Hello, everyone! You might want to know more about Christmas. Thank you for visiting my blog! Christmas is my favorite holiday.
In Argentina, the weather is almost always warm at Christmas. Preparations for Christmas begin very early in December and even in November. Many people in Argentina are Catholic and they also celebrate Advent calendar. Houses are usually 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 December 8th which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception when Catholics celebrate when Mary was conceived. Some people like to put cotton balls on the Christmas Tree to represent snow! Any tree might be made into a Christmas Tree and not just the traditional fir tree! The Nativity scene or ‘pesebre’ is also an important Christmas decoration in Argentina.
The pesebre is put near to the Christmas tree. Christmas Cards aren’t very 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 Catholics will go to a Mass church session in the late afternoon.
The main meal Christmas is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve, sometimes around 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), stuffed tomatoes, salads and Christmas bread and puddings like ‘Pan Dulce’ and Panetone. At midnight, there will be the sound of lots of fireworks!
People also like to ‘toast’ the start of Christmas day. Some people like to go to midnight services in church, but other people prefer to stay at home and let off fireworks and then open their presents under the tree. Another Christmas Eve night tradition are globos, paper decorations with a light inside that float into the sky like Chinese Lanterns. The sky is filled with globos on Christmas Eve after midnight.
Some people stay awake all night chatting and seeing friends and family and then spend most of Christmas Day sleeping. In Argentina, the main language spoken is Spanish called castellano by Argentines, so Happy/Merry Christmas is Feliz Navidad. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th. On this day, it also celebrates the Epiphany which means the revelation that Jesus was God’s son.
Epiphany is now mainly the time Churches remember the Visit of the of Wise Men to Jesus; but some Churches, like the Armenian Apostolic Church, also celebrate the Baptism of Jesus when he started his adult ministry on Epiphany. Some Armenians don’t eat anything in the week before Christmas. The Christmas Eve meal is called khetum. It often includes dishes such as rice, fish, nevik ‘նուիկ’ (green chard and chick peas) and yogurt/wheat soup called tanabur.
Desserts include dried fruits and nuts including whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, a paper-like dessert made of grape jelly, cornstarch and flour. This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives. Santa Claus traditionally comes on New Year’s Eve because Christmas Day itself is thought of as more of a religious holiday in Armenia.
In Armenian, Merry Christmas is Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund (Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ) (which means ‘Congratulations for the Holy Birth’). At the beginning of December, a big Christmas Tree (Tonatsar) is put up in Republic Square in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Favorite and traditional Holiday foods in Armenia include Armenian Christmas Pudding, glazed ham and dried fruits. Every house is ready with lots of sweets because anyone might knock on the door and come in for a party!
In Australia, Christmas comes in the beginning of the summer holidays! Children have their summer holidays from mid December to early February, so some people might even be camping at Christmas. Because it’s so hot at Christmas time in Australia, there are quite often massive bush fires across the country. Many volunteer bush fire fighters are involved in saving people and property and travel from all over Australia to help in other states.
Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and sometimes go out Christmas carol singing on Christmas Eve. People also decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas Trees and Christmas lights. Neighbors sometimes have little competitions to see who has got the best light display. The neighbors often visit each other to look at the light displays at night.
Sometimes the displays are put out as early as December 1st. One street in Sydney raises over $35.000 every year for charity with their co-ordinated street display! Australians also decorate their houses with bunches of a native Australian tree with small green leaves and cream coloured flowers. In summer, the flowers turn a deep shiny red over a period of weeks (generally by the week of Christmas in Sydney).
In each State capital city there is a large Carols by Candlelight service. Famous Australian singers like The Wiggles, John Farnham, Anthony Warlow, Colin Gery, Niki Webster and many more help to sing the carols. These carol services, held in different cities, are broadcast on TV across Australia. There are also huge Christmas pageants in each state capital city, that are also broadcast across the country.
Most towns and cities have festivals and parades. In some places, there is a fireworks display at the local park. Many towns, cities and schools also hold their own Carols by Candlelight services, with local bands and choirs sometimes helping to perform the Christmas Carols and songs. As it is the middle of Summer in Australia at Christmas time, the words to the Carols about snow and the cold winter are sometimes changed to special Australian words!
There are also some original Australian Carols. When he gets to Australia, Santa gives the reindeer a rest and uses kangaroos or ‘six white boomers’ (a popular Australian Christmas song!). He also changes his clothes for cooler ones! On Boxing Day, most people go and visit their friends and often have barbecues at the beach.
A famous Yacht race from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania is also held on Boxing Day. The Flying Doctor Service has to work all though-out Christmas. On Christmas Day the people who live in the outback send Christmas greetings to each other over the radio network. Most families try to be home together for Christmas and the main meal is normally eaten at lunch time.
Most people now have a cold Christmas dinner or a barbecue with seafood such as prawns and lobsters along with the ‘traditional english’ food. On Christmas Eve, fish-markets are often full of people queuing to buy their fresh seafood for Christmas day. Australians often have Christmas Crackers at Christmas meal times.
Austria shares many Christmas traditions with its neighbor Germany, but also has many special Christmas customs of its own. During Advent, many families will have an Advent Wreath made from evergreen twigs and decorated with ribbons and four candles. One each of the four Sunday in Advent, a candle is lit and a carols or two might be sung!
Most towns will have a ‘Christkindlmarkt’ (Christmas market) from late November, early December selling Christmas decorations, food (like gingerbread) and Glühwein (sweet, warm mulled wine). Cities like Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg have huge markets and people from all over the world to visit them. Every town will also have a large Christmas Tree in the town square. In homes, trees are decorated with gold and silver ornaments and stars made from straw. Christmas in Austria really starts around 4.00pm on Christmas Eve when the tree is lit for the first time and people come to sing carols around the tree.
The most famous carol is Silent Night, which was written in Austria in 1818. The national pop radio station Ö3 has special Christmas ‘jingles’ and plays Christmas music from 4.00pm on ‘Heilige Abend’. It’s used by many people as the ‘soundtrack’ to the start of Christmas. Traditionally the Christmas tree is brought in and decorated on Christmas Eve.
Decorations include candles (now often electric and) and sparklers. For children, other important decorations are sweets such as small liqueur-filled chocolate bottles, chocolates of various kinds, jelly rings and meringue. Some children believed that the ‘Christkind’ decorates the tree. The Christkind also brings presents to children on Christmas Eve and leaves them under the tree.
(The Christkind is described as a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolizes the new born Christ.) Some children might also get a present from St Nicholas on December 6th. The main Christmas meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s often fried carp as the main course, this is because Christmas Eve was considered a ‘fasting’ day by many Catholics and no meat could be eaten.
However, roast goose and roast turkey are becoming more popular. Dessert can be chocolate and apricot cake and Austrian Christmas cookies. Some really cool people, or those who live in the mountains, might go skiing on Christmas Day. Skiing on New Years Day is also popular.
Every year, Austria’s capital city, Vienna, holds a world famous classical music concert which takes place during the morning of New Year’s day. It’s held in the large hall of the Musikverein, the concert hall of the Viennese Music Association. The concert is played by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and always features music from the Strauss family: Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss. It is famous for its waltz music.
During the last piece played, the The Blue Danube, the introduction is interrupted by applause from the audience and the musicians then wish them a Happy New Year! The concert is shown around the world on TV. For Epiphany, 6th January, a special sign in chalk over their front door. It’s a reminder of the Wise Men that visited the baby Jesus.
It’s made from the year split in two with initials for ‘Christus mansionem benedicat’ which is ‘May Christ bless the house’ in latin. So 2016 is 20*C*M*B*16. The sign is meant to protect the house for the coming year. (Some people say the ‘C, M, and B’ can also represent the names that are sometimes given to ‘the three wise men’, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, in the middle.)
As in parts of Germany, the sign is traditionally written on the door by the Sternsinger (or star singers), carol singing children who dress up like the Wise men and one who carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. Another famous event that happens over the new year in Austria and Germany is the Ski Jumping ‘Four Hills Tournament’ (‘Vierschanzentournee’). It starts in Germany with Oberstdorf (Germany) on the 29th or 30th December and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) on New Years Day and continues in Austria with Innsbruck (Austria) on 3rd or 4th of January and Bischofshofen (Austria) on the 6th January. As in The Netherlands, children in Belgium believe that ‘Sinterklaas/St. Niklaas’ (Flemish) or ‘Saint Nicholas’ (Walloon) brings them presents on December 6th, Saint. Nicholas’ Day.
Children put their shoes in front of the fireplace, together some for Sinterklaas like a drawing or biscuits; they might also leave a carrot for Sinterklass’s horse and something for Zwarte Piet (Black Peter, Sinterklass’s assistant). Then in the night, Sinterklaas arrives on the roof on his horse with Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney and leaves the presents in and around the shoes. Sinterklaas has a book in which he keeps all the names of the children and tells if they’ve been bad or good.
Children are told that if they’ve been bad, Zwarte Piet will put you in his sack and take you back to Spain! Traditional foods that are left for Sinterklaas include tangerines, gingerbread, chocolate and ‘mokjes’ (cookies made in the shapes of letters). There are lots of songs that children sing about Sinterklaas. Different regions of Belgium have different customs and traditions about Saint. Nicholas.
The visit of Sinkerlass is a separate occasion than Christmas. Christmas is a more religious festival. In Belgium there are three official languages, Dutch (a Belgium version of Dutch is known as Flemish, this is mainly spoken in the northern area of Belgium called Flanders), French (mainly spoken in the southern Walloon Region) and German (spoken by about 1% of Belgiums in the east of the country). In Belgium Dutch/Flemish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest’, French it’s ‘Joyeux Noël’, in German it’s ‘Frohe Weihnachten’ and in the Walloon language (spoken by somepoel in the Walloon Region) it’s ‘djoyeus Noyé’. On Christmas Eve (‘Kerstavond’ in Flemish and ‘le réveillion de Noël’ in Walloon), a special meal is eaten by most families. It starts with a drink (apéritif) and ‘nibbles’, followed by a starter course such as sea-food, and then stuffed turkey.
The dessert is ‘Kerststronk’ (Flemish) or ‘la bûche de Noël’ (Walloon) a chocolate Christmas Log made of sponge roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate butter cream and made to resemble a bark-covered log. Some people celebrate Advent and have Advent Wreaths/Crowns made from fir or leylandii greenery. The wreaths have four candles and a candle is lit each week counting down to Christmas.
These are very popular in Elementary/Primary Schools where an Advent song is sung when the candles are lit. Lots of children also have paper Advent Calendars with chocolate behind the doors for each day! In the weeks before Christmas, people also like to go to Christmas Markets. You might spot Santa Claus at the market!
People go to buy Christmas presents, decorations and food. You can also drink jenever (gin) or Glühwein (hot wine) and eat some Smoutebollen/oliebollen (deep fried sweet dumplings) are also very popular. Going ice skating with friends is also something very common. At Christmas parties at schools, it’s common to buy a small gift which can be for anyone.
A game is played to give out the presents. A very popular one is putting on some music and passing the parcel around everyone sitting in a circle. When the music stops, the one who holds the parcel, gets to keep the present. That’s why the present should be something that anyone would like!
Most people will have a Christmas Tree (real or fake!) decorated with lights, baubles, garlands and a star on the top. Next to the tree, many people will have a nativity scene. Some people even have a life-size one in their gardens! In most villages, there are big ‘real’ scenes next to the church with real animals (donkey, sheep, ox) and non-stop choir music playing.
Some people also decorate the outside of their house with lights, or reindeer, or a Santa climbing up the roof (that’s very popular). On Christmas Eve, people normally celebrate with their close family and keep it small and cosy. The main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve. You might start the evening with small things like crisps, mini-pizzas, etc., or have a starter like soup.
For the main course popular dishes include game or seafood, but turkey or chicken are also popular. But whatever you have, there’s always some potato croquettes! Ice-cream cake is a very popular dessert. Small family Christmas presents are also given at Christmas too, where they are put under the tree.
They are opened on Christmas Eve. People also like to listen to Christmas music on the radio. Some people also go a Midnight Mass service. The traditional Christmas breakfast is the same as the normal Sunday breakfast eaten throughout the year.
This is freshly baked crusty rolls (bakeries do their best trade on Sundays in the Flanders region) with butter and cold meats and/or jam, followed by pastries (like Danish pastries) called “koffiekoek(en)” (meaning coffee cake(s) as they are normal eaten with a cup of coffee!). In Walloon districts (the south of Belgium), a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’ made in a shape that is supposed to be like baby Jesus is eaten for Christmas breakfast. On Christmas day itself people visit friends or distant relatives. Movies like Home Alone! and Disney films are always shown on the TV as is the Phantom of the Opera.
New Year’s Eve and New Year are also very big holidays in Belgium. Many families eat another large meal together and sometimes have even more presents! At midnight people countdown to the new year and give everybody 3 kisses and wish them the best for the coming year. Having fireworks is also a very popular way to mark the new year.
Some people have parties that last until the next morning! On New Year’s Day, people often visit friends and family. Children (up to about the age of 12) also read their ‘New Years letters’ for their Mother/Godmother. The letters are written at school and are done in your best handwriting and put in beautiful envelopes.
On the 6th of January, people celebrate Epiphany and the three wise men. Children dress up as the three wise men and go from door to door to sing songs and people give them money or sweets, kind of like Trick or Treating on Halloween. One of the songs goes:
3 koningen, 3 koningen
Geef mij een nieuwe hoed
Mijnen oude is versleten
Mijn moeder mag het niet weten
Mijn vader heeft het geld
Op de rooster geteld!
(3 wise men,
give me a new hat,
my old one is worn,
my mother cannot know,
my father has counted the money
on the grid!)
There is also a tradition that people make a ‘Three Wise Men Pie’ or bread called the ‘galette des rois’ which is decorated with a gold paper crown on the top. A ‘fève’ (bean) would be hidden in the pie or bread (now it’s often a small plastic figure, although some bakers advertise that ‘gold’ has been baked in the cake!). Whoever finds the fève would be the king or queen for the day and wears the crown! In Bolivia, Christmas is celebrated from Christmas Eve until Epiphany (6th January).
Most of the population of Bolivia is Catholic and many people go to a Midnight Mass service on Christmas Eve called the ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Mass of the rooster). At Midnight people like to let of firecrackers! Families often eat the main christmas meal after the Misa de Gallo. The traditional meal is ‘picana’, a stew/soup made from chicken, beef (or lamb) and pork which is served with potatoes and corn.
There might also be salads, roast pork (lechón) or roast beef, and lots of tropical fruit. After the meal families might exchange presents, although present giving isn’t very common. Some people exchange presents at Epiphany, remembering the Wise Men who brought presents to Jesus. Children also might get a set of new clothes at New Years.
