Christmas traditions from all over the world
In Germany, Christmas is a family festival. On Christmas Eve the whole family comes together, the Christmas dinner consists traditionally of either a Christmas goose or sausages with potato salad, you go to the Christmas Mass and afterwards unwrap your presents which are placed under the nicely decorated Christmas tree. Many families sit around the tree singing Christmas carols. It should be reflective and harmonious.
Christmas is celebrated all over the world. Of course, in every Christian-influenced country but also in countries whose population didn’t grow up with Christianity. We are inviting you on a small trip around the world and through the different Christmas traditions.
For our neighbors in the north-west the 24th December isn’t the most important day of their Christmas celebrations. It is the 5th or 6th December. On the last Saturday in November, Sinterklaas and his companion Zwarte Piet arrive in Holland’s seaports. Sinterklaas, the patron saint of the sailors, wears a red bishop’s attire, the bishop’s hat and white gloves and rides a white horse. They are greeted with all bells ringing, singing and shouting from the Dutch. On the evening of their arrival, children are placing their boots spiked with their wish lists in front of their doors. Also, they place a bucket of water, a carrot and some hay outside for the horse. On St. Nikolas’ evening (5th Dec) the Dutch celebrate with their families. During the night Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are riding over the rooftops and carry out presents. Each gift is equipped with a poem, in which family members mess with their loved ones; the poems though are still all signed by Sinterklaas. The Christmas trees aren’t decorated before Sinterklaas has left the county. On Christmas Eve, the Kerstmann only brings a few little presents for children.
In the land of delicacies it isn’t surprising that the Christmas Dinner, the so-called La Revellion plays a major role on Christmas Eve. La Revellion consists of the Dinde aux marons, a with chestnuts garnished turkey, pasties, oysters, a foie gras and a highlight for dessert, the Buche des Noel, a chocolate Swiss roll. The sumptuous meal is celebrated the whole evening before the family leaves for the midnight mass, the Messe de Minut, in the local church. While the family is in church, the French Father Christmas, Père Noel visits the houses and places the presents for the children in their, specially for him, cleaned shoes. When returning home, the time has come and children can unwrap their presents.
In Sweden, Christmas is called Jul and is, like in Germany, celebrated on the 24th December. The presents aren’t brought by neither Father Christmas, nor by the Christ Child. In Sweden children get their gifts from the Julbock, which is probably a recreation from the Germanic god Thor’s billy goat. For this purpose everyone is making their own Julbock out of straw which is then, on Christmas, decorated with the presents. Traditionally, Swedish families have a grant dinner on the 24th before Christmassy songs ring in the gift delivery. Another tradition is placing a bowl of milk pudding in front of the house door. It is a present for the house spirit so that they stay sympathetic towards the family.
More important in Sweden is the Lucia Day on 13th December which is dedicated to the Swedish light queen St. Lucia. On this day you will meet lots of whitely dressed girls with lights on their heads who should represent Lucia. In Swedish families, the eldest daughter, dressed up as Lucia, wakes up the family on the morning of the 13th December and gives them Lucia biscuits. In cities and villages each year a new Lucia is elected who then walks through town on Lucia Day. The tradition goes back to the 16th century. At that time, the previous night was said to be the longest of the year and therefore with Lucia the time of light began.
In Spain Christmas is a family festival and celebrated on the 24th December. The traditional Christmas dinner is a turkey. After the extensive dinner, the Spanish go to the midnight mass, the Misa del Gallo. The churches are festively decorated and the crib plays a special role. Every Spanish must make sure to place a kiss on the baby Jesus. After the mass, the community meets on the village square for further celebrations around a big fire with dancing and singing.
In Spain, presents are brought by the Three Magi on the 6th January. Their arrival on the 5th January is often celebrated with street parades and performances. Naughty children get a piece of charcoal instead of presents.
In Great Britain, Christmas is a big deal. Everywhere is decorated with mistletoes, hollies, bay leafs, garlands and Christmas cards. Different to our tradition, Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December in the UK. The presents are brought by Father Christmas in the night between the 24th and the 25th December and placed in the specially hung up stockings. The children get to open their presents on Christmas morning. Traditionally the Brits are watching the Queen’s Christmas speech at 3pm before starting their feast. The opulent meal consists of a turkey filled with either prunes and apples or minced meat and bread which is called Gregor. For dessert they serve plum pudding flambéed with rum. A real English eggnog is, of course, part of the celebration as well.
