#Blogmas day 10: Christmas traditions from around the world
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
December sees the streets light up with lights and people are merrier, everyone has their own way to celebrate (if you celebrate). We all love our own traditions. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or another religious holiday.
My family have always had a fairly simply celebration. I was raised by my Grandparents and Aunt, and we would go to the pantomime, bake cookies and watch a movie.
Now that I have children of my own, Craig and I have our own traditions, which include various events and markets throughout December. We also go on a Santa train ride in Yorkshire, a few different light shows and we go to a pantomime on the 23rd of December. We use an artificial Christmas tree, that way we are not using a real tree every year and wasting it and we also have a few christmas decorations around the home.
Christmas eve we open our Christmas eve presents, put on our new pjs, bake cookies, make mince pies, attempt to make a gingerbread house (we usually fail as the temptation takes over the boys and they end up eating the gingerbread) watch a movie and play board games, then we track santa on the santa tracker (Google) then we sprinkle our nature friendly reindeer food outside on the lawn and the boys go to bed. Then it's Christmas day! Early risers in my house, we open gifts whilst listening to Christmas music, call family wish them a merry Christmas and then while the boys play Craig and I get on with the food. The rest of the day is spent playing with the boys and then we take an afternoon walk. We do have two Christmases as we visit my grandparents on the 27th and it's Christmas round 2!
Christmas is a magical time of the year, for me and my family it's about spending the time together and talking, playing and just being together.
Traditions from around the world
New Zealand is important to me as my 'Father' is Half Maori. In New Zealand they celebrate similar to Australia. it is the middle of summer, so lots of people spend the day at the beach.
Many towns have a Santa parade with decorated floats bands and marching teams.
As it's warm, Santa is sometimes seen wearing 'Jandals' (New Zealand sandals) and he might even swaps his red top for a New Zealand 'All Blacks' rugby shirt.
The children of New Zealand leave out carrots for Santa's reindeer and Santa will be left a beer and some pineapple chunks.
In the main cities there are big Christmas light shows and displays.
There are big carol services throughout the country, even in small town, villages and rural areas. New Zealand has some special carols of its own. These include 'Te Haranui', Christmas in New Zealand and A Kiwiana Christmas! These are sung at most carol services around the country.
Many New Zealanders have a barbecue for Christmas lunch and this is becoming more popular. The food cooked on the barbecue is often ham slices or even venison or some other kind of exotic meat. Shrimps and other fish are also barbecued. Whitebait fritters are also popular. In the Maori language Happy/Merry Christmas is Meri Kirihimete.
A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is advent. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called a 'Advent Kranz' and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent. Trees are very important in Germany. they were first used in Germany during the late Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening, the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum and Ihr Kinderlein Kommet.
Sometimes wooden frames, covered with colored plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside. Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families. In German Happy/Merry Christmas is Frohe Weihnachten.
Krampus! I find Krampus a little horrifying, more like a halloween celebration. Krampus roams the streets scaring kids and punishing the bad ones. St. Nicholas rewards nice little boys and girls, while Krampus is said to capture the naughtiest children and whisk them away in his sack. In the first week of December, young men dress up as the Krampus especially on the eve of St. Nicholas Day frightening children with clattering chains and bells.
Many churches in Zambia have Nativity plays and a crib in the church. One or two days before Christmas, Zambians like to go Carol singing around the local streets for charity.
On Christmas day, children are encouraged to bring a present to church for children who are in hospital or might not get a present because they are less fortunate. After church, on Christmas day, it is a custom that all the children go to one house and all the adults go to another house to have a party.
Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. It's still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren't many Christians in Japan. In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine's Day. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant - booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it's so popular! Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and people can place orders at their local fast food restaurant in advance! There was an advertising campaign by KFC in the 1974 called 'Kentucky for Christmas!' (Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!) which was very successful and made KFC popular for Christmas! In Japanese Happy/Merry Christmas is Meri Kurisumasu.
In Egypt a small percentage of people are Christians. They are the only part of the population who really celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas. Christmas Day isn't celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk. People sing special praise songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service. In Arabic Happy/Merry Christmas is Eid Milad Majid.
The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, kielbasa (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne!
Some Americans use popcorn threaded on string to help decorate their tree! Making gingerbread houses is also popular to make and eat at Christmas! People in the U.S.A. like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer. Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve! A popular food at Christmas in the Southwest USA are tamales. In the south of Louisiana, on Christmas Eve, families in small communities along the Mississippi River light bonfires along the levees (the high river banks) to help 'Papa Noel' (the name for Santa in French as Louisiana has a strong historical connection with France) find his way to the children's homes!