Nativity Scenes (‘pesebre’ meaning ‘stable’ or ‘nacimientos’ meaning ‘nativity scenes’) are quite common Christmas decorations in Bolivia. Churches often have large scenes outside them. The baby Jesus is put in the manger after the Misa de Gallo. Christmas Trees are becoming more popular although often only in large towns and cities.
For many poor people and often in rural areas, Christmas isn’t widely celebrated and it’s just a normal working day. In Bolivia workers get double or three times the normal salary in December! This is called ‘El Aguinaldo’ and is a government law and has to be paid for by the employers. Many workplaces also give a ‘Canastón de fin de Año’ or ‘End of the year basket’ to their employees.
It’s a large basket or container full of things like grocery items, a bottle of cidra (non alcoholic sparkling cider) and a panetón (sweet fruit bread). 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, especially Catholics, will go to a Midnight Mass service or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Roster). 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 Gallo 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 and Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). Many Christmas customs are similar to ones in the USA or UK even though it’s summer and very hot at Christmas time in Brazil.
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! Taking part in a ‘Secret Santa’, known as ‘amigo secreto’ (secret friend) is popular in Brazil at Christmas. It is traditional to give small gifts all through December using a pretend name (apelidos). On Christmas Day, people reveal who their amigo secreto was!
The most popular Christmas song in Brazil is ‘Noite Feliz’ (Silent Night). It’s common in Brazil to get a ’13th salary’ at the end of the year – i.e. in December you get twice the normal amount of pay for that month! The idea is to help boost the economy around Christmas. This has been going on for decades and most people don’t even question that other countries might not do it!
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. Brazil’s population is a mix of many different cultures and people that originally came from different countries, so you may have Italian Panettone in São Paulo, Portuguese salted Cod in Rio de Janeiro and some African style food in the states of Northeast Brazil.
The meal is normally be served around 10pm on Christmas Eve and exactly at Midnight people greet each other, make a toast wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and after that they will exchange presents. The lunch on Christmas day is also special and after that some people go to relatives and friends houses to visit. Epiphany, when people remember the Wise Men visiting Jesus, is widely celebrated in Brazil. In Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th.
Many countries in Eastern Europe celebrate Christmas on January 7th as most Orthodox Churches use the old Julian Calendar, but the Bulgarian Orthodox Church uses the Gregorian calendar Christmas in on the 25th December. For many Bulgarians, the preparations for Christmas start with Advent which lasts 40 days in the Orthodox Church and starts on November 15th. One legend in Bulgaria is that Mary started her labor on ‘Ignazhden’, December 20th (Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s Day) and she gave birth on Christmas Eve but the birth of Jesus wasn’t announced until Christmas Day. The 20th is also the traditional ‘new year’ in Bulgarian culture.
It’s traditional to eat a special ring shaped cake called ‘kolaks’ on this day. Christmas Eve (called ‘Badni Veche’) is a very important day and the main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening of Christmas Eve. The meal should traditionally have an odd number of dishes in it (normally 7, 9 or 11) and an odd number of people sitting around the table. (Salt, pepper and sugar can count as separate dishes!)
Straw is often put under the tablecloth and you might even bring a wooden plough into the house and put it behind the door! These are meant to help you have good crops during the next year. There’s a special round and decorated loaf of bread called ‘pita’ which has a coin baked in it. If you find the good you’re meant to have good luck for the next year!
The bread is normally cut by the oldest person at the meal and hands it around the table. It’s normally a rich vegetarian meal and includes dishes made of different such as beans soup, ‘sarmi’ cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, peppers stuffed with rice, boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, different kinds of pastries (cheese, pumpkin and sweets pastries soaked in syrup), some kolaks, lots of fruits and nuts like dried plums, dried apricots, oranges and tangerines and ‘oshav’ a dried fruit compote. Walnuts are especially popular. If your walnut is delicious you will have a good year, but if it’s empty or has a small nut you’ll have a bad year!
It’s traditional that the table is left with all the food on it until the morning of Christmas Day. Some people think their ancestors might like something to eat during the night! On Christmas Day some families will have another big meal, but this time there will be meat, normally some kind of pork. Following the meal some people will go to a Midnight Mass service.
You might also hear Koledari (carol singers) which are normally young men who go carol singing dressed it traditional clothing. The singing can only start after midnight. The singers often go round singing all night, so the sun never catches them! When they reach a house they sing ‘the house song’ praising and wishing the house well.
Christmas Trees is now popular in Bulgaria and towns are decorated with Christmas lights. Some people will still have a traditional Yule Log (normally from an oak, elm or pear tree) known as a ‘badnik’ or ‘budnik’ which is brought into the house on Christmas Eve. Santa is known as ‘Dyado Koleda’ (Дядо Коледа) which means Grandfather Christmas. In Bulgarian, Merry Christmas is ‘Vesela Koleda’.
Canada is a very large country and people of many different cultural backgrounds live there. Because of that, there are lots of different Christmas traditions in Canada. Many of the traditions and celebrations come from French, English, Irish, Scottish, German and native/first nation influences. The Eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia is known all over the world for its fir and pine Christmas Trees, so most families in Canada have a fir or pine Christmas Tree.
One Canadian tradition is to send the biggest, best fir-tree (grown in Nova Scotia) to Boston, USA because of the assistance given during the disaster, known worldwide, as the Halifax Explosion. This tradition has carried on for many years. Bostonians always love and appreciate the Nova Scotian Christmas tree. They place this tree in the city and then light it during a ceremony to begin the Christmas season.
Mummering is a tradition which mainly takes place in the province of Newfoundland, more commonly in small towns and villages rather than large towns and cities. It’s also sometimes called ‘Jannying’. People dress up in costumes and knock on someone’s door and say in a disguised voice, “Are there any Mummers in the night?” or “Any mummers ‘loud in?'”, meaning ‘are mummers allowed in the house?’ Then they sing and dance and have Christmas cake and a cup of something nice before moving on to the next house.
In some places, if the host does not guess who the Mummers are, the host must join the Mummers in merrymaking. Going Mummering is a fun Christmas season activity for adults. Mummers usually come out between December 26th and January 6th (The 12 Days of Christmas). However, some Mummers come out only before Christmas Day.
In some places, Mummering is now banned because people used it as an excuse for begging. On the south shore of Nova Scotia, over Christmas, there’s the tradition of Belsnickeling where people dress up in funny Santa costumes and go from house to house until the home owners guess who you were. It was especially popular in West and East Green Harbour. The Belsnicklers often brought musical instruments and sang. They were served Christmas cake or cookies.
This tradition was brought to Nova Scotia by the 1751 Germans immigrants who settled Lunenburg and South shore. People in Canada send Christmas Cards to their friends and family. In northern Canada, some people plan a Taffy Pull. This is held in honour of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of single women.
This party provided an opportunity for single women to meet eligible single men! Many Canadians open their gifts on Christmas Eve. Some Canadians only open their stocking on Christmas Eve. Others choose one gift to open, then save the rest until Christmas Day.
Canadian children also believe in Santa Claus. Canadians are especially proud to say that their country is the home of Santa Claus. The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Santa parades in the world! It started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto.
Children along the route followed Santa and marched along with him. It’s been taking place for over 100 years and now is a huge event with over 25 animated floats and 2000 people taking part! It’s broadcast on TV around the world. “Sinck Tuck” is a festival started by the Inuit that is celebrated in some provinces of Canada.
This celebration consists of dancing and gift exchanging. Labrador City in Newfoundland holds a Christmas Light-up Contest each year. People dress the outside of their houses up with lights and often have big ice sculptures in their front gardens! They have no trouble finding enough snow or ice, because Labrador City has about 12-14 Feet of snow every year!
Many Canadian families have cookie-baking parties. They bring a recipe for Christmas cookies, bake them and then exchange them with the members of their family. At the end of the party, each family goes home with a variety of different cookies to enjoy over the Christmas season. Many families of French descent have a huge feast/party on Christmas Eve called a ‘Réveillon’ that lasts well into the early hours of Christmas morning after taking part in Christmas Eve Mass.
When people are at Midnight Mass, they hope that ‘Père Noel’ (Santa) will visit their house and leave gifts for children under the tree. The traditional Christmas meal for people in Quebec, is a stew called ‘ragoût aux pattes de cochons’ which is made from pig feet! However, many people now have a ‘Tortière’, a meat pie made from venison (or pork or beef). At the end of the Christmas season, January 6th, people in the province of Quebec have a celebration called “La Fete du Roi”.
They bake a cake and place a bean in the middle. Whoever is the lucky discoverer of the bean, gets to be the king or queen, according to tradition. This is very similar to a tradition in Spain. In Southwestern Nova Scotia, many families eat lobster, a shellfish caught off the shores of Nova Scotia in the North Atlantic Ocean, on Christmas Eve.
At Christmas, Canadians eat sweets called Barley Candy and Chicken Bones! They are really sweets made by local candy companies. Barley Candy is usually on a stick and is shaped like Santa, reindeer, snowmen, a tree and other symbols of Christmas. Chicken Bones are pink candy that tastes like cinnamon.
You melt them in your mouth and once melted, they reveal a creamy milk chocolate center.
Christmas is Chile is very warm as it’s in the middle of summer! However, it shares many of the same Christmas customs as the USA. People like to decorate their houses with Christmas Trees and lights. Having Christmas lights is a fairly recent development with more people being able to afford them.
Sometimes neighbors compete to see who can have the best and most lights! Nativity Scenes are also an important decoration. They have little clay figures (called ‘pesebre’) in them. Many Catholics in Chile celebrate Advent and also go to special church services for nine days before Christmas, known as a Novena.
Christmas Eve is the most important day over Christmas. Families and friends gather together for a big meal in the evening, eaten about 9pm or 10pm. Many people like to have ‘asado’ (barbecue) and chicken, turkey and pork. The Chilean Christmas Cake is ‘Pan de Pascua’ which is quite like Panettone. A popular Christmas drink is ‘Cola de Mono’ (or monkey’s tail) which is made from coffee, milk, liquor, cinnamon and sugar.
After the meal, some people like to go to a church service after the meal. At midnight everyone opens their presents! Children sometimes go round each others houses with their new toys – even in the middle of the night! In Chile, Santa is called ‘Viejito Pascuero’ (Old Man Christmas) or sometimes ‘Papa Noel’ (Father Christmas).
Christmas Day is a more relaxed day which is spent with family and friends. If you live near the coast, many people will go to the beach. In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so most people only know a few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in major cities.
In these big cities there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus is called ‘Shen Dan Lao Ren’ and has grottos in shops like in Europe and America. n Chinese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sheng Dan Kuai Le or 圣诞快乐’ in Mandarin and ‘Seng Dan Fai Lok or 聖誕快樂’ in Cantonese. In China, Santa is known as ‘Sheng dan lao ren’ (Traditional: 聖誕老人, Simplified: 圣诞老人; means Old Christmas Man).
Only a few people have a Christmas Tree (or celebrate Christmas at all!). If people do have a tree it is normally a plastic one and might be decorated with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns (they might also call it a tree of light). The Christmas Trees that most people would see would be in shopping malls! Christmas isn’t that widely celebrated in the rural areas of China, but it’s becoming more well known.
The strange thing is that most of the world’s plastic Christmas Trees and Christmas decorations are made in China, but the people making them might not know what they are for!!! A tradition that’s becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called “Ping’an Ye” (平安夜), meaning peaceful or quiet evening, which has been translated from the carol ‘Silent Night’.
The word for apple in Mandarin is “píngguǒ” (苹果) which sounds like the word for peace. Some people go Carol singing, although not many people understand them or know about the Christmas Story. Jingle Bells is a popular Carol in China! People who are Christians in China go to special services.
Going to Midnight Mass services has become very popular. Christmas in Costa Rica comes at the end of the school year and the start of the holidays – so people really look forward to getting to the beach! People like to decorate their houses with beautiful tropical flowers. A model of the nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display.
It’s also decorated with flowers and sometimes fruit. Some of the scenes take a long time to make and all the family is involved. As well as the traditional figures, people add other models including houses and lots of different sorts of animals. Christmas wreaths are made of cypress branches and are decorated with red coffee berries and ribbons.
Most homes, shops and important buildings are decorated with Christmas lights. In Costa Rica, the gift bringer is often ‘Niño dios’ (Child God, meaning Jesus) or ‘Colacho’ (another name for St. Nicholas). Apples are popular in the run up to Christmas with apple stands appearing at the sides of the road. On Christmas Eve, everyone puts on their best clothes and goes to Midnight Mass.
In Costa Rica, it’s called the ‘Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster); it’s also called that in Spain. After Midnight Mass the main Christmas meal is eaten. It normal includes chicken and pork tamales that have been wrapped for cooking in plantain leaves. To drink, there’s lots of eggnog and rum punch!
During December and into January, there are lots of fiestas, parades, rodeos, street parties, bull runs and choral and dance festivals. On 26th December (Boxing Day) there is an important horseback parade called the Tope. The next on the next day (27th), many towns and cities have ‘Carnaval’ with a big parade featuring dancing and big floats. In Croatia, preparations for Christmas start on 25th November which is Saint Catherine’s day.
People also celebrate Advent. Over 85% of people in Croatia are Catholics so Advent is an important time for them.
It’s traditional to have an Advent wreath made of straw or evergreen twigs which has four candles. The wreath symbolizes endlessness and the four candles symbolize different parts of history and life:
- First Candle (purple): creation – hope;
- Second Candle (purple): embodiment – peace;
- Third Candle (pink): redemption – joy;
- Fourth Candle (purple): ending – love;
A fifth candle is sometimes added in the center which is lit on Christmas Day! You can buy wreaths, but many people like to make them. People also often have a paper Advent Calendar. As well as Saint Catherine’s day, other saints days are celebrated in Advent in Croatia.
On the 4th December it’s St Barbara’s Day; on the 6th December it’s St Nicholas’s Day and on 13th December it’s St Lucia’s/Lucy’s day. On St Nicholas’s Eve (5th), children clean their shoes/boots and leave them in the window. They hope that St Nicholas will leave them chocolates and small presents in their boot. If children have been naughty, Krampus (a big monster with horns who sometimes travels with St Nicholas!) leaves them golden twigs to remind them to behave.
On St Lucia’s Day people often sow wheat onto small plates. The grassy sprouts that grow (called Christmas wheat) are put underneath the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve. Christmas Trees are very popular and are normally decorated on Christmas Eve but some people put them up and decorate them on St Nicholas’s Day. In Croatia they’re traditionally decorated with ornaments in the shapes of fruits.
They used to be real fruits or persevered candied fruits that were sometimes covered in gold! There’s an old Croatian tradition that young men gave their girlfriends a decorated apple at Christmas. In rural parts of the country, it is still customary to bring straw into the house on Christmas Eve as a symbol of future good crops. Yule logs that are called a ‘badnjak’ (also the word for Christmas Eve) was traditionally brought into the house and lit on Christmas Eve.
