20 Different Christmas Traditions from Around the World

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November 29th, 2010 in Feature, Fun Stuff, Social

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No longer a holiday observed only by Christians, Christmas means something different to every person in every country. All around the world, people of different religions, ethnicities and beliefs come together to celebrate the goodness of Christmas and share in the merry traditions of love and togetherness. Here are 20 different Christmas traditions from around the world:

  1. England: Christmas in England is filled with many unique traditions and cheerful festivities that you won't find anywhere else. English families decorate their homes with holly and ivy and hang mistletoe in the doorway. Christmas Even is a busy day for families and filled with gift wrapping, baking and reading children's Christmas stories together. While a Yule log burns in the fireplace, children write their wish lists to Father Christmas and throw them into the fire so that their wishes will come true. Carolers go from house to house, and they are rewarded with little pies and treats. On Christmas Day, English families enjoy a midday feast of turkey, stuffing, roast goose or roast beef sides, with Yorkshire pudding for dessert. Afterward, families gather to listen to the Queen of England deliver a Christmas message over the radio or television, followed by tea and Christmas cake.
  2. Mexico: Although Mexico celebrates Christmas on December 25 like the United States, their traditions come from Mexico's form of Roman Catholicism. A major Mexican Christmas tradition is Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration that symbolizes Mary and Joseph's search for a room at the inn where Jesus could be born. From Dec. 16 to 24, families will switch off hosting the Posada in their home, where a nativity scene is set up and neighborhood children and adults play the parts. Christmas carols, called villancicos are sung while children (and adults) take their turn hitting the pinata, followed by a Mexican feast. On Christmas Day, families attend church together and have a traditional Christmas dinner of oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, as well as roasted turkey and vegetables. Instead of receiving their gifts on Christmas Day, they get presents on Jan. 5, the eve of Twelfth Night.
  3. Italy: Christmas in Italy begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which falls anywhere between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3. In some parts of Italy, the Christmas season kicks off with fireworks, bonfires and holiday music. Since Christmas carols and manger scenes originated in Italy, it should be no surprise that the two can be seen and heard just about anywhere. Families attend Christmas markets, searching for new figures for their manger, while others decorate a Christmas tree. During novena, the nine days before Christmas, children sing carols and write letters to their parents with gifts they want and promising good behavior for the new year. After parents read them aloud, they throw them in the fireplace so the children's wishes will come true. Christmas Day is set aside for attending mass, feasting and spending time together as a family.
  4. China: Although few in number, the Christians in China celebrate Christmas with a variety of traditions. The holidays kick off with fireworks, festivals and feasting. Many fill their homes with evergreens, posters, bright paper chains and cut-out red pagodas to put on the windows. Paper lanterns are hung and Christmas trees, or "trees of light," are decorated with flowers, lanterns and red paper chains. People often throw parties on Christmas Eve and celebrate Christmas Day with a big meal at a restaurant. Even Santa Claus or Dun Che Lao Ren, meaning "Christmas Old Man," is said to fill children's muslin stockings with treats on Christmas Eve.
  5. Sweden: Swedish families celebrate the Christmas holiday with various family-oriented traditions, beginning with attending church on the first Sunday of Advent. Children anxiously count down the days until Christmas using an Advent calendar. On Dec. 13, also known as St. Lucia's Day, Swedes celebrate the patron saint of light, in which the eldest daughter in a family dresses in a long white gown and serves coffee and treats to her family members. Many Swedish families pick out Christmas trees together one or two days before Christmas. They decorate the tree with an array of candies, glass ornaments, pinecones and figurine gnomes. A midday meal is served on Christmas Eve, in which families participate in the tradition of "dipping in the kettle," where each person dips their bread into a kettle of thin broth in remembrance of hard times when food was scarce. They follow with a smorgasbord of lutefisk and a variety of good eats.
  6. France: Christmas is an important family-oriented holiday for the French that starts as early as Dec. 5, also called St. Nicholas Eve. It is that day when gifts are exchanged and children leave their shoes by the fireplace so Father Christmas, or Pere Noel will fill them with treats. Although the French kick off the holidays early, most of the Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. French families fast all day, go to midnight Mass and come home for a late feast called le reveillon. The dinner varies by region, but main courses could include oysters and pate or buckwheat cakes and sour cream. It's tradition for French families to arrange a nativity scene, called a creche in their living room, as well as decorate a Christmas trees with lights, tinsel and bright stars.
