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- Christmas Traditions in Argentina
- Christmas Traditions in Australia
- Christmas Traditions in Chile
- Christmas Traditions in Colombia
- Christmas Traditions in Denmark
- Christmas Traditions in Finland
- Christmas Traditions in Germany
- Christmas Traditions in Greece
- Christmas Traditions in India
- Christmas Traditions in Ireland
- Christmas Traditions in Italy
- Christmas Traditions in Japan
- Christmas Traditions in Mexico
- Christmas Traditions in The Netherlands
- Christmas Traditions in Norway
- Christmas Traditions in Poland
- Christmas Traditions in Spain
- Christmas Traditions in the UK
- Christmas Traditions in the United States
- More Ways to Celebrate Christmas
Food, family, friends, presents, Santa, decorations, the occasional moment to reflect on the holiday’s religious aspect – these are some of the Christmas traditions and customs that people share around the world. But every culture puts its own spin on the Christmas season, with holiday traditions aimed at bringing good luck, warding off evil spirits and ringing in the New Year.
American holiday traditions range from singing Christmas carols around the piano to eating traditional Christmas meals to admiring Christmas lights strung around the house and throughout the town to kissing under the mistletoe. From New York to San Francisco, Americans celebrate the holiday season beginning at Thanksgiving and continuing through the New Year.
Whether you’re decking your own halls with Christmas decorations or traveling over the holidays, you still can introduce your kids to other cultures. Here’s a snapshot of some of what takes place around the world during this special time of year.
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Christmas Traditions in Argentina
In Argentina, the whole extended family gets together on Christmas Eve and has a late dinner, which they finish close to midnight. Afterwards, everyone toasts with champagne and there are firecrackers or fireworks and then the gifts are opened.
On Christmas Day, people usually take it easy, and there are more family gatherings for lunch. It’s traditional to eat “Pan Dulce” or Panettone and “Turron” on both days.
Ice cream was the key to holiday happiness for one TravelingMom and her family who spent Christmas in Buenos Aires one year.
Christmas Traditions in Australia
In Australia, the festive season coincides with the end of the school/college year and the start of the long summer break and a season of barbeques, beaches, camping, swimming and backyard games.
Australians have largely inherited their Christmas traditions from Britain. But due to the hot weather, many families celebrate outdoors, either cooking turkey or grilling seafood (prawns, lobsters etc) on the ‘barbie’ (BBQ).
Some of the best fishmongers stay open all night on December 23rd so everyone can get their seafood orders. Some people celebrate at the beach. Bondi Beach in Sydney has long been the place for backpackers to congregate. Flags from many different countries can be seen there, along with lots of drunk and sunburned travelers.
Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race where tens of thousands of people take picnics down to the Harbor shores to watch the boats come down the to the harbor to watch the boats head into the Pacific Ocean.
Christmas Traditions in Chile
In Chile, on Christmas Eve, people go to a one-hour midnight mass called “LA MISA DEL GALLO” (“Rooster’s Mass”). It’s called that because of the belief that Jesus was born at midnight and the roosters were tasked with announcing the good news.
As a child, it’s very memorable because you get to stay awake in the middle of the night along with the family (until 1 or 2am). Churches usually are filled with people including children.
Christmas Traditions in Colombia
Colombians open their gifts on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas Day, and their presents are brought by baby Jesus, not by Santa Claus.
Since the weather is warm, people spend time outside with neighbors, family and friends. They cook a great variety of meals and sweets, eat all night long, dance and get together with the whole family.
Christmas Traditions in Denmark
Christmas in Danish is called Jul, an old Nordic word for “feast” and people say “Godt Jul” to wish Merry Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, they eat a traditional meal with goose. Then the whole family sings and dances around the Christmas tree, which is usually decorated with paper heart decorations of interwoven white and red ribbons (the Danish colors).
Gifts are opened that night, and some people go to church. Families also make a rice pudding into which an almond is hidden and whoever finds the almond gets an “almond present” which is usually candy with marzipan.