But not many people have fireplaces these days! Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Many people like to go to a Midnight Mass service. In Croatian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sretan Božić’.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are mostly celebrated with close family. On Boxing day friends and extended family visit each other. On Christmas Eve, most people eat dried-cod called ‘bakalar’ or some other kind of fish as it’s considered as meat fast (so you can’t eat meat). The main Christmas Day is often turkey, goose or duck.
A popular side dish is sarma (cabbage rolls filled with minced pork meat). There’s also always lots of small cookies and cakes to eat including ‘fritule’ which are Croatian donuts flavored with lemon. The Christmas celebrations finish on Epiphany (6th January). During the evening of the 5th December, children are very excited and watch for St. Nicholas (Svatý Mikuláš) to arrive.
He normally is accompanied by one or more angels and one or more devils. He asks the children if they’ve been good all year and also asks them to sing a song or recite a poem, and gives them a basket of presents, often containing chocolate and fruit. If you’ve been naughty, the devil might give you a lump of coal.
Like in the The Netherlands and some other European countries, Saint Nicholas’ Day is a very separate holiday than Christmas. In the Czech language Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Vesele Vanoce’. The main Christmas celebrations are on Christmas Eve. Some people fast during Christmas Eve in the hope that they will see a vision of ‘the golden pig’ appear on the wall before dinner!
This is meant to be a sign of good luck! The Czech traditional Christmas dinner is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve. The meal often consists of fish soup (made of carp), and fried carp with potato salad. Ježíšek ‘Little Jesus’ (the Czech version of Christkindl) brings presents during the Christmas Eve dinner and leaves them under the Christmas Tree.
Czech children have their dinner in a different from where the tree is located. When they hear the bell ring (usually after the children have finished eating their main meal but when they are still at the table), that means that Ježíšek had been and has left their presents under the tree. The presents are normally opened right after dinner. Religious families also usually sing Christmas carols by the tree, and go to church either at midnight or on Christmas Day.
There’s a superstition in the Czech Republic that says if you throw a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas day, if the toe points towards the door, you will be married soon! Christmas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is more of a religious festival than being commercial. Most people won’t have any presents. Christmas Eve is very important with Churches having big musical evenings (many churches have at least 5 or 6 choirs) and a nativity play. These plays last a very long time.
They start at the beginning of the evening with the creation and the Garden of Eden and end with the story of King Herod putting the baby boys to death. People taking part in the play really like to show off their ‘best’ acting skills and tend to go over the top and ‘ham it up’! King Herod and the soldiers are often figures of fun (like pantomime ‘baddies’) and Mary is often well advanced in labour before she arrives! The birth of Jesus is timed to happen as close to midnight as possible and after that come the shepherds, the wise men and the slaughter of the innocents.
This means the play normally finishes about 1am. However, in some places there will be further singing until dawn! The Christmas day service then starts at 9am with lots more singing. On Christmas day, most families try to have a better meal than usual.
If they can afford it, they will have some meat (normally chicken or pork). The rest of the day is spent quite quietly, maybe sleeping after a busy and late night on Christmas Eve! People go back to work on the 26th (Boxing Day). In the Lingala language, which is spoken in the DRC and some other African countries, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Mbotama Malamu’.
Some people in Denmark give and receive extra Advent presents on the four Sundays of Advent. Different types of Advent candles and calendars are popular in Denmark. A Kalenderlys (calendar-candle) is an Advent candle and most people have one of these types of candles. A Pakkekalender (gift calendar) are also a fun way to countdown to Christmas Eve.
There are 24 small gifts for the children in the calendar, one for each day until Christmas Eve. Julekalender (christmas calendar) is a television series with 24 episodes. One episode is shown each day in December with the last one being aired on Christmas Eve. The first Julekalender was shown on TV in Denmark in 1962.
The two main Danish TV channels DR and TV2 both show different versions of Julekalender each year. The theme of the stories in the Julekalender normally follow a similar storyline, with someone trying to ruin Christmas and the main characters saving Christmas! As well as the TV series, both DR and TV2 produce paper advent calendars to go along with the stories! DR is the oldest TV channel in Denmark and it’s paper calendar is called Børnenes U-landskalender (Children’s U-Country Calendar).
It’s been making the calendars for over 50 years and profits from the sale of the calendar go to help poor children in a developing country. The calendar made by TV2 is called julekalender and profits from that calendar go to help Julemærkefonden, a children’s charity in Denmark. You can also support Julemærkefonden when you send Christmas Cards in Denmark. Every year a set of Christmas stamps/stickers/seals called julemærket are sold in December to help raise money for the charity.
You use a normal postage stamp as well, the julemærket stickers just make the post look more Christmassy! Christmas Parties are held from 1st November to 24th December where everyone has a good time! Making cakes and biscuits is popular in the time before Christmas.
Gingerbread cookies and vanilla ones are often favorites. In Denmark, most people go to a Church Service on Christmas Eve about 4:00pm to hear the Christmas Story. It’s also traditional to give animals a treat on Christmas Eve, so some people go for a walk in the park or woods and take some food to give the animals and birds. When they get home the main Christmas meal is eaten between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.
It’s served on a beautifully decorated table. Popular Christmas foods include roast duck, goose or pork. They are served with boiled and sweet potatoes, red cabbage, beetroot and cranberry jam/sauce. Most families have a ‘ris á la mande’ (a special kind of rice pudding, made of milk, rice, vanilla, almonds and whipped cream) for dessert.
The Christmas tree normally has a gold or silver star on the top and often has silver ‘fairy hair’ on it to make it glitter. On Christmas day people meet with their family and have a big lunch together with danish open-faced sandwiches on rye-bread. In Denmark, children believe that their presents are brought by the ‘Julemanden’ (which means ‘Christmas Man’). He looks very similar to Santa Claus and also travels with a sleigh and reindeer.
He lives in Greenland, likes rice pudding and is helped by ‘nisser’ which are like elves. Saint Lucia’s Day (or Saint Lucy’s Day) is also celebrated on December 13th, although it’s more famous for being celebrated in Denmark’s neighbor, Sweden. In Danish, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Glædelig Jul’. In Egypt, about 15% of people are Christians.
They are the only part of the population who really celebrate Christmas as a religous festival. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas. Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia). The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk.
People sing special praise songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service. For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. The don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’.
But if people are too weak or ill to fast properly they can be excused. On Coptic Christmas Eve (6th January), Coptic Christians go to church for a special liturgy or Service. The services normally start about 10:30pm but some chapels will be open for people to pray from 10.00pm. Many people meet up with their friends and families in the churches from 9:00pm onwards.
The services are normally finished shortly after midnight, but some go onto 4:00am! When the Christmas service ends people go home to eat the big Christmas meal. All the foods contain meat, eggs and butter – all the yummy things they didn’t during the Advent fast! One popular course if ‘Fata’ a lamb soup which contains bread, rice, garlic and boiled lamb meat.
On the Orthodox Christmas Day (7th) people come together in homes for parties and festivities. People often take ‘kahk’ (special sweet biscuits) with them to give as gifts. Even though not many in Egypt are Christians, a lot of people in the country like to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. Christmas is becoming very commercial and most major supermarkets sell Christmas trees, Christmas food and decorations.
Hotels, parks and streets are decorated for Christmas. In Egypt, Santa is called Baba Noël (meaning Father Christmas). Children hope that he will climb through a window and will leave some presents! They might leave some kahk out for Baba Noël.
Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) still use the old Julian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, not December 25th! The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna. Most people go to Church on Christmas day. Many people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve (January 6th).
At dawn on the morning of Ganna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a shamma. It’s a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It’s worn like a toga.
If you live in a big town or city you might wear ‘western’ clothes. The early Ganna mass starts at 4:00am! The Ethiopian capital city is Addis Ababa. It’s a modern city.
Most people who live outside big cities live in round house made of mud-plastered walls which have thatched cone-shaped roofs. Sometimes houses in the country are rectangular and made of stone. The design of Ethiopian Church is similar to the houses. In the country, they are often very old and have been carved out of rock.
In cities, modern churches are built in three circles, each within the others. The choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone who goes to church for the Ganna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles.
They then go to the second circle to stand during the service. The men and boys are separated from the women and girls. The center circle is the most important and holy place in the church and is where the priest serves the Holy Communion or mass. It’s also a tradition that one of the Wise Men who visited Jesus came from Ethiopia.
Around the time of Ganna, the men and boys play a game that is also called ganna. It’s played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball, a bit like hockey. Traditional Christmas foods in Ethiopia include ‘wat’ which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs (sounds yummy!). Wat is eaten on a ‘plate of injera’ – a flat bread.
Pieces of the injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat. Twelve days after Ganna, on 19th January, Ethiopians start the three day celebration of Timkat. It celebrated the baptism of Jesus. Children walk to church services in a procession.
They wear the crowns and robes of the church youth groups that they belong to. Adults wear the shamma. The priests wear red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas. Musical instruments are played during the Timkat procession.
The sistrum is a percussion instrument with tinkling metal disks a bit like a vertical tambourine. A makamiya, a long T-shaped prayer stick is used to keep the rhythm and is also used by the priests and a stick to lean on during the long Timkat church service! Ethiopian men also play a sport called yeferas guks. It’s played on horseback and the men throw ceremonial lances at each other.
People don’t give and receive present during Ganna and Timkat. Sometimes children might be given a small gift of some clothes from their family members. It’s more a time for going to church, eating lots and playing games! In Ethiopia, in the Amharic language, Father Christmas or Santa Claus is called ‘Yágena Abãt’ which means ‘Christmas Father’.
The Falkland Islands are in the South Atlantic Ocean about 300 miles off the east coast at the bottom of South America. They are a British Overseas Territory even though they’re about 8,000 miles away from the rest of the UK! The Islands cover an areas of about 12,200 sq km (4,700 sq miles) but only have a population of around 3,000 people. But there are about 150,000 sheep!
About two thirds of the population live in Stanley, the capitals of the Islands. The rest are mainly farmers and live out on the Islands in what’s called ‘the camp’. Because they’re in the southern hemisphere, it’s summertime at Christmas with long sunny days. The Islands share many Christmas traditions with the UK.
There are very few trees on the islands (it’s very windy!) but people still have Christmas Trees, although they’re normally artificial ones. Lamb is the main Christmas dish as there’s lots of sheep on the Islands! It’s very expensive to fly in turkey from South America or the UK! A pantomime is put on every year by the local dramatic society.
Traditionally the Governor of the Islands (the Queen’s official representative on the Islands) goes on the last night and is gently made fun of! Children living in the camp get a small parcel of presents flown to them from Stanley. Santa’s helper elves have to fly to the remote farms around the camp to deliver the presents! On Christmas Eve people gather to sing Christmas carols under the ‘whale bone arch’ (made the from the jaw bones of two blue whales) which is next to the Christ Church Cathedral in Stanley.
There’s also a Christmas morning service. The Cathedral is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world. There’s a British Military base on the Falkland Islands which is home to about 2000 military and civilian personnel. The chaplain at the base takes services at the base and around the Islands at Christmas time.
The Boxing Day horse races are very important and are held just outside Stanley on the race course. It’s a very popular event for people who live on the Islands, especially in Stanley. The meeting has been held more than 100 times. It used to be a time when many people would only see each other during the whole year!
Horses used to be the main way of getting around the Islands. Although there are more roads and cars now, taking part in the races is still very competitive. Some people have been riding in the races for decades! The most important race is ‘The Governor’s Cup’.
Everyone tries to be at home for Christmas, including fishermen who try to get their boats into the harbour by December 21st, Saint Thomas’ Day. Animals are given their own Christmas in Finland, with farmers sometimes hanging a sheaf of wheat on a tree to be eaten and pecked at by the birds. Nuts and pieces of suet are also hung on trees in bags from the branches.Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. On Christmas Eve, or the day before, Christmas trees are bought from the local market or square.
The seller expects you to bargain with them on the price. Christmas Eve is very special and the most important day over Christmas.It’s traditional to eat rice porridge and plum fruit juice for breakfast. Then the tree is bought (if it hasn’t been already) and is decorated.
At midday, the ‘peace of Christmas’ is broadcast on radio and TV by the City Mayor of Turku (which is south Finland). Because it gets dark very in most parts of Finland around Christmas (about 3:00pm) it’s now traditional to go cemeteries and visit the graves of family members.Some cemeteries are enormous and police are on duty to manage the traffic, but everyone must walk the last few yards to the grave. Candles in hanging lanterns are left around the grave, often lots of many family members go.
The whole cemetery is alight with glowing lanterns shining in the snow – a winter wonderland. Other people like a sauna on Christmas Eve.The main Christmas meal is eaten in the early evening. Lutefish (salt fish) is the traditional starter, but is not so common nowadays.
The main meal is a leg of pork served with mashed potato traditionally baked slowly in birch-bark boxes in the oven with similarly cooked mashed swede. Casseroles containing different vegetables including, rutabaga, carrot and potato are also common.Cured salmon is very popular and some people also have turkey. Desert is baked rice pudding/porridge eaten with spiced plum jam.
One almond is hidden in the pudding. Whoever find the almond will be lucky for the next year.After the meal, Joulupukki (Santa) might visit the house! When he comes in with his sack he asks if any children are living there.
They reply very loudly! Next he then asks if they have been good all through the year.When they are given their presents the whole family gathers to watch the fun of opening. After opening some presents, it’s time to go to bed.
Christmas Day is much quieter with families usually spending it quietly at home. On Boxing Day, people like to go out.Skiing is popular along the flat terrain or skating if the lake or river has frozen. 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, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.In French Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Joyeux Noël’.
In Breton (spoken by some people in Brittany, Northern France) it’s ‘Nedeleg Laouen’ and in Corsican it’s ‘Bon Natale’. 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 that 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, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black.He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands.
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 cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.Another celebration, in some parts of France, is that 13 different desserts are eaten!
All the desserts are made from different types of Fruit, Nuts and Pastries. Epiphany, called Fête des Rois in French, is also celebrated in France on January 6th. A flat Almond cake is eaten called ‘Galette des Rois’.The cake has a toy crown inside and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
In Georgia, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January. This is because the Georgian Orthodox Church (like the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ethiopia and other countries) use the old ‘Julian’ calendar for their festivals. On Christmas Day, many people will go on a ‘Alilo’, a parade in the streets.They are dressed in special cloths and costumes to celebrate Christmas.
Some people carry Georgian flags and others might be dressed as people from the Christmas story. Children like taking part in the Alilo as they’re often given sweets! Carols are sung and they vary across the country.