In Hawaii, Santa is called Kanakaloka
There are more Christians in South Korea (the Republic of Korea) than in many other Asian countries such as China and Japan, so Christmas is celebrated more widely. (Christians make up about 25-30% of the population.) However, the other 70% of people in South Korea are Buddhist (about 25%) or don't have a religion. (The Asian country with the most Christians is the Philippines). Unlike Japan, Christmas is an official public holiday - so people have the day off work and school, Santa Clause can also be seen around Korea but he might be wearing red or blue A popular Christmas food is a Christmas Cake, but it's often a sponge cake covered in cream brought from a local bakery. Happy/Merry Christmas in Korean is Meri krismas.
On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing 'kalanda' (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes they will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.
If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets and dried figs.
An older and more traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross and hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. Every December, in Aristotelous Square in the city of Thessaloniki (which is the second biggest city Greece) a huge Christmas Tree and three masted sailing ship are put up. It's a popular tourist attraction. The main Christmas meal is often lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit. It's often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables. Other Christmas and new year foods include 'Baklava' (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry). The pastries are either eaten for breakfast or as starters. Another popular Christmas dessert are melomakarona, egg or oblong shaped biscuit/cakes made from flour, olive oil, and honey and rolled in chopped walnuts. In Greek Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Kala Christougenna
In Jamaica, Christmas Eve is also called 'Grand Market' and is a really exciting time, especially for children. In every town and city there is a cross between a festival and a market. During the day, people go shopping for Christmas foods, sweets and toys, etc. You might also buy some new clothes ready for the celebrations in the evening. (But you don't want to spend all your money during the day as there are lots of great things to buy in the evening as well!) Christmas is a very special time in Jamaica and like a lot of other countries, radio stations play carols all through the Christmas period. The Christmas day meal is usually prepared on Christmas Eve. The traditional Jamaican Christmas meal include fresh fruits, sorrel and rum punch and meat. The Christmas Day breakfast includes ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, freshly squeezed fruit juice and tea. Dinner is usually served in the late afternoon and this may include chicken, curry goat, stewed oxtail, rice and peas.
From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children often perform the 'Posada' processions or Posadas. Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging. There are nine Posadas. These celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for somewhere to stay. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns. In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from December 12th to January 6th. Each night a different house holds the Posada party. At the final Posada, on Christmas Eve, a manger and figures of shepherds are put on to the board. When the Posada house has been found, a baby Jesus is put into the manger and then families go to a midnight Church service. After the Church service there are more fireworks to celebrate the start of Christmas. Happy/Merry Christmas is Feliz Navidad.
Poland is a largely catholic country and Christmas Eve is a very important and busy day. It's now often the most important day over Christmas - even though it's not a holiday but Christmas and the 26th December are holidays! Traditionally it was day of fasting and abstinence (not eating anything) and meat is not normally allowed to be eaten in any form. Before Christmas, children in schools and preschools take part in "Jasełka" (Nativity Plays). They are very popular and often more secular than religious. The Christmas story is also sometime put into modern times. On the table there are 12 dishes - they are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. The meal is traditionally meat free, this is to remember the animals who took care of the baby Jesus in the manger. Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish. For catholics the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus's 12 disciples. In Polish Happy/Merry Christmas is Wesolych Swiat.
In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas Day. Christmas isn't an official public holiday and many people think it's only a holiday for Christians. People celebrate by throwing confetti, taking pictures and enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights of big hotels and department stores. Lots of cafes and restaurants are open for people to enjoy a snack! In some areas of Ho Chi Minh city, usually in Catholic parishes, people have big crib scenes in front of their houses and decorate the whole street, turning it into a Christmas area! These are popular for people to visit and look at the scenes.Happy Christmas in Vietnamese is Chuc Mung Giang Sinh.
On Christmas Eve, Church Services are held and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions.
In the villages of Polar Inuits, families like to visit each other and have parties. They drink coffee and eat cakes and exchange brightly wrapped parcels. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pairs of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house, singing songs. There are some rather unusual foods eaten at Christmas time in Greenland. 'Mattak' is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside. It is supposed to taste like fresh coconut, but is often too tough to chew and is usually swallowed. Another Christmas food is 'kiviak'. This is the raw flesh of little auks (a type of arctic bird) which have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition! Although it sounds strange, it is a delicacy in Greenland. In Greenlandic, Happy/Merry Christmas is Juullimi Pilluarit.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it's still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations. The New Year is the big time for spending lots of money and eating and drinking lots. Christmas is much more religious and private. New Year is also when 'Grandfather Frost' known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz' brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Granddaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year's eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up. In Russian Happy/Merry Christmas is s rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM.