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Christmas Traditions Around The World

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


Today we will be covering various traditions from countries all over the world. I have compiled a list of countries that I did not cover a couple years ago. These traditions may obviously look very different this year because of Covid, however I want to highlight them because of how different each countries traditions are. I will also include the links to those posts here so that you can have a look at them.

 

Angola


Christmas is a very big celebration in Angola. Over 50% of the population are Catholic, with at least another 25% being other kinds of Christians. So going to church on Christmas Day is important. There are Midnight Mass services on Christmas Eve and also a Mass on Christmas Day. A Christmas Day Mass is also broadcast on national TV, so people can watch it from home if they are not able to go to church. During Advent, many people go to special church services.

The main Christmas meal is eaten after the Christmas Day church service. Family and friends visit each other's houses and guests are always welcome. People often save up throughout the year so they can afford some special foods for the big Christmas meal. In rural parts of Angola, families might rear animals especially to eat at Christmas. The meal traditionally consists of 'pirão' or 'funge' (a type of polenta made of corn meal or cassava flour) with rice, spaghetti, french fries, turkey, fried chicken and dishes like 'ozido de bacalhau' (cooked cold fish with vegetables), 'calulu' (a dish of fired fish or beef with tomatoes, garlic, okra, sweet potatoes and spinach, etc.) and 'mufete' (grilled fish served with stewed palm oil beans, sweet potato, plantain and cassava). Dessert is often a Bolo Rei cake, due to Angola's historical connection with Portugal. Bolo Rei is especially popular in cities.


The main decoration in most houses will be a Nativity Scene (Presépio). Other decorations like Christmas Trees and stockings are becoming more widespread. Giving gifts is more common in cities than in rural areas. Big shops in the cities will also be decorated with lights for Christmas.

 

Argentina


In Argentina the weather is warm at Christmas. Preparations for Christmas begin very early in December and even in November. Many people in Argentina are Catholic and they also celebrate Advent. House are beautifully decorated with lights and wreaths of green, gold, red and white flowers. Red and white garlands are hung on the doors of houses. Christmas Trees are also very popular and they are often decorated by 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception - when Catholics celebrate when Mary was conceived). Some people like to put cotton balls on the Christmas Tree to represent snow! Artificial trees are far more common that real ones in Argentina. They can also come in different colors other than green, like white or blue! The Nativity scene or 'pesebre' is also an important Christmas decoration in Argentina. The pesebre is put near to the Christmas tree. Christmas Cards aren't common in Argentina and although some people give and receive presents, it's normally only between close family and friends.

The main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. Many Catholics will go to a Mass in the late afternoon. The main meal Christmas is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve, often about 10pm or 11pm. It might be served in the garden or be a barbecue! Some popular dishes include roasted turkey, roasted pork (in northern Argentina, some people will have goat), 'vitel toné' (slices of veal served with a creamy anchovy and tuna sauce), stuffed tomatoes, salads and lots of different sandwiches like 'pan de atun' (special tuna sandwiches), 'sandwiches de miga' (sandwiches made of thin white bread without the crusts - they can be single, double or multi-layered!) and 'torre de panqueques' (a sandwich 'cake' made from several layers of tortillas with different fillings). Dessert can be Christmas bread and puddings like 'Pan Dulce' and Panetone as well as fruit salad, ice cream and different sorts of pies. There will also be sweets like chocolate raisins, sugar-coated peanuts or almonds, 'mantecol' (a semi-soft nougat made from peanut butter) and different kinds of 'turron' (hard nougat).


At midnight there will be the sound of lots of fireworks. People also like to 'toast' the start of Christmas day. Some people like to go to midnight services, but other prefer to stay at home and let off fireworks and then open their presents under the tree. More people are also going to overnight parties and nightclubs as well now. Some children will hope that 'Papá Noel' (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) will bring their presents. Some will hope that 'El Niño Diós' (the Baby Jesus) will bring them. Both of those will probably bring presents on Christmas Eve. However, some children will wait until Epiphany (6th of January) and hope that the 'Reyes Magos' (The Three Wise Men) will bring their gifts! Another Christmas Eve night tradition are 'globos', paper decorations with a light inside that float into the sky (like Chinese Lanterns). The sky is filled with them on Christmas Eve after midnight. Some people stay awake all the night chatting and seeing friends and family and then spend lots of Christmas Day sleeping. Some people may go to mass again in the morning or late afternoon on Christmas Day and there will be lots of yummy leftovers to eat!

 

Armenia


The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. On this day it also celebrates the Epiphany (which means the revelation that Jesus was God's son). Epiphany is now mainly the time Churches remember the Visit of the of Wise Men to Jesus; but some Churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus (when he started his adult ministry) on Epiphany.


Some Armenians fast (don't eat anything) in the week before Christmas. The Christmas Eve meal is called khetum 'Խթում'. It often includes dishes such as rice, fish, nevik 'նուիկ' (green chard and chick peas) and yogurt/wheat soup called tanabur 'թանապուր'. Desserts include dried fruits and nuts, rojik (whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly), bastukh (a paper-like dessert made of grape jelly, cornstarch and flour). This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the larger Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives. Santa Claus Gaghant Baba / Kaghand Papa traditionally comes on New Year's Eve (December 31st) because Christmas Day itself is thought of as more of a religious holiday in Armenia.

 

Bangladesh


December 25th is a public holiday for Christmas in Bangladesh even though only about 0.3% of the population, of about 170 million people, are Christians! (Over 85% of people in Bangladesh are Muslims.) Christmas is known as 'Borodin' (or 'Bara din') which means 'the big day' in Bengali. Happy/Merry Christmas in Bengali is shubho [or shuvo] bôṛodin (শুভ বড়দিন). Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. In big towns and cities, shops and hotels will have 'western' style Christmas decorations like fake snow and artificial Christmas Trees with lots of lights. Having a Christmas tree in your home is also becoming more popular, especially among Christians. More people are also exchanging Christmas cards. Christians who live in big towns and cities often try and go home to their villages to spend Christmas with their families.

Catholic Christians will go to a Midnight Mass service. Christmas morning church services are also popular with Christians. A way of decorating buildings for different festive occasions in Bangladesh are 'Nishan' (which means small flag). These are strings made of hundreds of small pink paper triangles. Traditionally in Bengali churches, the men it on one side of the church and women sit on the other. Popular Christmas songs include 'Aaj Shuvo Borodin bhai, aaj Shuvo Borodin' which means 'Today is Happy Borodin, friend/brother, today is Happy Borodin'.


Another type of traditional song from Bangladesh which is also sung at Christmas, in churches and homes, are 'kirtan'. In Bengali Christian culture, the kirtan is performed with a singer who leads the song and everyone else follows them. The songs starts off slowly but gets faster and faster! The song is done with people in a circle - the leader stands in the middle. So when it starts you walk slowly around the circle but by the end you're dancing/running around! The leaders also sometimes dance in and out of the circle as it gets faster. Kirtans are also done in villages from house to house - very exciting carol singing! Following church services, especially in rural areas, it's traditional that everyone has Christmas dinner together at the church. This is called the 'Preeti-bhoj' or 'Prem-bhoj' which means 'love feast'. The meal often includes dishes like chicken and vegetable curries served with rice and vegetables. Other special Christmas foods are 'pitha' (sweet rice cakes made of rice flour, milk, coconut and molasses) and 'payesh' (rice pudding). Different areas have their own recipes for versions of pitha.

 

Belarus


In Belarus the time over Christmas and New Year is called 'Kaliady' (this means calendar in Latin and the name comes from the old pre-christian pagan winter solstice celebrations). Kaliady starts and ends with two Christmases and has the New Year celebrations in the middle! It starts on December 25th when Catholics and Protestants in Belarus celebrate Christmas; the big New Year's Eve celebrations are in the middle; and it ends on January 7th when Christmas is celebrated in the Orthodox church (most people in Belarus celebrate Christmas using the Orthodox date). During the time that Belarus was part of the Soviet Union, Kaliady and Christmas was not celebrated very much, if at all. New Year was made into the important celebration. But now Christmas celebrations are coming back, although New Year is still the bigger holiday.


