‘Tis the holiday season, and merriment is all over the place! With the Christmas and New Year festivities being just around the corner, it is almost impossible to not be affected by the wonderfully joyous festive spirit. Although the birth of Christ is primarily a celebration for people belonging to Christianity, Christmas is now celebrated all over the world by people of all religions and sects. And with the diversity in geography, cultures, and backgrounds, the celebrations become a reflection of all those factors, no matter where you go.
Come; let’s take a look at the different Christmas traditions held in different parts of the world.
The holiday season in the United Kingdom is extremely wet, foggy and snowy, and hence, people prefer staying indoors for Christmas. Baking cookies and hanging up stocking near the fireplace is a very common family tradition in England. Children write letters full of Christmas wishes and throw them into the fire so that the wishes can reach Santa through the chimney. Holiday stories constitute a big part of Christmas traditions in this country.
Germans celebrate an entire Christmas month, instead of a weekend. In the beginning of December, they make a wreath of pine or fir trees and put four different colored candles in them. Each Sunday of the month, they light one candle, eat Christmas themed cookies and sing carols. Germans are also said to be huge fans of sweetmeats during Christmas, with families making a huge selection including sweet bread, candied fruits (read: plum) and the traditional spiced cookie, lebkuchen.
Christmas in Spain is a musical affair. It begins on the 8th of December when the Spanish follow a week-long observance of the Feast of Immaculate Conception. This is followed by a daily fiesta including food and dance at local churches, which are decorated extravagantly. Small musical instruments are handed out to people to encourage the music and dance in the streets, while children roam from door to door singing carols and collecting money or treats in return.
The Land Down Under is one that celebrates Christmas in a very different season of the year. In Australia, Christmas falls in the summer season, which is the reason for most of the festive activities to be held out of doors. Their most famous and lasting tradition is Carols by Candlelight, wherein people get together at night under a sky full of stars, light candles and sing Christmas carols in the beautiful weather.
Christmas in Ethiopia is celebrated on January 7th, in accordance with the ancient Julian calendar. They call it Ganna, and the people are very particular about a few customs. It is a day for the entire family to visit Church, and to dress in all white. A part of their traditional garb is a white cotton wrap with colorful ends that they call Shamma, which is a mandatory garment to be worn at that time. The baptism of Christ is celebrated as a three-day event, twelve days after Ganna.
- The Netherlands
The Netherlands, too, celebrates Christmas on a different day than most of the world. It is called St. Nicholas Day and is observed on the 6th of December. Children eagerly wait for Sinterklaas on this day, who is a kind man in red robes and a pointed hat. Sinterklaas is said to travel through water from Spain to Amsterdam harbor in winter, with his white horse and an enormous sack of gifts for the children. Food, of course, is an important part of the holidays, of which the letter cake, a cake signifying the first letter of the family name, is the most important.
Unlike many countries, Mexico is nice and warm during the holiday season. Market stalls called puestos are put up everywhere, where families go shopping for Christmas gifts, decorations and more, and eat good food with their families. People cut out beautiful designs on brown paper bags to make traditional lamps knows as farolitos. These lamps are set out with a candle inside, in places such as terraces, parks, rooftops, etc so as to celebrate the community spirit during the festive season.
Christmas in Austria can give tough competition to Halloween. As tradition dictates, St. Nicholas is the man that gives presents to kids as rewards for their good behavior throughout the year. As opposed to this, St. Nicholas’s evil accomplice, Krampus, comes alive to punish children for their naughtiness; he is said to kidnap the bad kids and put them away in his sack. Following this tale, adult men dress up as Krampus and roam the streets in the first week of December in a way to scare children with their chains and rods. Creepy, right?
A rather fun tradition is observed in Iceland during Christmas, carried out by The Yule Lads or jólasveinarnir in Icelandic. It starts thirteen days before Christmas, thirteen men dressed like trolls visit the children in Iceland to reward or punish them for their behavior. On each night of the Yuletide, children place their shoes at the window and one of the trolls comes can place gifts for the good kids, and rotten potatoes for the naughty ones. What’s more, each of the trolls is so named that you can guess what mischief they get into!
Norway follows one of the most bizarre traditions in Christmas that you will possibly come across. Norwegians hide all their brooms during the festival to prevent them from being stolen. This tradition has its origin dating back a few centuries when it was believed that witches and wizards come searching in the night for brooms to ride on, during Christmas. Although it is just a superstition like most tradition stories, people in Norway still follow this tradition, if only for the fun of it.
Venezuela in Christmas is a haven for rollerblading lovers. Sounds a bit confusing? It sure is. Following the customary act of visiting the church with their families on the festival, Venezuelans do so, but for some unfathomable reason, on roller blades. This tradition is so widely followed that the streets are shut to cars and heavier vehicles on this day. The festival is sealed off with a very unorthodox meal of a steamed wrap made of cornmeal and meat, known as tamales.
Like many countries with a majority of the Christian population, the French begin their festivities early in the month of December, from the 5th. This day is known as St. Nicholas Day, which marks the beginning of the festive season. Families visit the church and as the French go, they indulge in extravagant holiday feasts. The day ends with a traditional dessert called Buche de Noel, which is essentially a rich, buttercream stuffed cake, made to look like the Yule log.
Like all countries, Sweden has its own way of celebrating Christmas. It begins on the 13th of December, known as St. Lucia’s Day, which commemorates the patron saint of light. The eldest daughter of the family wakes up before sunrise and dresses up as the Queen of Light, all in white and a tiara fashioned of leaves. she sings Santa Lucia, a traditional song and goes from one room to another in the house, blessing each member and giving them coffee and sweets. Unlike most people of the world who book their Christmas trees weeks in advance, the Swedish shop for trees barely a day or two before Christmas.
China has a small Christian population, but the spirit of Christmas fails to entice none. Christmas in China is known as Sheng Dan Jieh, meaning Holy Birth Festival. Paper is used as the primary decoration material in China, with flowers like lilies and evergreens to accompany them. People decorate the “tree of light” with red paper garlands, lanterns and flowers during the festival, which is a symbol of happiness. People also make pagodas out of red paper and stick them on walls and windows and make paper lanterns as a tradition during the holidays.
There are a few countries that have extremely unorthodox, bizarre Christmas traditions. Know about them, too, below!
In Oaxaca, Mexico, people celebrate “Night of the Radishes” on the 23rd of December, where they carve radishes and display them at the Christmas market. There are actually separate farms just for cultivating these humongous radishes.
In some villages in Guatemala, adult men dress up as devils and roam the streets chasing children around during the first week of Advent. They stop on the 7th of December when people follow the folk ritual of piling up objects they don’t require any more, top it up with firecrackers and light them up.
Catalonia is another country with a super weird tradition known as Christmas Crapper. People put up statues of famous figures doing their bathroom activities which are expected to bring infertility, hope, and prosperity to the people in the upcoming year.
Estonians are a superstitious lot, and they follow a tradition called the first-footer. The first visitor to the house is apparently a determiner of the luck that will befall the residents of that house. While brunette men are considered as harbingers of good luck, women and light-haired men are said to be inauspicious.
In Bolivia, Mass of the Rooster is celebrated, wherein people bring roosters to midnight mass in their respective churches, as it is believed by them that the rooster was the first creature to announce the birth of the saviour, Jesus Christ.
Different countries and their regions celebrate Christmas in different ways. In India, although Christians are a minority, it is celebrated with much pomp and extravagance with masses and processions on the streets wherein a man dressed up as Santa distributes sweets among kids. Whatever the tradition, the spirit of the festival and the anticipation of a bright new year ahead are what make Christmas fun-filled and joyous.