Christmas Traditions in Finland
Finns believe Father Christmas lives north of the Arctic Circle in a area of Finland is called Korvatunturi (or Lapland). Some families visit the graves of family members. They hang lanterns around the grave, leaving the whole cemetery alight with glowing lanterns.
WhyChristmas says Santa in Finland is also known as Joulupukki, which means “Christmas Goat.” That stems from a Yule Goat that was scary and asked people for presents. Over time, the goat became the gift giver. Ultimately, Santa took over the gift giving duties, but the Christmas Goat name stuck.
Christmas Traditions in Germany
In Germany, people attend Christmas mass during the day on Christmas Eve. The tree is kept a secret until that evening. Ideally, gifts are not opened until after dinner. Dinner traditionally consists of goose.
Santa Claus, in the form of a friend or neighbor of the parents, comes to visit during the evening to report good (or bad) behavior. Children must recite a Christmas poem or sing a song before Santa pulls gifts out of his sack.
December 25th and 26th are still considered Christmas, and Germans gather with extended families and take turns hosting afternoon coffee & cake and elaborate dinners.
Germany also offers special Christmas markets in almost every major city. You can stroll around, have a spiced red wine with cinnamon, a crepe with apple sauce, meet friends, see the lights, smell the cookies and embrace the atmosphere.
Christmas Traditions in Greece
Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Greece (and Russia). St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6. Children leave letters for St. Nicholas and carrots or grass for his donkey or horse. In return, they get small presents, candies, cookies and treats.
On Christmas Eve, Greek children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ (Christmas songs) while playing drums and triangles. If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets and dried figs.
WhyChristmas says an old and very traditional Christmas decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with water and a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. Once a day someone dips the cross and basil into holy water and sprinkles it in each room of the house to ward off evil spirits called “kallikantzaroi.” They are believed to come from the middle of the earth and get into people’s house through the chimney during the 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th).
Christmas Traditions in India
In India, Christmas is celebrated mainly by Indian Christians in a very similar manner to here in the U.S.
Attending mass on Christmas Eve is a must and most houses display a nativity scene. The country is lit up with lights. It is not the norm for a Hindu family to have a tree in the house, but they always meet with the family and have a big dinner, receiving one present from the parents (Santa Claus).
Christmas Traditions in Ireland
In Ireland, there is a celebration of “hunting the wren” on St. Stephens Day (December 26). The tradition was originally associated with pagan ritual.
In modern times, the tradition of “hunting the wren” involves “hunting” a fake wren and putting it on top of a decorated pole. Then the crowds dress up in masks, straw suits, and colourful clothing, form bands and parade through towns playing music and “passing the hat.”
Christmas Traditions in Italy
This very Catholic country honors Christmas with nativity scenes in their homes, honoring the Biblical story of the birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The baby Jesus isn’t added to the manger until the evening of December 24th.
Italians in the north believe in Krampus, a horned figure that is half goat and half-demon that punishes children who have misbehaved.
Christmas Traditions in Japan
Here, Christmas is all about Kentucky — as in Kentucky Fried Chicken! KFC is so popular that Japanese families pre-order their Christmas dinner. According to Business Insider, it all started with Takeshi Okawara. He managed the first KFC restaurant in Japan and then served as CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from 1984 to 2002.
Only a small percentage of Japanese are Christian, so Christmas was never a big holiday before Okawara. KFC helped build secular and commercial traditions with the simple message: “At Christmas, you eat chicken.”
Christmas Traditions in Mexico
Christmas in Mexico is celebrated from December 16 to January 6 with a series of nine “posadas” that tell the story of Joseph and Mary looking for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem.
The posadas end up at a house party and often feature a pinata filled with candy.
On January 6, Epiphany, Mexicans eat “Rosca de Reyes” (Three Kings Cake). A Baby Jesus is baked inside the cake and whoever gets that piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
Christmas Traditions in The Netherlands
In The Netherlands, December 5 is the day to celebrate. That’s when Sinterklaas brings children their presents.
