Christmas Around The World – How Will YOU Be Celebrating Christmas This Year?
We all love Christmas, and the Christmas traditions and Christmas celebrations we hold so lovingly in our hearts. For the most part, Christmas is the same for our families, for our neighbours and for our friends. But did you ever stop to think it might be totally different for people in other parts of the world?
I’m not talking about those of other faiths, or those who don’t celebrate Christmas – I mean people just like us, of the same beliefs and socio-economic group. For example, here in the Niagara Falls region and throughout most of Canada & the northern United States, Christmas is in winter – hence ‘dashing though the snow’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Frosty the Snowman’, etc. But do those Christmas Carols make sense in Brazil, or Australia, where Dec 25th is in the heat of summer?
One of the joys of Christmas online is we can take a tour of what Christmas is like in other countries, other climes. Here’s just a few ways Christmas is celebrated in various places around the world…
Celebrating Christmas in France – Joyeux Noel!
In France, this special day is called ‘Noel’. How closely does this mirror Christmas in your country?
1. Creche – The “creche” (Nativity scene) is an important part of the Christmas celebration in France, and almost every French home as well as churches has one. Little figures made of clay, called ‘santons’ (little saints), are arranged in the creche to depict the Holy Family, the Magi, and the shepherds. In addition to these familiar figures, the French creche may also include other figures in the form of local characters. The santons are often colorfully made to add life to the creche.
2. Sapin de Noel – The putting up of a ‘sapin de Noel’ (Christmas tree) is a tradition that began in France in the 18th century. The tree is adorned with ribbons, flowers made of paper, and, sometimes, with apples. Today, however, the Christmas tree is no longer as popular in France as it is in other countries.
3. Le Gui – The hanging of ‘le gui’ (the mistletoe) above the door is a tradition meant to bring good fortune to homes and families, though the French make use of the mistletoe more during the New Year celebrations.
Traditional Christmas foods served:
1. Foie Gras – The ‘foie gras’ (fat liver) is perhaps the most popular French food served during the Christmas season. It is made of goose or duck liver that has been fattened through a special feeding process.
2. Crepes – These are very thin pancakes made from wheat flour. Common crepe fillings are ham, eggs, mushrooms, and cheese. Those who prefer their crepes sweet can have them filled with fruit spreads, maple syrup, or simply with powdered sugar.
3. Dinde Aux Marrons – This is a special food served in many homes in France during Christmas. It is turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Other foods traditionally served during Christmas in France include ‘chapon’ (roasted chicken), oysters, and smoked salmon. For desserts, there are ‘buche de Noel’ (cake made of chestnuts and chocolate and shaped into a log), ‘calissons’ (fruit-flavored candies), and quince cheese (a sweet, thick jelly).
Traditional French Christmas carols:
The most popular traditional songs heard around France during the Christmas season include ‘Minuit Chretiens’ (O Holy Night), ‘Pat-a-pan’ (similar in concept to ‘The Little Drummer Boy’), and ‘Quelle est cette odeur agreable?’ (‘Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?’).
Christmas is always a happy occasion, especially for children. In France, children expect to receive toys, candies, fruits and other gifts from ‘Pere Noel’ (Father Christmas), by putting their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that these will be filled with the goodies.
Little Christmas in Ireland
Christmas in Ireland lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which is referred to Little Christmas. Ireland’s Christmas is more a time for religious celebration rather than revelry. A manger scene, or nativity, is displayed in most homes and there are few Christmas trees.
Lighted candles are placed in windows on Christmas Eve, in order to guide Mary and Joseph to safe shelter. The candles are usually red in color and decorated with sprigs of holly. During the British occupation of all of Ireland during World War II, three candles were placed in the window at Christmas for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Fellow Catholics passing by would know that the house was a Catholic home, and that all friends were welcome there to celebrate Christmas. The candles were also an invitation to priests to enter the home, say the Christmas Mass, eat dinner, and spend the night with the family.
Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. They also make three puddings, one for each day of the Epiphany such as Christmas, New Year’s Day and the Twelfth Night. After the Christmas evening meal, bread and milk are left out and the door unlatched as a symbol of hospitality.
Children often put out Christmas sacks instead of stockings. It is tradition to leave mince pies and a bottle of Guinness beer out as a snack for Santa.
After the evening meal, the table is set with bread and milk and the door left unlatched as a symbol of the hospitality that the family is offering to Mary and Joseph and the little one to come.
