As you may or may not know, I’m an avid traveler. And one of my favorite things is traveling around the holidays and seeing how other countries and cultures celebrate the December holidays. I bring home a little bobble from each country and incorporate it into my Christmas festivities to remind of the fun I had away from home and make my celebrations more unique!
So I thought I would highlight some holiday traditions from across the globe in case you happen to be traveling to any of these destinations either this holidays season, want to plan on future travels or even want to celebrate with some of these this year at home! What better way to immerse yourself in a culture then to celebrate the holidays around the world!
Christmas in Latin America is often celebrated on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) as well as the days leading up to it, singing and reading the “Novena”, the story of the the events leading up to the birth of the baby Jesus. Sure there are Christmas trees however, Nativity scenes are the focal point and are quite elaborate. Folks may attend midnight mass with family members and then begin the celebration all night long. Everyone opens their gifts that night and party well into the night, celebrating the baby jesus’s arrival at the stroke of midnight. Adults usually dance while children watch fireworks and play. In Mexico
One part of Mexican Christmas traditions includes Los Posadas, which can mean “inn”. Children carrying figures of Joseph and Mary and leading a procession go to various homes in a neighborhood, asking to be let in, each night for the nine days before Christmas. They are turned away at the majority of the homes until at last, they are finally invited in. Once inside, everyone celebrates with food and drink, and children may break piñatas. Additionally, Latins celebrate the holidays through January 6th which is known as 3 Kings Day.
In Spain, December 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents. Young boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform civic chores such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration. The children of Spain receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It is believed that they travel through the countryside reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time. Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with straw, carrots, and barley or the horses of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.
Canadians have holiday celebrations similiar to those common in the United States. However, several provinces have traditions of their own. In Nova Scotia, belsnicklers will come to homes for the 12 days before Christmas, seeking candy and singing songs. They are also called masked mummers, and once a person guesses their true identity, they must remove their masks. Labrador traditions include giving a turnip with a lighted candle inside to children.
Holiday preparations start before December 1st as by December 6 is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. This is when you leave a shoe or boot outside the door Dec.5 and the next morning you find presents (if you were a good kid) or a rod (if you were bad). The Adventskranz (advent wreath) is placed on a table lying flat as opposed to our door wreaths. And on January 6th, 3 Kings Day, the little Catholic boys and girls dress up as kings and sing carols and collect money for donations to different projects.
Austria & Hungary
It is believed that Krampus (a creepy, demonic mythical creature) accompanies St. Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children, in contrast to St. Nicholas, who gives gifts to good children. Due to German and Austrian influence, the myth of Krampus is also prevalent in Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia and northern Italy. They celebrate KrampusNacht on December 5th, the day before St. Nicholas Day. On this night, folks dress up like Der Krampus and party hardy.
Swedish holiday celebrations often begin with Saint Lucia Day, December 13. A young girl who is dressed in a white robe and red sash, wearing a wreath of candles upon her head, will take food and drink to her parents or others in her group. She is often accompanied by young boys in pointed hats. Trees are usually not put up until just a few days before the 25th.
The Chinese Christmas trees are called “Trees of Light.” Santa Claus is called Dun Che Lao Ren which means “Christmas Old Man.”. The non-Christian Chinese call this season the Spring Festival and celebrate with many festivities that include delicious meals and pay respects to their ancestors. The children are the main focus of these celebrations, they receive new clothes and toys, eat delectable food and watch firecrackers displays.
It’s summertime during the holiday season in this part of the world. In the cities and towns carolers make their rounds on Christmas Eve. Church services are held on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve celebrations in larger centers include “Carols by Candlelight” and special screen and floor shows. Homes are decorated with pine branches, and all have the decorated Christmas fir in a corner, with presents for the children around. At bedtime on Christmas Eve, children may also hang up their stockings for presents from Father Christmas.
Many South Africans have a Christmas dinner in the open-air lunch and in the afternoon, families go out into the country and usually there are games or bathing in the warm sunshine, and then home in the cool of the evening. Boxing Day is also a proclaimed public holiday usually spent in the open air. It falls on December 26 and is a day of real relaxation.
The Scottish people have their big celebrations on New Year’s Day, called Hogmanay. A long time ago there is a superstition that it is bad luck for the fire to go out on Christmas Eve, since it is at this time that the elves are abroad and only a raging fire will keep them from coming down the chimney. On Christmas day, people sometimes make big bonfires and dance around them to the playing of bagpipes. Bannock cakes made of oatmeal are traditionally eaten at Christmas.
One England’s customs is mummering. In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages.
The English gift giver is called Father Christmas. He wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve. However, the gifts are not usually opened until the following afternoon. They also love to play with Christmas crackers, wrapped up tubes that pop open with an assortment of candies and novelties.
St Nicholas arrives early in Holland with his gifts, in November. He is dressed in Bishop’s robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and who wears Spanish clothes. It is said that the pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child’s behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities. December 5th is Sinterklaas Eve or Sinterklass Eve, and presents are given and received.
St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board. There is also a tradition kallikantzeri, where the mischievous goblins appear from the earth during the 12 days of Christmas.
At Christmas very few presents are given to each other. Instead, small gifts are given to hospitals and orphanages and priests sometimes go from house to house sprinkling holy water around to get rid of the bad spirits who may be hiding in people’s houses. In most Greek homes an evergreen tree is decorated with tinsel and a star placed on top. Gifts are exchanged on January 1st, St Basil’s Day. On Christmas Eve, groups of people gather around the holiday table. Figs, dried on rooftops are served with the spicy golden Chrisopsomo bread.
The Christmas season in Italy goes for three weeks, starting 8 days before Christmas known as the Novena. During this period, children go from house to house reciting Christmas poems and singing.
In some parts shepherds bring musical instruments into the villages, play and sing Christmas songs. In the week before Christmas children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, playing pipes, singing and reciting Christmas poems. They are given money to buy presents.
A strict feast is observed for 24 hours before Christmas Eve, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called panettone features as well as chocolate. Presents and empty boxes, are drawn from the Urn of Fate – lucky dip, which always contains one gift per person. By twilight, candles are lighted around the family crib known as the Presepio, prayers are said, and children recite poems.
The Panunuluyan pageant is held each Eve. A couple is chosen to re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter. Mass is held hourly on Christmas Day so that everyone can attend. Religious services include pastore, or play, based on myth of the birth of the Christ Child. The pastore closes with a star from the upper part of the church sliding down a wire and coming to rest over the church’s Nativity scene.
Christmas celebrations may have evolved from old tribal customs mixed with other influences. Serenading cumbancheros, or strolling minstrels, end their performances by singing Maligayang Pasko to the tune of “Happy Birthday”.
No matter where you may be be sure to have a Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad or Joyeux Noel!