Kaliady is also the name for an old pre-soviet tradition where people would dress up and go around their neighbors singing songs - like carol singing. This is still done in some rural villages but isn't common anymore. Many of the 'traditions' that most people associate with Christmas are now linked to the New Year celebrations. There are New Year Trees (sometimes called holiday trees), and gifts are often put under the tree and are exchanged/opened on New Year's Eve. New Year is also when 'Father Frost' (known in Belarus as Dzied Maroz/Ded Moroz or Дзед Мароз) brings presents to children. He is often accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). Some children might also have a visit from Sviaty Mikalaj (Святы Мікалай) - St Nicholas.


New Year and Christmas lights are put in towns and cities throughout Belarus.


It's traditional to have three important meals during Kaliady, which are known as 'Kućcia' (or 'Kutia' or 'Kutsia') meals; this is what Orthodox Christmas Eve is called and is also the name of a porridge which is eaten at the Christmas Eve meal. The first meal is known as the 'fasting' or 'Lent' Kućcia and the last meal is the 'Hungry' Kućcia. They are meant to be very simple with no meat or fat in them. There are normally 12 dishes at the Orthodox Christmas Eve Kućcia to represent Jesus's 12 disciples. As well as Kućcia porridge the other dishes will items like pancakes, fish and mushrooms; as well as kisel (a dessert made of oatmeal fruit, berries and potato starch sometimes served with milk). Sometimes straw is put under the tablecloth to help people remember that Jesus was placed in a manger as a baby (this is also done in neighbouring countries like Poland and Russia).


The middle Kućcia, eaten on New Year's Eve and called the 'great' Kućcia, is a big feast. Some people will only have the main Kućcia on New Year's Eve! One vital dish is 'Olivje' or 'Olivier' salad; it made from potatoes, eggs, green peas, pickles, mayonnaise and ham. Other salads like 'Shuba' (diced pickled herring with layers of grated vegetables, chopped onions and mayonnaise) are also popular. Tinned peas are very important and feature in many of the great Kućcia dishes! Mandarin oranges are also normally eaten during New Year's Eve. There are several 'traditional' film shown on TV on New Year's Eve. One of these films is 'S Legkim Parom' (The Irony of Fate or also sometimes called 'Enjoy your Bath' or 'With a Light Steam') was made in 1975 during the Soviet era and was always shown on Soviet TV on New Year's Eve. It's a romantic comedy about a man who drinks too much and gets very lost after having a sauna with some of his friends. At about 11.50pm, there is a short speech by the Belarusian President shown on the TV before the New Year arrives at 12am with lots of fireworks! (Some people, who can also get Russian TV, might watch the New Year arrive in Moscow at 11pm Belarus time as Moscow is in a different time zone.)


Catholic and Protestant Christians might go to a Midnight Mass service on the 24th December and/or a Christmas Day service on the 25th December. For Orthodox Christians the main Christmas service normally starts at midnight on the 6th/7th January following the hungry Kućcia and the night time service can last for several hours! Then Christmas Day, on the 7th January, is a public holiday where people visit family and friends.

 

Belgium


As in The Netherlands, children in Belgium believe that 'Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas' (Flemish) or 'Saint Nicholas' (Walloon) brings them presents on December 5th and 6th, St. Nicholas' Eve and St. Nicholas' Day. Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, together something for Sinterklaas like a drawing or biscuits; they might also leave a carrot for Sinterklass's horse and something for Zwarte Piet/Sooty Piet/Roetpiet (Black Peter/Sooty Peter/Chimney Peter, Sinterklass's assistant). Then in the night, Sinterklaas arrives on the roof on his horse with Piet. Piet climbs down the chimney and leaves the presents in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas has a book in which he keeps all the names of the children and it tells if they've been bad or good. Children are told that if they've been bad, Piet will put you in his sack and take you back to Spain! Traditional foods that are left for Sinterklaas include tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate and 'mokjes' (cookies made in the shapes of letters. There are lots of songs that children sing about Sinterklaas. Different regions of Belgium have different customs and traditions about St. Nicholas. The visit of Sinkerlass is a separate occasion to Christmas. Christmas is a more religious festival.

In Belgium there are three official languages, Dutch (a Belgium version of Dutch is known as Flemish, this is mainly spoken in the northern area of Belgium called Flanders), French (mainly spoken in the southern Walloon Region) and German (spoken by about 1% of Belgiums in the east of the country). In Belgium Dutch/Flemish Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Vrolijk Kerstfeest', French it's 'Joyeux Noël', in German it's 'Frohe Weihnachten' and in the Walloon language (spoken by some people in the Walloon Region) it's 'djoyeus Noyé'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. On Christmas Eve ('Kerstavond' in Flemish and 'le réveillion de Noël' in Walloon), a special meal is eaten by most families. It starts with a drink (apéritif) and 'nibbles', followed by a starter course such as sea-food, and then stuffed turkey. The dessert is 'Kerststronk' (Flemish) or 'la bûche de Noël' (Walloon) a chocolate Christmas Log made of sponge roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and made to resemble a bark-covered log.


Some people celebrate Advent and have Advent Wreaths/Crowns made from fir or leylandii greenery. The wreaths have four candles and a candle is lit each week counting down to Christmas. These are very popular in Elementary/Primary Schools where an Advent song is sung when the candles are lit. Lots of children also have paper Advent Calendars with chocolate behind the doors for each day! In the weeks before Christmas, people also like to go to Christmas Markets. You might spot Santa Claus at the market! People go to buy Christmas presents, decorations and food. You can also drink jenever (gin) or Glühwein (hot wine) and eat some Smoutebollen/oliebollen (deep fried sweet dumplings) are also very popular. Going ice skating with friends is also something which is very common. At Christmas parties at schools, it's common to buy a small gift which can be for anyone. A game is played to give out the presents. A very popular one is putting on some music and passing the parcel around everyone sitting in a circle. When the music stops, the one who holds the parcel, gets to keep the present. That's why the present should be something that anyone would like!


Most people will have a Christmas Tree (real or fake!) decorated with lights, baubles, garlands and a star on the top. Next to the tree, many people will have a nativity scene. Some people even have a life-size one in their gardens! In most villages, there are big 'real' scenes next to the church with real animals (donkey, sheep, ox) and non-stop choir music playing. Some people also decorate the outside of their house with lights, or reindeer, or a Santa climbing up the roof (that's very popular). On Christmas Eve, people normally celebrate with their close family and keep it small and cosy. The main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. You might start the evening with small things like crisps, mini-pizzas, etc., or have a starter like soup. For the main course popular dishes include game or seafood, but turkey or chicken are also popular. But whatever you have, there's always some potato croquettes! Ice-cream cake is a very popular dessert. Small family Christmas presents are also given at Christmas too, where they are put under the tree. They are opened on Christmas Eve. People also like to listen to Christmas music on the radio. Some people also go a Midnight Mass service


The traditional Christmas breakfast is the same as the normal Sunday breakfast eaten throughout the year. This is freshly baked crusty rolls (bakeries do their best trade on Sundays in the Flanders region) with butter & cold meats and/or jam, followed by pastries (like Danish pastries) called "koffiekoek(en)" (meaning coffee cake(s) as they are normal eaten with a cup of coffee!). In Walloon districts (the south of Belgium), a special sweet bread called 'cougnou' or 'cougnolle' made in a shape that is supposed to be like baby Jesus is eaten for Christmas breakfast. On Christmas day itself people visit friends or distant relatives. Movies like Home Alone! and Disney films are always shown on the TV as is the Phantom of the Opera.

 

Bulgaria


In Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas on January 7th as most Orthodox Churches use the old Julian Calendar, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar, so Christmas in on the 25th December. For many Bulgarians, the preparations for Christmas start with Advent which lasts 40 days in the Orthodox Church and starts on November 15th. One legend in Bulgaria is that Mary started her labor on 'Ignazhden', December 20th (Saint Ignatius of Antioch's Day) and she gave birth on Christmas Eve but the birth of Jesus wasn't announced until Christmas Day. The 20th is also the traditional 'new year' in Bulgarian culture. It's traditional to eat a special ring shaped caked called 'kolaks' on this day.