St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, is almost as important, with football matches and meetings going on. Young men in extravagant dress, sometimes wearing masks, parade noisily through the streets in the Wren Boys’ Procession. They carry long poles with a holly bush atop it. The bush supposedly contains a captured wren, and for whose sake the young men beg for money.
A Caribbean Christmas
In the tropical islands of the Caribbean, the temperature is above 75 degrees from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, which means that it is warm and pleasant during Christmas. The Christmas season in the Caribbean is also pleasant because it is far removed from the rainy season, which usually occurs from late March to May. During Christmas time in the Caribbean, the temperature is also more temperate and tolerable compared to the searing hot days of the summer months.
As in many parts of the world, family, merriment, gift-giving are among the many activities that the people of the Caribbean enjoy during Christmas. Families often live in fairly close proximity to each other however. But what makes getting together at Christmas so special is that it often involves intense and laborious preparations that are not done at any other time of the year.
In many homes, an intense cleaning is done in the two or three weeks before Christmas Day. All furniture is moved and may even be rearranged and new and fancy curtains put up for the season. The best bed linens, tablecloths, cutlery and dinnerware are also used in entertaining any visitors during the season. It is a common occurrence for visitors, including people from the neighborhood, to stop for short visits during the season.
During those visits, guests are entertained with certain food and drinks, many of which are made only at Christmas time. These include fermented drinks such as sorrel and mauby, as well as the alcoholic drink rum punch. A special type of cake, called Black cake or fruitcake, is also made at Christmas. It is made with raisins and other dried fruit that are minced and placed in wine for several weeks. This cake is the traditional dessert for Christmas dinner. The main menu of a traditional Caribbean Christmas dinner includes baked poultry, roast beef ham, boiled and steamed root vegetables, rice with peas, seasoned rice or rice pilaf, with sorrel, rum punch or mauby as the beverage.
Caroling has also been a tradition, although its practiced has been declining in recent years. Small groups from churches or schools will walk through neighborhoods singing Christmas carols or, will drive from house to house to sing carols in neighborhoods primarily in rural areas where houses are not always found in close proximity.
Two Christmas traditions that are unique to the Caribbean are the practice of Jonkonoo and having a grand market. Jonkonoo consists of a group of masked revelers who take part in a parade dancing to the beats of drums, shaking tambourines and improvised instruments. The group also include stilt walkers who appear as tall as some trees and single-story buildings. Jonkonoos perform various antics to amuse onlookers and to give candies and treats to children, especially younger children who may seem scared of any of the Jonkonoo participants.
Grand market is the big outdoor market that takes place the week before Christmas up to Christmas Eve. Outdoor markets, found in the central points of regional towns, are common in the Caribbean as a place to get fresh fruits, vegetables and produce that are grown by local farmers. But at Christmas time, they also become filled with assorted items that can be given as gifts and they bustle with activity even after nightfall. It is a special treat for children to accompany parents to grand market during the Christmas season.
Since Christmas falls during the high winter tourist season in the Caribbean, Christmas is also an opportunity for many school children to perform for tourists. Many hotels take advantage of the fact that most schools and churches will have singing and dramatic groups that perform the Christmas story and sing carols and Christmas songs. These groups are often invited to provide local entertainment at hotels and guesthouses during Christmas.
Giving Out Baksheesh in India during Christmas
In a country where the population is well over 1 billion people, India is widely known to be a Hindu and Moslem country. However, there are still over 26 million Christians residing there. So during the Christmas holiday season, you’ll still find carolers singing and Father Christmas in many storefront window displays. Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta hold Christmas bazaars and markets where you can find Christmas ornaments, decorations, and Christmas-themed gifts.
You might find outdoor Christmas decorating in some areas. In Southern India, small clay oil-burning lamps are used as Christmas decorations; they are placed on the edges of flat roofs and on the tops of walls.
Tribal Christians of the Bhil people go out every night in Northern India during the Christmas season singing Christmas carols and retelling the story of the birth of baby Jesus to residents throughout the night.
One of the largest Christian contingents can be found in Bombay, the majority of which are Roman Catholic. Many homes in Bombay take great pride in creating a beautiful crèche, or Nativity scene, to be displayed in their front window. Some also decorate with large paper lanterns that look like huge stars dangling between the outdoor walls of the homes. Some choose to display artificial Christmas trees, but others choose to simply decorate a banana plant or a mango tree instead.
Gift giving is also prevalent, a tradition most likely carried over when India was still under British rule. Many Christians choose to give baksheesh, or charitable gifts, to those who are less fortunate.
