Christmas 2016: what’s happening around the world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 December, 2016, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 December, 2016, 8:13am

Pope Francis urged peace around the world in his traditional Christmas address, calling for weapons in Syria to fall silent and offering comfort to victims of terrorism.

In his Christmas Day homily, delivered in front of thousands of people from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he urged Christians to think in particular about the plight of children today who find themselves fleeing war zones and lamented that others are prevented from being born at all.

Pope Francis leads sombre Christmas mass, lamenting children as casualties of war

On Christmas Eve the Pope said that Christmas had been “taken hostage” by dazzling materialism that puts God in the shadows and blinds many to the needs of the hungry, the migrants and the war weary.

Francis, leading the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas for the fourth time since his election in 2013, said in his Christmas Eve homily that a world often obsessed with gifts, feasting and self-centeredness needed more humility.

“If we want to celebrate Christmas authentically, we need to contemplate this sign: the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes. God is there,” the Pope said at St. Peter’s Basilica.

At the solemn but joyous service, attended by some 10,000 people as well as dozens of cardinals and bishops, Pope Francis said the many in the wealthy world had to be reminded that the message of Christmas was humility, simplicity and mystery.

“Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference,” he said.

“Today also the same indifference can exist, when Christmas becomes a feast where the protagonists are ourselves, rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts, but cold toward those who are marginalized.”

He then added in unscripted remarks: “This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed.”

Super typhoon spoils Christmas in Philippines

A powerful typhoon slammed into the eastern Philippines on Christmas Day, spoiling the biggest holiday in Asia’s largest Catholic nation, where a governor offered roast pig to entice villagers to abandon family celebrations for emergency shelters.

Typhoon Nock-Ten was packing maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers (114 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph) when it made landfall Sunday night in Catanduanes province, where fierce winds and rain knocked down the island’s power and communications, weather forecasters said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

After Catanduanes, the typhoon, which had a 500-kilometre (300-mile) rain band, was expected to barge westward across the mountainous southern plank of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and blow close to the capital, Manila, on Monday, before starting to exit towards the South China Sea. Nock-Ten may weaken after hitting the Sierra Madre mountain range in southern Luzon.

Heavy rainfall, destructive winds and battering waves were threatening heavily populated rural and urban regions. The Philippine weather agency raised typhoon warnings, stranding thousands of people in ports as airlines cancelled flights and ferries were prevented from sailing. Officials warned of storm surges in coastal villages, flash floods and landslides, and asked villagers to evacuate to safer ground.

China celebrates with apples and selfies

In China, young people flocked to shopping malls to celebrate the western festival by taking selfies with Christmas decorations and enjoying discounts and meals with friends.

Western-style restaurants in Anhui were filled with patrons, many of whom were willing to wait for more than two hours, news portal reported.

Giant Christmas trees were on display in department stores, while employees at shops and restaurants wore Santa hats to lure customers.

Apples are a popular choice for Christmas gifts in China. Christmas Eve is known as Peaceful Eve on the mainland, and the word “apple” can be interpreted as “fruit of safety” in Putonghua.

One Christmas gift pack of three apples was priced at 39,888 yuan (HK$44,557) in a Hangzhou supermarket.

The apples, which were engraved with the images of a dragon, tiger and eagle, were originally imported from Japan and were about three to four times the size of a normal apple.

12 churchgoers hurt in grenade attack in Southern Philippines

Twelve people were wounded in a grenade attack in the southern Philippines late Saturday night, police and news report said.

Police said unidentified men lobbed a grenade around 9:45 p.m. at a crowd attending a Christmas eve mass in Midsayap town, North Cotabato.

Police said the mass was abruptly ended, adding that churchgoers fled the scene after the attack.

Police said the victims suffered minor injuries, except for one who was critically wounded.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

US military ‘tracks’ Santa’s journey around the globe

An online Santa tracker run by a Canadian and American defence agency mapped the jolly old gift-giver’s path around the globe, in what has become a Yuletide tradition.

Every Christmas Eve since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) has been tracking Saint Nicholas’s annual voyage to deliver presents to good little boys and girls around the world.

A 3-D, interactive website at shows places Santa has passed through, allowing site users to click to learn more about different locations.

The website is available in eight languages: Chinese, English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Portuguese.

It shows Santa, wearing his traditional red cap and suit trimmed with white fur, steering a red sleigh over the Earth below, which has been labelled to show what country he is flying over at any given time.

The world’s tallest artificial Christmas tree. In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka has unveiled a towering Christmas tree, claiming to have surpassed the world record for an artificial Christmas tree in Guangzhou despite constructions delays and a shorter-than-planned finished product. The 73-metre tree, built in capital Colombo, is 18 metres taller than the current record holder, organisers said. The tree’s steel-and-wire frame is covered with a plastic net decorated with more than 1 million natural pine cones painted red, gold, green and silver, 600,000 LED bulbs and topped by a 6-metre-tall shining star.

Final White House Christmas message from the Obamas

US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have sent their final Christmas salutations from the White House, highlighting common values uniting Americans of all faiths. The Obamas’ seasonal greeting comes at a time when America is deeply divided after a brutal presidential campaign that pitched populist Donald Trump and his frequently incendiary rhetoric against Hillary Clinton.

Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message

Queen Elizabeth II will pay tribute to inspirational unsung heroes in her Christmas Day broadcast to the Commonwealth on Sunday.

The 90-year-old monarch will put the focus on “ordinary people doing extraordinary things”, according to the text of her annual message.

The head of the Commonwealth will urge people to achieve “small things with great love” in the speech, which is an integral part of Christmas Day traditions in Britain, and for millions around the world.

The queen did not mention the referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union, the dominating feature of 2016 in the UK.

The royal family gather for Christmas at Queen Elizabeth’s private Sandringham estate in Norfolk, eastern England.

But this year, a heavy cold is keeping the queen from attending the traditional Christmas morning church service near the estate, Buckingham Palace announced.

The queen’s Yuletide message is an annual tradition in Britain on Christmas Day, as many families recover from their turkey lunch. It is broadcast at convenient local times across the Commonwealth.

The tradition was started on radio by her grandfather king George V in 1932. It is now filmed in advance in high-definition and posted on YouTube.

At Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth leaves the room when it comes on television, preferring to watch it alone.

Germans leave home Christmas morning as WWII bomb defused

More than 54,000 people in the southern German city of Augsburg were forced to leave their homes Christmas morning while authorities defused a giant 1.8-tonne aerial bomb from the second world war.

Finding bombs from the war is not unusual in Germany. This evacuation, however, is even bigger than the 45,000 people temporarily evacuated to remove a bomb in Koblenz in 2011.

Large parts of Augsburg were destroyed on February 25-26, 1944, when the city was attacked by hundreds of British and US bombers.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters