On December 1, AAFSW members and guests were treated to a Zoom webinar on Christmas celebrations in the Czech Republic, the Philippines, Mexico, the Slovak Republic, and the Holy Land. AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer welcomed guests, then introduced AAFSW President Lara Center, who made welcoming remarks. Lara then introduced AAFSW President Emerita Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, who served as moderator.
After greetings from Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček, a film was shown about the magical winter season in the Czech Republic, followed by another film explaining Czech Christmas customs such as eating fish and potato salad on Christmas Eve, placing money and a fish scale under the plate, and lighting advent candles.
Next, Ms. Darell Artates, the Public Diplomacy Officer of the Philippine Embassy, introduced Ambassador José Manuel Romualdez, who greeted guests and wished them a happy holiday season. This was followed by a short film about Philippine Christmas customs, such as the famous star-shaped lantern, the parol, which is seen in most Filipino homes and businesses. A second film was about tourism: “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.” Filipinos celebrate Christmas longer than anyone: they start in September and end in January.
After that it was Mexico’s turn. Ix-Nic Iruegas Peón, the Director of the Institute of Mexico in DC, told the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day is December 12. Ms. Iruegas explained how a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman appeared to indigenous convert Juan Diego, and sent him to the bishop with a cloak full of roses, which were out of season. After the roses fell in front of the bishop, a miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was seen on the cloak, according to tradition. Las Posadas (“The Inns”), which begins on December 16, re-enacts the story of Mary and Joseph trying to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Next, a film showing Mexico in all its glorious color was shown. Later, in response to a question, Ms. Iruegas noted, “It is said that every Mexican is a Guadalupano, no matter what (his/her) religion.”
This was followed by Slovak Public Diplomacy Counselor Terezia Filipejova, who spoke about Slovak Christmas customs, which had similarities to Czech customs. Ms. Filipejova noted that on Christmas Eve, families avoid eating meat, due to Catholic tradition. In her own family, they celebrate with cream of mushroom soup, but other possibilities are lentil soup or sauerkraut soup. She then showed two films — one which gave a more detailed description of Christmas customs, such as placing an extra place setting at the holiday table and lighting the advent wreath, and a second film which encouraged people to visit Slovakia.
The last item was Christmas in the Holy Land, as described by Dr. Amal David of Arab America, who grew up in Nazareth. She showed photographs of Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and described many of the holiday traditions in these cities, such as musical performances by the local scouts. Dr. David said that people clean their houses from top to bottom during this season, and that lamb is eaten on Christmas Day. After this a brief film was shown about the town of Bethlehem.
Special thanks to Jan Woska, Cultural Attaché of the Czech Embassy; Ms. Darell Ann Artates, 2nd Secretary and Consul, Public Diplomacy, and Mark de la Vega, both of the Philippines Embassy; Mónica Haro Goytia and Ix-Nic Iruegas Peón, Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, Terézia Filipejová, Cultural and Public Diplomacy Counselor of the Slovakian Embassy, and Dr. Amal David of Arab America and her intern Sofia.