The Christmas dinner might include turkey or chicken served with curried rice and vegetables. Vindaloo, which is a pork dish served with rice, almonds and raisins may also be on the menu. Occasionally, homemade ginger wine is also available.
Who is your Christmas Amigo Secreto in Brazil?
Father Noel is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to Brazilian folklore, he lives in Greenland, and it’s been said that because of how warm it is in Brazil during the Christmas holiday, Father Noel wears silk clothing to stay cool.
There is a very common tradition among friends and families, called ‘amigo secreto’, or secret friend. In early December game participants write their own name on a piece of paper, and then place it in a bowl or hat to be drawn by another participant. They then draw a name from the bowl, but do not reveal to anyone what name it says. Then throughout December people receive cards and notes from their secret friend, which have ‘apelidos’, or fake names, on them. Only on Christmas Day do people reveal who their secret friend was and offer a gift.
In the old days, devout Catholics would attend Midnight Mass or ‘Missa do Galo’. Galo is Brazilian for rooster. The mass is called by this name because it actually doesn’t end until very early Christmas morning. Since it can be hard to stay up that late, masses are celebrated December 24 later in the afternoon or in the early evening on Christmas Day.
Homes are festively decorated using fresh flowers picked straight from the garden. Brazilians also take great pride in displaying their ‘Presepio’, or nativity scene. Gigantic displays of electric lights in the form of Christmas trees can be seen everywhere, especially in larger cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Elaborate fireworks displays and festive celebrations help ring in the New Year.
Newport Beach, California, USA – Christmas Boat Parade
Picture million dollar yachts, kayaks, electric boats and other watercraft gliding through the Newport, California Harbor – and you have the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. The parade features dazzling holiday lights that light up the bay, amazing the nearly one million visitors that crowd Newport Beach and Newport Harbor.
From December 18 – 22, there are more than 200 vessels participating in this holiday celebration. Several of these vessels will be decorated for the season, playing music and displaying Christmas decorations and costumed carolers. In the past, some yacht owners have spent as much as 50,000 dollars in decorations for their yacht.
Over the course of 14 miles, the yachts and watercraft will amaze the spectators. For more than 90 years, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has dazzled spectators and locals. All along the beach, the parade provides views for restaurants, locals, private home owners, and even those on public beaches.
Along with the private boats, many charter companies offer the chance for parade goers to participate in the parade and view the “Ring of Lights”, a group of spectacular homes all around the harbor. The “Ring of Lights” is a popular addition to the parade, with prizes given for those who have the best decorations on their homes.
Christmas in African Nations
Christmas celebrations in African nations are characterized by much outdoor activity because the season often occurs during a time when the weather is pleasant. Using palm trees and participating in processions are also characteristic features of activities related to Christmas in many parts of Africa.
In South Africa, activities that occur outside during Christmas include the usual caroling, but also the unusual ones of swimming and camping. The beach and mountains play an important role during Christmas in South Africa because the season occurs during the hottest time of the year – summer.
Given the pleasant nature of the weather during Christmas, families also take advantage of it by often going sightseeing in the countryside on a relaxing drive in the late evening of Christmas Day. A rich and sumptuous menu that includes a suckling pig or roast beef, turkey, mince pies, yellow rice, vegetables and puddings usually makes up the traditional South African Christmas dinner.
To create a festive environment, decorated pine branches and fir, sparkling cotton wool and tinsel are used in homes and businesses as decorations.
A similar decorative pattern of using evergreen, palm trees and lighted candles are also seen in countries such as Ghana and Liberia. While these are used in homes and businesses, they are also often carried in processions and during caroling activities.
While South Africans gather at the beach during Christmas time to enjoy the warm summer waters, people in other African nations often gather outside at in town squares and in the streets to march, sing and enjoy an overall feeling of merriment.
Despite the seemingly general similarity in activities, however, countries have their own individual style that makes Christmas celebrations unique.
Of all the celebrations in African nations, Christmas activities in Ethiopia stand out for their difference in when they are celebrated and how it is done. One of the features that make Ethiopian Christmas different is that the main celebratory event occurs on Jan. 7, around the time known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day in North and South America.
Given the general modest economic financial situations of a significant number of the population in many African countries, Christmas celebrations also tend to occur over a shorter period of time, compared to activities in more wealthier countries.
Another difference in celebrations of Christmas in Ethiopia is the participation of various people who take part in a pilgrimage and converge on the capital city during Christmas Eve. These wanderers fill the night air with a din of praying and chanting and create a multicolor spectacle when they gather on Christmas morning to have a religious service.
