Christmas Around the World

Depending on where you go or where you were raised, there are subtle and drastic differences in how Christmas is celebrated around the world and in our own country.

Here is a short list of traditional variations, perhaps you’d like to accomodate some into your own this year!

  • In France, instead of stockings hanging on the fireplace mantel children leave their shoes beside the fire for Papa Noel to leave candy, fruits, and nuts in.
  • In Alaska, the traditional Christmas dinner involves fish and maple dusted doughnuts.
  • In Mexico the Christmas celebrations start on December 12th (The Virgin of Guadalupe) and end on January 6th (Epiphany).  Children leave their wish list in their shoes and wake up to their gifts and statues of the Three Wise Men, who are thought to bring the toys.  Most receive gifts on Epiphany and not on Christmas.
  • Citizens of Bethlehem celebrate Christmas on several different days, depending on what faith they observe.  Crosses are painted on the door of every Christian home and each house has their own nativity scene.
  • In Japan, Christmas is mostly a commercial holiday since less than 1% of the population is Christian.  The holiday is celebrated on Christmas Eve and instead of Christmas cookies, the Japanese traditional dessert is a cake.  On Christmas day the most commonly eaten food is fried chicken.
  • Brazilians, enjoy the folk play Los Pastores (The Shepherds) which includes shepherdesses and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child.  Father Noel brings gifts from Greenland, but upon arrival in Brazil, changes into silk clothing due to the heat.
  • In India, Christians will decorate mango or banana trees.  They will also decorate their houses with mango leaves or small clay oil-burning lamps. Churches are decorated for Christmas services with poinsettias and candles.
  • The Polish celebrate with a tradition called Wigilia.  This tradition involves a 24-hour fast on Christmas Eve and ends with the Christmas feast.  The meal cannot begin until the first star of the night appears, honoring the star of Bethlehem.
  • In Nicaragua, many customs of old Spain are retained.  Children carry bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
  • In Romania, children sing carols and read poetry while the leader carries a large decorated wooden star attached to a pole or broomstick. There is a picture of the Holy Family in the center of the decorated star.
  • Russians, fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve.  Their Christmas Eve dinner is meatless, but includes a porridge called kutya.  Kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
  • Greeks rarely use Christmas trees, but symbolize the season with a shallow wooden bowl.  This bowl has a wire suspended across the rim and holds a hanging wooden cross wrapped in a sprig of basil.  Water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh.  The mother (typically) dips the cross and basil to holy water each day and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.

Does your family have any unique traditions?  What are some traditions you’ve heard about?

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