Christmas is the season of joy and perpetual hope! All over the world, Christmas celebrations reflect local culture and traditions. The festivities can be startlingly different from country to country, focusing on different aspects of the nativity story. But whether you’re celebrating Sheng Dan Jieh in China or awaiting Pere Noel in France, you’re sharing in the wonder and magic of the Christmas season. Let us take a look at Christmas traditions in some countries around the world.
Christmas in France
In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them.
In French Happy/Merry Christmas is “Joyeux Noël.” Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom where the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
In France, Santa Claus is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheese.
Christmas in Germany
Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Silent Night).
Sometimes wooden frames, covered with coloured plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside. Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families. In German Happy/Merry Christmas is “Frohe Weihnachten.”
Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments. Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the main Christmas presents on December 24th. You might also write a letter to Weihnachtsmann in other parts of Germany.
Christmas in Spain
Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or La Misa Del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born.
Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner is Pavo Trufado de Navidad which is turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!).
After the midnight service, people walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir” which means “Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!” In Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is “Feliz Navidad.”
Children have some presents on Christmas Day, but most are opened at Epiphany. Some children believe that the Kings bring presents to them at Epiphany. They write letters to the Kings on Boxing Day, December 26th, asking for toys and presents.
Christmas in Italy
One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity crib scene. Using a crib to help tell the Christmas story was made very popular by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 (Assisi is in mid-Italy). A lot of Italian families have a Nativity crib in their homes.
An old Italian custom is that children go out Carol singing and playing songs on shepherds pipes, wearing shepherds sandals and hats. On Christmas Eve, it’s common that no meat (and also sometimes no dairy) is eaten. Often a light seafood meal is eaten and then people go to the Midnight Mass service.
When people return from Mass, if it’s cold, you might have a slice of Italian Christmas Cake called Panettone which is like a dry fruity sponge cake and a cup of hot chocolate! In Italian Happy/Merry Christmas is Buon Natale.”
Christmas in Brazil
Many Brazilian Christmas traditions come from Portugal as Portugal ruled Brazil for many years. Nativity Scenes, known as Presépio are very popular. They are set-up in churches and homes all through December.
Christmas plays called Os Pastores (The Shepherds), like the plays in Mexico, are also popular. In the Brazilian versions of the play, there’s also traditionally a shepherdess and also a woman who tries to steal the baby Jesus!
Most people go to a Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster). The Mass normally finishes about 1.00am. On Christmas day, people might go to church again, but this time the services are often in the afternoon.
After the Missa do Galo there are often big firework displays and in big towns and cities there are big Christmas Tree shaped displays of electric lights.
In Brazil, Santa Claus is called Papai Noel & Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). It’s very hot at Christmas time in Brazil and many people like to go to the beach. Sometimes children leave a sock near a window. If Papai Noel finds your sock, he’ll exchange it for a present!
Favourite Christmas foods in Brazil include pork, turkey, pork, ham, salads and fresh and dried fruits. Everything is served with rice cooked with raisins and a good spoon of “farofa” (seasoned manioc flour.) Popular Christmas desserts include tropical and ice cream. Happy/Merry Christmas is “Feliz Natal!” in Brazilian.
Christmas in Argentina
In Argentina the weather is warm at Christmas. Preparations for Christmas begin very early in December and even in November. Argentina is predominantly Catholic and Advent is zealously celebrated.
Houses are beautifully decorated with lights and wreaths of green, gold, red and white flowers. Red and white garlands are hung on the doors of houses. Christmas Trees are also very popular and they are often decorated by 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception). Some people like to put cotton balls on the Christmas Tree to represent snow! Any tree might be made into a Christmas Tree – not just the traditional fir tree!
The Nativity scene or pesebre is also an important Christmas decoration in Argentina. The pesebre is placed near the Christmas tree.
Christmas Cards aren’t common in Argentina and although some people give and receive presents, it’s normally only between close family and friends. The main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. Many people go to Mass in the late afternoon.
The main meal Christmas is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve, often about 10pm or 11pm. It might be served in the garden or be a barbecue! Some popular dishes include roasted turkey, roasted pork (in northern Argentina, some people will have goat meat), stuffed tomatoes, salads and Christmas bread and puddings like Pan Dulce and Panetone.
At midnight there are lots of fireworks! People also like to ‘toast’ the start of Christmas day. Some people like to go to midnight services, but other prefer to stay at home and let off fireworks and then open their presents under the tree.
In Argentina the main language spoken is Spanish (called Castellano by Argentines), so Happy/Merry Christmas is “Feliz Navidad.”
Christmas in the United States of America
The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature. Many Americans attend the Christmas midnight Mass. Many churches have special Christmas Carol services and events where the story of Christmas is told.
Americans also send out Christmas Cards, like Carol singing and there’s the unusual custom of the Christmas Pickle! People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer. Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve!
Towns and cities often decorate the streets with lights to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most famous Christmas street lights in the USA are at the Rockerfeller Center in New York where there is a huge Christmas Tree with a public ice skating rink in front of it, over Christmas and the New Year.
Christmas in the United Kingdom
In the UK families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents! Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping.
Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or other buildings. Most villages, towns and cities are decorated with Christmas lights over Christmas. Often a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are in Oxford Street in London. Every year they get bigger and better. Thousands of people go to watch the big ‘switch on’ around the beginning of November.
Like a lot of countries, Nativity Plays and Carol Services are also very popular at Christmas time. Some Churches are especially lit up by candles which makes it a splendid site. Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children’s beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them.
(Compiled by Tej Francis from howstuffworks.com and whychristmas.com)