But retaining a similarity with other African nations, Ethiopians enjoy a Christmas dinner that includes a meat stew. Stews, rice, root vegetables such as yams, breads and soups often are part of the menu of traditional Christmas day dinners in African nations.
Christmas dinners are likely enjoyed by families outside, where everyone shares the meal while sitting in a circular pattern outside under the shade of a sprawling tree, instead of sitting in a formal setting at a table.
As is the practice in most every household during Christmas, Africans also exchange gifts. Popular items that are exchanged as Christmas gifts include cotton cloth, soaps, sweets, pencils and books, all very practical items that can be readily used. Again, this may be related to the modest financial resources of up to half the population in many African countries, as well as to cultural norms. Individuals aren’t able to afford extravagant gifts but they still want to surprise children, family and friends at Christmas with an unexpected gift. The generally pervasive cultural norm of humility and modesty that exists among traditional African peoples may also play an important role in not having overreaching extravagance at Christmas.
Celebrate Christmas and Three Kings Day in Germany
Christmas preparations in Germany often begin on the eve of December 5th, the eve of St. Claus Day. People often set aside special evenings for baking spiced cakes and cookies, and making gifts and decorations. Little dolls of fruit are traditional Christmas toys.
Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind; a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown and is the Christ Child’s messenger who delivers gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle. There is also a Christmas Eve figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas Man – he looks like Santa Claus and also brings gifts.
Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations.
Christmas trees are very popular in Germany. Some homes in Germany have several Christmas trees, and in all towns across Germany they can be seen glittering and glowing. Some homes also display advent wreaths, called Adventskranz. They are decorated with holly and have four candles in the center. Each Sunday a candle is lit and the last one is lit on Christmas Eve. Children count the days until Christmas using an Advent calendar where they open one window each day and find a Christmas picture inside.
Some families lock up one room of their home before Christmas. When the children are awoken by their parents at midnight, they find the room filled with gifts and a decorated Christmas tree.
On the eve of January 6, German households inscribe the initials of the Three Kings, Casper, Melchior and Balthazar, and the current year over their doorways to protect their homes. Catholic boys and girls dress up as kings for Three Kings Day on January 6, and sing carols and collect money for donations.
Toss a Shrimp on the Barbie in Australia for Christmas
Christmas is a very different experience in Australia. It takes place during the hottest months of the summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so dreaming of a white Christmas while in Australia is about the only way you’d have one!
Many Australian Christmas traditions are ingrained in their British roots. A traditional Christmas meal usually includes a turkey dinner, sometimes with ham. Plum pudding is also sometimes part of the menu, as is a Pavlova, an Australian meringue made with whipped cream, strawberries and passion fruit. But some opt for more traditional summertime fare for their holiday meal such as cold ham, salads, or seafood.
Since the weather is so warm, many choose to spend their holiday outdoors. A great number of people flock to Bondi Beach in Sydney. Shorts, tank tops and swimsuits are the preferred Christmas attire. Because of the warm temperatures holiday decorating is done with beautiful flowers and fauna. One of the most popular choices is a native Australian plant called the Christmas Bush.
Back in Melbourne in 1937, caroling by candlelight was born. Now it is an annual event during the holiday season all across the country. Sydney’s Domain is another popular venue for carolers to gather and sing.
Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, is as popular as he is throughout the world, though he is sometimes depicted wearing swimming trunks instead of a red wool suit, and cold drinks and foods are left out for him on Christmas Eve instead of milk and cookies. Australian trees have various wooden and glass decorations, tinsel, garland and lights, just as Christmas trees around the world.
Boxing Day, a national public holiday in Australia as it is in England & Canada, is celebrated yearly the day following Christmas, December 26. It is well known for being the day the dangerous yacht race that runs from Sydney to Hobart begins.
La Navidad – Christmas in the Dominican Republic
Celebrations and holidays are a big part of the culture of the Dominican Republic that if the Carnaval is celebrated the whole month of February, La Navidad lasts from October to January. This is a time for exhilarating parties, gathering together family, friends, and relatives, and enjoying life.
In the Dominican Republic, there are many holidays in the year to have a great time. Christmas time is even more delightful. Christmas is such a time for big family reunions that airlines are fully booked with Dominicans returning back to their roots and celebrating the holidays in places they call home. The excitement is continuous and sustained with daily firework display that intensifies as December 25 gets closer and this continues through the New Year.