Christmas Eve (called 'Budni Vecher') is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening of Christmas Eve. The meal should traditionally have an odd number of dishes in it (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table. (Salt, pepper and sugar can count as separate dishes!) Straw is often put under the tablecloth and you might even bring a wooden plough into the house and put it behind the door! These are meant to help you have good crops during the next year. There's a special round and decorated loaf of bread called 'pita' which has a coin baked in it. If you find the good you're meant to have good luck for the next year! The bread is normally cut by the oldest person at the meal and they hand it around the table.


It's normally a rich vegan meal and includes dishes made of different such as beans soup, 'sarmi' cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, different kinds of pastries, some kolaks, lots of fruits and nuts like dried plums, dried apricots, oranges and tangerines and 'oshav' a dried fruit compote. But it's only after midnight that dishes with non vegan ingredients are served and eaten! These will include foods like 'banitsa' (a pastry filled with yogurt and feta cheese) and 'baklava' (a dessert made of filo pastry that's filled with chopped nuts and soaked with syrup or honey). Walnuts are especially popular. If your walnut is delicious you will have a good year, but if it's empty or has a small nut you'll have a bad year! It's traditional that the table is left with all the food on it until the morning of Christmas Day. Some people think their ancestors might like something to eat during the night!

On Christmas Day some families will have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, normally some kind of pork. Following the Christmas Eve meal some people will go to a Midnight Mass service. You might also hear Koledari (carol singers) which are normally young men who go carol singing dressed in traditional clothing. The singing can only start after midnight. The singers often go round singing all night, so the sun never catches them! When they reach a house they sing 'the house song' praising and wishing the house well. Having the Koledari visit your home is meant to be good luck. The songs are often in two parts with half of the singers singing the song and then the other half repeating it back. After the singing, the head of the house will give the Koledari food to thank them for singing. The special foods include 'Koledni gevreci' (round buns) and 'banitsa' (a layered pastry filled with cheese). Christmas Trees now popular in Bulgaria and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some people will still have a traditional Yule Log (normally from an oak, elm or pear tree) known as a 'badnik' or 'budnik' which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve.


Santa is known as 'Dyado Koleda' (Дядо Коледа) which means Grandfather Christmas.

 

Botswana


Botswana is in the southern hemisphere, so Christmas comes during the summer when it is very hot. During the spring, families who own cows and goats take their livestock to live far away from their fields in a place called cattlepost. Some cows and goats always live at the cattleposts, but others are moved to the cattlepost in the spring and back to the village area in the fall. About one third of people live in the cities of Gaborone, Francistown Jwaneng and Lobatse. About a week before Christmas, most people from these cities travel back to their home villages. And then, people from the villages travel out to their cattleposts for several days after Christmas. The churches in the villages have special services on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, the church is usually more full than on any other day of the year. Sometimes three different choirs will sing during the Christmas Eve Service: the regular choir, the youth choir and a children's choir.


On Christmas Day, many people walk or drive out to their cattlepost. Each family's cattlepost is about six kilometres from the next family's cattlepost. The families go to visit other cattleposts and sing Christmas songs acapella in beautiful four part harmony. The people of Botswana often dance as they sing. Some choirs have new choir uniforms made before Christmas. Then the choir walks or drives from one cattlepost to another that are associated with their village singing for the different families. Most families kill a goat or a cow at Christmas time and enjoy eating a lot of meat during the Christmas holidays. Some people will have a Christmas Tree, although this is a relatively new custom. Giving gifts is also popular but for most people gifts are home made. Often only rich people can afford to buy gifts for each other.


Boxing Day is also a public holiday in Botswana.

 

Croatia


In Croatia, preparations for Christmas start on 25th November which is St Catherine's day. People also celebrate Advent. Over 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics so Advent is an important time for them. It's traditional to have an Advent wreath made of straw or evergreen twigs which has four candles. The wreath symbolizes endlessness and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:


First Candle (purple): creation - hope;

Second Candle (purple): embodiment - peace;

Third Candle (pink): redemption - joy;

Fourth Candle (purple): ending - love;


A fifth candle is sometimes added in the center which is lit on Christmas Day! You can buy wreaths, but many people like to make them. People also often have a paper Advent Calendar. As well as St Catherine's day, other saints days are celebrated in Advent in Croatia. On the 4th December it's St Barbara's Day; on the 6th December it's St Nicholas's Day and on 13th December it's St Lucia's/Lucy's day. On St Nicholas's Eve (5th), children clean their shoes/boots and leave them in the window. They hope that St Nicholas will leave them chocolates and small presents in their boot. If children have been naughty, Krampus (a big monster with horns who sometimes travels with St Nicholas!) leaves them golden twigs to remind them to behave. On St Lucia's Day people often sow wheat onto small plates. The grassy sprouts that grow (called Christmas wheat) are put underneath the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve. Christmas Trees are very popular and are normally decorated on Christmas Eve but some people put them up and decorate them on St Nicholas's Day. In Croatia they're traditionally decorated with ornaments in the shapes of fruits. They used to be real fruits or persevered candied fruits that were sometimes covered in gold!

There's an old Croatian tradition that young men gave their girlfriends a decorated apple at Christmas. In rural parts of the country, it is still customary to bring straw into the house on Christmas Eve as a symbol of future good crops. A yule log called a 'badnjak' (also the word for Christmas Eve) was traditionally brought into the house and lit on Christmas Eve. But not many people have fireplaces these days!


Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service. In Croatian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Sretan Božić'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are mostly celebrated with close family. On Boxing day friends and extended family visit each other. On Christmas Eve, most people eat dried-cod called 'bakalar' or some other kind of fish as it's considered as meat fast (so you can't eat meat). The main Christmas Day is often turkey, goose or duck. A popular side dish is sarma (cabbage rolls filled with minced pork meat). There's also always lots of small cookies and cakes to eat with donuts being very popular! There's 'Krafne' which are filled with jam, jelly, marmalade or chocolate and also 'fritule' which are flavored with lemon and rum.


The Christmas celebrations finish on Epiphany (6th January).

 

Costa Rica


Christmas in Costa Rica comes at the end of the school year and the start of the holidays - so people really look forward to getting to the beach! People like to decorate their houses with beautiful tropical flowers. A model of the nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display. It's also decorated with flowers and sometimes fruit. Some of the scenes take a long time to make and all the family is involved. As well as the traditional figures, people add other models including houses and lots of different sorts of animals. Christmas wreaths are made of cypress branches and are decorated with red coffee berries and ribbons. Most homes, shops and important buildings are decorated with Christmas lights.


In Costa Rica, the gift bringer is often 'Niño dios' (Child God, meaning Jesus) or 'Colacho' (another name for St. Nicholas). Apples are popular in the run up to Christmas with apple stands appearing at the sides of the road. On Christmas Eve, everyone puts on their best clothes and goes to Midnight Mass. In Costa Rica it's called the 'Misa de Gallo' (Mass of the Rooster); it's also called that in Spain. After Midnight Mass the main Christmas meal is eaten. It normal includes chicken and pork tamales that have been wrapped for cooking in plantain leaves. To drink there's lots of egg nog and rum punch!


During December and into January, there are lots of fiestas, parades, rodeos, street parties, bull runs and choral and dance festivals. On 26th December (Boxing Day) there is an important horseback parade called the Tope. The next on the next day (27th), many towns and cities have 'Carnaval' with a big parade featuring dancing and big floats.

 

Chile


Christmas in Chile is very warm as it's in the middle of summer! However, it shares many of the same Christmas customs as the USA. People like to decorate their houses with Christmas Trees and lights. Having Christmas lights is a fairly recent development with more people being able to afford them. Sometimes neighbors compete to see who can have the best and most lights! Nativity Scenes are also an important decoration. They have little clay figures (called 'pesebre') in them. Many Catholics in Chile celebrate Advent and also go to special church services for nine days before Christmas. These services are known as a Novena.


Christmas Eve is the most important day over Christmas. Families and friends gather together for a big meal in the evening, eaten about 9pm or 10pm. Many people like to have 'asado' (barbecue) and chicken, turkey and pork. The Chilean Christmas Cake is ‘Pan de Pascua’ which is quite like Panettone. A popular Christmas drink is 'Cola de Mono' (or monkey's tail) which is made from coffee, milk, liquor, cinnamon and sugar. After the meal, some people like to go to a church service. At midnight everyone opens their presents! Children sometimes go round each others houses with their new toys - even in the middle of the night!


