Christmas Traditions Around The World

People around the globe enjoy rich customs and traditions when celebrating the Christmas holiday. Many are unique - most focus on love, peace, merriment and feasting.

Regardless of age, ethnicity or geography, people all over the world celebrate Christmas in their own special way. From one continent to another, customs and traditions abound and are passed down through generations of like-minded individuals. Let's put on our cyber luggage and travel around the globe to take a look at some of the holiday celebrations that folks continue to enjoy each year. In honor of the twelve days of Christmas, customs and traditions from twelve countries have been included.


Christmas in New Zealand actually falls during their summer season and, as a result of that and the number of snowbirds that have come from the north, is often celebrated once again in July, when the weather is cooler and more conducive to a traditional Christmas celebration. During the December celebration, however, children can expect to be awakened in the morning by the sound of sirens from one of the local fire engines. Upon hearing the sirens, they all run out to the curbside and wait for Santa to ride by in the fire truck, all the while throwing candy at them as they line the side of the road. Due to the warm weather, Christmas dinner is often cooked outside on the barbecue, and the conventional Christmas meal is held off until the July celebration - complete with plum pudding.


Christmas Eve is the highlight of the celebrations for most Christian families in Lebanon. On this evening before Christmas, families and friends gather to celebrate and enjoy dinner together, which typically consists of turkey, arak (a popular Lebanese drink) and a special Yule Log cake for dessert - fashioned after the French holiday dessert by the name of Buche de Noel. The celebration continues until the church bells ring at midnight, indicating that it's time for all to dress in their finest clothes and walk to their local church. The following morning, children awaken to find that Papa Noel has filled the red stockings that were hung by the little ones in the expectation of Christmas goodies.


Christmas caroling in Kenya is brought to a whole new level by those who are the recipients of such door-to-door holiday merriment. After carolers treat the members of a household to these lovely Christmas songs, the residents of the house usually give them money, which is to be donated to their church on Christmas Day. This type of caroling for charity is typically done on Christmas Eve and can be quite lucrative, from the perspective of the church. Those who don't offer money will generally give some other form of gift.

Christmas Day is generally spent at church, and then with family and friends for the whole of the day. The most common Christmas fare includes nyama choma (roasted meat, such as cow or goat) and a popular flat bread by the name of chapatis.


For Italians, the focus of Christmas is on the birth of Jesus. To that end, elaborate manger scenes are constructed by locals in an attempt to win the right to have their crèche displayed in one of the area churches. On Christmas Eve, folks travel from one to another, enjoying the displays that have been set up within the various churches, followed by a feast to celebrate the holiday. In many regions, the Christmas meal typically consists of fish, lentils and panforte (gingerbread), torrone (nougat candy) or panettone (a type of Christmas cake, similar to fruit cake, only higher and fluffier) for dessert. Traditionally, any dessert item or confection should contain some form of nuts during the Christmas holiday.

On Christmas morning, children awaken to find the gifts that were left by Babbo Natale (Father Christmas), after having traveled from one house to another on Christmas Eve, delivering presents to good little children.


Known for introducing the world to the Christmas tree, Germany begins celebrating the Christmas season on December 6th, or the Feast of St. Nicholas. German children believe that in the wee hours before the sun dawns on December 6th, St. Nicholas himself visits each house, bringing with him what's referred to as his "Book of Sins" (in much the same way that American children are on Santa's Naughty or Nice List). For those who have proven themselves to be good children, holiday treats are left in a boot or shoe that the children have positioned by the fireplace. For those who weren't so good, the footwear is stuffed with twigs.

The presentation of the tree is a large part of the festivities. Taking place on Christmas Eve, the tree is typically decorated by the mother (in traditional families) while the children are out of the room. She might use candy, fruit, cookies, nuts, toys, heirlooms and lights. She then arranges the gifts under the tree and assembles plates for each member of the family, loaded with sweets, fruits and nuts. After everything is arranged, the children are summoned by a bell, Christmas songs are sung, seasonal reading is done and the gifts are opened.


While nativity scenes and Christmas trees are highlighted throughout the Christmas season, as with many other countries, the people of Spain begin to celebrate in earnest on Christmas Eve. Beginning with the ringing of the bells at midnight to call families to The Mass of the Rooster at their local church, the holiday extends until January 6th - The Epiphany - at which time, the children receive their gifts from the Three Wise Men.

On Christmas Day, there's the usual holiday merriment with family and friends - with one peculiar twist: swinging. Swings are erected throughout the districts, and people enjoy swinging to holiday music. The holiday dinner is never served until after the midnight hour, when families gather to enjoy the feast of turkey and truffles - immediately followed by caroling around the tree, which lasts through the night. The merriment lasts until December 5th, when the children place their shoes on the doorsteps and - at some point during the night - the Three Wise Men pass by and leave gifts. The next morning, there are parades at which the children are given holiday treats.


