Christmas traditions Around the World

Christmas traditions around the world

Customs vary across the world, from gnomes delivering presents to people using different calendars to celebrate the festive season in January.

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In fact, not everyone even celebrates Christmas on December 25, and for them Christmas is still a few weeks away.

Across the world, some countries celebrate Christmas on January 7 and use a whole host of traditions that are different from the Santa and his sleigh and mistletoe we are familiar with.

These countries mark Christmas differently because they use the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one.

We take a look at the different days Christmas is celebrated across the world, as well as how traditions vary.

The Netherlands

Here, the most important day of the festive season is December 5, when Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas, arrives by steamboat from his home in Spain.

Until the 19th Century, Sinterklaas operated alone, bringing well-behaved children presents and apparently spiriting bad youngsters away in his sack for re-education and a beating.

However, in 1850, children’s author Jan Schenkman drew him with a black servant, who later became known as Zwarte Piet or Black Pete.

It became Zwarte Piet’s job to go down the chimney to deliver presents and catch the less fortunate children.

Iceland

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The land of ice and snow has no fewer than 13 Santa Clauses.

Thirteen days before Christmas, the first Santa descends from the mountains and visits each house to put treats in children’s shoes while they sleep.

Well-behaved children get presents such as mandarins and sweets, while bad kids typically receive something less attractive, such as a potato.

The next day the second Father Christmas comes to town and so on.

Then on December 25, the first one goes back, the next day the second one goes back.

January 6 is called “the thirteenth” and is the last day of Christmas because that day the last Santa goes home.

Germany

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Here, Christmas Eve is the most important day of the festive season.

Families traditionally mark the occasion with a feast and a visit to church for midnight mass.

Some families will sing at Christmas but in general the mood is one of contemplation and reflection.

Poland

For Polish children, there’s less second guessing what they might receive on Christmas Day as presents can start arriving on December 6.

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That’s because this is St Nicholas Day, or Sw. Mikolaj Day and St Nicholas is known as the original Father Christmas.

Unlike Santa in the UK, this character dresses in the white and gold of a Bishop, rather than red and white.

Families traditionally enjoy 12 dishes – including the country’s famous pierogi dumplings – on Christmas Eve.

The feast is preceded by Opłatek, a type of Christmas wafer.

Norway

If you are living in Norway, the tradition is to exchange presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve.

They are sometimes delivered by Santa Claus, although he goes by the name Julenissen.

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But gifts also come in a more unique form – being brought by small gnomes called Nisse.

And in contrast to the mince pies and whisky British children put out for Santa and Rudolf, many families in Norway will leave out rice porridge for the Nisse who are believed to watch over farm animals. They will also leave a sheaf of wheat out for birds to eat over Christmas.

Argentina

Argentinians decorate their homes with lights and wreaths and hang red and white garlands of flowers on their doors.

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Christmas trees are also popular and they are often decorated by December 8 – the feast of the Annunciation, when Christians remember when Mary was told she would have the baby Jesus.

The Nativity scene, or pesebre, is also an important Christmas decoration in Argentina.

Here, the main Christmas meal is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve.

Popular dishes include roasted turkey, roasted pork, stuffed tomatoes and Christmas bread and puddings like ‘Pan Dulce’ and Panetone.

People often set off fireworks at midnight and ‘toast’ the start of Christmas Day.

Australia

Christmas comes in the middle of the summer holidays here, so often it’s more about the BBQ than roast turkey with gravy.

Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and sometimes go carol singing on Christmas Eve.

People also decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas trees and lights.

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Australians also decorate their houses with bunches of ‘Christmas Bush’, a native tree with small green leaves and cream coloured flowers.

When he gets to Australia, Santa gives the reindeer a rest and uses kangaroos or ‘six white boomers’.

It is also tradition to play backyard cricket on Boxing Day as the test match from the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race begins.

Russia

Similar to other eastern European countries, families eat 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles on Christmas Eve, including beetroot soup, fish and stuffed cabbages.

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They then attend Church and enjoy a Christmas meal on January 7, abiding by the Julian calendar.

Nigeria

Christmas in Nigeria is a family event.

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Many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Morning, they go to church to give thanks to God.

Homes and streets are often decorated and most homes have artificial Christmas trees.

Nigerians do eat turkey at Christmas.

However, in addition, a traditional Christmas meal may include beef, goat, sheep, ram or chicken.

Vietnam

In Vietnam Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas Day.

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The country used to belong to France and there are still French influences in its Christmas traditions.

For example, like in France, the special Christmas Eve meal is called ‘reveillon’ and has a ‘bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for desert.

Vietnamese people like to give presents of food and at Christmas a bûche de Noël is a popular gift.

Santa is called Ông già Noel – which translates as Christmas old man.

Sri Lanka

Although Sri Lanka is mostly Buddhist (just 7 per cent of people are Christians) Christmas is still a public holiday.

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For Christians in Sri Lanka, the Christmas season starts on December 1 when people let off fire crackers at dawn.

The streets are decorated and shopping centres have large Christmas trees in them.

In Sri Lanka, Santa is known as Naththal Seeya.

India

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Christmas is also known as bada din in India meaning ‘the big day‘.

Christian community in India celebrate Christmas with pomp, gaiety and devotion.

Customs for Christmas celebrations vary in the vast expanse of India. These variations are largely because of the local cultural influence.

A large number of domestic and international tourists flock to the beaches of Goa during Christmas festival to watch Goa at its best celebration. One can also regale in the best of festive music and dance during Christmas festivities. Catholics participate in the traditional midnight mass services locally called Missa de Galo or Cock Crow as they go on well into early hours of the morning. The Carnival, preceding Lent, is the most important event .

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Christmas is the time to be jolly and spread festival cheer among one and all. On this festive occasion, think what could be a better way to let your near and dear ones know what they mean to you.

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