In Chile, Santa is called 'Viejito Pascuero' (Old Man Christmas) or sometimes 'Papa Noel' (Father Christmas). Christmas Day is a more relaxed day which is spent with family and friends. If you live near the coast, many people will go to the beach.

 

China


In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so most people only know a few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in major cities. In these big cities there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus is called 'Shen Dan Lao Ren' and has grottos in shops like in Europe and America. The post men might dress up as Santa when delivering letters before Christmas! More young people are celebrating Christmas in cities where Christmas parties are becoming popular and it's also a time where young couples will be gifts for each other, a bit like Valentine's day.


In Chinese Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐' in Mandarin and 'Seng Dan Fai Lok or 聖誕快樂' in Cantonese. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. In China, Santa is known as 'Sheng dan lao ren' (Traditional: 聖誕老人, Simplified: 圣诞老人; means Old Christmas Man). Only a few people have a Christmas Tree. If people do have a tree it is normally a plastic one and might be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns (they might also call it a tree of light). The Christmas Trees that most people would see would be in shopping malls.


The strange thing is that most of the world's plastic Christmas Trees and Christmas decorations are made in China, but the people making them might not have decorations like them in their own homes at Christmas! A tradition that's becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called "Ping'an Ye" (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol 'Silent Night'. The word for apple in Mandarin is "píngguǒ" (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace. Some people go Carol singing, although not many people understand them or know about the Christmas Story. Jingle Bells is a popular Christmas song in China! People who are Christians in China go to special services. Going to Midnight Mass services has become very popular.

 

Czech Republic


During the evening of the 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve), children are very excited and watch for St. Nicholas (Svatý Mikuláš) to arrive. He normally is accompanied by one or more angels and one or more devils. He asks the children if they've been good all year and also asks them to sing a song or recite a poem, and gives them a basket of presents, often containing chocolate and fruit. If you've been naughty, the devil might give you a lump of coal. Like in the The Netherlands and some other European countries, St Nicholas' Day is a very separate holiday than Christmas. In the Czech language Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Veselé Vánoce'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. The main Christmas celebrations are on Christmas Eve. Some people fast during Christmas Eve in the hope that they will see a vision of 'the golden pig' appear on the wall before dinner! This is meant to be a sign of good luck! The Czech traditional Christmas dinner is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve. The meal often consists of fish soup (made of carp), and fried carp with potato salad.


Ježíšek 'Little Jesus' (the Czech version of Christkindl) brings presents during the Christmas Eve dinner and leaves them under the Christmas Tree. Czech children have their dinner in a different from where the tree is located. When they hear the bell ring (usually after the children have finished eating their main meal but when they are still at the table), that means that Ježíšek had been and has left their presents under the tree. The presents are normally opened right after dinner. Religious families also usually sing Christmas carols by the tree, and go to church either at midnight or on Christmas Day. There's a superstition in Czechia that says if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas day, if the toe points towards the door, you will be married soon!

 

Egypt


In Egypt about 15% 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 (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia). The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk. People sing special praise songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service.

For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. They don't eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called 'The Holy Nativity Fast'. But if people are too weak or ill to fast properly they can be excused. On Coptic Christmas Eve (6th January), Coptic Christians go to church for a special liturgy or Service. The services normally start about 10.30pm but some chapels will be open for people to pray from 10.00pm. Many people meet up with their friends and families in the churches from 9.00pm onwards. The services are normally finished shortly after midnight, but some go onto 4.00am! When the Christmas service ends people go home to eat the big Christmas meal. All the foods contain meat, eggs and butter - all the yummy things they didn't during the Advent fast! One popular course if 'Fata' a lamb soup which contains bread, rice, garlic and boiled lamb meat. On the Orthodox Christmas Day (7th) people come together in homes for parties and festivities. People often take 'kahk' (special sweet biscuits) with them to give as gifts.


Even though not many in Egypt are Christians, a lot of people in the country like to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. Christmas is becoming very commercial and most major supermarkets sell Christmas trees, Christmas food and decorations. Hotels, parks and streets are decorated for Christmas. In Egypt, Santa is called Baba Noël (meaning Father Christmas). Children hope that he will climb through a window and will leave some presents! They might leave some kahk out for Baba Noël. Most Egyptians speak Egyptian Arabic. In Arabic Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Eid Milad Majid' (عيد ميلاد مجيد) which means 'Glorious Birth Feast'. 'Christmas' in Arabic is 'eid almilad' (عيد الميلاد).

 

Estonia


In Estonia, Christmas time starts with Advent. Children put their socks on their window ledge and every day until Christmas Eve, December 24th, an elf comes and puts some sweets in it! On Christmas Eve families come together and in the evening Santa visits and asks people to tell him poems in exchange for gifts. Tradition and typical Christmas decorations are Christmas lights and almost every family also has a Christmas Tree too, which is normally decorated a few days before Christmas. Both Estonians and Latvians claim that the first public Christmas tree was displayed in their country! Estonians believe that the first Christmas Tree was in Tallinn not in Riga, the capital of Latvia.


Estonians like to eat a lot at Christmas! The most traditional food is blood sausage, which is made from blood, oats and pork. Other traditional Estonian foods include sauerkraut, tangerines and gingerbread. They also like to drink mulled wine, which is made in both ways: with and without alcohol. In Estonian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi'.

 

Georgia


In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January. This is because the Georgian Orthodox Church (like the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Serbia and other countries) use the old 'Julian' calendar for their festivals. On Christmas Day, many people will go on a 'Alilo', a parade in the streets. They are dressed in special clothes and costumes to celebrate Christmas. Some people carry Georgian flags and others might be dressed as people from the Christmas story. Children like taking part in the Alilo as they're often given sweets! Carols are sung and they vary across the country. Many of the songs and carols sung during the Alilo include these words: “ოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა, ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემსაო’” (otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao) which means “on 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem”. In Georgian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'გილოცავ შობა-ახალ წელს' (gilocav shoba-akhal c’els). Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.


The traditional Georgian Christmas Tree is called a 'Chichilaki' (ჩიჩილაკი). It's made of dried wood, such as hazelnut or walnut branches, which are shaved into long curly strips to form a small tree. Some people say they look like the long white curly beard of St Basil the Great! They are decorated with small fruits and sweets. They are traditionally burnt on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany (19th January). This is meant to mark the end of the year's troubles. 'Western' Christmas Tree (nadzvis khe) are also popular. People get their presents on New Year's Eve (December 31st). Presents are traditionally brought to children by "Tovlis Papa" (or tovlis babua in western Georgian dialects) which means “Grandfather snow”. He normally wears all white clothing including a hat and a cape/cloak called a “nabadi”. The cloak is heavy and very warm as it's made of white sheep's wool. Shepherds were them in darker colors, but Tovlis Papa has to wear a white one! On New Year's eve he comes down from the mountains of the Caucasus and walks around Georgia to deliver treats and sweets to all the children in Georgia. Children leave out "Churchkhela" a delicious treat made of walnuts and grape juice, which is shaped like a sausage, for Tovlis Papa. Santa is also often called "Tovlis Papa", but the real "Tovlis Papa" does not mind, he's chill like the mountains he lives in!

 

Greenland


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. 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. Christmas Trees have to be imported, because no trees grow as far north as Greenland. The trees are often imported from Denmark - Greenland has had a long historical connection with Denmark. The trees are decorated with candles, bright ornaments and sometimes small versions of sealskin breeches known as kamiks. Trees are traditionally decorated on the evening of 23rd December. People who don't use an imported tree, might have a traditional driftwood tree decorated with heather.


Another traditional and popular decoration is to put an illuminated star in windows. There are stars in most homes and in all public buildings. Because Greenland is so far north, and within the Arctic Circle, during the winter the sun never rises! (You might get a brief glimpse over the southern mountains, but that's it!) So the stars help to bring some light. The tradition of hanging stars came with Christian missionaries from the Moravian church. The stars are sometimes called 'poinsettia stars' as they look a bit like poinsettia flowers. Villages also put a large Christmas Tree on a nearby hill, so everyone can see it. These trees are put up and decorated ready for the start of Advent. St Lucia's day (December 13th) is also celebrated in Greenland. 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.


