From the aroma of freshly baked cookies, pies, cakes, sweets to the shiny little ornaments on the trees, the beautiful lights and stunning decor – everything about Christmas is magical!
Millions of people around the world celebrate this joyous festival – some rush to the stores (or the applications on their phones) to buy gifts for their loved ones, others sip on a cup of hot chocolate while watching Christmas movies, while some others go caroling or partying! Children eagerly wait for the festival, hoping Santa rewards them for their good behavior while the others blast Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas right from December 1.
We all have our traditions for Christmas, however, some countries go beyond the usual Christmas tree, decorations, mistletoe, and stockings. Let’s take a look at how different countries celebrate this lovely holiday!
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From December 16 and 24, the country celebrates Las Posadas. It is a Christmas festival celebrated in the cities and towns. It honors the long journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem when they were in search of a lodge. A journey wherein they were looking for a safe place where Mary could give birth to baby Jesus. ‘Las Posadas’ is “the inns” or “shelter,” in Spanish. During the festival, children dress in robes, with an angel. They represent Mary and Joseph while the adults and musicians follow the procession.
In the procession, they stop at preselected homes and each home represents an inn. When the procession makes a request for lodging, the people are offered refreshments in this celebration that lasts nine nights. Christmas songs, too, are sung at the procession. These nine nights are celebrated in honor of Mary, who was pregnant for nine months. On the final night, the children celebrate the festival as they break open piñatas that are filled with candy and toys.
Caracas is the capital of Venezuela. For locals in the capital, there’s a unique Christmas tradition. This tradition involves roller skating wherein people, along with some visitors, head to Christmas morning mass on (you guessed it) roller skates! The number of people taking part in the tradition is so big that they close the streets to traffic. This is done so that everyone can get there safely.
Children in the capital go to bed with a piece of string tied around their toes. The other end of the string hangs out of the window, and the skaters riding past tug on the string so that the kids know it’s time to wake up.
Since Australia is in the Southern hemisphere, the people there experience Christmas in the summer. Hence, many families celebrate Christmas by having meals outside on the barbecue (they call it ‘barbie’) and then heading to the beach where even Father Christmas (as Santa is known to kids in Australia) makes an appearance.
Instead of his signature sleigh, Santa or Father Christmas, sometimes even arrives by surfboarding while the other Christmas tradition in Australia is ‘Carols by Candlelight’. This takes place in cities and towns across the country. Groups of people gather and sing Christmas songs. The biggest celebrations in Melbourne and Sydney are even televised.
France has a popular old Christmas tradition. It involves burning a Yule Log made of cherry wood in your home and carrying it inside on Christmas Eve. The log is then sprinkled with red wine so that it smells good and then food and drinks are left out by the people. This Yule log and candles are meant to burn all night. It is a welcoming sign for Mary and baby Jesus.
When it comes to Christmas sweets – many countries around the world bake cookies, cakes, have candies and pastries, etc. But China is different. In this country, apples are the Christmas sweets. It is their treat (festive treat) of choice as they believe the tradition comes from how similar the Chinese word for apple ( which is ‘ping guo’) is to the Chinese word for Christmas Eve (which is ‘ping’an ye’). Although the festival isn’t an official holiday in the country, yet more and more people are celebrating it each year.
‘Peace apples’ is the gift people often give in the country. These apples are regular apples packaged in special boxes. The tradition in China involves even wrapping the apples in colorful paper, or sometimes adorning them with Christmas messages.
There is an old tradition in Ireland according to which people leave a tall candle on the sill of the largest window of the house which is lit after sunset on Christmas Eve. This candle is supposed to be burned all night long. This Irish tradition represents or indicates a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph.
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Just like the rest of the world Japan too associates a white-bearded man with Christmas. However, it’s not Santa Claus, it is KFC’s Colonel Sanders! The latter has made it a tradition to make an appearance at millions of Japanese Christmas dinners. You must be wondering how? Well, he makes an appearance via his smiling face on red buckets of fried chicken as the American fried chicken fast-food restaurant has become the go-to for Christmas dinner in the country.
As per CNN, in the early 1970s, the manager of the first KFC in Japan began marketing a “party barrel” of fried chicken to be sold on Christmas. This came to him in a dream and he said it was inspired after he overheard foreigners in his restaurant talk about how they missed having turkey for Christmas.
The manager thought a dinner of fried chicken would make a great substitute for the turkey the foreigners missed. So, he began marketing it as a way to celebrate Christmas. By 1974, KFC took the Christmas marketing plan nationally across Japan. It took off! As of 2016, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families celebrate the Christmas holiday with a KFC dinner tradition.
Catholics head to a Christmas mass on Christmas Eve in many parts of the world and so do people in Finland. One tradition they follow involves porridge. On Christmas, Finnish people have porridge for lunch. It is made with milk and topped with cinnamon, milk, or butter with a hidden almond in the porridge. Whoever finds the almond in their bowl gets to sing a song. This person is thought of as the luckiest at the table.
Some people in Norway mix newer Christian Christmas traditions with ancient pagan ones. One such Christmas Eve tradition is to hide all broomsticks before going to bed. This is because it is said that wicked witches and evil spirits come out on the night of December 24. They will steal any broomsticks they see to fly on.
Another sweeter Norwegian tradition is the serving of ‘riskrem’. It is a chilled rice pudding with berry sauce for dessert. In it, families place a single blanched almond inside and whoever finds the almond in the rice pudding will receive a small prize. That person is also said to have good luck.
The Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. It is also very lavish with holiday light displays, masses, and festivals held from September through January wherein special Christmas lanterns called ‘parols’ made of bamboo and paper are hung around towns and villages.
Some places even hold contests for the most beautiful Christmas decorations and it is tradition for families to come together on Christmas Eve. They gather for a big, festive meal. Traditional Christmas treats in the country include puto bumbong, or bamboo tubes stuffed with purple rice, butter, sugar, and coconut, and colorful fruits and rice cakes called ‘bibingka’ are also popular.
Just like many parts of the world, Poland celebrates Christmas too but it is also one of the most important days of the year for the country. They have many traditions in the country and one is that they won’t eat their main meal ‘Kolacja wigilijna’ until the first star is seen in the sky. The tradition includes twelve dishes meant to bring good luck. Twelve dishes for the next twelve months. These dishes are traditionally meat-free and they include Barszcz, beetroot soup – the most important dish. Nearly everyone eats the latter.
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Ukraine’s Christmas has a unique tradition that involves decorating Christmas trees with spiders and spider webs and there’s a story behind it. According to Ukrainian legend, a poor widow and her children grew a Christmas tree from a pine cone. They then realized they did not have anything to decorate it with and when the spiders heard the children crying, they decorated their tree with beautiful webs.
As per Redbook, the spider symbolizes good luck for the new year. Therefore, the Ukrainians decorate their trees with them (don’t worry, they decorate the trees with fake ones).
These were just some of the Christmas traditions practiced around the world. If you’re celebrating Christmas, you could add one of these traditions to your own! Wishing you all Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays!
Featured image adapted from Freepik (Christmas vector created by sentavio – www.freepik.com)