International Holidays: Christmas Traditions Around The World

A guide to the many ways xmas is celebrated in many different countries. Information on gifts, traditions, and ceremonies.

How would you like to celebrate Christmas this year? Would you prefer to get your presents in a stocking, a shoe, or a jar? Who would you like to deliver your presents? Should it be Santa Clause, Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas? In some countries The Three Kings or a Fairy Queen delivers them. In England on the night before Christmas, Father Christmas sneaks quietly into the house and fills all the children's stocking with gifts. In the United States, Santa Claus makes all the deliveries on Christmas Eve.

In France, on Christmas Eve, you put empty shoes on the doorstep or by the fireplace. It is said that The Christ Child will come during the night and put gifts in them.

If you live in the Netherlands, you put hay and sugar inside a shoe on the night before Saint Nicholas Day. Saint Nicholas' horse will eat the hay and sugar when they stop at your house. After the horse eats, Saint Nicholas repays you by filling your shoes with candy and tiny gifts.

In Spain, you put straw inside your shoes. The camels of The Three Kings will eat the straw. They will pass your house and leave gifts on Epiphany, twelve nights after Christmas.

In Italy you get your gifts in a large jar, called the Urn of Fate. It is said that a fairy queen flys down the chimney and fills each jar with gifts and goodies on Epiphany instead of Christmas. It was in Italy that the nativity scene became popular and spread through the Alps eventually making its way to the United States with German pioneers.

In some parts of Germany at Christmas you get gifts from a girl called Christkind. She wears a crown of candles and carries a basket full of gifts to the children. A dreadful demon called Hans Trapp goes with Christkind to deliver the gifts. Before Christkind gives any gifts, Hans Trapp waves a stick to threaten the naughty children.

At Christmas time in Sweden you might hear a thump at your front door or wake up the next morning to find gifts. It'll just be the old man and woman who go about on the night before Christmas throwing gifts inside children's front doors. No one in Sweden has ever found out who they are.

In other parts of Europe at Christmas time you might get a gift from a ferocious-looking man with a sooty face. It'll be Knight Rupprecht passing out gifts as he travels with Saint Nicholas.

Christmas Symbols

The Christmas Star:

The same stars that appear in the sky today look just like they did two thousand years ago. Some of them may even be the very same stars, for like us stars are born to die. What was the mysterious star that appeared in the sky when the Christ child was born? Astronomers say it was not a comet and it couldn't have been a shooting star since they only last from seconds to minutes and then they're gone. The wise men followed this star for weeks, maybe even months.

Some claim that if we move the birth of Jesus to the spring of 6 B.C. we can connect the star to the time when three planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn came very close together in the heavens. These three planets formed a triangle in the group of stars known as Pisces. According to the Jewish rabbis, the wise men, were astrologers who studied the stars and planets. They were well aware of the forming of the triangle and also conscious of the fact that it appeared in the sky before the birth of Moses. That is why Pisces became the unique constellation to the Hebrew people.

The Poinsettia:

Over a century ago, Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, brought the radiant red, star-shaped poinsettia to America. The Mexicans tell a legend about the poinsettia: a little girl, Maria, and her brother, Pablo, were so poor they had no gift to give the Christ child at their church's Christmas manger scene. Along the way they picked green plants and when they set them up around the child, they turned beautiful red and looked like a star.

Most of the poinsettias sold in the United States at Christmas time are grown in California.


Mistletoe is an aerial parasite that grows no roots of its own. Long ago, it was found in Europe attached to oak trees. The ancient Europeans believed it held a mystical power. Mistletoe became known for its ability to render poisons, protect one from witchcraft and possess great healing powers. The notion that it held magical powers dates back to early Nordic and Celtic legends. Today at Christmas time a piece of mistletoe is usually hung over doorways. Many times at Christmas, a mistletoe ball is made out of evergreens and a young woman stands under the decorative ornament to be kissed.

Although each country has different ideas of who brings the gifts and candies there is one thing they can all agree on. In America as well as in European nations, Nativity scenes are the core of a traditional Christmas in homes as well as in churches.

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