  7. Holland: Holland has many well-known Christmas traditions that center around Sinterklaas, who makes his appearance on St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6. A red robed Sinterklaas atop a wheeled sleigh that's led by a white horse travels by ship from Spain to Amsterdam's harbor. He's greeted by the mayor and the people of Amsterdam when he arrives and he proceeds in a parade through the streets. It's tradition for Dutch families to celebrate St. Nicholas Eve at home with a feast and a letterbanket, which is a cake shaped into the first letter of the family's last name. At nighttime, children set their wooden shoes by the fireplace and fill them with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse. Children tell their parents how good or bad they've behaved that year, and well-behaved kids will awake to nuts, candy and other gifts in their shoes.
  8. Australia: Australians may not have the winter white Christmas most places have, but their traditions don't change because it's hot outside. Australians celebrate the Christmas season with many unique traditions, including Carols by Candlelight, an outdoor concert with people singing Christmas carols by candlelight. Australian families take advantage of the nice December weather by doing outdoor activities, like swimming, surfing, biking and grilling meals on the "barbie." Aussies decorate their homes with ferns, palm leaves and evergreens and some put up Christmas trees. Families go to church on Christmas Eve and enjoy parties with friends and families. Then, they open gifts Christmas morning, have breakfast and go to church again. Aussies typically have a midday dinner of roast turkey or ham and plum pudding as the traditional British Christmas meal, while others cook on the backyard Barbie or frolic on the beach.
  9. Germany: Germany is a cold place to be during Christmas, but the lively family traditions truly brighten up the days. German families start celebrating Christmas four Sundays before the big day by making an Advent wreath with four colored candles. A candle is lit each Sunday, followed by caroling and eating cookies. German Christmas markets and bakeries are a sight to see with their lovely window displays, decorative toys and decadent treats. German children write their wish lists to St. Nicholas or the Christ Child, who is dressed in white with golden wings and a golden crown. The Christ Child will bring gifts to children on St. Nicholas Eve in some areas of Germany. Christmas Eve is the most important day for families and is centered around the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree tradition started in Germany and it is a sacred event to decorate the evergreen tree with glass ornaments, silver stars, lights and placing an angel on the top. When it is finally Christmas Day, families light the white candle of the Advent wreath and attend church together.
  10. Spain: In Spain, the Christmas celebrations begin on Dec. 8, when families observe the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. During this weeklong observance, families may travel to Seville for the warm weather and its great cathedral to watch a dance performance called Los Seises to honor the Virgin Mary. Spanish families decorate the best room in their home with life-size nativity scenes called nacimientos. Children often recite verses and sing carols in the neighborhoods for sweets and toys. When the first star shines on Christmas Eve, families light bonfires in public squares and watch Christmas plays. They also fast all day and go to midnight mass together to return home to a bountiful feast. Christmas Day is a time for family get-togethers and feasting, while children sing and dance and gifts are exchanged.
  11. Ethiopia: Ethiopia has many unique Christmas traditions that set it apart from any other country. As one of the oldest nations in Africa, Ethiopia follows the ancient Julian calendar that says Jan. 7 is Christmas Day. However, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church does not call the celebration of Christ's birth Christmas, but rather Ganna. Ethiopian families celebrate Ganna in several ways, but most people fast the day before, dress in white and attend a traditional Mass at 4 a.m. On Ganna, the men and boys play a game that resembles hockey, named ganna. It's tradition for families to eat wat, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables. The celebrations don't end on Ganna. They start again 12 days later on Jan. 19, with Timkat, a commemoration for the baptism of Christ. Again, families attend church services where the music is lively and everyone is dressed in traditional garb. These celebrations are focused on religious observation, feasting and family togetherness rather than gift giving, which rarely happens.
  12. Russia: Whether it's the solemn rituals and family togetherness, or the fact that Christmas celebrations were banned until 1992 after the 1917 Revolution, Russians hold Christmas very close to their hearts. Although Christmas celebrations are beginning to be replaced by the Festival of Winter, there are plenty of people who follow the old Russian traditions that stem from the Orthodox faith. Traditional Russian Christmases are centered on religious observation, in which families say special prayers and fast until Jan. 6 (Christmas Eve). Then, they have a bountiful 12-course meal called the "Holy Supper," which honors the Twelve Apostles. Christmas Day is celebrated on Jan. 7 and is traditionally a day for church services and a dinner that usually consists of goose and suckling pig.
