Christmas traditions from around the world

Christmas | XMAS

Toby Santa ClausIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. For a couple of weeks every year the world takes on a magic glow, people seem merrier and even winter somehow feels cosy (and when down under, it makes summer seem cooler).

Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival, like Hanukkah or Christmas, or secular occasion (like I do), you’re sure to have your own selection of rituals or customs that make the holiday season so special.  The XMAS season is packed with a variety of unique iconic symbols.

Our favorite Christmas traditions around the world are loud, proud, and guarantee oodles of festive fun.

LollyGag Xmas Christmas decorFor example, in our most recent North American home, we had 37 Christmas trees, including a decorated (white plastic) tree ½ kilometre away in our forest lit by solar power at night – this nestled in at the front edge of our snowy forest at yuletide evenings was quite special.

Our Great Room however became the centre of Christmas décor, centered around a 14ft tree we picked from our forest, with a train running around its base. The massive fireplace was adorned with stockings, the stone cocktail bar with eggnog and Christmas bric-a-brac. We had previously purchased 2 massive nutcracker toy soldiers in New York, and these guarded the far end of the room, looking over a miniature forest of lit Christmas trees on the roof above the adjoining sauna.

Above our CD collection racks of over 3,000 CD’s (the benefit of my Broadway life), we had an army of miniature Santa’s, with their reindeer on guard.

Over the top? Maybe, but our houseguests and I loved it all.

Here are a few of our personal travel experiences…

🇦🇺 Australia XMAS

Christmas in AustraliaChristmas in Australia is often very hot. Whereas the northern hemisphere is in the middle of winter, Australians are baking in summer heat. It is not unusual to have Christmas Day well into the mid 30 degrees Celsius, or near 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Santa can be seen on the beaches and in shorts.

A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor or silver coin is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows they will enjoy good luck. Another treat are Mince Pies.

Some Australians and particularly tourists often have their Christmas dinner at midday on a local beach, Bondi Beach in Sydney attracts thousands of people on Christmas Day. Other families enjoy their day by having a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing Cricket out the backyard, and other outdoor activities.

The warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which commenced in 1937. Carols by Candlelight is held every year on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather in the city of Melbourne to sing their favorite Christmas songs. The evening is lit by as many candles singing under a clean cut night sky. The sky with its Southern Cross stars is like a mirror. Sydney and the other capital cities also enjoy Carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Australians surround themselves with Christmas Bush, a native plant which has little red flowered leaves.

Christmas shopping is often done in shorts and t-shirts. At many beaches Santa Claus arrives on a surfboard, or even on a surf lifesaving boat.  He wears swimming trunks and sunglasses.

🇨🇳 China XMAS

Christmas in ChinaOfficially there is no religion in China, however, some Christian children of China decorate trees with colorful ornaments. These ornaments are made from paper in the shapes of flowers, chains and lanterns. They also hang muslin stockings hoping that Christmas Old Man will fill them with gifts and treats.

The Chinese Christmas trees are called “Trees of Light.” Santa Claus is called Sheng Dan Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.”.

The non-Christian Chinese call this season the Spring Festival (usually in January or February) and celebrate with many festivities that include meals and pay respects to their ancestors. Spring Festival actually begins on the eve of the lunar New Year’s Day and ends on the fifth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. But the 15th of the first month, which normally is called the Lantern Festival, means the official end of the Spring Festival in many parts of the country.

The children are the main focus of these celebrations, they receive new clothes and toys, eat delectable food and watch firecrackers displays.

Preparations for the New Year begin the last few days of the last moon, when houses are thoroughly cleaned, debts repaid, hair cut and new clothes purchased. Houses are festooned with paper scrolls and in many homes, people burn incense at home and in the temples to pay respects to ancestors and ask the gods for good health in the coming months.

“Guo Nian,” meaning “passing the year,” is the common term among the Chinese people for celebrating the Spring Festival. It actually means greeting the new year. At midnight at the turn of the old and new year, people used to let off fire-crackers which serve to drive away the evil spirits and to greet the arrival of the new year. In an instant the whole city would be engulfed in the deafening noise of the firecrackers.

On New Year’s Eve, all the members of families come together to feast. Jiaozi, a steamed dumpling, is popular in the north, while southerners favor a sticky sweet glutinous rice pudding called nian gao.

Adults receive “13th month” bonuses in special red envelopes (hongbao).  These packets are passed out during the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. It is common for adults to give red packets to children. Red packets always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals.  Since the number 4 is considered bad luck, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky.