On the 26th December, the so-called Boxing Day whose name evolved from the colourful boxes containing the Christmas bonuses which used to be given to trainees on Christmas, friends and family are visited. The celebrations are load and in high spirits, colourful paper hats are worn and Christmas Crackers are opened. Nowadays most Brits use the day for some shopping as lots of shops offer special prices on Boxing Day.
A very special tradition is taking place on the 6th January in the UK. On this day, Mari Lwyd, a person dressed up as a horse is going from door to door. Mari Lwyd askes the inhabitants a puzzle. If they don’t know the answer they get bitten and must take him or her in for food and drinks.
In Ireland’s pre-Christmas period house cleaning is a very important thing. When the house is ready for the festive season, it’s decorated with a mistletoe at the front door. It should prevent the family from evil spirits and bring luck to the home. And whenever you are standing under a mistletoe, everyone can kiss you without asking. Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December in Ireland. Like in the UK, children get their presents from Father Christmas on Christmas Day’s morning. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of a stuffed turkey as well but also of smoked salmon and shrimps. The dessert is a plum pudding.
On the 26th December, the St. Stephens Day, is a celebration of the martyr Stephen. Young adults and children carry hollies decorated with wrens while singing songs from house to house.
In Australia, it’s summertime when Christmas takes place. This explains why there are hardly any fir trees put up as Christmas trees because they would loose their needles way too quickly. And even less real candles are put on the trees because of the high wildfire risk. Instead, Aussies put up plastic or aluminium trees which are decorated colourfully. On Christmas Eve Aussies meet in parks and on the beach for a special tradition: Carols by Candlelight has emerged in Melbourne in 1938. Together they sing well known Christmas Carols and if you don’t know the English lyrics you’re more than welcome to sing the song in your own language. Nowadays the tradition has spread over Australia and is held in every city throughout the country. On Christmas morning, like in most Anglo-Saxon country, the children get to open their presents.
Because of the high temperatures that occur in Australia during Christmas season, no one really fancies a turkey roast. Instead, Aussies meet on the beach or at the park to have a real Aussie Barbecue, called Barbie in the land down under. Typical Christmas Barbie food is fish and seafood. And, Father Christmas dressed in red swimming trunks and a big white beard is jigging around you. Christmas in Australia feels like a big summer party.
Religion is treated with high value on the Philippines. 83% of the population are Catholics. The Christmas season starts already in September when the first Christmas songs can be heart on the radio. Who didn’t put up a Christmas tree by the start of December is eyed critically by everyone. On the 16th December, the Christmas masses begin and go on every night until the 24th December when they are crowned with the midnight mass called noche buena. The celebration takes place on the 25th December in a family setting. Christmas dinner traditionally consists of cheese balls and ham. Grandparents give presents to their grandchildren. And everyone is wearing newly bought clothes exclusively.
The Japanese celebrate Christmas? Well, traditionally obviously not. But the Japanese love colourful big festivals which is why they adapted Christmas, called “Kurisumasu”. Based on the American model of Christmas celebrations, the Japanese Santa Clause brings presents on the 25th December. There is no actual Christmas dinner but a Christmas sponge cake decorated with a white glaze, flowers and trees.
A flight over the pacific and we land in Mexico. In Mexico Christmas is celebrated wildly, colourfully and joyfully. The festivities start on the 16th December with the so-called posadas, street parades, that should replicate Maria’s and Joseph’s search for a place to stay. They end on the 24th December with a midnight mass. After the mass huge celebrations with fireworks, bonfires and the baile de la flor, a flower wreath.
Children are looking forward to the piñata, a star made out of either papier mache or clay filled with fruits and sweets. Blindfolded the children try to crush the piñata to get to the inside treats. The piñata is traditionally decorated with flowers, stars and Christmassy figurines and has 7 spikes. In the past, the spikes should represent the 7 deadly sins.
However and whether you celebrate Christmas, we wish you happy holidays and a wonderful time with your loved ones!