Christmas Traditions Around the World
March 27, 2020
Did you know that in the USA and Canada the traditional Christmas stocking is made an appearance at the end of the 19th century, with illustrator Thomas Nast being its initiator? There are 11 cities named "Santa Claus" in eight US states - Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Utah and 50 places named "Noel" (the French word for Christmas). In Alaska, Santa Claus makes a secret visit to check if the children behaved properly all over the year before bringing gifts. They are to meet him with the traditional carol, '' Gristuusaaq suu'uq '' (''Christ was born today'').
The feast of Christmas and Santa Claus are celebrated by various customs and traditions all over the world. Even the names differ from one country to another: for example, the Finnish have "Joulupukki", which would come from the "Korvatunturi", a land that has the shape of an ear, which is said to be the ear with which the Santa listens if the children have been good throughout the year. When you can drink glogi in confectioneries and bars - a wine boiled with cinnamon flavors, served with raisins and almond kernels, it means it's Christmas. And if it's Christmas, sweet cake and plum jam cakes appear immediately.
In Finland, families gather to spend Christmas recognized as the most important holiday of the year. In the evening, around 5 pm, families go to church for special services where candles are lit at the graves of loved ones. Also on the eve at exactly 12 o'clock, on the balcony of the town hall, a representative of the city proclaims "Christmas peace". This means that from the moment of the proclamation of peace and even to Epiphany (January 6), those who disturb the peace are subjected to severe punishments. This habit has been around for almost 600 years and is valid for the whole country. The children are waiting for Santa's arrival, who always asks the same question: 'Are there any good children here?' Santa has a gift-filled bag, and while his 'servants' help him to share them, he tells the little ones about his difficult trip from Lapland. Christmas foods include ham or turkey, potatoes, carrot, liver paste, fruit soup, a beer brewed in house, or rice containing a single almond. The person who eats the almond will marry in the next year. On December 25, the main dish is a very elaborate fish dish.
It seems that the first Christians who brought ornate fir trees into their homes were the Germans in the sixteenth century. Later, their decoration became a custom in other countries. In 1890, Christmas tree ornaments were already imported from Germany in most of the countries all over the world.
In Germany, '' Christklots '' is the habit of burning a hub all Christmas night, which, according to tradition, is believed to defend the house of thieves and misfortunes all the year-round. In all of Germany, Advent is the period of the busiest year until Christmas Eve, December 24, which is the most important holiday. On Christmas Eve, the family gathers for dinner and go to church together at the Christmas night mass.
In Sweden, Christmas presents are under the lighted tree, candles shine brightly and the smorgasbord (or smörgåsbord, as it’s written in Swedish) are prepared with all the classic dishes: Christmas ham, pork sausage, an egg and anchovy mixture (gubbröra), herring salad, pickled herring, home-made liver pâté, wort-flavored rye bread (vörtbröd), potatoes and a special fish dish, lutfisk. The ham is first boiled, then painted and glazed with a mixture of egg, breadcrumbs, and mustard. Once all have eaten, Santa Claus himself arrives to wish the gathering a Merry Christmas and offer the presents. Initially, Christmas presents were given anonymously, and playfully, often in the form of a log of wood or the like wrapped up and tossed through a front door. In the 1900s, people began giving one another real presents, handed out by Santa Claus, who was modeled on Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of schoolchildren.
In France, each region has its own traditions. For example, if you go in Franche Comté, Santa Claus is replaced by Tante Arie (Aunt Arie). Dressed as a peasant she is the protector of the Montbeliard Region. Accompanied by her donkey Marion, she offers good gifts to good children, while she deposits only twigs in front of the doors of the bad ones.
Did you know that the word Noel (Christmas) derives from the French expression "les bonnes nouvelles" or "the good news"?
In Normandie the custom was to burn a log in its fireplace on Christmas Eve. Next to it, the oldest member of the family had to deposit the remains of the log recovered from last year. The family then asked the children to walk away and pray that this strain would offer them presents. When they returned, they found confectionery and spices hidden in the log.