Many of the songs and carols sung during the Alilo include these words: “ოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა, ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემსაო’” (otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao) which means “on 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem”. In Georgian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘გილოცავ შობა-ახალ წელს’ (gilocav shoba-akhal c’els). The traditional Georgian Christmas Tree is called a ‘Chichilaki’ (ჩიჩილაკი).
It’s made of dried wood, such as hazelnut or walnut branches, which are shaved into long curly strips to form a small tree.Some people say they look like the long white curly beard of St Basil the Great! They are decorated with small fruits and sweets.
They are traditionally burnt on the day before the Georgian Orthodox Epiphany (19th January). This is meant to mark the end of the year’s troubles.’Western’ Christmas Tree (nadzvis khe) are also popular. People get their presents on New Year’s Eve (December 31st).
Presents are traditionally brought to children by “Tovlis Papa” (or tovlis babua in western Georgian dialects) which means “Grandfather snow”. He normally wears all white clothing including a hat a cape/cloak called a “nabadi”.The cloak is heavy and very warm as it’s made of white sheep’s wool.
Shepherds wear them in darker colors, but Tovlis Papa has to wear a white one! On New Year’s eve he comes down from the mountains of the Caucasus and walks around Georgia to deliver treats and sweets to all the children in Georgia. Children leave out “Churchkhela” a delicious treat made of walnuts and grape juice, which is shaped like a sausage, for Tovlis Papa.Santa is also often called “Tovlis Papa”, but the real “Tovlis Papa” does not mind, he’s chill like the mountains he lives in! A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent.
Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it.Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called a ‘Advent Kranz’ and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it.
This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning of each week in Advent. 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 (Slient 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’. Christmas Day being called “Erste Feiertag” (‘first celebration’) and the 26th December is known as “Zweite Feiertag” (‘second celebration’) and also “Zweiter Weihnachtsfeiertag” which translates as Boxing Day (although it doesn’t literally mean that)!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.
The glass ornaments were originally hand blown glass and were imported in the USA in 1880s by the Woolworth stores. The legend of the glass ‘Christmas Pickle’ is famous in the USA, but it’s that, a legend.Most people in Germany have never heard of the Christmas Pickle!
In some parts of Germany, mainly the south east of the country, children write to the ‘das Christkind/Christkindl’ asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
‘das Christkind’ translates as ‘The Christ Child’ in English but Germans don’t think of the Christkind as the baby Jesus!The Christkind is often described as a young girl with ‘Christ like’ qualities. In Nürnberg a young girl is chosen every year to participate in a parade as the Christkind.
She wears a long white and gold dress, has long blond curly hair and wears a gold crown and sometimes wings like an angel. This is similar to St Lucia in Sweden.(And it can seem a bit confusing calling the ‘Christ Child’, Jesus, a girl!) The Nürnberg Christkind officially opens the Christmas market on the Friday before Advent starts.
And before Christmas she has over 150 ‘official duties’ including visiting hospitals, old people’s homes and children’s nurseries! She also has to give TV interviews and visit other cities.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. Some people say that Santa/Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents and some say it is Christkind! As well as hoping for presents from Christkind or der Weihnachtsmann, children also hope that ‘der Nikolaus’ will bring you some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate on the 6th December (St Nicholas’s Day).
He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” or “Krampus” who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries a birch.
He will punish the children who were bad and will give them a birch as a present. He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called “Schwarzer Peter” (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland.
In north west Germany Santa is joined by Belsnickel a man dressed all in fur. Although ‘der Nikolaus’ visits in December, he’s not officially part of Christmas!At small work places and school parties, secret presents are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small presents to be thrown into the room.
The presents are then passed around among the people until each person has the correct present! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). They are four children, three who dress up like the Wise men and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem.
When they’re finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, so 2016 is 20*C*M*B*16. It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away – it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany).
The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th. Carp or Goose are often served for the main Christmas meal. Stollen is a popular fruited yeast bread that is eaten at Christmas. Over the in Germany and Austria, the famous Ski Jumping ‘Four Hills Tournament’ (‘Vierschanzentournee’) is held.
It starts in Germany with Oberstdorf (Germany) on the 29th or 30th December and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) on New Years Day and continues in Austria with Innsbruck (Austria) on 3rd or 4th of January and Bischofshofen (Austria) on the 6th January. People in Ghana celebrate Christmas from the 20th of December to the first week in January with lots of different activities. Many people travel to visit their relatives and friends in other parts of the country. Over 66 languages are spoken in Ghana and all these language groups have their own traditions and customs!
December is also the start of the cocoa harvest (the bean that make chocolate) in Ghana. Ghana is the worlds second biggest cocoa producer. Christmas Eve night is the time when the celebrations really start with Church services that have drumming and dancing. Children often put on a Nativity Play or other drama.
Then choirs come out to sing and people come out in front of the priests to dance. Songs are mostly sang in the languages that the people understand best. This makes them feels that God speaks their language. Sometimes these services and dancing go on all night long! Other people celebrate Christmas Eve with fireworks and parties.
On Christmas day the Churches are very full. People come out dressed in their colorful traditional clothes. After the Church service on Christmas morning, people quickly go back to their houses to start giving and receiving gifts. Traditional food includes stew or okra soup, porridge and meats rice and a yam paste called ‘fufu’.
During the Christmas period children’s parties, employees’ end of year parties, etc. are mostly celebrated in the hotels, at the beaches, school parks and community centers with good wishes for all people on earth. Some Ghanaians also go to Church on the 31st December to thank God for sending Jesus and to pray for a good and safe New Year. People may also use that time to remember those who died during the previous year and pray that the difficulties that they may have encountered over the year don’t carry on into the New Year. On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ (carols) in the streets.
They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes the will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets and dried figs.
Christmas Trees are popular in Greece. But an older and more traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh.
Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This is believed to keep the ‘kallikantzaroi’ Καλλικάντζαρος (bad spirits) away. The kallikantzaroi are meant to appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). They are supposed to come from the middle of the earth and get into people’s house through the chimney!
The kallikantzaroi do things like putting out fires and making milk go off. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is also meant to keep the kallikantzaroi away. Every December, in Aristotelous Square in the city of Thessaloniki (which is the second biggest city Greece) a huge Christmas Tree and three masted sailing ship are put up. It’s a popular tourist attraction.
Going to a Midnight Mass Service is very important for most Greeks. After the service people can go home and end their Advent fast. The main Christmas meal is often Lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit. It’s often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables.
Other Christmas and new year foods include ‘Baklava’ (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry). The pastries are either eaten for breakfast or as starters. Another popular Christmas dessert are melomakarono, egg or oblong shaped biscuit/cakes made from flour, olive oil, and honey and rolled in chopped walnuts. A traditional table decoration are loaves of ‘Christopsomo’ (Christ’s Bread or Christmas bread).
It’s a round sweet bread which is flavored with cinnamon, orange and cloves. The top is decorated with a cross. The bread is made on Christmas Eve ready to be eaten on Christmas Day. In Greek, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Kala Christougenna’.
In Greece, presents are often brought to children by Aghios Vassilis / Άγιος Βασίλης (Saint Basil) on the 1st January. 1st January, New Years Day, is St Vasilis’s Day who is also known as St Basil the Great. People in Greece also celebrate Epiphany on the 6th January. In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany celebrates Jesus’s baptism when he was a man.
It’s also known as ‘The Blessing of the Waters’. There are many events throughout the country where young men dive into really cold lakes, rivers and the sea to try to be first to get a cross which has been blessed by a priest and thrown into the water. Whoever gets the cross first is meant to have good luck during the coming year. Epiphany festivals also include blessings of boats and ships, music, dancing and lots of food.
In the villages of Polar Inuits, families like to visit each other and have parties. They drink coffee and eat cakes and exchange brightly wrapped parcels. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pairs of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house, singing songs.
On Christmas Eve, Church Services are held and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions. Christmas Trees have to be imported, because no trees grow as far north as Greenland. The trees are often imported from Denmark – Iceland has had a long historical connection with Denmark.
The trees are decorated with candles, bright ornaments and sometimes small versions of sealskin breeches known as kamiks. Trees are traditionally decorated on the evening of 23rd December. People who don’t use an imported tree, might have a traditional driftwood tree decorated with heather. Another traditional and popular decoration is to put an illuminated star in windows.
There are stars in most homes and in all public buildings. Because Greenland is so far north, and within the Arctic Circle, during the winter the sun never rises! (You might get a brief glimpse over the southern mountains, but that’s it!) So the stars help to bring some light.
Villages also put a large Christmas Tree on a nearby hill, so everyone can see it. These trees are put up and decorated ready for the start of Advent. Saint Lucia’s Day (December 13th) is also celebrated in Greenland. There are some rather unusual foods eaten at Christmas time in Greenland.
‘Mattak’ is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside. It is supposed to taste like fresh coconut, but is often too tough to chew and is usually swallowed. Another Christmas food is ‘kiviak’. This is the raw flesh of little auks (a type of arctic bird) which have been buried whole in sealskin for several months until they have reached an advanced stage of decomposition!
Although it sounds strange, it is a delicacy in Greenland. Other popular foods in Greenland include ‘suaasat’ which is a soup/stew, barbecued caribou, fish either as raw sushi or cooked and a popular desert is berries and apples with a crisp Topping. Lots of Danish pastries are also eaten! It is traditional on Christmas night that the men look after the women, serving their food and coffee and stirring the meal for them.
Games follow the Christmas meal, including one in which an object is passed from hand to hand round a long table under the cloth. It is supposed to be repulsive: round, clammy and rough in texture; such as a frozen egg, wrapped in strips of wet fox fur! In Greenland, there are two main languages spoken, Inuit/Greenlandic and Danish. In Greenlandic, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Juullimi Pilluarit’; in Danish it is ‘Glædelig Jul’.
Greenland also claims to be the place where Santa Claus lives or at least goes for his summer holidays! He is said to have a home in the north of the country in Spraglebugten, near the town of Uummannaq! New Year’s Eve is celebrated twice in Greenland! At 8:00pm, they celebrate that the new year has reached Denmark and at midnight it’s the new year in Greenland!
At both celebrations, people like to let off lots of fireworks and rockets! Guatemala is a very diverse country with more than 20 ethnic groups. Each of them has their own special traditions for celebrating Christmas. Most Guatemalans, like other Latin-American counties, plan and build, with the entire family, a Nativity Scene called a “Nacimiento” or “Belen”.
Although it is originally a Spanish tradition, many indigenous (Guatemalan) elements are now used in the design and construction of the Nativity scenes. The “Nacimiento” is normally put under the Christmas Tree. One unique characteristic of Guatemalan Nativity scenes is the use of sawdust dyed in many bright colors. On Christmas Eve families celebrate together and eat the main Christmas meal.
It is made of several traditional dishes, but it always includes some Guatemalan tamales. In some regions they are made of corn and other of rice or potatoes. They can be sweet or not, and have several different ingredients inside like olives, prunes, peppers, chicken or pork. Everyone waits until midnight to light hundreds of fireworks or firecrackers to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
A family prayer is said around the tree and it is the custom to open the presents shortly after midnight. In Haiti, at the beginning of December, people start looking for Christmas Trees. They might cut pine branches or go to the market and get trees brought from the mountains.
The trees are decorated with bright ornaments. At the bottom of the tree is a large nativity scene. Sometimes the trees and scenes take up a lot of the living room! Churches and other organisations also have trees on display.
Artificial trees are also more common as they last longer! People also fix and redecorate their homes ready for Christmas. French is the main language spoken in Haiti, so Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Joyeux Noël’. Some people speak Creole where it’s ‘Jwaye Nowe’.
On Christmas Eve, children place their newly cleaned shoes, filled with straw under the tree on the porch. They hope that Santa(called ‘Tonton Nwèl’) will remove the straw and put presents in and around the shoes! Often, lots of houses in neighborhoods are open with all lights on until about 3:00am! Children are normally allowed to go out and often the parents don’t know were they are in the early morning – the older children are expected to look after the younger ones!
And children of all ages are also allowed to drink ‘Anisette’, which is a slightly alcoholic drink that’s made by soaking ‘anise’ leaves (the spice where star anise comes from) in rum and sweetening it with sugar. Some people go to a Midnight Mass church service, or you might go out carol singing. After the Mass, people come home and eat the main meal called ‘reveillon’ (it’s a French term meaning ‘to wake up’ and is what the main meal is also called in France). The meal normally starts in the early hours of christmas morning and lasts until the dawn!
Christmas Day is much quieter with people sleeping off the celebrations of the night before! However, there will be more eating and playing with the toys from Tonton Nwèl. In 2010, Haiti suffered from a huge earthquake that made many people homeless, so lots of people can’t celebrate Christmas like they used to. Many charities like Compassion work in Haiti to help people.
In Hong Kong, Chinese Christians celebrate Christmas with Church services in Chinese. At the Anglican Cathedral, some services are held in English, because Europeans who live and work in Hong Kong attend them as well as people from Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, people also send Christmas cards, many of which are home made using Chinese craft techniques. Poinsettias flowers and Nativity scenes decorate homes, churches and public places, as well as big red and gold letters from the Chinese alphabet on decorated streamers and paper chains.
In Hong Kong, Father Christmas/Santa Claus, is known as “Sing Daan Lou Yan” (Christmas Old Man) in Cantonese or “Sheng Dan Lo Ren” in Mandarin. Most people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese and would use “Sing Daan Lou Yan”. Every year in Hong Kong there is a ‘Winterfest’. It’s a huge winter party that involves the shops, theme parks and other attractions in Hong Kong.
Winterfest is also famous for its New Year’s countdown and displays of lights and fireworks all over the city. These are really spectacular and light up all the skyscrapers and buildings. In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and is called ‘Szent-este’ which means Holy Evening. People spend the evening with their family and decorate the Christmas Tree.
Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), so when children come in and see the tree, it’s a great surprise and they are told that angels brought the tree for them! The main Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas eve, consists of fish and cabbage and a special kind of poppy bread/cake called ‘Beigli’. Gingerbread is also a traditionally eaten at Christmas in Hungary. The gingerbread is often wrapped in very bright colours and decorated with Christmas figures.
The Midnight Mass service is very popular in Hungary. Most people go to Church after their Christmas meal. On Christmas Eve children also hope that they will be left some presents under the Christmas Tree. They’re told that the presents are brought by Jesus, he’s often called “Jézuska”, a nickname or cuter version for “Jézus”.
Children wait outside the room where the tree is and when they hear bells ringing, they can enter and the presents await them under the Christmas tree. On Christmas Day people visit their families. St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on the 6th December. In Hungary he is known as ‘Mikulás’.
Children leave out shoes or boots on a windowsill to be filled with goodies! Presents might also be brought by Télapó (Old Man Winter). Christmas is often known as ‘Yule’ or ‘Jól’ in Iceland. This comes from the ancient winter solstice celebrations, that were taken over by the early Christians.