Other popular foods in Greenland include 'suaasat' which is a soup/stew, barbecued caribou/reindeer, lamb, razorbill, ptarmigan and fish either as raw sushi or cooked. Popular deserts are berries and apples with a crisp Topping and special Christmas porridge that's served with butter and topped with sugar and cinniamon. Lots of Danish pastries and Christmas cookies are also eaten! It is traditional on Christmas night that the men look after the women, serving their food and coffee and stirring the meal for them. Games follow the Christmas meal, including one in which an object is passed from hand to hand round a long table under the cloth. It is supposed to be repulsive: round, clammy and rough in texture; such as a frozen egg, wrapped in strips of wet fox fur! Like in Finland and other nordic countries, lighting candles in cemeteries is sometimes done on Christmas Eve to remember family and friends.


In Greenland there are two main languages spoken, Inuit/Greenlandic and Danish. In Greenlandic, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Juullimi Pilluarit'; in Danish it is 'Glædelig Jul'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. Greenland also claims to be the place where Santa Claus lives or at least goes for his summer holidays! He is said to have a home in the north of the country in Spraglebugten, near the town of Uummannaq! New Year's Eve is celebrated twice in Greenland! At 8.00pm, they celebrate that the new year has reached Denmark and at midnight it's the new year in Greenland! At both celebrations, people like to let off lots of fireworks and rockets!


 

Guatemala


Guatemala is a very diverse country with more than 20 ethnic groups. Each of them has their own special traditions for celebrating Christmas. On December 7th at 6pm an unusual customs called 'La Quema del Diablo' (The Burning of the Devil) takes place, where an effigy (model) of the devil/Satan burnt. The 8th December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day for Catholics and burning the devil before that is meant to be a way of getting 'bad things' out of the way ready for the new year! The tradition started back when Guatemala was a Spanish colony and people would put lanterns on the front of their houses. But some people had bonfires instead and the custom changed overtime to burning the devil!


Most Guatemalans, like other Latin-American counties, plan and build, with the entire family, a Nativity Scene called a "Nacimiento" or "Belen". Although it is originally a Spanish tradition, many indigenous (Guatemalan) elements are now used in the design and construction of the Nativity scenes. The "Nacimiento" is normally put under the Christmas Tree. One unique characteristic of Guatemalan Nativity scenes is the use of sawdust dyed in many bright colors. On Christmas Eve families celebrate together and eat the main Christmas meal. It is made of several traditional dishes, but it always includes some Guatemalan tamales. In some regions they are made of corn and other of rice or potatoes. They can be sweet or not, and have several different ingredients inside like olives, prunes, peppers, chicken or pork. Everyone waits until midnight to light hundreds of fireworks or firecrackers to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A family prayer is said around the tree and it is the custom to open the presents shortly after midnight.

 

Hungary


In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and is called 'Szent-este' which means Holy Evening. People spend the evening with their family and decorate the Christmas Tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), so when children come in and see the tree, it's a great surprise and they are told that angels brought the tree for them! The main Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas Eve, consists of fish (often fish soup called 'Halászlé' which is made with carp or other freshwater fish), stuffed cabbage (the leaves are stuffed with rice, mince pork, onion, garlic and other herbs) and a special kind of poppy bread/cake called 'Beigli' is a popular dessert. Gingerbread is also a traditionally eaten at Christmas in Hungary. The gingerbread is often wrapped in very bright colors and decorated with Christmas figures.

The Midnight Mass service is very popular in Hungary. Most people go to Church after their Christmas meal. On Christmas Eve children also hope that they will be left some presents under the Christmas Tree. They're told that the presents are brought by Jesus, he's often called "Jézuska", a nickname or cuter version for "Jézus". Children wait outside the room where the tree is and when they hear bells ringing, they can enter and the presents await them under the Christmas tree. On Christmas Day people visit their families. St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on the 6th December. In Hungary he is known as 'Mikulás'. Children leave out shoes or boots on a windowsill to be filled with goodies! Presents might also be brought by Télapó (Old Man Winter). In Hungarian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Boldog karácsonyt' (Happy Christmas) or 'Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket' (pleasant Christmas holidays).

 

Indonesia


Although most people in Indonesia (about 85%) are Muslims, about 10% of the population are Christians - that's still about 20 million people! Indonesian Christians love to celebrate Christmas! Indonesian Christians usually go to church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In most churches and cathedrals, people create nativity scenes and use them as part of the Nativity drama performance. Christmas trees in Indonesia are normally artificial ones made of plastic. Although less common, some people have real Pine trees to be decorated as Christmas trees. The biggest producer of 'real' trees is located in Puncak, West Java. Another special type of Christmas tree are ones made from chicken feathers - made by people in their homes on Bali island. These feather trees have been exported to different countries around the world.


In early December, huge Christmas trees with beautiful and colorful decorations can be found in most shopping malls in big cities all over the country. In 2011 there was also a huge Christmas tree made of edible chocolate, created by professional Indonesian chocolatiers! Popular Christmas carols in Indonesia include 'Malam Kudus' (an Indonesian version of 'O Holy Night') and 'Malam Kudus' (an Indonesian version of 'Silent Night'). These songs are usually sung on Christmas Eve in churches by a choir during the candle-light service, when people think about the Christmas story. Most Indonesian television channels broadcast Christmas themed musical concerts. An annual Christmas celebration event, held by the Indonesian Government, is always broadcast by the state-owned television channel 'TVRI'. The most popular Hollywood movies broadcasted in Indonesian during Christmas are the Home Alone series!


In Indonesia, Santa Claus is also very popular and is called 'Sinterklass' (that's because Indonesia used to be ruled by The Netherlands). Sinterklass brings presents to children on Christmas Day - and you also might see him in shopping malls, etc.! Exchanging presents is common among Christians in Indonesia. Cookies are a must-have food during Christmas in Indonesia. Some popular types of cookies include 'Nastar' a butter cookie with pineapple jam filling, cheese cookies called 'Kastengel' and 'Putri Salju' or 'Snow White' cookies, a butter cookie covered with powdered sugar and cheese! In Indonesia, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Selamat Natal'.

 

Israel


Although the Christmas Story took place in Israel, Christmas isn't widely celebrated in the country at all! Only about 2.5% of the population of Israel are Christians. Christmas isn't a public holiday in most of Israel! For most people in Israel, Christmas is a 'normal working day' (unless the 25th December is at the weekend) and in major cities, such as Jerusalem, you're fairly unlikely to see many (or any) signs of Christmas, unless you specifically go to 'tourist' areas or areas with churches in them. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah is often celebrated around the same time as Christmas. In 2020, Hanukkah will be from the evening of Thursday, 10 December until the evening of Friday, 18th December. (There are no public holidays in Israel for Hanukkah either!)


There are Christmas services and activities in the Christian Churches in Israel. The most famous of these might be the carol concerts and services held at the Dormition Abbey (which is a Benedictine Monastery) in the Church of Zion, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. More Jewish Israelis are starting to go to concerts like this. The YMCA in Jerusalem also holds a big Christmas Bazaar as well as a Christmas Eve carol concert and singalong. The largest Christian population in Israel in in Nazareth (the town where Jesus grew up). Nazareth has lots of Christmas lights on the streets and outdoor markets to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. There is a Christmas Eve parade which ends at the Church of the Annunciation. Then there's a big firework display and the Midnight Mass Service. The parade represents the journey that Mary and Joseph took in the Christmas Story, when they travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Different Christian groups take part in the parade including Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Maronites; as well as local Jews.


Christmas is a public holiday in towns like Nazareth where there are lots of Christians. The most famous town associated with the Christmas Story is Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born. It is in the Palestinian Territories and more Christmas celebrations take place there than in much of Israel. In Hebrew Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Chag Molad Sameach' (חג מולד שמח) which means 'Happy festival of the Birth'. In Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken, it's 'Eedookh Breekha' which means 'Blessed be your Christmas'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

 

Kazakhstan


Christmas in Kazakhstan is almost always snowy, as it snows for around four months of the year during the winter. About 70% of people in Kazakhstan are Muslims, so Christmas isn't a big holiday. Most of the Christians in Kazakhstan belong to Orthodox churches, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, rather than on December 25th. For Orthodox christians Advent lasts for 40 days, and some people won't eat any meat during this time. Advent ends when you can see the first star in the night sky on January 6th; this symbolises the birth of Jesus and then the main Christmas meal can start. After the meal, many Orthodox christians will go to a midnight church service.