For 1000 years Santa Claus (Saint-Nicolas) is celebrated in Lorraine Region. The people of Lorraine take this tradition very seriously, during which Saint Nicolas, protector of children and Lorraine, distributes treats to wise children on the night of December 5 to 6. The whipping father meanwhile is responsible for punishing the ugliest!
But there are also fires for Christmas. In Gironde during the night of December 24 to 25, the “Halha de Nadau”, a big pile of straw is put on fire. The parents and children went around their fields with a torch, reciting incantations to protect their future crops.
In Burgundy, Santa Claus is Father January (Pere Janvier). He came to deposit the New Year's gifts in the little hooves placed by the children. The menu is also different, with no smoked salmon or foie gras, but regional specialties such as parsley snails, eggs meurette.
A delicious dish, very much enjoyed by the children, is eaten in Champagne-Ardenne just before midnight mass. On this occasion, it was common to offer a long "split" brioche on which we made circles with a thimble – waffles or french gauffre. This pastry is often given to children by their godfather or godmother.
In Italy, Christmas is the most beloved holiday of the year and perhaps the most heartfelt. The Christmas period does not begin on the fourth weekend before December 25, but it is customary to coincide with the day of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8. Usually, the Italians spend this day of celebration (schools and offices are closed) to decorate the tree, make the Christmas crib and decorate their homes.
After days and days of preparation, it's time for the Christmas Eve dinner, usually characterized by a fish menu. Christmas lunch tortellini, boiled meat, and other regional specialties are enjoyed. Most people who decide to spend the holidays inside the walls of the house will find themselves around a table with their closest relatives enjoying family affection. Usually, those who are in the kitchen, get fresh fish during the night between 23 and 24, in order to make perfect dishes, from appetizers to desserts.
In Spain, the traditions also vary from one region to another but fairly standard are the Christmas tree, advent wreaths, socks hung at the fireplace, the candy canes and the nativity scenes that represent the birth of Jesus. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner is “Pavo Trufado de Navidad” which is Turkey stuffed with truffle mushrooms or “Pularda asada” (a roasted young hen).
As a curiosity, one of the most famous Christmas trees for its size is the one that stands at the Rockefeller Center in New York, about 24 meters high. In Dortmund (Germany) there is also a great rival: a 45-meter-tall natural fir located in the center of the traditional Christmas market.
In England, the wood that burns on Christmas night is named ''yule log''. Each of the four Sundays before the birth of Jesus a candle is lit in a box. There are processions representing the three magicians and the birth of Christ. In 1814, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, decorated a fir tree at Windsor Castle using sweets, candles, and fruits. Obviously, the families of aristocrats followed his example, using increasingly extravagant ornaments: dolls, miniature furniture, small musical instruments, jewelry, and toy weapons. Children in England do not receive their gift on December 24 but on the 25. One of the traditions is that students assemble pieces about the birth of the Savior in schools or churches. In ancient times, living animals were used to play the atmosphere. Another old custom is to hang fireplace stockings and mistletoe around the house - fir branches. The ancient Druids believed that the mistletoe possessed magical powers and that it brought good luck and prosperity by driving away evil spirits. The famous and typical English pudding was called '' hackin '', from the ingredients. In the seventeenth century, the plum pudding was prepared just on Christmas morning and was sprinkled with brandy and flambé at serving. Delicious! The English Christmas tradition of a surprise package called "cracker", which is offered with the Christmas pudding.
In Greece, the Christmas table has traditional bread in the middle, and after the feast the dishes are left on the table so that Jesus may eat also when he comes. Their Santa Claus is St. Basil, the patron of Asia Minor. He gives gifts and sweets to children. In the old tradition, the custom of adorning the fir tree does not exist, for which St. Basil leaves the gifts on the table or in a corner of the room. There is a tradition that the owner of the house must print the shape of his hand on the bread prepared for dinner, to show the children that Jesus has blessed the food.