The Dutch holiday tradition starts in mid-November when Sinterklaas arrives and all of the local church bells ring in celebration. He rides a white horse through town and had helpers, also dressed in red robes, who help hand out gifts to the good children. Bad children will be put in a bag and taken to Spain for a year to teach them how to behave. Or so the story goes.
Christmas Traditions in Norway
With its snowy landscapes and mystical reindeer, Norway embodies the holiday spirit. Celebrations begin the last weekend of November with Småkaker—a tradition of baking a minimum of seven different kinds of Christmas biscuits or cookies to be featured on the holiday table. Festive Christmas markets pop up in cities and villages along with cheerful Christmas concerts.
The most treasured tradition happens on Christmas Eve when friends and family gather for the Christmas feast. Among the favorite dishes are pinnekjøtt—salted, dried and smoked lamb ribs, lutefisk—a fermented fish that’s definitely an acquired taste and Norway’s favorite spirit, Aquavit.
Riskrem, a cold creamed rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar and butter is served for dessert. In the bowl of porridge, an almond is hidden. If you get the almond, you receive a marzipan pig.
In a time for wonder and joy, Julenissen (Father Christmas) comes to visit with gifts for the children. Often one of the guests disappears to change into costume to the delight of the little ones!
Christmas Traditions in Poland
In Poland, people start celebrating Christmas Eve with a big dinner called Wigilia. The meal includes herring and carp, pierogi with mushrooms and sauerkraut, beet root soup, poppy seed cake, ginger cakes, and a drink from dried fruits.
People usually decorate their tree on Christmas Eve, and then attend a special Christmas mass (Pasterka) that starts at midnight. Then they sing Christmas carols and give each other gifts. Here’s how Polish-Americans blend their Christmas traditions.
Christmas Traditions in Spain
December 28 and January 6 are the big days for Spanish celebrations.
December 28 is “Día de los santos inocentes” or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints.” It’s much like April Fools Day in the UK and USA — people try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. It’s also celebrated in Mexico.
While Spanish children get some gifts on Christmas day, they get more on January 6. It’s Epiphany, which celebrates the 3 kings who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The children believe the kings bring them gifts on Epiphany. They sent their Christmas wish list to the kings, then, on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), they leave shoes outside or under the Christmas Tree to be filled with presents. In return, children leave cognac, fruit and walnuts for the kings and a bucket of water for their camels.
On New Year’s Eve, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight. It is believed to the grapes — one of each month of the year — will bring good luck in the new year.
Christmas Traditions in the UK
In Britain, the traditional Christmas greeting is “Happy Christmas” and the traditional table decoration is a Christmas cracker. The crackers are segmented cardboard tubes wrapped in bright paper with a prize in the middle. Two people pull it apart to see who gets the prize. When it pulls apart, the cracker makes a snapping sound similar to a cap gun.
History says that St Nicholas traveled around the UK in his red robes and gave gifts to the poor. But, the story goes, he so shy that he gave families money secretly by dropping coins down a chimney of a home — which landed in a stocking in the room below.
Christmas Traditions in the United States
Christmas celebrations in the USA traditionally means Santa delivers gifts overnight — kids will leave milk and cookies for Santa and a carrot for his flying reindeer — and excited children open them on Christmas morning. Catholic families often attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Some families hang a Christmas pickle ornament on the tree and the child who finds it gets an extra present.
Italian-American families eat a big Christmas Eve meal known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes (‘Esta dei Sette Pesci’ in Italian). The feast seems to have its root in southern Italy and was brought over to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1800s. It now seems more popular in American than it is in Italy, according to WhyChristmas.
So, grab a hot drink, get under the covers and have a chat about Christmas traditions around the world with your children. Perhaps one day, you’ll get to show them these celebrations in person as there is nothing better in life than taking your kids on the road to experience other cultures.