Yule also include the New Year celebrations. There are lots of customs and traditions about Yule in Iceland. The Yule season consists of the following days:
Þorláksmessa – St. Thorlakur’s Day –
Iceland’s major Saint is ‘heilagur Þorlákur Þórhallsson’, or ‘St. Thorlakur Thorhallsson’, the Bishop of Skálholt. December 23rd, is the day on which he died. On St. Thorlakur’s Day, the main custom is eating of a simple meal of skata or skate. The Yule (or Christmas) tree is usually decorated on this day. This is also a big shopping day for last minute gifts, with stores remaining open until midnight.
Aðfangadagur – Christmas Eve / Yule Eve
Celebrations start at Iceland at 6:00pm on Yule Eve. This may have come from old Icelandic tradition, when a new day started at 6.00pm not midnight. Icelandic children open their presents after the evening meal on Aðfangadagur. This is when the Yule celebrations really start! (TV used to stop at about 5.00pm and restarted at 10.00pm! But now TV is on all through the christmas period.)
Jóladagur – Christmas Day / Yule Day
Jóladagur is usually celebrated with the extended family. The main Yule meal is ‘Hangikjöt’, a leg of roast lamb. Sometimes ‘Rjúpa’ (Rock Ptarmigan a sea bird) is also eaten. Another Yule meal speciality is ‘Laufabrauð’ or leaf bread. This is made of thin sheets of dough cut into delicate patterns and fried. Each family often has their own patterns for the Laufabrauð.
Annar Jóladagur – Boxing Day
This is another day for visiting friends and family and eating lots more! Public entertainment is considered inappropriate on Yule Eve and Yule Day, and it is on Boxing Day that dancing is again allowed in public!
Gamlárskvöld / Nýársdagur – New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day
This is one of the most important nights of the year in Iceland and there are several magical traditions that are supposed to happen on it! Cows are meant to be able to talk, seals take on human form, the dead rise from their graves, and the Elves move house. Bonfires have been lit on Gamlárskvöld since the late 1700s. People also have big fireworks displays to bring in the New Year. This is called ‘sprengja út árið’ or ‘blowing out the year’.
Þrettándinn – Epiphany – January 6th
This is the last day of Yule, celebrated with bonfires and Elfin dances. Many of the magical traditions associated with New Year’s Eve are also supposed to happen at Þrettándinn. Happy/Merry Christmas/Yule in Icelandic is ‘Gleðileg jól.
One other big Yule custom is the coming of the ‘Jólasveinarnir’ or Yuletide Lads. These are magical people who come from the mountains in Iceland and each day from December 12th to Yule Eve a different Jólasveinn (Yuletide lad) comes. Jólasveinar first came to Iceland in the 17th century as the sons of Grýla and Leppalúði, a couple of child-eating, bloodthirsty ogres!!! Here are thirteen of the most common names of the Jólasveinar:
Stekkjarstaur – Gimpy
Giljagaur – Gully Imp
Stúfur – Itty Bitty
Þvörusleikir – Pot Scraper Licker
Pottasleikir – Pot Licker
Askasleikir – Bowl Licker
Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer
Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler (Skyr, an Icelandic yoghurt)
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Snatcher
Gluggagægir – Window Peeper
GáttaÞefur – Doorway Sniffer
Ketkrókur – Meat Hooker
Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
The Jólasveinar are thought of as playful imps or elves who like lots to eat and playing little tricks on people. They leave little presents for children in shoes placed on the windowsill. If children have been naughty, they might leave a potato or little message telling them to be good. They start going home on Christmas Day, with the last one leaving on Þrettándinn.
Presents might also be brought by Jólasveinn (Yule Man). It is traditional in Iceland that everybody has a new piece of clothing for Yule and also often a book. Children also traditionally receive a candle and sometimes a pack of cards. There are no native evergreen trees in Iceland, so the first Yule or Christmas Trees were Rowan (mountain ash).
The first recorded Yule tree was in 1862. People then started to make Yule Trees from a central pole with branches attached to it and it was all painted green. Nowadays, there are evergreen trees grown on Iceland and people have evergreen Yule trees. It is traditional to have a star or crown on top of the tree.
The Icelandic Flag is also commonly used as a decoration. The tree is normally decorated on Þorláksmessa or early Christmas Eve. A very large tree stands outside Reykjavík (the capital of Iceland) Cathedral and is a yearly present from the people of Oslo, Norway. Like in Finland, cemeteries are often lit up and decorated with Christmas lights over Christmas.
Compared to other religious festivals, Christmas is quite a small festival in India, due to the number of people who are Christians (about 2.3%) compared to people who belong to other religions. Having said this, the population of India is over 1 Billion, so there are over 25 million Christians in India! One of the largest Indian Christian Communities in a city is in Mumbai. A lot of the Christians in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) are Roman Catholics.
Compared to other religious festivals, Christmas is quite a small festival in India, due to the number of people who are Christians (about 2.3%) compared to people who belong to other religions. Having said this, the population of India is over 1 Billion, so there are over 25 million Christians in India! One of the largest Indian Christian Communities in a city is in Mumbai. A lot of the Christians in Mumbai (previously known as Bombay) are Roman Catholics.
In India’s smallest state, Goa which is on the west of India, about 26% of people are Christians. Many of the Christians in Mumbai came from or have roots in Goa. The states of Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram (all on the very east of India) have high populations of Christians as well. Midnight mass is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics.
The whole family will walk to the mass and this will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, (mostly curries) and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service. Many different languages are spoken in India. In Hindi Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Śubh krisamas’ (शुभ क्रिसमस); Urdu it’s ‘krismasmubarak’ (کرسمس); in Sanskrit it’s ‘Krismasasya shubhkaamnaa’; in Gujarati it’s ‘Anandi Natal’ or ‘Khushi Natal’ (આનંદી નાતાલ); in Bengali ‘shubho bôṛodin’ (শুভ বড়দিন); in Tamil it’s ‘kiṟistumas vāḻttukkaḷ’ (கிறிஸ்துமஸ் வாழ்த்துக்கள்); in Konkani it’s ‘Khushal Borit Natala’; in Kannada it’s ‘kris mas habbadashubhaashayagalu’ (ಕ್ರಿಸ್ ಮಸ್ ಹಬ್ಬದ ಶುಭಾಷಯಗಳು); in Mizo it’s ‘Krismas Chibai’; in Marathi it’s ‘Śubh Nātāḷ’ (शुभ नाताळ); in Punjabi it’s ‘karisama te nawāṃ sāla khušayāṃwālā hewe’ (ਕਰਿਸਮ ਤੇ ਨਵਾੰ ਸਾਲ ਖੁਸ਼ਿਯਾੰਵਾਲਾ ਹੋਵੇ); in Malayalam it’s ‘Christmas intemangalaashamsakal’; in Telugu it’s ‘Christmas Subhakankshalu’ and in Shindi it’s ‘Christmas jun wadhayun’.
Instead of having traditional Christmas Trees, a banana or mango tree is decorated (or whatever tree people can find to decorate!). Sometimes people use mango leaves to decorate their homes. In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show their neighbors that Jesus is the light of the world. Christians in Goa love to celebrate Christmas!
Goa has lots of ‘western’ customs as part of their Christmas as Goa has historical connections with Portugal. Most Christians in Goa are Catholics. People like to go carol singing around their neighbors for about a week before Christmas. Christmas Trees are also very popular as is a ‘traditional’ rich fruit Christmas Cake!
Lots of local sweets are also eaten at Christmas in Goa. Favourite sweets include neureos (small pastries which are stuffed with dry fruit and coconut and fried) and dodol (like toffee that has coconut and cashew in it). These are other sweets are often part of ‘consuada’ when people make sweets before Christmas and give them to their friends and neighbors. Most Christian families also have a nativity scene with clay figures in it.
On Christmas Eve Christians in Goa hang out giant paper lanterns, in the shape of stars, between the houses so that the stars float above you as you walk down the road. The main Christmas meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve and is also ‘western’ with roast turkey or chicken being popular. After the meal, Christians head to Church for a Midnight mass service. After the service the church bells ring to announce that Christmas Day has arrived.
Many Christians in Goa also celebrate Epiphany and remember the Wise Men visiting Jesus. Christians in Mumbai use many Christmas traditions from Goa including the star lanterns and manger scenes (people like to make sure they have the best the nativity scene!). In north-west India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil folk, go out night after night for a week at Christmas to sing their own carols the whole night through. They go to surrounding villages singing to people and telling the Christmas story.
In South West India, in the state of Kerala Were, 22% of the state’s 33 Million population are Christians and Christmas is important festival. Traditional Catholics fast don’t eat from 1st to 24th of December – until the midnight service. Every house will be decorated with a Christmas star. During the start of the Christmas season, almost all the stationary shops will be filled with new and variety Christmas stars.
People make cribs in their homes and Churches. In India, Father Christmas or Santa Claus delivers presents to children from a horse and cart. He’s known as ‘Christmas Baba’ in Hindi, ‘Baba Christmas’ in Urdu (both of those mean Father Christmas); ‘Christmas Thaathaa’ in Tamil and ‘Christmas Thatha’ in Telugu (both of those mean Christmas old man); and ‘Natal Bua’ (Christmas Elder Man) in Marathi. In Kerla Were state, he’s known as ‘Christmas Papa’.
Although most people in Indonesia (about 85%) are Muslims, about 10% of the population are Christians – that’s still about 20 million people! Indonesian Christians love to celebrate Christmas! Indonesian Christians usually go to church services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In most churches and cathedrals, people create nativity scenes and use them as part of the Nativity drama performance.
Christmas trees in Indonesia are normally artificial ones made of plastic. Although less common, some people have real Pine trees to be decorated as Christmas trees. The biggest producer of ‘real’ trees located in Puncak, West Java. Another special type of Christmas tree are ones made from chicken feathers – made by people in their homes on Bali Island.
These feather trees have been exported to different countries around the world. In early December, huge Christmas trees with beautiful and colorful decorations can be found in most shopping malls in big cities all over the country. In 2011, there also a huge Christmas tree made of edible chocolate, created by professional Indonesian chocolatiers! Popular Christmas carols in Indonesia include ‘Malam Kudus’ (an Indonesian version of ‘O Holy Night’) and ‘Malam Kudus’ (an Indonesian version of ‘Silent Night’).
These songs are usually sung on Christmas Eve in churches by a choir during the candle-light service, when people think about the Christmas story. Most Indonesian television channels broadcast Christmas themed musical concerts. An annual Christmas celebration event, held by the Indonesian Government, is always broadcast by the state-owned television channel ‘TVRI’. The most popular Hollywood movies broadcasted in Indonesian during Christmas are the Home Alone series!
In Indonesia, Santa Claus is also very popular and is called ‘Sinterklass’ (that’s because Indonesia used to be ruled by Holland). Sinterklass brings presents to children on Christmas Day – and you also might see him in shopping malls, etc.! Exchanging presents is common among Christians in Indonesia. Cookies are a must-have food during Christmas in Indonesia. Some popular types of cookies include ‘Nastar’ a butter cookie with pineapple jam filling, cheese cookies called ‘Kastengel’ and ‘Putri Salju’ or ‘Snow White’ cookies, a butter cookie covered with powdered sugar and cheese!
In Indonesia, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Selamat Natal’. In Ireland, people celebrate Christmas in much the same way as people in the UK and the USA, but they also have many of their own Christmas traditions and customs. Christmas for Irish people, who are Catholics, lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of Epiphany on January 6th, which some Irish people call ‘Little Christmas’. Epiphany isn’t now widely celebrated in Ireland.
There is an old tradition that in some Irish houses (although now not many), people put a tall, thick candle on the sill of the largest window after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle is left to burn all night and represents a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph. In Irish (or Gaelic) Christmas is ‘Nollaig’, Santa Claus is known as ‘San Nioclás’ (Saint Nicholas) or ‘Daidí naNollag’ (Father Christmas) and Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit’. Children hope that Santa will visit on Christmas Eve and leave presents for them.
The day after Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day (known as Boxing Day in the UK and some other countries), is also very important in Ireland. Like in the UK, football matches and horse racing meetings are traditionally held on St. Stephen’s Day. One very old tradition is the Wren Boys Procession that takes place on St. Stephen’s Day. This goes back to ancient times when a real wren was put to death and carried around in a holly bush.
Some processions still take place, but no wren is hunted or used. Young men and women dress up in home made costumes and go from house to house carrying a long pole with a holly bush tied to its top and singing a rhyme about a wren bird. Sometimes they are accompanied of violins, accordions, harmonicas and horns. The rhyme that is often used is:
‘The wren, the wren, the king of all birds
On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.’
People also ask for money ‘for the starving wren’! The wren is one of the smallest birds in the UK and Ireland, but has a very loud song and is sometimes called the ‘king of all birds’. This is because of the legend of a little wren who rode on the top of an eagle’s head and boasted he had ‘flown higher than an eagle’. Wren’s were hunted for many years throughout Europe in medieval times.
The Wren Boys Procession mostly died out in the early 20th century, although it still takes place in some towns including Dingle, in Country Kerry in the South West of Ireland. The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) was also celebrated in some towns in Ireland as ‘Nollaig na mBean’ or Women’s Christmas. Traditionally the women got the day off and the men do the housework and cooking! The women met in each other’s homes to sew and chat.
Although it’s mostly died out, some women still like to get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany, to have tea and cakes, to gossip and to enjoy each other’s company! Traditional, historic, Christmas food in Ireland include a round cake, full of caraway seeds. One is traditionally made for each person in the house. Now it’s more common to have a Christmas Cake like those in the UK, a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and decorated with icing.
And an addition to turkey for Christmas dinner, sometimes spiced beef (spiced over several days, cooked, and then pressed) is eaten. This can be served hot or cold. Dessert is commonly a Christmas Pudding. 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). The previous year he had visited Bethlehem and saw where the stable, where it was thought that Jesus was born. A lot of Italian families have a Nativity crib in their homes. The city of Naples in Italy is world famous for its cribs and crib making.
These are known as ‘Presepe Napoletano’ (meaning Neapolitan Cribs). The first crib scene in Naples is thought to go back to 1025 and was in the Church of S. Maria del presepe (Saint Mary of the Crib), this was even before St. Francis of Assisi had made cribs very popular! Having cribs in your own home became popular in the 16th century and it’s still popular today (before that only churches and monasteries had cribs). Cribs are traditionally put out on the 8th December.
But the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t put into the crib until the evening/night of December 24th! Sometimes the Nativity scene is displayed in the shape of pyramid which can be meters tall! It’s made of several tiers of shelves and is decorated with colored paper, gold covered pinecones and small candles. A small star is often hung inside the top of the pyramid/triangle.