  13. Scotland: Christmas time in Scotland is filled with lively traditions and joyous celebrations that stem from a long history. Traditional Scottish Christmases involve big bonfires, whiskey, good food and lots of company. Scottish families decorate their homes with evergreens, which symbolize the renewal of life, and mistletoe that is said to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits when hung from ceilings and in doorways. Scottish children hang their stockings on bedposts or fireplace mantels in hopes that Santa Claus will fill them with gifts on Christmas Eve.
  14. Japan: Although less than 1 percent of Japan's population is Christian, the country observes some of the Western traditions and has created a few of their own. December 25 is not a national holiday, but it is a commercial event many take part in. It is not uncommon to see Japanese homes and businesses decorated with evergreens and families exchanging gifts during the Christmas season. Many people attend forget-the-year-parties, called bonenkai, throughout December. Also, Christmas Eve is a time for couples to go out to restaurants and spend a romantic night together.
  15. Brazil: Brazil is an ethnically diverse country with a variety of Christmas traditions. A common tradition among many regions of Brazil is to create a nativity scene that will be displayed in homes, churches and stores. Much like Mexico, Brazilians enjoy watching Los Pastores plays that represent the Nativity. Father Noel, or Papai Noel, is a legendary figure in Brazilian Christmases. He is said to wear silk clothing and bring gifts to children. Brazilians also participate in the traditional game called amigo secreto, in which they draw a friend's name and correspond with them using a fake name until Christmas Day, when they reveal their secret friends and exchange gifts.
  16. Greece: Christmas in Greece is a solemn and religious celebration, but it's also a festive time of the year with many traditions. The patron saint of the holiday, St. Nicolas, was a protector of sailors, so you can expect to see boats decorated with lights more so than Christmas trees. The celebrations kick off on St. Nicolas Day and end on Jan. 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany. Greeks often attend music concerts, theatrical performances and other cultural events that bring people together. Caroling is very popular in Greece and three days have been set aside for traditional caroling, in which children go from house to house singing and playing the triangle and residents give them some money. Many Christian Orthodox Greeks attend church on Christmas morning and wrap up the holiday with a Christmas feast, usually consisting of roast pork or turkey.
  17. Ireland: Christmas celebrations in Ireland begin on Dec. 8 and wind down on Jan. 6, or the Feast of the Epiphany. Irish Christmases are focused on religious observance more than festivities. It's tradition for families to light a candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve to symbolize their welcoming of Mary and Joseph as they looked for shelter for Jesus' birth. Live music and caroling often fill the streets that are gaily decorated. The majority of Ireland is Catholic; therefore many families attend mass on Christmas Day and at midnight on Christmas Eve. This is the time to remember those who've died in Ireland through prayer and decorating graves with homemade wreaths.
  18. Bethlehem: The history and traditions of Bethlehem alone make it one of the most interesting places to spend Christmas. Bethlehem is the city where Jesus was born, and it's this reason that so many flock to the city for its various religious celebrations. There are multiple church services and processions for different Christian denominations, many of which pass through Manger Square, near the traditional site of Jesus' birth. The city of Bethlehem has many Western holiday traditions, such as lighting the streets and organizing Christmas plays and markets. Christians in Bethlehem decorate their homes with a manger scene and a painted cross over their door.
  19. Philippines: Christmas is a big holiday in the Philippines, and it even has the world's longest Christmas season celebration, starting in September and ending as late as the third Sunday of January. The Philippines are one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia, so a great deal of focus is placed on religious gatherings. It's tradition for Filipinos to celebrate the holiday by attending nine-day dawn masses starting on Dec. 16, to show devotion and faith to God. Most masses are followed by traditional Filipino holiday feasts at home or outside the church. On Christmas Eve, Filipinos attend midnight mass and go to the Misa de Aguinaldo around sunrise and spend Christmas Day with the family.
  20. Norway: Christmas in Norway is an important holiday and one with many deep seeded traditions. Unlike most European countries, Norway has one of the most secular Christmas celebrations. Most of their holiday decorations are secular, but you can still see white Christmas lights, plastic Santas or Nativities in the lawn and candles in the windows of many homes. Norwegians celebrate Santa Lucia Day on Dec. 13, which honors the "queen of lights." It's tradition for young girls dressed in white robes and lighted crowns to bring baskets of saffron buns and hand them out at schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other public places. Norway Christmas traditions also center around bountiful feasts and delicious baked goods.

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