Some non Orthodox Christians might celebrate Christmas on December 25th or sometimes the Sunday before. They have also translated some English songs into Kazakh and Russian and there are a few traditional songs that were composed in Kazakhstan, but they normally sing their usual worship songs in Church on the day they celebrate Christmas. In Kazakhstan, the main winter festival is New Year. So while there aren't Christmas trees, Father Christmas/Santa or Christmas presents for the good children... there IS a New Year tree, there IS a Snow Father/Father Frost/Grandfather Frost, called 'Ayaz Ata' (Аяз Ата) in Kazakh. He often travels with 'Kar Kız' (which means 'Snow Girl' or 'Snow Maiden') who is his granddaughter. Ayaz Ata and Kar Kız bring presents to children at New Year.


There are lots of fireworks and other celebrations to welcome in the New Year. The 1st and 2nd of January are public holidays in Kazakhstan and the 7th January was made a public holiday on in 2007. When Kazakhstan was part of the USSR, all religions were banned and the government made the New Year celebrations important - that's why they are still more important than Christmas today - even after 25 years after the collapse of the USSR. (In fact Kazakhstan finalized independence from the USSR on December 25th 1991! Kazakhstan Independence Day is celebrated on 16th December, the date is the first officially Independence declared from the Soviet Union.) Just as countries have celebrations in the run-up to Christmas, Kazakhstan’s New Year celebrations start in early December.


At New Year celebrations, children recite a poem or sing a song for the jolly Snow Father in his blue (or red) suit and he gives them a New Year present around the New Year tree! There are baubles and twinkly lights in the shop windows and everyone is excited. So other than a change of date and despite being a Muslim country, Christmas ends up being pretty similar to Christmas elsewhere in the world! (But not many people know about The Christmas Story and the birth of Jesus.) In Kazahk Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Rojdestvo quttı bolsın' (Рождество құтты болсын) and Happy New Year is 'Jaña jul kutty bolsyn' (Жана Жыл кутты болсын).

 

Kenya


In Kenya, Christmas is a time when families try and be with one another. Many people travel from cities, back to the villages where the main part of their family might live. (Although there are more whole big families now living in cities so they don't have to travel!) This is often the only time large families will see each other all year, so it is very important. People try to be home for Christmas Eve, so they can help with the Christmas preparations. Houses and churches are often decorated with colorful balloons, ribbons, paper decorations, flowers and green leaves. For a Christmas Tree, some people will have a Cyprus tree. In cities and large towns, stores can have fake snow outside them! And there might be a Santa in the stores as well. In Kenya, Santa doesn't arrive with his Reindeer but might well come by Land-rover, Camel or even a bike!

Many people, especially Christians, will go to a Midnight Church Service to celebrate Christmas. The service will have Christmas hymns, carols & songs; and often nativity plays (showing the Christmas Story), poems & dances. After the service, people go home and party really starts - you might well not sleep that night! In cities, going carol singing is also becoming more popular. Some people will also go to Church on Christmas morning (if you haven't fallen asleep from partying all night!) Popular Christmas foods include a barbecue which can be a goat, sheep, beef or chicken. This is eaten with rice and chapati flat bread. The big Christmas meal is called 'nyama choma'. People often make their own beer to drink and different tribes also have special dishes they make. If you live in a city you might have a western Christmas Cake, but these aren't very common in rural areas. Only small gifts are normally exchanged and sometimes food and gifts are provided by missionary organisations. The day after Christmas, Boxing Day, is also a public holiday in Kenya. It's another day of celebrating, seeing more friends and family (or sleeping!) In Swahili/Kiswahili (a language spoken in Kenya) Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Heri ya Krismasi' and the response is 'Wewe pia' (you also). In the Maasai language (also called Maa or Kimaasai) it's 'nchipai e Kirismas'.

 

Latvia


Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis - Christmas old man) brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree. The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Often the presents are secretly put under the tree when people are not around (such as when people are at Church). Sometimes to get a present you have to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas Tree! Before Christmas children learn to say poems by heart. You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance. Latvia also claims to be the home of the first Christmas Tree! The first documented use of a evergreen tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. Lots of people think the Christmas Tree first came from Germany, but the first recorded one is in Latvia.


In Latvian Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus'. The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown/grey peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage & sausage, bacon rolls and gingerbread.

 

Mexico


In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from December 12th to January 6th. 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 each Posada, children are given candles and a board, with painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph, to process round the streets with. They call at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home. The song they sing is about Joseph and Mary asking for a room in the house. But the children are told that there is no room in the house and that they must go away. Eventually they are told there is room and are welcomed in! When the children go into the house they say prayers of thanks and then they have a party with food, games and fireworks.


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. One game that is often played at Posada parties is piñata. A piñata is a decorated clay or papier-mâché jar filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or tree branch. The piñata is often decorated something like a ball with seven peaks around it. The peaks or spikes represent the 'seven deadly sins'. Piñata's can also be in the form of an animal or bird (such as a donkey). To play the game, children are blind-folded and take it in turns to hit the piñata with a stick until it splits open and the sweets pour out. Then the children rush to pick up as many sweets as they can!


As well as the posada's, there is another type of Christmas play known as Pastorelas (The Shepherds). These tell the story of the shepherds going to find the baby Jesus and are often very funny. The devil tries to stop the shepherds by tempting them along the way. But the shepherds always get there in the end, often with the help of the Archangel Michael, who comes and beats the devil! Nativity scenes, known as the 'nacimiento', are very popular in Mexico. They are often very large, with the figures being life size! Sometimes a whole room in a house is used for the nacimiento, although this is less common now. The figures are often made of clay and are traditionally passed down through families. As well as the normal figures of the Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and Three Kings, there are often lots of other figures of different people, including women making tortillas, people selling food and different animals and birds, like flamingos! The figures can be bought from markets in cities all over Mexico. The baby Jesus is normally added to the scene during the evening of Christmas Eve. The Three Kings are added at Epiphany.


Christmas Trees are becoming more popular in Mexico, but the main/most important decoration is still the nacimiento. Christmas Eve is known as 'Noche Buena' and is a family day. People often take part in the final Posada and then in the evening have the main Christmas meal. Popular dishes for the main Christmas meal include Pozole (a thick soup made with hominy, chicken or pork and chilies with is topped with greens), roast turkey, roast pork, tamales, bacalao (salt cod), romeritos (a green vegetable that's cooked in a mole sauce with potatoes and shrimps) and there are normally salads served as side dishes such as Ensalada Nochebuena (Christmas Eve salad). For dessert bunuelos are very popular, they are fried pastries sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or a hot sugar syrup. Bunuelos come in two shapes flat and round/ball! To drink there might be Ponche (a warm Christmas punch made with fruit) and Rompope (a drink like egg nog which often has rum added to it!). At midnight, many people go to a Midnight Mass service, known as the 'Misa de Gallo' (which means Mass of the Rooster as people are up early like Roosters!). There are lots of fireworks to celebrate Christmas Day.


Poinsettia flowers are known as 'nochebuena' (Christmas Eve) flowers in Mexico. People in Mexico also celebrate 'los santos inocentes' or 'Day of the Innocent Saints' on December 28th and it's very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA. 28th December is when people remember the babies that were killed on the orders of King Herod when he was trying to kill the baby Jesus. In some states in Mexico children expect Santa Claus to come on December 24th. In the south of Mexico children expect presents on January 6th at Epiphany, which is known as 'el Dia de los Reyes'. On el Dia de los Reyes the presents are left by the Three Kings (or Magi). If you've had a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, you might also get some candy on el Dia de los Reyes! It's traditional to eat a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the 'Godparent' of Jesus for that year.


