Christmas Around the World
By Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
COVID, Delta and even Omicron cannot keep our holiday spirit dampened. Even though we may not celebrate the same holidays, the holiday spirit is in the air. Here’s how the winter celebrations are often celebrated around the world!
Chanukah this year has come and gone, but typically is celebrated by lighting the menorah for eight nights and days by the shammash candle which holds a place in the center of the menorah, playing dreidel games and eating delicious latkes and other dairy and fried based foods. The Jewish festival commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the second century BCE. George W. Bush was the first President to light a menorah in the White House in 2001.
Kwanzaa emerged in the United States in 1966 after the Watts riots in Los Angeles California. Celebrated each year between December 26 and January 1st, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration and holiday to support the cultural, social, and economic fabric of the African American community in the U.S. Celebrations typically include family gatherings of singing, gifts, dancing and lighting a candelabra with seven candles.
Christmas is celebrated around the world by many. Even those who celebrate other holidays often engage in the Christmas spirit along with their other holiday traditions. In the United States, Christmas is celebrated beginning on Christmas Eve, December 24th with family dinners and get togethers. Children wake up to Christmas Day on the 25th with gifts from Santa Claus and the day is filled with family, food and enjoying the decorated tree.
AUSTRALIA: In Australia, Christmas time falls during the hottest of their summer months. Consequently, people celebrate on the beach or at pools with barbecues, parties, cricket and fresh seafood.
AUSTRIA: In Austria and Bavaria, St. Nick provides ‘good’ kids gifts, while the half man, half goat known as Krampus drags the ‘bad’ kids out of bed and away. Elf on the Shelf is nothing compared to the stress Krampus makes kiddos feel.
BARBADOS: A Christmas table in Barbados is perfect with a baked ham topped with pineapple and sorrel glazes, a rum cake, and Jug Jug. But Jug Jug is not your average Kool Aid. Inspired by the Scottish influence, this holiday beverage combines pigeon peas, herbs, guinea corn flour, and salt meat.
CANADA: Traditionally, Canadians celebrate Christmas with a tree and gifts. The typical Christmas meal includes roast turkey, vegetables, potatoes, and gravy. Plumb pudding and Christmas tarts are a perennial favorite. Toronto marks the official start to the holidays with the Cavalcade of Lights, fireworks and outdoor skating.
COLUMBIA: Día de las Velitas (Little Candles’ Day) marks the start of the Christmas spirit in Columbian culture. In honor of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, people place candles and paper lanterns in and outside their homes for all passersby to enjoy much like we do in the U.S. on Christmas Eve.
DENMARK: Before Christianity came to the Danes, Christmas Day was a celebration of brighter days, jól, as it occurred just before winter solstice. Today, homes are decorated with superstitious characters called nisser who are believed to provide protection. On the evening of December 24, Danish families place their Christmas tree in the middle of the room and dance around it while singing carols.
ENGLAND: I am certain that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex will have Archie and Lili’s stockings safe and secure at the ends of their beds just like they would if they were still across the pond – filled with sweets, treats and trinkets.
ETHOPIA: In Ethiopia, people celebrate Ganna or Genna, on January 7th in accordance with the Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar. Mass includes a candlelit process where congregants were a thin white shawl and circle the church three times before the celebratory service begins. Games and food round out this holiday sans the gift giving.
FINLAND, NORWAY & SWEDEN: In the Scandinavian part of the world, the Christmas season commemorates a woman as one of the first Christian martyrs as part of St. Lucia’s Day. Festivities include candlelit processions and the oldest girl in each family dresses up in white gowns similar to Saint Lucia. Food favorites include Lucia buns with coffee or mulled wine. And if you can’t find your broom, as the Norwegians where it is.
GERMANY: In Germany, Nikolaus travels by donkey (not sleigh) in the middle of the night on December 6 while he leaves little treats of coins, chocolates, oranges and toys for the ‘good’ children. But for the naughty kiddos an evil character dressed with a dirty beard, Knecht Ruprecht (Farmhand Rupert), carries a small whip or stick to punish any children who misbehave. Again, I’ll take the Elf on the Shelf or the Mensch on a Bench any day.
GREECE: The first known Christmas tree in Greece was put up by King Otto in1833 next to a ornately decorated ship. Today, families celebrate Christmas by lighting up and decorating their towns water vessels in the beautiful islands of Greece.
ICELAND: Iceland celebrates thirteen days preceding Christmas and kiddos get presents from thirteen different Santas also known as Yule Lads. If kiddos put their shoes on the windowsill, the Yule Lads will leave them little gifts. But if they’ve been ‘bad’, their Crocs are filled with rotten potatoes.
IRELAND: As a symbol of warmth and shelter for the holidays, the Irish set a tall red candle in a front window overnight. Traditional Christmas fare for the lads and lasses often includes homemade roast goose, vegetables, cranberries, and you guessed it, potatoes!
JAPAN: In 1647, the Japanese Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas thinking it had no biblical justification, was wasteful and demonstrated immoral behavior. How times have changed. Now, Japanese families covet KFC, that’s right Kentucky Fried Chicken as their first choice for Christmas dinner at home with family.
MEXICO: In Mexico, as well as many other Latin and Hispanic countries, families celebrate Nochebuena (‘good night) on Christmas Eve. Celebrations include a huge feast, singing and dancing, and a piñata for the children.
POLAND: Wigilia or Christmas Eve dinner begins by sharing the Oplatek (paper thin wafers) with family members, children and furrbabies.
SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa varies their tradition by region and culture, but most families come together for a cookout, called a braaing for Christmas. Customary dessert of malva pudding is served with a custard. Christmas trees are decorated with baubles and hand made African ornaments.
SWEDEN: The Yule Goat dates back to ancient pagan festivals for Christmastime. But in 1966, a new straw goat, now known as the Gävle Goat reigns supreme.
SWITZERLAND: Homemade or purchased individualized advent calendars are all the rage in Switzerland. Christmas Eve has the best treat waiting but each day unveils a special something.
VENEZUALA: In Venezuela, residents go to church in the morning on the Eve of Christmas in roller skates! Christmas dinner is typical with tamales stuffed with goodness.
So enjoy family, friends, colleagues; love, life and health – and here’s to all of you for a wonderful holiday 2021.
Photo credit by: Anton Scherbakov (Moscow Russia) @scherbakovx