Christmas Eve is where it’s at in Brazil.

Often people dress up in their finest to visit their friends in the afternoon and hold a huge celebration with their families in the evening.

Dinner is served around 10 PM, and midnight is when presents are exchanged or “Missa de Gallo” (Midnight Mass) is attended by the religious.

There’s no chimney-diving for Papai Noel in Brazil; instead, he drops on by to replace stockings left on windowsills with presents.

And to help Papai Noel provide gifts for Christmas, most employees are given a “thirteenth salary” (two months’ pay) in November/December – a scheme introduced by former president João Goulart in the ‘60s to boost the economy before Christmas time.

Three Kings Day in Argentina

While you can enjoy incredible fireworks displays at midnight on Christmas Eve in Argentina, as well as small paper lanterns called “globos” sent into the sky, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to open your presents.

Three Kings Day, celebrated on January 6, is when most families receive their gifts in Argentina.

Instead of Santa or Papa Noel delivering the gifts to children, the Three Kings – who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus – will leave them in children’s shoes.

Despite this tradition, Santa is growing popular in Argentina – only there, he is known as “El Gordo de Navidad,” literally translated to “The Christmas Fat.”

As this list shows, wherever you are this Christmas, you’re bound to experience new and exciting ways to celebrate the holiday!

Church of Diego Maradona: How One Culture Made a Footballer a God

His nickname in Argentina is “El Dios” – or “The God.” 

Both a play on his jersey number, 10 (“El Diez”), and a nod to the way Argentines viewed Maradona: as a god on the field, masterful in his footwork.

He took Argentina to victory over Mexico in the 1986 World Cup.

One of his shots in that tournament is considered the “goal of the century.”

So how does a football player go from being drafted to becoming a worshipped deity?

This is Diego Maradona’s rise to glory.

Rise of Maradona, “The Golden Boy”

Plucked from obscurity, Maradona rose to become a hero of the lower classes of Argentina.

Before long, he became the youngest Argentine to debut on the national team at 16 years old.

His mastery lay in his control over the ball and his ability to score and create opportunities for team members to score as well.

At 5’5”, his low center of gravity helped him maneuver and perform better than most, though his real value was his presence and leadership on the field.

He soon was deemed “El Pibe de Oro” – or “The Golden Boy.”

The 1986 World Cup win in the quarterfinal against England involved one goal that is now referred to as the “Hand of God.”

This is because, though the referee believed the goal was struck with his head, it was actually scored with Maradona’s hand.

Though he struggled with addiction which led to some controversy, he is regularly considered one of the top players (if not the top) of the 20th century.

Church of Diego Maradona

The fanaticism of Maradona in Argentina led to the creation of a parody church in his name.

The Church of Maradona was founded in 1998 on Maradona’s 38th birthday in Rosario, Argentina, by three of his fans.

Christmas is celebrated on Maradona’s birthday in October, and other memorable dates in Maradona’s life (including that “Hand of God” goal) are marked as holidays by the church as well.

One of its founders, Alejandro Verón, is quoted as saying:

“I have a rational religion and that’s the Catholic Church and I have a religion passed on my heart and passion and that’s Diego Maradona.”

Maradona’s birth in 1960 begins the world, with every year after designated d.D. (‘después de Diego’ in Spanish, or ‘after Diego’).

There are even ten commandments in the religion, the first of which is, “The ball is never soiled,” and the second, “Love football above all else.”

They thereafter become more Diego-focused, with the last commandment being, “Name your first son ‘Diego’.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, followers of the Church of Diego have spread to Mexico and Brazil and as far as Italy and Spain.

This lines up, as Maradona led club teams to the gold in Spain and Italy.

The idol worship is real and so are the church’s rituals, but its worshippers view their church as all in good fun.

Still, this level of fanaticism raises the question: how did Maradona capture the imaginations of Argentine society?

“The Golden Boy” passed away in 2020, at the age of 60, from cardiac arrest.

After his death, Buenos Aires University cultural professor, Pablo Alabarces, said of Maradona

“In our collective imagination Diego Maradona represents a certain glorious past, he’s a symbol of what we might have been.”

Is this how? Is he a symbol of Argentina’s glorious past?

Whatever the case, he was mourned by many, and his legend and death were memorialized not only in Argentina but across the globe.