Another important day, is La Candelaria 'the Candles' or Virgen de la Candelaria 'Virgin of Lights or Candles' (this is also known as Candlemas in other countries around the world) on the 2nd February and it marks the end of the Mexican Christmas celebrations. Lots of Mexicans have a party for Candelaria. In Mexico, presents might also be brought by 'El Niñito Dios' (baby Jesus) & Santo Clós (Santa Claus) In Mexico most people speak Spanish (Español), so Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Feliz Navidad'. In the Nahuatl (spoken in some parts of central Mexico) it's 'Cualli netlācatilizpan' and in the Yucatec Maya language (spoken in some parts of the Yucatán Peninsula) it's 'Ki'imak "navidad"'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. The largest ever Angel Ornament was made in Mexico. It was made in January 2001 by Sergio Rodriguez in the town of Nuevo León. The angel was 18' 3"" high and had wing span of 11' 9"! Perhaps the most amazing thing about the angel was that it was completely made out of old beer bottles, 2946 of them!

 

Namibia


Namibia is in the Southern Hemisphere, so Christmas takes place during one of the hottest parts of the year. However, many Christmas traditions in Namibia come from Germany as it was a German colony between 1884 and 1915. Christmas celebration start with Advent an advent crown is used in many churches and some homes (although as it's so hot often electric candles are used as wax ones can melt in the heat). On St Nicholas' Day, 6th December, some children will hope for a visit from St Nicholas and there might be a St Nicholas party at schools. This is often the time that Christmas lights are switched on in the big towns and cities. As well as 'traditional' Christmas light decorations like snowmen and candles, you might also see Namibian animals like elephants!


Having a Christmas Tree is also popular. Some German speaking Namibians like to import pine trees from South Africa. But often a branch of a thorn tree is used instead. The tree is normally put up and decorated on Christmas Eve. The main Christmas meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve. German style Christmas cookies, often made from gingerbread or marzipan, are popular to have with the meal. Following the Christmas Eve meal, it's common for people to go to a Midnight Mass service. People from the parts of northern Namibia where the Oshiwambo language believe that Christmas is all about sharing. Their Christmas meals are often braais (barbecues) which are shared among family, friends and the local community. People often travel back to their home villages from the cities to spend Christmas with their families. Having weddings at this time is also now becoming popular. Other people head to the coast of Namibia where it's a bit cooler - and you might even build a 'sandman' rather than a 'snowman'!. In Namibia, three of the main languages spoken are English, German and Afrikaans. So you can say 'Merry Christmas', 'Frohe Weihnachten' and 'Geseënde Kersfees'.

 

New Zealand


In New Zealand, like its neighbor Australia, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer holidays. Lots of people like to spend time of the beach, camping or at their Baches (holiday homes) for Christmas. Many towns have a Santa parade with decorated floats (made by local businesses and churches, etc.), bands and marching teams. This can be any time from mid November onwards and is really a commercial event but everyone enjoys them. 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!


Children in New Zealand leave out carrots for Santa's reindeer and Santa might be left a beer and some pineapple chunks! In the main cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton, 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 Harinui', Christmas in New Zealand and A Kiwiana Christmas! These are sung at most carol services around the country. Many people have a Christmas Tree in their homes and decorate it like people in the USA or UK. Kiwis also have their own special Christmas Tree, the Pōhutukawa. It can grow to be a very large tree and has bright red flowers which are popular decorations and also feature on Christmas cards. It's been associated with Christmas since the mid 1800s. The Pōhutukawa is also important in Maori culture. Most Pōhutukawa grow on the North Island where they flower from mid December until around the 2nd week of January (some do grow on the south island and flower a later). The earlier it flowers, the hotter the summer is meant to be; and the longer it flowers, the longer summer will be!


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. White bait fritters are also popular. It's common to have Christmas Crackers on the Christmas dinner table. Desserts are also very popular! Many still have a hot fruit pudding with custard and ice cream but cold desserts are popular. These include pavlova and whipped cream, meringues, cold fruit salad, jelly and ice cream. Drinks will include a range of soft drinks. Those who like it often over do the alcoholic drinks too. People open their presents on Christmas Day once the whole family is all together. This is usually before the Christmas lunch.


In the Maori language Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Meri Kirihimete'.

 

Pakistan


In Pakistan, December 25th is a public holiday, but it is in memory of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Christians make up a very small part of the population. But as Pakistan has a population over 162 million people, there are more than 5 millions Christians! Most Christians in Pakistan live the country and are quite poor.At Christian festivals, like Christmas and Easter, a big procession takes place, in Lahore, from St. Anthony's Church to the Cathedral. It takes hours to reach the Cathedral for the services. These are then celebrated with lots of enthusiasm! Before and during Advent, spiritual seminars take place to help people to prepare for Christmas or 'Bara Din' (which in Urdu and Punjabi means the 'Big Day'). This expression is very popular, even among Muslims in Pakistan. During the last week of Advent, in many Christian areas, carol singing is performed by various groups. They go from house to house singing carols and in return the family offers something to the choir. Mostly the money collected from such carols is used for charity works or is given to the church.

In the big Christian areas, each house is decorated and has a star on the roof. The streets are also decorated and lit. The crib and Christmas tree are also important decorations. Sometimes there are crib competitions! Christians also sometimes exchange Christmas cakes. On Christmas Eve, Churches are packed for the midnight or vigil-mass services. The choirs sing very special hymns. After the vigil-mass, in some places, there are fireworks which help celebrate the start of Bara Din. People dance, exchange presents and enjoy the special night. On Bara Din or Christmas Day, Christians go to Church again for the Bara Din celebrations. People wear their best, colorful clothes. They can stay in the Church courtyard for hours, enjoying various food from the different stalls. The evening is usually celebrated with immediate family or relatives where special food is enjoyed. Adults often visit their parents.


In Pakistan Santa Claus/Father Christmas is known as 'Christmas Baba'.

 

Peru


Because Peru is in the southern hemisphere, Christmas takes place during the summer. Christmas was probably first celebrated in Peru around 1535. In the run up to Christmas, there are special events called 'chocolatadas' where people meet to see each other and drink hot chocolate and eat some 'panetón' (panettone - the Italian Christmas Cake). Chocolatadas started as a way of sharing some food and gifts with people who were less fortunate at Christmas. Some churches and community groups still have chocolatadas for this reason but they are also popular as a way of seeing family and friends. Nativity scenes, called 'pesebre', are an important decoration in most houses. They can be very large and elaborate. Sometimes they will have native Peruvian animals in them like llamas and alpacas! Traditionally the figure of the baby Jesus isn't put into the scene until Christmas day. Smaller scenes made in a box, with two doors on the front, are known as 'retablos'. They have different types of historic or religious scene in them but Christmas retablos are very popular.


Some people will have artificial Christmas Trees but this is a relatively new decoration. In Peru, the main Christmas celebrations are held on Christmas Eve which is called 'Noche Buena', which means 'the good night'. Many people will go to a special church service called the Misa de Gallo (Rooster Mass) which normally start at 10pm on Christmas Eve. After the mass the main meal is normally eaten. This is called the 'cena de Navidad'. The main food at the meal might be roast turkey, chicken or pork with salads and other dishes like tamales. Some regions of Peru have their own Christmas favorite foods, like fish if you live near the sea. The traditional dessert is panetón. Presents are often opened around the same time as dinner is eaten! In some Andean regions of Peru, presents are exchanged at Epiphany (6th of January) rather than at Christmas.


At midnight there's lots of toasting the start of Christmas day with champagne and/or hot chocolate and then people like to go into the streets to wish their neighbors, friends and family a Merry Christmas and there are often lots of fireworks to celebrate Christmas. After celebrating into the early hours, people will get some sleep and then the 25th December is a day to spend with family, eating leftovers or having a day out. In some regions there are parades on Christmas Day.

 

South Africa


Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summer. So there's lots of sun and beautiful flowers in full bloom. The schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and some people like to go camping. Going carol singing, on Christmas Eve, is very popular in towns and cities. Carols by Candlelight services are also popular on Christmas Eve. And many people go to a Christmas morning Church Service. Traditional 'fir' Christmas Trees are popular and children leave a stocking out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.


The Christmas meal is either turkey, duck, roast beef or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African dessert called Malva Pudding (sometimes also called Lekker Pudding). People also like to pull Christmas Crackers! The meal is often eaten outside in the summer sun! If it's really hot they might even have a barbecue or 'braai'. Mince pies are also popular.