Dominicans probably celebrate the event unlike most people in the world. To do business during this season will not be easy. This is a time for celebration and a celebration it will be with people preoccupied with enjoying other peoples’ company rather than with anything else. Parties are everywhere with whiffs of food and other festive aromas dominating the air. This is festive spirit in abundance and there is nothing like it.
Firecrackers – The Big Bang in Action
Children of all ages ignite firecrackers of all types. Small missiles shoot in the air like crazy and people getting out of the way like mad with seldom a word of reprimand. Dominicans are used to this – in fact, the excitement of firecrackers has become synonymous with celebrations. Understandably, a feast without the boom is not complete and the bigger the bang, the bigger the grins on faces.
The Big Christmas Eve Meal
In a predominantly Catholic country like the Dominican Republic, Noche Buena is a big part of the celebration. People even in far off areas always make it a point to get home by Christmas Eve. This is one of those days in the year where the favorite recipes of aunts and mothers are served and enjoyed with visiting relatives. This is feasting at its best. In most countries, December 25 is the main day to celebrate. In the Dominican Republic, the feasting starts towards the midnight of December 24. December 25 is a day to recover from all the food, if not a day to feast some more.
Giving Thanks At Christmas
The center of all the celebration is the birth of Jesus Christ that is celebrated in all churches during the midnight of the 24th to the early morning of the 25th in a mass called the ‘Misa de Gallo’. The religious and the pious gather in the church very early. Expect churches to be overflowing during this day and expect the majority of churchgoers not being able to get inside the church. This is fine as displays and the general atmosphere of the celebration is just as good outside. The Dominican Republic had the first church in the Americas, and the Catedral de Santa Maria remains the most elaborate and the largest throughout the Republic.
Norway’s Christmas Holiday Tradition
In Norway, the night of December 13 is used to be called Lussinatten. It is celebrated in honor of Saint Lucy. She is a young girl who according to legend died a martyr in Sicily. This celebration is part of the Norwegian celebration of Christmas holiday.
St. Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in other countries like Sweden. Traditions of its celebration include processions led by a young Lucia in a white robe with a crown of lights on her head and a candle in her hand. Schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and hospitals feast on this day.
Among Norway’s other holidays, this is the longest night of the year and no work was to be done. This is because Norwegians believe that Lussi, a feared enchantress, punished anyone who dared work. From that night until Christmas, spirits, gnomes and trolls roamed the earth. Legend also says that farm animals talked to each other on Lussinatten. Thus, animals were given additional feed on this day.
This midwinter feast in Norway became a tradition. But the origin of this German tradition can be dated back to the first half of the 1800s. Today the Christmas tree plays a central role in celebrating the Christmas holiday in Norway.
As such, trees, a spruce or a pine, is usually bought in town or chopped from one’s own forest. Traditionally, Christmas trees must be fresh and green and fragrant, with a good shape and thick branches. There are also outdoor Christmas trees put up on squares, parks and other places where people walk are lit the first Sunday in Advent. However, the Norwegian tradition is not to light the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.
Aside from this, several kinds of lights are sold during this holiday in Norway. Christmas has become traditionally a festival of lights and candle-making, one crucial preparation of Christmas. During the long preparation, concerts are held in churches and concert halls and Christmas carols are sung up and down the country.
Furthermore, Norwegian Santa Claus “Julenisse” is famous for his red stocking cap and long white beard. The nisse wears knee breeches, hand-knitted stockings, a Norwegian sweater, a homespun jacket, and a heavy fur coat for Norway is very cold in the winter.
At 5 p.m. on the Christmas Eve, all the churches begin to ring in Christmas. Then the family gathers for a holiday meal after going to Church. A porridge meal with an almond hidden in someone’s bowl is a popular menu. Rib roast with crackling is a very popular recipe used during this holiday.
Food traditions vary from one district to another. Coastal traditions are different from those found inland in the same way Eastern Norway’s traditions are different from those of Western Norway. Coastal districts and North Norway’s traditional Christmas dinner include lutefisk, cod or halibut. Eastern Norway’s are pork ribs, pork patties, Christmas sausage, and spiced cabbage.
Desserts range from cloudberry cream, crème caramel and creamed rice to fruit. Butter, sugar and cinnamon have to be put out for the nisse.
How Is Christmas Celebrated In YOUR Country?
So there you have it – some traditions are almost worldwide, while others are practiced only in one country or region. How about YOUR country? If it’s not listed above, how about using the comment area below to let us all know how Christmas is celebrated in YOUR country?