The shelves above the manger scene might also contain fruit, candy and presents. One special thing about Neapolitan cribs, is that they have always displayed not only characters and figures from the Christmas Story, but also ‘every day’ people and objects (such as houses, waterfalls, food, animals and even figures of famous people and politicians!). Naples is also the home to the largest crib scene in the world, which has over 600 objects on it! In Naples, there is a still a street of nativity scene makers called the ‘Via San Gregorio Armeno’.
In the street you can buy wonderful hand made crib decorations and figures – and of course whole cribs! One 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.
The types of fish and how they are served vary between different regions in Italy. 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! For many Italian-American families a big Christmas Eve meal of different fish dishes is now a very popular tradition! It’s known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes (‘Esta dei Sette Pesci’ in Italian).
The feast seems to have its root in southern Italy and was bought over to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1800s. It now seems more popular in American than it is in Italy! Common types of fish eaten in the feast include Baccala (salted Cod), Clams, Calamari, Sardines and Eel. There are different theories as to why there are seven fish dishes eaten.
Some think that seven represents the seven days of creation in the Bible, other say it represents the seven holy sacraments of the Catholic Church. But some families have more that seven dishes! You might have nine (to represent the Christian trinity times three), 13 (to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples) or 11 (for the 11 disciples without Jesus or Judas!)! The Christmas celebrations start eight days before Christmas with special ‘Novenas’ or a series of prayers and church services.
Some families have a ‘Creppo’ or Yule Log which is burnt through the Christmas season. In Italian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Buon Natale’, in Sicilian it’s ‘Bon Natali’ and in Ladin (spoken in some parts of the northern Italian region of South Tyrol) it’s ‘Bon/Bun Nadèl’. Epiphany is also important in Italy. On Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called ‘Befana’ brings presents for them.
The story about Befana bringing presents is very similar to the story of Babushka. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill. In parts of northern Italy, the Three Kings might bring you present rather than Befana. On Christmas day ‘Babbo Natale’ (Santa Claus) might bring them some small gifts, but the main day for present giving is on Epiphany.
Christmas is a very special time in Jamaica and like a lot of other countries, radio stations play carols all through the Christmas period. Lots of people paint their houses and hang new curtains and decorations for Christmas. Most families spend Christmas Day at home with friends and family members. The Christmas day meal is usually prepared on Christmas Eve. The traditional Jamaican Christmas meal include fresh fruits, sorrel and rum punch and meat.
The Christmas Day breakfast includes ackee and saltfish, breadfruit, fried plantains, boiled bananas, freshly squeezed fruit juice and tea. Dinner is usually served in the late afternoon and this may include chicken, curry goat, stewed oxtail, rice and peas. Jamaican red wine and rum fruitcake is traditional and is eaten in most homes. The fruits in the cake are soaked in red wine and white rum for months before Christmas. Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades.
It’s still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan. Now several customs that came to Japan from the USA such as sending and receiving Christmas Cards and Presents are popular. In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day.
Christmas eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations in the UK and the USA. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant – booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it’s so popular! Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and people can place orders at their local fast food restaurant in advance!
The traditional Japanese christmas food is christmas cake, but it’s not a rich fruit cake, but is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, so schools and businesses are normally open on December 25th. In Japanese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Meri Kurisumasu’. And it’s written in the two Japanese scripts like this; Hiragana: めりーくりすます; Katakana: メリークリスマス.
Parties are often held for children, with games and dancing. Japanese Christmas Cake is a sponge cake decorated with trees, flowers and a figure of Santa Claus. In Japan, Santa is known as サンタさん、サンタクロース santa-san (Mr Santa). Another Japanese gift bringer is Hoteiosho, a Japanese god of good fortune from Buddhism and not really related to Christmas.
The Japanese New Year (called ‘o shogatsu’) is more like a traditional Western Christmas. New year is the period where families get together, have a special meal, pray and send greetings cards. New year is celebrated over five days from December 31st to January 4th and is a very busy time. Christmas in Kazakhstan is almost always snowy, as it snows for around four months of the year during the winter.
About 70% of people in Kazakhstan are Muslims, so Christmas isn’t a big holiday and 25th December is a day just like any other day. This means the shops are open, the public transport is running and everyone is at work. Christians in Kazakhstan, don’t normally celebrate Christmas on Christmas day, unless they happen to be off work or it’s a Sunday. Instead, the main Christmas celebrations are on the Sunday before Christmas Day.
Christians in Kazakhstan have translated some English songs into Kazakh and Russian and there are a few traditional songs that were composed in Kazakhstan, but they normally sing their usual worship songs in Church on the day they celebrate Christmas. Christmas is also a good time for Christians to bring their friends along to a Church service who haven’t heard about Jesus and Christmas before. Some people wonder what Christmas is about and also like the idea of an extra party! Hospitality is very important for all Kazakhstanis, so after the Christmas service, people from the church and any friends they’ve invited have a meal together.
Tables are covered with fruits and nuts, chocolates and baursak (like doughnuts), salads and plov (rice, beef and carrots cooked in oil and cumin). Although Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, the following week is the biggest celebration of the year for Kazakhstanis – New Year! So while there aren’t Christmas trees, Father Christmas/Santa or Christmas presents for the good children… there IS a New Year tree, there IS a Snow Father (and a snow maiden, his younger, female helper) and children DO get New Year presents! When Kazakhstan was part of the USSR, all religions were banned and the government made the New Year celebrations important – that’s why they are still more important Christmas today – even after 20 years on from the collapse of the USSR.
(In fact Kazakhstan finalized independence from the USSR on December 25th 1991!) Just as countries have celebrations in the run-up to Christmas, Kazakhstan’s New Year celebrations start in early December (so celebrating Christmas on the Sunday before 25th December fits right in for Kazakhstani Christians!). At New Year celebrations, children recite a poem or sing a song for the jolly Snow Father in his red suit and he gives them a New Year present around the New Year tree! There are baubles and twinkly lights in the shop windows and everyone is excited.
So other than a change of date and despite being a Muslim country, Christmas ends up being pretty similar to Christmas elsewhere in the world! (But not many people know about The Christmas Story and the birth of Jesus.) Children in Latvia believe that Santa Claus (also known as Ziemassvētku vecītis – Christmas old man) brings their presents. The present are usually put under the Christmas tree.
The presents are opened on during the Evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Often the presents are secretly put under the tree when people are not around (such as when people are at Church). Sometimes to get a present you have to recite a short poem while standing next to the Christmas Tree! Before Christmas children learn to say poems by heart.
You might also get a present by singing, playing a musical instrument or doing a dance. Latvia also claims to be the home of the first Christmas Tree! The first documented use of a evergreen tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is in town square of Riga, the capital of Latvia, in the year 1510. Lots of people think the Christmas Tree first came from Germany, but the first recorded one is in Latvia.
In Latvian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Priecïgus Ziemassvºtkus’. The special Latvian Christmas Day meal is cooked brown/grey peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage, bacon rolls and gingerbread. In Lebanon, 35% of the population follow a form of Christianity called Maronite Catholic. These Christians build manger scenes in their homes called a Nativity Crib.
The crib is more popular than a Christmas Tree. It’s traditional for the scene to be based around a cave rather than a stable. It’s often decorated with sprouted seeds such as chickpeas, broad-beans, lentils, oats and wheat that have been grown on damp cotton wool in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The crib scene then becomes a focus for the prayer of people in the house.
Other common Catholic traditions such as going to a midnight mass service are also celebrated in Lebanon. In the capital city, Beirut, big and glamorous Christmas parties are held in major hotels and lots of people like going to them, even if they’re not Christian. Western-style commercial displays of poinsettias, Christmas lights, holly and community Christmas trees are also becoming more popular, although some people don’t like as they think they are too commercial. When people visit each other houses over the Christmas period, sugared almonds are often eaten with strong cups of coffee.
In Lebanon, most people speak Arabic, so Happy/Merry Christmas is Eid Milad Majid (عيد ميلاد مجيد) which means ‘Glorious Birth Feast’ or you could say Kul ‘am waentabi-khair which means ‘may every year find you in good health’. French is also spoken so you could wish people Joyeux Noël! In Lebanon, Santa Claus/Father Christmas is known as Baba Noël. At Christmas time in Lithuania it is very cold, normally with snow and ice on the ground.
Christmas Eve (Kūčios) is a more important day than Christmas Day. Kūčios is also the name of the big Christmas Eve meal which families have together during the evening of Christmas Eve. Kūčios is also the last day of Advent, so it is important and special. But before the meal can be eaten, lots of preparations have to take place.
The whole house is cleaned, the bedding is changed and everyone washes and puts on clean clothes ready for the meal. Many Lithuanians used to go to the bathhouse to be cleaned before the meal. Some people thought being clean helped to protect them from evil or diseases during the coming year. During Christmas Eve, working men would put away their tools and clean the cattle pens and farmyard, etc.
Many people fast (don’t eat anything) during the day. The Kūčios meal also shouldn’t contain any meat. Straw is a traditional decoration. Is it normally spread on the table top and then covered with a clean, white tablecloth.
The table is then decorated with candles and small branches or twigs from a fir tree. The straw reminds people of the baby Jesus lying in a manger. A superstition says that if you pull a piece of straw from under the tablecloth and it’s long, you will have a long life; but if it’s short you will have a short life; and a thick straw means a rich and happy life! Often an extra place is set – for a family member who can’t come to the meal or if a family member has died during the past year. Sometimes a candle is lit to remember family members who died.
Some people believe that dead family members come and join the family round the table. People who are going to be alone on Christmas Eve are also invited to meal.At the center of the table is a plate of Christmas wafers – one wafer for each person at the meal. In some parts of Lithuania the wafers have the scene of the birth of Jesus on them.
The meal starts when the first stars can be seen in the night sky. If it’s cloudy, the ‘head of the house’ decides when the meal will start! The wafers are offered to each person at the table and Christmas greetings are exchanged. Sometimes an apple is also cut into as many people at the meal and is shared.
This remembers the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden. The Kūčios meal normally has 12 dishes – one for each of Jesus’s followers. None of the dishes contain meat (and some people also don’t have milk or eggs in them). Traditional and popular dishes include fish (often herring), kūčiukai (small sweet pastries) normally soaked in poppy milk, kisielius (a drink made from cranberries), dried fruit soup, beet soup (often with mushroom filled dumplings in it), vegetable salad, mushrooms, boiled or baked potatoes, sauerkraut, a kind of wheat porridge with honey and bread.
Normally water or homemade cider is drunk with the meal. Sweet dishes are also often eaten including kissel (a fruit soup/jelly thickened with potato flour) and stewed fruit compote. After the meal (or possibly between the main and sweet courses) there might be a visit from ‘The Old Man of Christmas’ (Santa Claus) with presents! People will also exchange presents between themselves.
When the presents have been exchanged, children often go to bed and the adults might go out to Midnight Mass (Bernelių mišios – which means Shepherds’s Mass). Popular Christmas Tree decorations in Lithuania are ones made from white paper straws. They are often in the shapes of stars, snowflakes and other geometric shapes. Nativity Cribs are also popular in Lithuania with very large scenes often being put outside churches.
The Christmas season lasts until the 6th of January – Epiphany. In Lithuanian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Linksmų Kalėdų’.
Most Christians in Macedonia belong to the Orthodox Church and so Christmas is celebrated on January 7th (Orthodox Church use the ‘Julian’ Calendar for their festivals). Christmas celebrations really start on 5th January which is called ‘Kolede’.
On this day people, especially children, like to go carols singing around their neighbors. They are given fruits, nuts and coins. When the singing has finished people gather around big bonfires. They are sometimes held in parks where hundreds of people can go to see them.
Others like smaller events where the local community comes together. Lots of traditional food is eaten. At the end of the night a special Christmas bread which has a coin baked in it is passed around. Everyone takes a piece and if you find the coin you’ll get luck for the next year (and you might also have to host the bonfire the next year!).
On Christmas Eve (6th January) people look forward to the special Christmas meal that will be eaten in the evening. The meal is called ‘posna’ and traditionally contains no dairy, meat or animal products. Dishes might include nuts, fresh and dried fruits, baked cod or trout, bread, kidney bean soup, potato salad, Ajvar (red-pepper dip), Sarma (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and spices) and pickled vegetables. Coin bread or Christmas Cake with a coin in it is eaten at the end of the meal.
Christmas Eve is also when the traditional oak yule log, called a ‘badnik’, is brought into the house and is lit (the Christmas Eve meal is also sometimes called ‘badnik dinner’). Houses are also often decorated with oak branches and Christmas Trees are popular. There’s sometimes straw either on the floor or under the tablecloth. On Christmas Day (7th January) most Christians go to a Church service and then come home to eat a large Christmas feast!
There’s the traditional Christmas Day greeting “Hristos serodi” or “Христос се роди!” (Christ is born) to which you reply “Navistina serodi” (He truly is born!). In Macedonian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Sreken Božik’ (Среќен Божик). The big Christmas Day meal might include different roasted meats, cheese pies, salads and lots of bread, cakes and sweets.
Christmas celebrations often last for another three days after Christmas Day. Madagascar is an Island off the east coast of Africa, so it is very warm at Christmas time! Even though it’s hot, common decorations include holly, robins and snow even though none of them exist in Madagascar! The official language of Madagascar is Malagasy.
‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ in Malagasy is ‘MiraryKrismasysambatrasyTaonavaovao tonga lafatra ho anao’. Most Malagasy’s only exchange small presents. In Madagascar, Santa Claus is called ‘DadabeNoely’. Most people go to Church on Christmas Eve in Madagascar.
The services start about 5.00pm and last until after midnight! Different groups in the Church, especially children, perform songs and plays celebrating the birth of Jesus. People also go to Church on Christmas Day as well. After the Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, churches give out sweets or biscuits to the people in the Church.
Here are some Malagasy Christmas Carols! Sambasamba Zanahary (Which means ‘It’s a big opportunity Lord that you send your only Son to save us from our sin’)
Ny Zanakao malalanao
Ny Zanakao, malalanao, malalanao
Avia Ry Mino is the Malagsy translation of ‘Oh Come all ye Faithful’.
Avia rymino! Hifalysyhihoby,
Avia hitsaokaAzy (x3) izayTomponao
Nefa mba zana-behivavy koa
Zanak’I Maria, nefa Zanahary;
Avia hitsaoka Azy (x3) izay Tomponao
Derao ry anjely, mohobia mafy,
Ry mponina an-danitra ao ambony ao
Avia hitsaoka Azy (x3) izayTomponao
He arahaba, tonga aty an-tany
NyTompo Mpamonjy sy Mpanjaka koa,
Tenin’ny Rainy voatafy nofo,
Avia hitsaoka Azy (x3) izay Tomponao!
