Christmas Traditions Around the World

11 Jan 2016 by Meredith Nicholls, No Comments »

Are you a world traveler? have you ever wondered what people do for major American holidays in other countries? Never thought of that, have you? Well, read on, young globetrotter, and you shall learn.

In Argentina, Christmas comes with warm weather. Many people in Argentina are Catholic, so attending Mass is an important tradition. Any tree can be a Christmas tree, and decorations can come up as early as November. Some people may put cotton balls on their tree to represent cotton. The main Christmas meal is taken on Christmas Eve. Families eat at 10 or 11 at night, and have roast turkey, pig, and in some places, goat. Presents are only exchanged between close friends and family. The people release lanterns called globos, which float up into the sky. at midnight on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning, the sky is filled with the sound of fireworks. Some families stay up all nigh talking and then spend Christmas Day sleeping.

In Costa Rica, Christmas comes at the end of the school year and the beginning of break. Because of opposite hemispheres, it is summer, so many people head down to the beaches. Families decorate their homes with tropical flowers and build nativity scenes, sometimes decorated with flowers and fruit. The Costa Ricans learn about the gift-bringer, known as Niño dios (literally “child God,” a reference to Christ Jesus) or Colacho, (another name for Saint Nicholas). Apples are a popular Christmas gift. On Christmas Eve, people put on their best clothes and go to a midnight mass, known as Misa de Gallo, or “Mass of the Rooster.” After that, the main meal is eaten, usually chicken and pork tamales cooked in plantain leaves. Eggnog and rum punch are given as beverages. During December and January, there are many parades, choral and dance festivals, bull runs, rodeos, fiestas, and street parties. On Boxing day, there is a big horse race called the Tope.

In Australia, Christmas comes at the beginning of summer. As a result, many songs and traditions are different. In addition to Christmas trees, Australians decorate their house with branches of a plant called Christmas Bush. It is cream coloured, but the week around Christmas, the blossoms turn red. Pageants and Christmas concerts are common and aired publicly on television. Friendly competition about lights and decoration between neighbors can occur, and caroling is not uncommon. Because of opposite hemispheres and seasons, the lyrics to some Christmas songs are changed. For example, instead of reindeer, Santa flies with “six white boomers.” After Christmas Day, People in Australia celebrate Boxing Day, on which a famous sailboat race is held.

In Greece, going caroling is very popular, and is usually done by children, especially boys. They carry drums and triangles, and sometimes toy boats decorated with nuts painted gold. If they sing well, they may be given a treat. Christmas trees are popular, but a more traditional decoration is a bowl of water with a wire strung across it. The wire has a cross with a sprig of basil on it. Once a day, someone, usually the mother, will use the cross to sprinkle some of the water from the bowl into each room of the house. This is believed to keep away the kallikantzaroi (Καλλικάντζαρος), or bad spirits, away. These spirits supposedly enter a house via the chimney and do naughty things like putting out the fires or spoiling the milk. Another way to keep the spirits away is to have a fire always burning. Going to Midnight Mass is very important to many Greeks. The main Christmas meal is usually lamb or pork served with spinach and cheese pie, and various other salads and vegetables. Sweet pastries are eaten for desert and/or breakfast.

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Image courtesy of Google Images.

In China, only about 1% of people are Christians, so Christmas is not widely celebrated. However, if people decide to put up a tree, it is most likely plastic and may be decorated with paper flowers, chains, and lanterns. Interestingly, most plastic Christmas trees are manufactured in China, but the people who make them likely don’t know what they’re for. Occasional carols may be sung, and “Jingle Bells” is very popular. Santa is called Sheng dan lao ren (聖誕老人), which means “Old Christmas Man.” A tradition that is becoming more and more popular (with the origin of the tradition coming from the carol “Silent Night,”) is the giving of apples around Christmas. The Chinese work for peace is similar to the word for apple, píngguǒ (苹果).

In Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on January 7, as they follow the Julian calendar. People may say Веселого Різдва, pronounced “veseloho rizdva” (Merry Christmas) or Христос Рождається, pronounced khrystos rozhdayetsia (Christ is Born). The main Christmas meal is called Sviata Vecheria, or “Holy Supper,” and is eaten on January 6, Christmas Eve. Traditionally, people fast Christmas Eve and do not eat until the first star is sighted. The first star in the night sky represents the star that led the Magi to Jesus. The Christmas meal usually has twelve parts to represent the twelve disciples. The main dish is often kutia, a type of a kind of sweet porridge made of wheat. The room where Sviata Vecheria is eaten normally has a Didukh decoration placed in it. This decoration is made from a sheaf of wheat and symbolizes the large wheat field in Ukraine. The work Didukh literally translates to “grandfather spirit,” and can represent people’s ancestors being with them in memory.

In South Korea, Christians make up about 30% of the population, so Christmas is more widely celebrated then other Asian countries like China. Christmas is a public holiday, so people will have the day off work, but they must return on Boxing Day. Christmas decorations are very popular, and many churches have red crosses on top, so they match the holiday theme. Most churches have a service on Christmas Day, and going to church on Christmas has become very popular, even for people who aren’t Christians. Some people have a Christmas tree, and presents are exchanged. A common present is money. Koreans say Jeulgaeun krismas doeseyo (즐거운 크리스마스 되세요), which means “Merry Christmas”. Christians say Sungtan chukhahaeyo (성탄 축하해요) to celebrate the birth of Jesus. In North Korea, being a Christian is legal, but you can be incarcerated or killed for just being in possession of a Bible. Any Christmas celebrations there are done in secret.

On that happy note, you should now be well-versed in Christmas traditions from around the world. Congratulations!

Want to learn more about Christmas traditions around the world? Click here to learn more about the countries above as well as many, many others.


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