Beginning on December 23rd - St. Thorlakur's Day - the celebration begins with a simple family meal and the decorating of the Yule Tree. The next day, known as Yule Eve, folks enjoy a feast of smoked mutton and leaf bread (thin layers of fried dough, decorated with intricate patterning). Afterward, the children enjoy opening their gifts and spending family time. This portion of the holiday celebration is so significant that the television stations sign off of the air from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., so that families have adequate time to spend together without disruption. Finally, on Yule Day, homes are opened to extended family and friends, who share in a feast which ends with cookies and cakes.

It's interesting to note that, while Santa is not present in this scenario, there is a Santa Myth. It is believed that there are actually 13 Santas, whose ancestor was Gryla the Ogre. Beginning on the 12th of December, each of these 13 imps takes a turn visiting Icelandic homes - making mischief. By Christmas Day, they're all present and begin playing mischievous pranks, such as slamming doors (done by Door Slammer) and trying to pilfer the roast that's intended for the Yule feast (the guilty culprit's name is Meat Hooker).


The French employ an unusual tactic, in that they provide a team of Santas: Pere Noel (Father Christmas), who rewards good children with a variety of gifts on Christmas Day; and Pere Fouettard (Father Spanker), who goes from house to house, giving the bad children a spanking. These fellows actually visit the children who live in the northern parts of France on the night of December 5th, and the children receive their gifts on the 6th of December - St. Nicholas Day.

Christmas Eve is spent with the usual revelry, culminating in the attendance of Midnight Mass. Immediately afterward, a special meal is taken (Le Reveillon) by all. Restaurants remain open through the night in order to provide this meal to patrons. This feast is to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child and is typically celebrated by eating ham, oysters, salad, sausage, pastry and much more. Afterward, candles are lit in anticipation of the passing by of the Virgin Mary.


Christmas Eve is the highlight of the holiday season for the folks of Finland. Traditionally a time for family gatherings, people travel from far and wide to spend this day with their loved ones. Beginning with the proclamation of the Christmas season (known as the Peace of Christmas) at noon, the celebrations begin until families journey to the nearby cemetery at 5:00 p.m. in order to pay a visit to their deceased loved ones. At that time, candles are placed on the graves and a service takes place.

Christmas Eve also brings Father Christmas. Unlike other parts of the world, this jolly fellow visits homes before the children are put to bed. He'll typically enter a home and ask if there are any good children there. Of course, all of the children inside the home answer, "Yes!". He then passes out gifts from his basket and talks to the children for a bit - after which they sing him a Christmas song - and he leaves to visit the next house.


The people of the Netherlands, who celebrate the holiday on December 6th, await the arrival of Sinterklaas and his sidekick - Black Pete - who come by way of steamer to leave candy and nuts for good little boys and girls who have filled their shoes with hay and sugar for his horse. Sinterklaas travels from house to house, asking the children about their behavior throughout the year and having them recite verses from the Bible. Gift-giving is done on the 5th of December, prior to his arrival.

Some parts of the Netherlands continue the ancient tradition of the midwinter-hoornblazen - the blowing of ancient horns over various wells to announce the arrival of Baby Jesus.


December 16th opens the Christmas season for folks living in Venezuela. This is the time to display the holiday crèche, and a variety of styles are found, from traditional to contemporary. Then, each day from the 16th until the 24th of December, the people of Venezuela attend an early morning Mass - many of whom travel by rollerskates. Along the way, skaters will pull the strings that may hang from windows along the route. These strings are attached, at the other end, to the big toes of sleeping children, who have placed them there on the previous night. The traditional after-Mass repast consists of tostadas and coffee.

From the opening of the Christmas season on the 16th until Christmas, general merriment abounds, although a great deal of focus is placed on the nativity scenes which are displayed at the beginning of the holiday.


What makes Christmas in the United States unique is the blending of cultures and their traditions. Each sect has its own special customs that are practiced each year, while the country, as a whole, has some basic American traditions.

In America, the Christmas season officially opens with the lighting of the tree on the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Day - December 25th. During this time, there are a variety of activities that may take place, such as caroling, various parties and family get-togethers.

On Christmas Eve, many families attend Midnight Mass, hang the Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantel and place cookies and milk on the table for Santa Claus, as well as a carrot or two for Rudolph, the reindeer with a glowing red nose. Children are not allowed to see Santa, and until all children are sound asleep within the house, Santa and his reindeer will not come.

On Christmas morning, good children will find gifts under the Christmas tree from Santa. Naughty children will find coal in their stocking.

While variations of these traditions exist within American homes, most families follow the basics and, among Christian families, there is emphasis put on the birth of Jesus and the Holy Family.

Though there are a number of countries throughout the world that don't recognize or celebrate the Christmas holiday, those who do celebrate it exhibit a variety of rich, unique customs that will warm the hearts of all who participate.

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