This poem is very popular with all Malagasy Children:
Krismasyre no tonga (Christmas is coming)
Falifaly ny kilonga (Children are happy)
Krismasy tena fety (Chrismas is really a feast)
Ho an’ny kely sy vaventy (For littles and for adults)On Christmas Day people (even strangers) greet each by saying ‘Arahaba tratry nyNoely’ which means ‘Merry Christmas’. Malagasy families like to eat Christmas dinner together in large groups and dress up in the best (or new) clothes. The meal is normally Chicken or Pork with rice followed by a special cake. Some rich people go to restaurants for Christmas dinner, but most people stay at home with their families.A special Christmas food in Madagascar are fresh lychees, which are bought from shops and street sellers, fresh from the trees. The streets get covered in lychee skins! Poinsettias also grow as large outdoor shrubs in Madagascar and don’t just flower at Christmas! They are also the national emblem of Madagascar.
Mali is a mainly Muslim country, but Christmas is also an official public holiday. In Mali, most Christmas celebrations take place in Churches, where people remember the real meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world as a baby. The festivities begin on Christmas Eve with an all night service which includes worship, preaching and items performed by different groups including children and young people. The children memorize bible verses to recite on Christmas day at Church, as do the women.
At the Christmas Eve service, each language group gets up and sings a song in their language. There is often a baptismal service on the day after Christmas (Boxing Day), although this is sometimes held in the week before Christmas. Baptismal Services are special services where Christians make a public statement that they follow Jesus. This is normally done by being totally immersed (dunked) in water.
Some people can spend over 30 hours in Church over the Christmas period! After Christmas the women’s group of the Church often goes around to different courtyards (of houses) to greet people, sing and dance. The Church choir also does the same. If they come to your yard it is customary to give a small gift of money to the group.
This is after Christmas Carol Singing! Not many people give and receive presents at Christmas in Mali. It is only normally done by rich families. Christmas is very important to the people of Malta and its sister Island of Gozo.
Most people on Malta are Catholics and go to a Midnight Mass Service. Usually the churches are full with people. In Maltese Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Il-Milied it-Tajjeb’. The Churches are decorated with lights and nativity cribs, ‘Presepju’, built by the church go-ers.
The cribs are decorated with figurines, called ‘pasturi’ (representing figures like the shepherds and angels). Today some of the cribs are mechanical and the in them figures move! The figure of the baby Jesus is put on the main altar at midnight on Christmas night. At epiphany it is traditional to put the three figures of the Magi in the crib.
There is a group on Malta called ‘Friends of the Crib’ who help to keep the Maltese crib tradition alive. Cribs were first introduced into Malta from Italy by rich noblemen. They were not popular at first and most were burnt. The first true Maltese crib is believed to have been made in Malta in 1617 and was displayed in the Domenican Friars Church in Rabat.
In St Peter’s Monastery in Mdina, there is a crib dating back to 1670. This is treasured and looked after by the Benedictine Nuns who live in the monastery. At about the same time, another Maltese man made a crib with moving parts powered by water! As cribs became more popular they also became more ‘Maltese’ with people replacing the Italian looking buildings and trades people with local ones.
(Flour windmills were and are still popular buildings to feature in a crib scene.) The first imported Italian ‘pasturi’ were very expensive and most people couldn’t afford them. So people started making there own ‘pasturi’ from rough clay and plaster. Some of these figures still exist today.
(Modern pasturi are now often made of plastic.) By the early to mid 20th century, cribs were thought of as old fashioned and not very popular anymore. To stop the decline of Christmas, in 1907, a priest called George Preca founded a children’s charity and society called ‘MUSEUM’. In 1921 he started a tradition of having a Christmas Eve procession with a life size figure of the Baby Jesus being carried at the head of the procession.
At sunset on Christmas Eve in 1921, Fra Diegu Street in the town of Hamrun was crowded with children and adults ready to take part in the first procession. In those days, street lighting was very poor in Malta and so many people brought lanterns with them to help them see their way during the procession and to shed light on the statue of Baby Jesus carried shoulder-high by four boys. The different types of lamps included, gas powered bicycle headlamps, oil lamps used on farmers carts, coloured paper lanterns, Venetian lights, palm fronds and olive branches. The idea became very popular with people of all ages and so the very special Maltese traditional started.
These processions are still popular today and form part of the Christmas Eve celebrations. In 1986, the ‘Friends of the Crib’ society was formed and now they have over 500 members. Every year, in the weeks running up to Christmas, the Friends put on a exhibition of about 100 cribs of all shapes and sizes. Maltese houses are often also decorated with cribs with ‘pasturi’ (which are small plastic or clay figures representing figures like the shepherds and angels).
Large figures of the baby Jesus are sometimes put behind windows or in balconies and lit at night. Houses are also decorated with Christmas wreaths, candles and all sorts of other decorations. Every household also has a Christmas Tree decorated with light bulbs, tinsel and Christmas decorations. It is traditional to sow wheat, grain and canary seed, ‘gulbiena’, on cotton buds in flat pans five weeks before Christmas.
These are left in dark corners in the house until the seeds produce white grass-like shoots. The pans with the fully-grown shoots are then used to decorate the crib or the statue of Baby Jesus. One Maltese Christmas tradition is the ‘Priedka tat-Tifel’ which means ‘the preaching of the child’. A boy or a girl, normally aged 7 to 10, does the preaching of the sermon at the midnight mass instead of the priest!
The children learn the sermon by heart and start learning it four or five weeks before they preach on Christmas Eve. The parents are also very excited and nervous about the performance, as they would have helped the children to learn the sermon. The boy or girl tells the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and is encouraged to give their sermon a personal delivery which will touch the hearts of the church-goers. George Sapiano delivered the first known Christmas Eve sermon by an altar boy in 1883, in the parish church of Luqa.
It has also become common for local churches to organise a mini-pageant with children dressed up as shepherds, Joseph and Mary carrying a baby doll (representing Jesus) acting out the story of the Nativity. This re-enactment starts at 11pm and is followed by High Mass at midnight. A popular Maltese carol is ‘ninni la tibkixizjed’. It means ‘sleep and cry no more’ and was written by the Jesuit Priest, Fr. Andrew Schembri (1774-1862) from Luqa for Maltese migrants in Tunis.
There is a village on Malta called ‘Siggiewi’ dedicated to St. Nicholas, who is also known as San Niklaw, of Bari in Italy and its feast is celebrated on the last Sunday of June. Children on Malta get their presents from Santa Claus on Christmas night. Sometimes, Father Christmas comes knocking at doors early on Christmas night delivering presents! Schools in Malta often hold a Christmas concert.
Most of the children take part. It consists of Christmas Carols, plays with a Christmas theme, mimes and poetry recitals, etc. It is enjoyed by the children and teachers alike. Christmas parties are also often held in each class.
Sometimes the children bring over food which their parents prepare at home and which is shared with every one in their class. Gifts are exchanged and sometimes money is collected which is then given to charity.
A concert and Christmas party is held every year at the Residential Home for the Disabled in Siggiewi. The residents take part in Christmas plays and carol singing helped by the people who work who work in the Home including Nuns.
The Home is decorated and the atmosphere is great. The chapel is decorated with a beautiful crib with Baby Jesus. On Christmas Eve, a procession with the Baby Jesus is held and then Midnight Mass. Relatives of the residents also participate in the Christmas celebrations.
Special food is prepared and the atmosphere is very happy! Voluntary organisations also organise Carol Singing evenings in old people’s homes and hospitals, helping to cheer up the elderly and sick with the spirit of Christmas. Under the patronage of the President of Malta, the Community Chest Fund sets up a tent in Freedom Square in the town of Valletta, where volunteers help to raise donations of cash.
The donations are then distributed to charity organisations such as orphanages and other charities, which often rely on donations to continue their work in the community. Maltese people have a wide range of food at Christmas. Traditionally, the Maltese house-wife kept the fattest rooster, ‘hasi’, especially for Christmas Lunch, which was roasted at the local bakery in a casserole full of potatoes and vegetables. The traditional desert served at Christmas was the Treacle Ring, ‘Qaghqa tal-Ghasel’, and to finish it off, a hot Chestnut and Cocoa Soup, ‘Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’, which was and is served as a cosy night cap during the cold December days in Malta.
Today the traditional Maltese menu has made way for Christmas Turkey, Christmas Cakes, Christmas Puddings and Mince Pies, all inherited during 164 years of British rule (1800 – 1964) in Malta. Italian Panetone has also become a Christmas favourite. In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from the December 12th to January 6th. From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children often perform the ‘Posada’ processions or Posadas.
Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging. There are nine Posadas. These celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for somewhere to stay. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns.
In each Posada, children are given candles and a board, with painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph, to process round the streets with. They call at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home. The song they sing is about Joseph and Mary asking for a room in the house. But the children are told that there is no room in the house and that they must go away.
Eventually they are told there is room and are welcomed in! When the children go into the house they say prayers of thanks and then they have a party with food, games and fireworks. Each night a different house holds the Posada party. At the final Posada, on Christmas Eve, a manger and figures of shepherds are put on to the board.
When the Posada house has been found, a baby Jesus is put into the manger and then families go to a midnight Church service. After the Church service there are more fireworks to celebrate the start of Christmas. One game that is often played at Posada parties is piñata. A piñata is a decorated clay or papier-mâché jar filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or tree branch.
The piñata is often decorated something like a ball with seven peaks around it. The peaks or spikes represent the ‘seven deadly sins’. Piñata’s can also be in the form of an animal or bird (such as a donkey). To play the game, children are blind-folded and take it in turns to hit the piñata with a stick until it splits open and the sweets pour out.
Then the children rush to pick up as many sweets as they can! As well as the posada’s, another type of Christmas play known as Pastorelas (The Shepherds). These tell the story of the shepherds going to find the baby Jesus and are often very funny. The devil tries to stop them by tempting them along the way.
But the shepherds always get there in the end, often with the help of the Archangel Michael, who comes and beats the devil! Nativity scenes, known as the ‘nacimiento’, are very popular in Mexico. They are often very large, with the figures being life size! Sometimes a whole room in a house is used for the nacimiento, although this is less common now.
The figures are often made of clay and are traditionally passed down through families. As well as the normal figures of the Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and Three Kings, there are often lots of other figures of different people, including women making tortillas, people selling food and different animals and birds, like flamingos! The figures can be bought from markets in cities all over Mexico. The baby Jesus is normally added to the scene during the evening of Christmas Eve.
The Three Kings are added at Epiphany. Christmas Trees are becoming more popular in Mexico, but the main/most important decoration is still the nacimiento. Christmas Eve is known as ‘Noche Buena’ and is a family day. People often take part in the final Posada and then in the evening have the main Christmas meal.
At midnight, many people go to a Midnight Mass service, known as the ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Mass of the Rooster). There are lots of fireworks to celebrate Christmas Day. Poinsettia flowers are known as ‘nochebuena’ (Christmas Eve) flowers in Mexico. People in Mexico also celebrate ‘los santos inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’ on December 28th ad it’s very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA.
28th December is when people remember the babies that were dead on the orders of King Herod when he was trying to make the baby Jesus die. In some states in Mexico children expect Santa Claus to come on December 24th. In the south of Mexico children expect presents on January 6th at Epiphany, which is known as ‘el Dia de los Reyes’. On el Dia de los Reyes the presents are left by the Three Kings (or Magi).
If you’ve had a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, you might also get some candy on el Dia de los Reyes! It’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.
Another important day, is Candelaria (also known as Candlemas) on the 2nd February and it marks the end of the Mexican Christmas celebrations. Lots of Mexicans have a party for Candelaria. In Mexico, presents might also be brought by ‘El Niñito Dios’ (baby Jesus) and Santo Clós (Santa Claus). In Mexico, most people speak Spanish (Español), so Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’.
In the Nahuatl (spoken in some parts of central Mexico) it’s ‘Cualli netlācatilizpan’. The largest ever Angel Ornament was made in Mexico. It was made in January 2001 by Sergio Rodriguez in the town of Nuevo León. The angel was 18′ 3″” high and had wing span of 11′ 9″!
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the angel was that it was completely made out of old beer bottles, 2946 of them! For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents! St. Nicholas’ day is on the 6th December, but in The Netherlands, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas.
It all starts on the second Saturday of November (the first Saturday after 11th November) when Sinterklaas travels to a city or town in The Netherlands. Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid, Spain and every year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in Holland, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him. Sinterklass travels with his servants called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (‘Black Peters’). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the steam boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration.
Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse. Every town in The Netherlands has a few Sinterklaas helpers, dressed the same as Sinterklaas who help give the presents out. (And sometimes you might one see one or more Zwarte Pieten with Sinterklaas!) Children are told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book.
Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave! On the evening that Sinterklaas arrives in The Netherlands, children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs. They hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’s horse, they will be left some sweets or small presents.
They’re told that, during the night, Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a ‘Zwarte Piet’ will then climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/or candy in their shoes. In many families the children are told that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet make a weekly visit, so the children leave their shoe by the fireplace or window i.e. every Saturday until the main Sinterklaas party on 5th December. The evening of December 5th is called St. Nicholas’ Eve ‘Sinterklaasavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ (present evening). The children will receive their presents during theevening.
There might be a knock at the door and you might find a sack full of presents! Sinterklaas parties are often held on St. Nicholas’ Eve (5th), where treasure hunt games are played with poems and riddles giving the clues. Children follow the clues to find little presents left by Sinterklaas. Special biscuits and sweets are also eaten at the party.
One type of biscuit is called ‘letter blanket’ or ‘banketletter’ (meaning letter cake), which is made from marzipan or pastry. The biscuits are made in the shapes of the first letter of the peoples names who are at the party. Another sweet biscuit that is eaten at the parties are ‘pepernoot’ which are made with cinnamon and spices in the pastry biscuit mix. On the 6th of December Sinterklaas (the birthday of Sinterklaas) leaves the Netherlands by steamboat via the entrance of the port of Rotterdam (Europe’s largest port) called the Hook of Holland and he travels back to Spain.
Surprise presents are also given on St. Nicholas’ Day. A custom at the Sinterklaas parties, often within classes at schools, is that everyone’s name is put into a hat and everyone picks another person’s name – then they have to make a surprise present for that person. The presents are often things that the person would find useful with their favourite hobby. The presents come with a poem inside that gives a clue to who might have sent the present, but it is all meant to be a mystery!
This is a similar custom to a present sending one in Germany. Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day in The Netherlands, with a Church Service and family meal. Sometimes there is a special Christmas Day ‘Sunday School’ in the afternoon at the church, where the Christmas Story and other traditional stories are told. These are often the only presents children will get on Christmas Day because they have already received most of their presents on St. Nicholas Day.