🇬🇧 United Kingdom XMAS

Christmas in EnglandIn England the hustle and bustle of the season begins well before Christmas and there is barely anytime for a break until the Twelfth night. There is preparation going on of foods, the sending of Christmas cards, the decorating of houses and churches, and the readying of gifts keep everyone busy even the youngest family members.

The English enjoy beautiful Christmas music. They love to decorate Christmas Trees and hang up evergreen branches, a tradition adopted from Germany during Queen Victoria’s reign and the branches are mistletoe and holly for symbolic reasons. Britain was the first country to hang up mistletoe.

The gift giver is called Father Christmas. He wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve. Christmas stockings filled with gifts from Father Christmas are usually opened early morning.  However, the gifts from friends and family placed under the Christmas tree are not usually opened until later in the day.  Father Christmas delivers them during the night before Christmas.  Rather than hanging Christmas stockings over the fireplace, families in the UK typically hang them at the foot of their beds.

The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day (a bit like Black Friday in the US) because boys used to go round collecting money in clay boxes. When the boxes were full, they broke these alms boxes in church and distributing the money collected amongst the poor in the parish.

Christmas dinner is usually eaten at Midday on December 25, during daylight. The table gleams with the best china and glassware, and at every place on the table there is a cracker. The meal begins with a toast, followed by the popping of the crackers which are paper tubes that explode with confetti, paper crowns and prizes when pulled – make for lighthearted fun around the holidays. The paper crowns are typically worn throughout dinner.

The traditional Christmas dinner is typically 2 roasted meats 1 being either goose (traditional) or turkey (american) covered in bacon and stuffed with sausagemeat, the other meat being a gammon. A variety of seasonal vegetables but essential are roast potatoes and brussel sprouts and always kilted sausages (also called sausages in blankets). For dessert Christmas pudding with brandy butter or brandy custard / cream, the pudding is so rich in alcohol that it is usually ignited before serving. The Plum pudding is served with little treasures hidden inside that bring their finders good luck.  Mince pies not only contain dried fruit but also suet and brandy. Christmas cake is also eaten and is traditionally made a couple of months (end of September) before.  After the meal they sit down in front of the Television for the traditional Christmas speech of the British Monarch.

🇺🇸 United States XMAS

Christmas in USASanta Claus was born in US in the 1860’s he was named this as he had a white beard and a belly, so he was named Santa Claus as this was the Dutch word for St Nicholas, Sintaklaas. Although the Dutch had bought him with them in the 17th century, he did not become an important person at Christmas until the Novelist Washington Irving put him in a novel that he wrote in 1809. This first Santa Claus was still known as St. Nicholas, he did smoke a pipe, and fly around in a wagon without any reindeer, but he did not have his red suit or live at the North Pole, he did however bring presents to children every year.

In 1863 He was given the name Santa Claus and bore the red suit, pipe, and his reindeer and sleigh.

In America the traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. For dessert it is rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mince pies, pastry cases filled with a mixture of chopped dried fruit.

The majority of Americans celebrate Christmas with the exchange of gifts and greetings and with family visits. For many, the day begins on Christmas Eve with the Midnight Mass. At Christmas it snows in many states, so dinner is usually eaten indoors. Dinner usually is roast turkey, goose, duck or ham served with cranberry sauce, then plum pudding or pumpkin pie followed by nuts and fruit.

American homes are decorated with holly, mistletoe and branches of trees, most have a Christmas tree hung with electric lights, tinsel, baubles, and strings of popcorn and candy canes.

🇨🇦 Canada XMAS

Christmas in QuebecChristmas celebrations are quite similar in the variety to the USA.

In Quebec they display Crèches or nativity scenes in their homes as the Christmas decorations. After attending midnight mass, families may be served tourtiere or pork pie. Another favorite food is Boulettes or small meatballs. A Christmas banquet is called a reveillon.

In British Columbia Christmas turkey may be accompanied by either fresh or smoked salmon.

In Canada the traditional Christmas dinner is roast turkey with vegetables and sauces. For dessert it is rich, fruity Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. Mince pies, pastry cases filled with a mixture of chopped dried fruit.

🇯🇵 Japan XMAS

christmas Japan kfcChristmas has never been a big deal in Japan and remains largely a novelty in the country, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  While Western countries enjoy mouthfuls of turkey, the Japanese are more likely to be found eating chicken… KFC  fried chicken at that! Chicken was introduced to the Japanese Christmas meal by the foreign workers who helped modernize the country in the post-WWII years. Kentucky Fried Chicken were one of the earliest companies to take advantage of advertising’s possibilities by linking the slogan クリスマスはケンタッキー (“Kentucky for Christmas”) with the December foreigner festivities.