In Russia, Santa Claus ('Babushka') is accompanied by Snow White ("Snegurochka"), and children receive cakes and toys, including the famous doll set "Matryoshka". For the traditional meal there are Pyroshka – cushiony buns filled with meat, vegetables but also sweet or fruits, dried mushroom soup, Kulebyaka (salmon pie), Peljmeni (meat dumplings) and as desserts Kutya (a concoction of wheatberries, dried fruits, honey, and nuts) and Vzvar (fruit compote with honey and spices)
Traditional Christmas meal for Cubans is pork roast, black beans served with rice and a mash of traditional plant (Yucca). Families gather and, in a pit dug in the ground and filled with charcoal and banana leaves, they grill an entire pig. Families spend all night listening to traditional music.
In Costa Rica, Colombia, and Mexico, the gifts are brought by "Nino Jesus" (the child Jesus). In Mexico, before Christmas, it is organized the Radish Sculpture Festival. In Mexico the most popular meal is tamale which is a highly flavorful dish made with beef or chicken. These are combined with spicy green chili or red sauce or cheese and stuffed inside banana leaves
The Lebanese tradition is to plant wheat kernels in pots one month before Christmas. On Holy night this pot is placed under the fir tree or next to the Christmas crib, representing the manger where Jesus was born. The traditional kebbeh pie, Lebanon's national dish is made from minced meat and burghul and is often served in warm yogurt sauce (a symbol of snow) alongside turkey or chicken with spiced, nutty rice, tabouleh, mezze plates of hummus and beet and tahini salad and roasted lamb.
The Japanese celebrate Christmas with lanterns, dolls, and floral arrangements and with '' Jizo '' or “Hotei” (Santa Claus). His sack is very mysterious. Depending on the legend, Hotei’s sack may contain anything from modest clothing or a rice plant to the entire collected woes of the world. Though not a national holiday in Japan, often schools are closed for the day. The traditional Japanese Christmas food is cake, not a rich fruit cake, but is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Japanese traditional food is fish, fried or raw with rice dishes and sake. But for this time of the year, they enjoy going out to the restaurants with their loved ones, for a romantic dinner and even eat at KFC. KFC started selling a Christmas chicken deal in the 70s. For this reason, many people cook chicken dishes on Christmas such as kara-age, teriyaki chicken or fried chicken.
Christians in India adorn bananas or mango trees. Churches are filled with red flowers (Christmas), and the rich provide help to those in need. The traditional meal is composed of Biryani (mixed rice dish, sometimes with vegetables also) with chicken or mutton, chicken and mutton curry, followed by cake or sweets like Kheer. Long established Christian communities such as Goan Catholics have also pork dishes and beef dishes as part of their Christmas dinner.
In the Philippines, the Christmas holiday begins nine days before December 25, with the Mass of Gallo. Every day, a religious play takes place, and the carols announce the Birth of the Lord with "Maligayang Paskob". Traditional Christmas dinner is mainly composed of sweet dishes, like Christmas ham (ham encrusted in either a brown sugar crumble or blanketed with a syrupy glaze), Pancit Malabon (yellow-colored noodle dish flavored with annatto seeds, loaded with eggs and shrimp), sweet spaghetti (spaghetti with sugar, bright red hot dog bits and processed cheese), buko pandan (pandan-flavored gelatin mixed with coconut and cream).
As South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is in the summer season. So there are lots of beautiful flowers in full bloom. The offices and schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and therefore some people go camping. The Christmas meal is either turkey, duck, roast beef, mince pies 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'.
Xmas. We have often seen the word Christmas written as Xmas. Did you know that this abbreviation for Christmas is religious? The letter X is the Greek abbreviation of Christ.
No matter where you are or how you celebrate we wish you a Merry Christmas!