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 in every culture, there are one or two differences in the way the holiday is celebrated.
Whether you’re staying in one place or traveling over the holidays, it’s important to introduce your kids to other cultures. Here’s a snap-shot of some of what takes place around the world during this special time of year. Talk about the similarities and differences with your children and then to friends from some of these places about their experiences back home.
Christmas 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.
Christmas 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 an endless season of barbeques, beaches, camping, swimming and backyard games. Australia has largely inherited its 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 to be for backpackers to congregate. Flags from many different countries can be seen there, as long as lots of drunk and sun burnt travelers. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, it’s 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 in Chile
In Chile, on Christmas Eve, people go to a one-hour Mass at midnight called “LA MISA DEL GALLO” (“Rooster’s Mass”). As a child, it’s very memorable because one is up in the middle of the night along with the family (until 1 or 2am). The church is usually filled with people including children.
Christmas 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 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, there is a traditional meal with goose for the children, parents and grandparents. 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 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 he pulls gifts out of his sack. December 25th and 26th are still considered Christmas, and people 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, where you can stroll around, have a spiced redwine with cinnamon, a crepe with apple sauce, meet friends, see the lights, smell the cookies and embrace the atmosphere.
Christmas 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 in Ireland
In Ireland, there is a celebration of “hunting the wren” on St. Stephens Day. The tradition was originally associated with pagan ritual. In modern times, the tradition of “hunting the wren” involves musicians moving from gathering to gathering playing music on “St. Stephen’s Day” (the day after Christmas), and “passing the hat.”
Christmas in Poland
In Poland, people start celebrating Christmas Eve with a big dinner called Wigilia. The meal includes fish herrings 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 people attend a special Christmas Mass (Pasterka) that starts at midnight. Then they sing carols and give each other gifts.
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.