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Christmas Around the World

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If you ask any child around the world what is his/her favourite Celebration without the doubt you will hear Christmas! Currently, it almost doesn’t matter if you are Krakow, London, Dubai or hot Oman in December you will for sure in shopping centres decorated Christmas tree with presents. But Christmas is not only the commercial part which recently dominated our life. It’s more. Its different traditions of Christmas around the World.

Christmas around the world

In this article, we are going to talk about how different countries celebrate Christmas.

How many countries celebrate Christmas?

Christmas is one of the oldest traditions around the world which is celebrated in over 160 countries. Celebrated generally on Christmas Day, which is the 25th of December every year, Christmas is an occasion where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christian same as Non-Christians celebrate this holiday season with family gatherings.

How is Christmas celebrated around the world? 

Holiday Season celebration depends on the country but Generally, it lasts for 2-3 days starting from December 24th known as Christmas Eve, Christmas day on December 25th and Boxing Day depends

Let’s see how some countries mark this occasion around the world.

Christmas tradition in Europe

Poland

Polish Christmas is something out of this world and should be in your life bucket list. The real celebration starts during the Advent, where families prepare Christmas piernik (Polish type of gingerbread cookies), and making a variety of decorations including the Christmas tree. Piernik can be made into different shapes, including animals, hearts, or St. Nicholas shapes.

The Christmas tree, which is typically adorned with glass baubles and garlands as well as other heirlooms, is lit before Wigilia. 

Christmas Eve Dinner or Kolacja Wigilijna is the most important part of the Christmas celebration in Poland. The dinner usually starts late in the afternoon or in the evening, or whatever time the first star appears in the night sky. So most of the time you will see kids, who are usually hungry and looking forward to the tasty banquet, looking out the window for the first star to appear, and also because they want to finish dinner and proceed to the Christmas gifts part. 

Polish Christmas Eve dinner begins with sharing the oplatek (Christmas wafer), which is baked from only wheat flour and water. During the eating of the wafer, everyone makes their wishes for the coming year. 

The traditional Christmas dinner also requires that there be an extra seat at the table along with a plate and cutlery in case an unexpected guest appears. In Polish tradition, no one should ever be alone at Christmas.

Underneath the table, there is usually hay or straw to remind the guest how Jesus was born in a manger. Some families would start dinner by reading about the birth of Jesus in the New Testament. The dinner should also include 12 courses and must be meat-free. Traditionally the meal includes beetroot soup (barszcz czerwony), Karp (carp fish), mushroom soup (zupa gryzybowa) or fish soup ( zupa rybna), cooked cabbage with mushrooms (kapusta z grzybami), dumplings with cabbage or mushroom filling, cooked vegetable salad with mayonnaise dressing (salatka jarzynowa), and herring salad (salatka sledziowa).  Similar foods you cand find on Hungarian table.

The common desserts that accompany the meals are honey, nuts, noodles with poppy seeds, and dry fruits. 

Once the dinner is finished, the celebration proceeds to the unwrapping of the gifts, which are usually under the Christmas tree or wherever Santa Claus (Mikolaj) places them.  After unwrapping of gifts, people attend pasterka, a special midnight mass that marks the end of fasting and the beginning of the celebration of Jesus’s birth. 

On Christmas Day or Boze Narodzenie, families and friends get together to celebrate and go to church. This is also the Second Day of Christmas, and unlike the Wigilia, people can eat meat. 

Germany and Austria

In Germany Christmas traditions depends on the region, but whole Germany on December 6 put their shoes out waiting for presents from Saint Nicholas. St Nicholas visit children as well in kindergardens and if they sing a song or recite the poem they will get the gift. And if they were bad Knecht Rupert who looks like devil and travels with Nicholas can whip them with a stick. Scary

Christmas in UK

The carols are sung, school broken up.  At last it is Christmas Eve.  The tree is decorated and last-minute presents bought.  By bedtime, parents with grey rings under their eyes beg their children to sleep while they stay up to “help Santa” stuff stockings left at the end of the kids’ beds with fruit and small gifts.

Children wake early on the 25th, rifle the stockings and then jump up and down on their parents bed. Presents are opened with breakfast, and then in Christain households the family will go off to Church leaving mum to prepare the feast.

Christmas dinner is a roast bird in brown gravy with roast potatoes and green vegetables, all washed down with red wine (Christmas joke: “What is the most common wine at Christmas?”  “Oh not brussels sprouts again”) It is eaten amid golden decorations, red candles, and sprigs of holly sprayed with artificial snow and inhabited by plastic robins. 

After the family share crackers, the pudding is served, a dense ball topped with a sprig of holly and burning brandy.  The pudding contains a few silver coins mixed in for lucky children to find.

Now the family goes outside to “walk off the meal” and returns for the Royal Speech  – an afternoon tradition since 1932. Evening brings sweet milky tea with little pies containing a “mincemeat” of dried fruit, sugar and spices – covered in butter whipped with brandy and crunchy sugar.

