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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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'.
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!
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 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.
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).
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'.
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