Caracas (Fides Service) - Venezuela is a country rich in cultural traditions as a result of a process of immigration and integration of Europeans, Africans and people of mixed races. Christmas customs reflect this mixing of cultures. Christmas in Venezuela is celebrated with various popular religious traditions to express joy for the birth of the Redeemer. The Nativity Scene is the most important symbol. Families start in December to build their own Nativity Scene and Crib competitions are organised in towns and villages. The town of Coro hosts a Nativity Crib Fair.
During the Novena, 16 to 24 December, there are special Masses "Aguinaldo de Natal" to commemorate the journey made by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and to announce the birth of Jesus. Midnight Mass on the 24 December is called the Mass of the Cock, because it is celebrated at cock crow.
Religious and popular festivities for Christmas, which vary according to place, start in December and last for 40 days until 2 February the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Candlemass. Here are some of the customs: on the first Sunday of Advent in the states of Aragua and Carabobo people celebrate a “Vigil, Dance and Pilgrimage of the Shepherds to see the Christ Child”. Mass is followed by processions, dancing and music in honour of the Babe.
In the Andes mountains in the states of Tachira, Merida and Trujillo between 24 December and 2 February, people celebrate the arrival “the Paradura” of the Child: this feast is celebrated in homes with elaborate and complex nativity scenes. The feast starts with the opening of the Nativity Scene and on 26 December the family and neighbours gather in front of the Nativity Scene with gifts for the Child to celebrate the fact that he has started to walk. The Child, placed on a cloth of silk is “taken for a walk” in procession and the Child blesses homes and fields. When the “walk” is over the Child is put back in the Nativity Scene standing up. The ceremony continues with the recitation of the rosary, singing of Christmas songs and poems in honour of the Child Jesus.
Another custom is “Stealing and searching for the Child”: someone pretends to steal the image of the Child which remains hidden for three days. Children dressed as the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the Three Kings, shepherds or angels take part in processions to search for the Child. The local authorities also join the search . (R.Z.) (Agenzia Fides 23/12/2004, righe 34, parole 507)