At last, the house is filled with dead wrapping paper, dirty dishes and overstuffed humans and no possibility to clear up before tomorrow. In fact, the British Christmas traditionally comprises one day of excess, and twelve days to recover.  The final tradition is that all must be clear by “Twelfth Night” – the 5th of January in the New Year.

Italy 

Christmas means a lot to the Italian people since it is believed the tradition originated from there. The occasion is celebrated for several weeks starting early December (precisely December 8th – Immaculate Conception day) until the 6th of January, the day of Epiphany. 

The day of Immaculate Conception marks the celebration of Mary, whose soul according to Roman Catholics, was definite to be immaculate and free from original sin. During this time, supermarkets and bakeries start overflowing with ‘pandoro’ and ‘panettone’, two of the popular customary Christmas cakes. 

At the foyer of the St. Peter’s, there is usually a gigantic Christmas tree with numerous ticket selling stations for the midnight-mass held by the Pope.

Christmas Eve’s diner is typically lighter with a lot of seafood and no meat. 

During the early days of the celebration, the occasion is marked with a series of church services and prayers or Novenas. Some families might have Yule Log or Ceppo, which is burnt throughout the festive season. 

The Novena, which is nine days before Christmas, celebrates the Journey of the Wise Men, who set out to see baby Jesus. This day is marked with lots of praying and in rural parts of Italy, young boys and girls may dress in Wise Men attires and then go from door to door caroling or performing Christmas poems in exchange for coins or some treats.

Christmas Markets tend to decorate the main squares in the cities around Italy. 

The most popular piece of decoration is the nativity scenes or “I presepi”, which is taken extremely seriously and every church and household displays them. 

Norway 

Major cities and towns in Norway are usually decorated days before Christmas, with people buzzing and doing last-minute shopping. During these early weeks, you can catch some Christmas concerts or markets in town.

Little Christmas Eve is on 23 December, which sees many families stage their own traditions in the evening, including the tree decoration, feasting on risengrynsgrot – a steaming rice pudding that is served with butter, cinnamon, and sugar – or baking a gingerbread. One of Christmas tradition is to hide the brooms as witches come alive around this time and they are stealing brooms to go for a ride.

The main celebration takes place on 24 December. The day starts with people rushing to buy last-minute gifts or attend church services. Many people have Christmas dinner with family at home or with relatives and then continue with more parties until New Year’s Day

Sweden

Swedish Christmas traditions are connected to pagan celebration of Winter Solstice which in old Julian Calendar was on December 13, now it’s St. Lucia’s Day, when girls are dressing in white robe and crown of 12 candles on her head.

Another symbol from pagan tradition is the Yule Goat. Since 1966 Swedish at the beginning of advent resident of Galve build a gigantic (42 feet high and 23 feet wide) straw goat. it seems that part of tradition is for vandals to burn it though last 3 years they failed.

Christmas around the world
Yule Goat – source Wikipedia

Russia

In Russia Christmas is celebrated on January 7 because the main church in the country is the Orthodox Church, which still uses the ‘Julian’ calendar for its spiritual festivals.

Christmas Eve, known as ‘Sviata Vecheria’ Holy Supper, meal is usually concluded with Nativity Fast, typically meat-free, and can include 12 courses to represent the twelve apostles. During the meal, a Lenten bread is dipped in garlic and honey and then shared amongst all members of the family at the gathering. 

The Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by Roman Catholic however, people still observe the December 25th Christmas as well as the main January 7 Christmas. They also celebrate two New Years.

Ukraine

Ukrainians traditions for Christmas are similar to Russian though Ukrainians like to decorate their Christmas tree not only with ornaments but as well with spider webs which catch good luck.

Iceland

when we visited Iceland in December we got introduce to 13  jólasveinarnir – Yule Lads who visit Icelandinc children on 12 consecutive days before Xmas leaving them small presents in the shoes which should be placed on the window sill. If you were misbehave or didn’t leave spoon or plate for Yule lad to lick you may find n your shoe rotten potatoes instead of

Finland

Probably the least fascinating Christmas morning meal people eat in Finland – rice porridge with cinnamon, milk and butter with an almond hidden inside, whoever find the almond in his porridge wins. I rather prefer the second part of the day when families are going together to the sauna.

Christmas Celebrations in Asia

Philippines 

Filipinos like celebrating Christmas way into the New Year. In fact, shops and supermarkets start playing carols as early as September while the formal celebrations begin on Mid December with The Giant Lanterns Festival (Kapampangan: Ligligan Parul) in the City of San Fernando, known as “Christmas Capital of the Philippines”. Celebrations end on the First Sunday during the Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany is celebrated. 

The Philippines is predominantly a Christian nation with around 80% of the population being Catholics. It is actually the only Asian nation with a large number of Christians and only South East Asian country which celebrates Christmas.

The Filipinos usually have their own Christmas traditions, and one of them is called the ‘parol’ – a bamboo frame or pole with a lighted star lamp on it.

During the evening of Christmas, Eve families go to church for Christmas Eve mass or ‘simbang gabi’, which is followed by a Noche Buena – a midnight dinner that takes place in an open house and is attended by family, neighbors, and friends. 