KFC credits the success of its “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign with good timing. It entered the market just when the custom of celebrating Christmas with decorations and Western-style food—which had started in the late 1960s—began to take hold. The Japanese people happily accepted the model that KFC offered them for celebrating this strange foreign festival of Christmas in Japan.

From the Japanese perspective, particularly if you are celebrating Christmas with children, eating fried chicken together is fun and a special treat that elevates the day (which is otherwise just a typical working day) to an event.  Similar to most countries, children in Japan are told by the TV or Internet exactly what toys and games to buy, and what they should be doing around December 25 even if it is fried in batter!

🇺🇳 XMAS Greetings in Foreign Languages

Afrikaans Geseënde Kersfees
Afrikander Een Plesierige Kerfees
African/ Eritrean/ Tigrinja
Albanian Gezur Krislinjden
Arabic Milad Majid
Argentine Feliz Navidad
Armenian Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand
Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun
Bahasa Malaysia
Selamat Hari Natal
Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
Shuvo Naba Barsha
Vesele Vanoce
(BOSANSKI) Cestit Bozic i Sretna Nova godina
Feliz Natal
Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat
Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo
Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou!
Feliz Navidad
Chinese (Mandarin)
圣诞快乐!  Shèngdàn kuàilè!
Chinese (Cantonese) 聖誕快樂!  Seng Dan Fai Lok!
Choctaw Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Columbia Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo
Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth
Pace e salute
Rot Yikji Dol La Roo
Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Sretan Bozic
Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
Glædelig Jul
Christmas-e- Shoma Mobarak
Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast
English Merry Christmas
Eskimo (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Gajan Kristnaskon
Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi
(Amharic) Melkin Yelidet Beaal
Gledhilig jol og eydnurikt nyggjar!
Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad
Hyvaa joulua
Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
Joyeux Noel
Noflike Krystdagen en in protte Lok en Seine yn it Nije Jier!
Bo Nada
Gaelic Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!
Fröhliche Weihnachten
Kala Christouyenna!
(Creole) Jwaye Nowel or to Jesus Edo Bri’cho o Rish D’Shato Brichto
Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Mele Kalikimaka
Mo’adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Shub Naya Baras (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Hausa Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauoli Makahiki Hou!
Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket
Gledileg Jol
Selamat Hari Natal
Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Nollaig Shona Dhuit, or Nodlaig mhaith chugnat
Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay.
Buone Feste Natalizie
Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Sung Tan Chuk Ha
souksan van Christmas
Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!
Prieci’gus Ziemsve’tkus un Laimi’gu Jauno Gadu!
Lausitzian Wjesole hody a strowe nowe leto
Lettish Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Lithuanian Linksmu Kaledu
Low Saxon Heughliche Winachten un ‘n moi Nijaar
Sreken Bozhik
IL-Milied It-tajjeb
Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa
Meri Kirihimete
Shub Naya Varsh (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Navajo Merry Keshmish
Norwegian God Jul, or Gledelig Jul
Occitan Pulit nadal e bona annado
Papiamento Bon Pasco
Papua New Guinea Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu
Pennsylvania German
En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr!
Feliz Navidad y un Venturoso Año Nuevo
Maligayan Pasko!
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese Feliz Natal
Pushto Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha
Rapa-Nui (Easter Island)
Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua
Bellas festas da nadal e bun onn
(sursilvan dialect) Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn!
Rumanian Sarbatori vesele or Craciun fericit
Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Hristos se rodi
Sretan Bozic or Vesele vianoce
Buorrit Juovllat
Scots Gaelic
Nollaig chridheil huibh
Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok
Vesele Bozicne Praznike Srecno Novo Leto or Vesel Bozic in srecno Novo leto
Feliz Navidad
God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt År
Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon
(Tamizh) Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
(Micronesian) Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Sawadee Pee Mai or souksan wan Christmas
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Srozhdestvom Kristovym or Z Rizdvom Hrystovym
Naya Saal Mubarak Ho (good New Year not Merry Christmas)
Vietnamese Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh Nadolig Llawen
Yoruba E ku odun, e ku iye’dun!
Christmas Garland

My Favorite Christmas Song

Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman – Walking in the Air (漫步雲端)[in Mandarin] sung by Shocann Chen (修侃)
piano, music and lyrics by Howard Blake

Raymond Briggs’ The SnowmanWalking In The Air [in English] sung by Peter Auty
music and lyrics by Howard Blake

The original version of the animated film The Snowman
was introduced by its author Raymond Briggs
but in 1985 David Bowie filmed his own introduction.

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