South Africa also has several other UK Christmas traditions, because of its history with the UK. On Christmas day afternoon, people visit family and friends or might go for a trip into the country side to play games or have a swim. Boxing Day is also a public holiday in South Africa and again people like to be 'out and about' having a good time! In Afrikaans (one the languages spoken in South Africa) Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Geseënde Kersfees'; in Zulu it's 'UKhisimusi omuhle', in Sesotho it's 'Le be le keresemese e monate' and in Xhosa it's 'Krismesi emnandi'. Santa Claus is also known as Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) & Kersvader (Father Christmas) for people who speak Afrikaans (which has a base in Dutch).

 

Sri Lanka


Although Sri Lanka is a mostly Buddhist country (only 7% of people are Christians) Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday by everyone. Most Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholics. There has been influences from several different European countries. Sri Lanka (it was also called Ceylon) was ruled by the Portuguese from 1505 to 1650, the Dutch from 1658 to 1796 and the British from 1815 to 1948. For Christians in Sri Lanka, the Christmas season starts on 1st December when people let off fire-crackers at dawn! The streets are decorated and the shopping centers have large Christmas Trees in them. Big companies have Christmas parties and large hotels have Christmas dinner dances.


The Christians go to Midnight Mass services all over the country. They also invite friends, both Christian and non Christian to their homes for parties. New Year is also widely celebrated with more fire crackers! There are also Midnight Mass services for New Year. In Sri Lanka Santa is called Naththal Seeya. In Sinhala, spoken in Sri Lanka, Merry Christmas is 'Suba Naththalak Wewa' (සුබ නත්තලක් වේවා).

 

Switzerland


Christmas in Switzerland shares many of the customs from its neighbors Germany and Austria. But it has many traditions of its own! Advent marks the start of the Christmas preparations. Advent calendars and crowns are both popular. In some villages, there are 'real' advent calendars with different houses decorating an 'Advent Window'. On the day when it's your house with the advent window, you hold a party for the villagers in the evening. There's food, mulled wine (called Glühwein) and music. Christmas markets are very popular in towns and cities where you can buy all kinds of Christmas foods and decorations. There are big light displays and you can enjoy some more hot Glühwein! There are many local traditions of parades and carol singing in Switzerland.


In the Bernese Oberland region, there are processions starting on Christmas Day and finishing on New Year's Eve. They're known as the 'Trychle' as people parade wearing a big Trychler (cow bell) or carrying drums and normally wearing masks. They walk through the streets making lots of noise and are meant to scare the evil spirits away! The 'Urnäsch Silvesterkläuse' processions take place in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden, especially in the villages around Urnäsch. They take place from December 31st to January 13th and date back over 200 years. The people (known as Kläuse in the processions) wear costumes, masks and head dresses. They go from house to house singing and making lots of noise to wish people a good new year. 'Star Singing' is also very popular among children. They go carol singing from the last week of Advent until Epiphany, carrying a large star infant of them. The star represents the star that the Wisemen followed when they visited the baby Jesus.


In Switzerland St Nicholas is known as 'Samichlaus' and he might visit you on 6th December. You might also be fortunate enough to have some presents from the baby Jesus (or Father Christmas) on the 25th and on Epiphany (6th January) you might be visited by the Befana (in South Switzerland) and/or the Three Kings (in the rest of Switzerland). That's a lot of present bringers! Christmas Trees are popular in Switzerland and are often bought and decorated on Christmas Eve. Some people like use real candles on the tree, which are traditionally lit on Christmas Eve (when the presents are being opened!) and on New Year's Eve (for good luck). The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and popular foods include a Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes with melted cheese and milk baked into it. Dessert is often a walnut cake and Christmas cookies.


Cookies are very popular to buy and make. Each family has their own recipes and favorites. Another popular food, especially for parties, is fondue (a pot of melted cheese which you dip bread in - and you might have to kiss the person on your left!). Sometimes 'FIGUGEGL' (fee-goo-geck-ul) is added to party invitations. This means 'Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune' (fondue is good and gives a good mood). There are four official languages in Switzerland, Merry Christmas in Swiss German is 'Schöni Wiehnachte', in French it's 'Joyeux Noël', in Italian it's 'Buon Natale' and in Romansh it's 'Bellas festas da Nadal'.

 

Turkey


Christmas really isn't celebrated in Turkey. December 25th isn't a public holiday - it's just a normal day! Only 0.2% of the Turkish population are Christians, and most of those are migrants/refugees from countries such as Syria and Iran, etc. Christians in Turkey will go to Christmas services at their churches. Many towns and cities have decorations and light displays and more people are having decorations in their homes, such as Christmas Trees. However, they are more used to celebrate New Year's Eve which is a much bigger celebration in Turkey than Christmas. New Year's Eve is known as 'Yılbaşı gecesi' and is one of the biggest holidays in Turkey. Families come to gather and eat a meal together. A popular main dish is Turkey (But in Turkish, Turkeys - the bird - are known as 'Hindi' - which means 'India')!

There are lots of special New Year's Eve TV shows and just before midnight, there's a big national lottery draw on TV. People will also play games after the meal, leading up to midnight. Bingo is a traditional game played on New Year's Eve in Turkey. At midnight there are large celebrations and lots of big firework displays. Some people will exchange gifts for the new year. Getting some red underwear is not unusual as it's thought that wearing red underwear at might on New Year's Eve will mean you have a good next year! Sprinkling salt or your doorstep, turning on the taps, and throwing a pomegranate on the ground are also thought to bring you some good luck! Unlocking a padlock is meant to bring you wealth in the new year.


Turkey does have a big connection to Christmas though, as St Nicholas was born in Myra which is now in south west? Turkey. Santa Claus is known as 'Noel Baba' but he's more likely to bring presents to children on New Year's Eve than at Christmas! (And decorations with Santa on are more likely to have him holding a banner saying 'Happy New Year' rather than 'Merry Christmas'!)


In Turkish Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Mutlu Noeller' and Happy New Year is 'Mutlu Yıllar'.

 

Venezuela


Christmas in Venezuela is one of the most colorful in Latin America and the whole world! Firework shows are very popular. Some traditional Christmas music in Venezuela is 'Gaita' music. This is a type of folk music from the Zulia state. It's played on several instruments including the 'Cuatro' (a guitar with four strings) a 'Tambora' (a Venezuelan drum), the 'Furro' (a type of drum but it has a stick coming up through the middle of the skin of the drum - this can make it have some different sounds) and the 'Charrasca' (a ribbed tube that you rub a stick up and down). The singers are known as 'Gaiteros'. Another type of music in Venezuela is called 'Aguinaldos y Parrandas'. This style is also popular at Christmas as the songs are like carols.


Some homes will have a Christmas Tree, but they're normally artificial ones as pine and fir trees aren't common in Venezuela. Nativity Scenes (Nacimiento) are very popular and in some regions they are more common than Christmas Trees. Going to Midnight Mass (Misas de Aguinaldo) is very popular and there many other masses and church services in the days before Christmas. In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, there's a tradition of people rollerskating to the early morning church services from 16th to 24th December. The roads are often closed to traffic by 8.00am to make it safe for people to skate!


Traditional Venezuelan Christmas foods include 'Hallacas' - a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives that is wrapped in maize and plantain leaves and tied up with string into a parcel and then boiled or steamed afterwards; the Pan de Jamón - a type of bread that's made with puff pastry, filled up with ham, raisins, olives and bacon and shaped like a 'swiss roll'! Chicken Salad and Pernil (a leg of pork). Some people also celebrate Santa Barbara's day on December 4th. The real Christmas celebrations start on December 21st. Another important day, is Epiphany or 'El Dia de los Reyes Magos' (the day of The Three Kings) on January 6th. Main presents are given at midnight on Christmas Eve. In Venezuela presents are brought by 'San Nicolás' (St. Nicholas) & 'Niño Jesús' (Baby Jesus). It was also a tradition for people to paint their houses two to four weeks before Christmas, so it was all nice and smart and ready to be decorated for Christmas. Many people have new clothes for Christmas and New Year's Eve. Many people believe that if you wear yellow on New Year's Eve you will have good luck next year.

 

Zambia

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 and to eat!

 

Hope you enjoyed today's post. I know that the pictures are kind of all over the place but I didn't want this post to just be about the photos. Have an amazing holiday season.

 

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