Ninos Inocentes or Childermas or Holy Innocent’s Day is observed on December 28. The day is marked by playing pranks on one other, similar to the April Fool’s Day. So if you don’t give anyone money on 28 December in the Philippines because you are not going to get it back! 

The curtain of the celebrations is brought down on Three King’s Day or the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday of the New Year. 

Singapore 

Though it is always sunny in Singapore during by the time Christmas comes around, it is still one of the most magical times of the year. The iconic Orchard Road is usually lit with Christmas Lights and has Christmas Fair

Dinner parties are thrown to help people connect with their loved ones and friends. 

Japan

Believe it or not, Japan is the only country where eating KFC is such an important Christmas tradition that you need to order your Chicken few weeks in advance to be able to get it for Christmas Day without standing in a long queue. Its all started from KFC commercial (“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!“) in 1974 when KFC started selling “chicken party bucket” as a substituted for American Christmas Turkey. With time KFC Chicken Meal become traditions for Christmas

Christmas in Africa

Ethiopia

Ethiopia follows the Orthodox Church and celebrates Christmas on January 7 (instead of December 25). On this day, after a day of fast, Ethiopians go to the church in the early morning dressed in Shamma – white robe-like cloth, which resembles toga. Another important day is January 19th (Twelfth Day) when three days Timkat celebrations start

South Africa

Because South Africa is located in Southern Hemisphere Christmas happens in the middle of the summer, so rather than dress warm and drink mulled wine South Africans go camping, but for sure they will pack with them a minced pie.

Christmas in the Americas

United States

Christmas traditions in USA depends on a region and decent of American people – Polish, Irish or German decents will celebrate slightly different though its more about crazy festive shopping than traditional Christmas. One of the most American Xmas thing is decorating outside of their houses with xmas lights and statues of Santa Clause. In the towns or next to churches you can find Nativity Scene.

Another great tradition is Kissing under the Mistletoe.

Mexico

People in Mexico start celebration on 16th of December with Las Pasdas (People dress as Joseph and Mary and knock from house to house looking for accomodation, once the are let in the party starts. it happens for another 9 days when Mary and Joseph learn that there is place in a stable for them another – another reason for party after which everyone is going to the Church to celebrate birth of Baby Jesus.

Children are getting gifts on Christmas Eve from Santa and some (or as well) on the 5th of January from the Treee kings (Reyes Magos)

Venezuela 

Venezuelans know how to celebrate Christmas. It is among the most colourful festivals in the entire world with fireworks shows and different traditions. 

One of the most popular Christmas music performances is ‘Gaita’, which is played on various instruments such as ‘Cuatro’ – a four-string guitar; ‘Furro’ – a drum with a stick coming through the center of the skin; ‘Tambora’ – a traditional drum; and ‘Charrasca’ – a ribbed tube played by rubbing a stick up and down. 

Since fir and pine trees are not common in the country, many families hang artificial Christmas trees while some regions just stick with Nacimiento (Nativity Scenes). 

Misas de Aguinaldo (Midnight Mass) is common on Christmas Eve, while every year between 16 and 24 December in Caracas (capital city), roads are closed to traffic to let people roller skates to the early morning Christmas mass. On their way, skaters will tug on the ends of long pieces of string tide by children to their big toes dangled out of the window. 

El Salvador

Children in El Salvador celebrate Christmas with firecrackers – volcancitos and estrellitas  (little volcanos and little stars). Adults

Central American countries like El Salvador toast Christmas with fireworks displays on December 24 and 25. Children celebrate with smaller firecrackers called volcancitos (little volcanos) and estrellitas (little stars) while those who are a little older tend to prefer the larger varieties and Roman candles

Jamaica 

Jamaicans usually mark their Christmas Day with some elaborate church services, Gran’ Market, community gatherings, parties with opulent dishes, and warm exchanges between family and friends. 

The atmosphere usually starts to change in September and every activity thereafter is punctuated by gift sharing as well as the customary Christmas cake or pudding, sorrel, ham, eggnog, and rum punch. 

Gran’ Market is usually held in Jamaican’s cities and towns on Christmas Eve until the morning of Christmas Day. As the name suggests, Gran’ Market is a grand fair that caters to those who want to do some last-minute shopping. 

How To Say Merry Christmas in Different Languages?

  • Polish: Wesołych świąt Bożego Narodzenia
  • Italian: Buon Natale
  • German: Frohe Weinachten
  • French: Joyeux Noël
  • Spanish: Feliz Navidad
  • Portuguese: Feliz Natal
  • Dutch: Vrolijk kerstfeest
  • Iceland: Gleðileg jól
  • Romanian: Crăciun fericit
  • Swedish: God Jul
  • Czech: Veselé Vánoce
  • Malta: Il-Milied it-Tajjeb
  • Arabic:عيد ميلاد سعيد (eid milad saeid)
Christmas around the world christmas tradit

Christmas Around the World – summary

Wherever you are during Christmas and whatever religion you are Christmas is the perfect time to meet with family and friend, be Merry and Kind to each other.

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Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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