On Christmas Eve night, Dutch Children believe that Santa Claus, (who is also call ‘Christmas man’ / ‘Kerstman’ to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas!) comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents! Many people in The Netherlands also have a Christmas Tree in their houses. In Dutch, Happy/Merry Christmas can be said as ‘Zalig Kerstfeest’ or ‘Zalig Kerstmis’ (both mean Merry Christmas), ‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest’ (Cheerful Christmas) or ‘Prettig Kerstfeest’ (Nice Christmas). In New Zealand, like its neighbour Australia, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer holidays.
My relations that live in New Zealand tell me that there are lots of people out camping or at their Baches (holiday homes) for Christmas. Many towns have a Santa parade with decorated floats, bands and marching girls. This can be anytime from mid-November onwards and is really a commercial event but much enjoyed by all. Many people have a Christmas Tree in their homes and decorate it like people in the USA or UK.
Many New Zealanders have a barbecue for Christmas lunch and this is becoming more popular. The food cooked on the barbecue is often ham slices or even venison or some other kind of exotic meat. Shrimps and other fish are also barbecued! Desserts are also very popular!
Many still have a hot fruit pudding with custard and ice cream but cold desserts are popular. These include pavlova and whipped cream, meringues, cold fruit salad, jelly and ice cream. Drinks will include a range of soft drinks. Those who like it often over do the alcoholic drinks too.
My relations have an English-type Christmas meal in the middle of June (New Zealand’s mid-winter)! This meal will often be hot food such as roast chicken, roast lamb, cold ham, hot roast vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, and other root vegetables and also greens such as peas. Coleslaw is increasing in popularity. All with gravy!
They open their presents on Christmas day once the whole family is all together. This is usually before the Christmas lunch. In the Maori language, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Meri Kirihimete’. Christmas in Nigeria is a family event, a time when lots of family members come together to celebrate and have fun.
Most families, that live in cities, travel to the villages where their grandparents and older relatives live. Many different languages are spoken in Nigeria. In Hausa Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘barka dà Kirsìmatì’; in Yoruba it’s ‘E ku odun, e ku iye’dun’; in Fulani it’s ‘Jabbama be salla Kirismati’; in Igbo (Ibo) ‘E keresimesi Oma’; in Ibibio ‘Idara ukapade isua’ and it’s Edo it’s ‘Iselogbe’. Many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve! Then, on Christmas Morning, they go to church to give thanks to God.
Homes and streets are often decorated. Most homes will have an artificial Christmas tree. Children love to play with firecrackers at Christmas. The church choir may visit the church congregation in their homes to sing Christmas carols to them.Christmas cards are sent to friends and family members. Presents are exchanged amongst family members and some families may take their children dressed in new outfits to see Santa Claus. In addition to serving turkey, a traditional Christmas meal in Nigeria may include beef, goat, sheep, ram or chicken. Other dishes might included pounded yam, jollof rice, fried rice, vegetable salad and some type of stew.
Christmas Eve is the time when presents are exchanged. The gifts are sometimes brought by Santa Claus (called ‘Julenissen’ in Norway). Presents are also brought by the small gnomes called ‘Nisse’. There are also hobgoblins (Nisse) decorations.
Children pick up the presents from under the Christmas Tree and read the cards on the presents out loud. As in Finland, a sheaf of wheat is often left out for the birds to eat over Christmas. Also a type of rice porridge is sometimes left for the ‘Nisse’ who is believed to guard the farm animals. In some parts of Norway, children like to go carol singing. Often children will dress up as characters from the Christmas Story, such as the Shepherds and Wise Men, and go singing from house to house in their local neighborhood.
Sometimes they carry with paper stars on them.Another tradition in parts of Norway is that families light a candle every night from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Norway until about 1000 or 1100, when Christianity first came to the area. Before this people celebrated jul or jòl in the middle of winter.
It was a celebration of the harvest gone and a way of looking forward to the spring. Lots of beer (juleol) was brewed and drunk in honour of the old pagan scandinavian gods.Maybe the most famous custom about Christmas in Norway is the big Christmas Tree that Norway gives to the UK every year. The tree is given as a present to say ‘thank you’ for the help that the people of the UK gave to Norway during World War II.
The tree stands in Trafalgar Square in the middle of London and often hundreds of people come to watch when the lights are turned on. A traditional Norwegian Christmas Tree decoration are small paper baskets called ‘Julekurver’ which made in the shape of a heart. It’s said that the writer Hans Christian Andersen might have invented them in the 1860s! n Norwegian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘God Jul’ or ‘Gledelig Jul’.
Many different types of cakes and biscuits are eaten over the Christmas period in Norway. One of the most popular is a special bread called ‘Julekake’ that has raisins, candied peel and cardamom in it. Rice Porridge is eaten on Christmas Eve either as a meal at lunchtime (served with butter, sugar and cinnamon) or as a dessert to the main evening email (with whipped cream mixed in!). If you find an almond in your portion you’re traditionally given a pink or white marzipan pig.
The main meal is normally pork or mutton ribs served with ‘surkal’ (white or red cabbage, finely chopped and cooked with caraway seeds and vinegar) and potatoes.
Musevisa – The Mouse Song
A very popular song at Christmas time in Norway is the Musevisa (The Mouse Song). The words were written in 1946 by Alf Prøysen. The tune is a traditional Norwegian folk tune. It tells the story of some mice getting ready for Christmas and the Mother and Father mice warning their children to stay away from mouse traps!
It became popular very quickly and is now as popular as ever in Norway.
In 2008 an extra verse was thought to have been discovered (that involved a cat!). However this was a hoax by a Norwegian photographer called Ivar Kalleberg. Most people thought this was quite fun and that Alf Prøysen would have liked the joke!
Here are the words of the Musevisa in an English translation, by Ivar Kalleberg and Kenneth Tillson and used with the kind permission of Elin Prøysen, the daughter of Alf Prøysen.
Musevisa (The Mouse Song) English Translation
When nights are getting longer, and lakes will freeze to ice;
Father Mouse warns strongly about a foul device:
“If we avoid the mouse trap, we will have naught to fear.
We’ll all be celebrating, at Christmas time this year.”
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Mother Mouse is cleaning, each ceiling and each wall.
She wants a home that’s cosy, when Yuletide snowflakes will fall.
A grubby home at Christmas, would be a great disgrace.
So young ones dance a Polka, their tails sweep out the place.
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
And finally the evening, the youngsters all await.
They know they’ll have permission to stay up very late.
A toe-less boot is spruced up with nails that they have found.
And then some flimsy cobwebs which they can drape around.
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Father Mouse now tells them that they should form a ring.
“Let’s dance around this old boot and hear our Granny sing.
Each mouse should use its right paw, to take its neighbour’s tail.
Then listen as Old Granny sings a lovely Fairy tale.”Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
They have for Christmas dinner, grilled Arctic halibut
And then an old tradition, they share a hazel nut.
There’s sticky candy paper. A spicy Yuletide Ham.
They all can savour its bouquet and taste some apple jam.
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Old Granny’s Christmas Present is a brand-new rocking chair.
A hollowed-out potato which her kin have gnawed with flair.
Now Granny starts her singing, the youngsters sing along.
They always love to join her in their favourite Christmas song.
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Old Granny’s getting tired, soon comes the early dawn.
As morning is approaching she cannot help but yawn:
“Christmas is a lot of fun for each and every mouse.
Be careful of the mouse-traps in this trap infested house!”
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
The Father Mouse says, gravely, “It’s time to take a nap. Just dream about the Yuletide and not that awful trap.”
While Father Mouse is keeping watch, the children try to sleep.
They hum some Christmas carol instead of counting sheep.
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo. A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Here are two ‘extra verses’ written by Ivar Kalleberg. The top one is his ‘hoax verse’ and the second on is one more in the spirit of Christmas!
When everyone was sleeping, then came a hungry cat.
He ate up all the small mice and a chubby passing rat!
But no one has to worry, no one needs to cry
They all soared up to heaven to the mansion in the sky!
Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
Before the mice were sound asleep, there came the dreaded cat. “I have not come here to harm you, let’s have a friendly chat.
In this sweet Christmas season, I would not touch a mouse.
Let Love and Peace prevail. We’ve Christmas in our house!”Heyday and howdy and toodeladdeloo.
A Merry Christmas season is good for me and you. (x2)
In Pakistan, December 25th is a public holiday, but it is in memory of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Like in India, Christians make up a very small part of the population.
But as Pakistan has a population over 162 million people, there are more than 5 millions Christians! Most Christians in Pakistan live the country and are quite poor. At Christian festivals, like Christmas and Easter, a big procession takes place, in Lahore, from St. Anthony’s Church to the Cathedral. It takes hours to reach the Cathedral for the services.
These are then celebrated with lots of enthusiasm! Before and during Advent, spiritual seminars take place to help people to prepare for Christmas or ‘Bara Din’ (which in Urdu and Punjabi means the ‘Big Day’). This expression is very popular, even among Muslims in Pakistan. During the last week of Advent, in many Christian areas, carol singing is performed by various groups.
They go from house to house singing carols and in return, the family offers something to the choir. Mostly the money collected from such carols is used for charity works or is given to the church. In the big Christian areas, each house is decorated and has a star on the roof. The streets are also decorated and lit.
The crib and Christmas tree are also important decorations. Sometimes there are crib competitions! Christians also sometimes exchange Christmas cakes. On Christmas Eve, Churches are packed for the midnight or vigil-mass services.
The choirs sing very special hymns. After the vigil-mass, in some places, there are fireworks which help celebrate the start of Bara Din. People dance, exchange presents and enjoy the special night. On Bara Din or Christmas Day, Christians go to Church again for the Bara Din celebrations.
People wear their best, colourful clothes. They can stay in the Church courtyard for hours, enjoying various food from the different stalls. The evening is usually celebrated with immediate family or relatives where special food is enjoyed. Adults often visit their parents.
In Pakistan, Santa Claus/Father Christmas is known as ‘Christmas Baba’. Christmas is very important in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank as it contains Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born. Bethlehem is about six miles (10 kilometres) south of Jerusalem (which is in Israel). Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ and back in history was famous for growing wheat for making into bread.
Only about 20% of Palestinians are Christian, but many Muslim Palestinians are also proud that Jesus was born in a Palestinian Territory! On Christmas Eve there is a parade through the town. This is very important to the Christian part of the population. There are bagpipe bands in the parade, which you might not expect!
Playing the bagpipes is a tradition left over from when the British army occupied the area between 1920 and 1948. People also dress up as Santa Claus and give out sweets. The streets and main square are decorated with lights. Perhaps the most famous part of Christmas in Bethlehem is the church service of the Mass of the Nativity.
It is held on Christmas Eve afternoon/evening/midnight in the Church of the Nativity. The Church is built over the place where it’s traditionally thought that Jesus was born. There’s a small door into the Church called the door of humility. The church was built, by the romans, about 500 years after Jesus was born.
The most holy part of the church is the Grotto of the Nativity, which is under the main altar. A silver star marks the place where Jesus was meant to have been born. It had been prophesied in the Bible that the Jewish Messiah or Savior (who Christians believe Jesus is) would be born in Bethlehem. The Church is administered by three churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Mass service is led by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Jerusalem. Many local political people go to the service, Christians, Muslims and Jews. The church is crowded and lots of frankincense, one of the gifts bought to the baby Jesus, is burnt. People also sing Christmas Carols on Christmas Eve evening in Manger Square, a large paved courtyard in front of the Church.
The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Churches don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but rather January 6th and 7th. They hold services on those days. People in the Philippines like to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible! The playing of Christmas carols in shops can start in September!
The formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many people go the the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. The last mass is on Christmas day. The Christmas celebrations continue to the First Sunday in January when Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated. In the Philippines, the early masses held before Christmas are called the ‘Misa de Gallo’ or ‘Simbang Gabi’ in Filipino.
Most Filipinos are Christians with about 80% of people being Catholics. It’s the only Asian country with so many Christians. Because of this, Christmas is the most important holiday in the Philippines. December is actually one of the ‘cooler’ months of the year in the Philippines.
The Philippines only has two real seasons, wet (June to October) and dry (April and May). December is one of the months in between the wet and dry seasons.
Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of western (USA and UK) and native Filipino traditions. So people in the Philippines have Santa Claus (or ‘Santa Klaus’), Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Christmas carols from western countries! They also have their own Christmas traditions such as the ‘parol’ which is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it.
It’s traditionally made from bamboo strips and colored Japanese paper or cellophane paper and represents the star that guided the Wise Men. It is the most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines. Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay awake all night into Christmas day!
During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena.
The Noche Buena is a big, open house, celebration with family, friends and neighbors dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Most households would have several dishes laid out and would normally include: lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong are traditional Christmas foods) and other sweets, steamed rice, and many different types of drinks.
The Philippines has eight major languages, here’s how to say Merry Christmas in some of them! In Tagalog, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Maligayang Pasko’; in Ilonggo it’s ‘Malipayon nga Pascua’; in Sugbuhanon or Cebuano it’s ‘Maayong Pasko’; in Bicolano they say ‘Maugmang Pasko’ in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say ‘Maabig ya pasko’ or ‘Magayagan inkianac’; and in Warey Warey you say ‘Maupay Nga Pasko’. In 2013, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan and thousands of people were made homeless, so lots of people can’t celebrate Christmas like they used to. Many charities like Compassion are working in the Philippines to help people.
In Poland, Advent is the beginning of Christmas Time. It’s a time when people try to be peaceful and remember the real reason for Christmas. People try not to have excess of anything. Some people give up their favourite foods or drinks and parties and discos are not widely held.
Some people also go to Church quite frequently. There is the tradition of the ‘roraty’, special masses (or communion services) held at dawn and dedicated to Mary for receiving the good news from the angel Gabriel. During Advent, people also prepare their houses for Christmas. There’s lots of cleaning and people wash their windows and clean their carpets very thoroughly.
Everything must be clean for Christmas day! Before Christmas, children in schools and preschools take part in “Jasełka” (Nativity Plays). They are very popular and often more secular than religious. The Christmas story is also sometime put into modern times.
The smell of tangerines in schools or workplaces is widely thought to mean that Christmas time is about to start! Poland is a largely catholic country and Christmas Eve is a very important and busy day. It’s now often the most important day over Christmas – even though it’s not a holiday but Christmas and the 26th December are holidays! Traditionally it was day of fasting and abstinence (not eating anything) and meat is not normally allowed to be eaten in any form.
Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh). The house is also cleaned and everyone gets washed and puts on their festive clothes. The main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening and is called “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper). It’s traditional that no food is eaten until the first star is seen in the sky!
So children look at the night sky to spot the first star! On the table there are 12 dishes – they are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. The meal is traditionally meat free, this is to remember the animals who took take of the baby Jesus in the manger. Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish.
For Catholics, the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus’s 12 disciples. Like in many Catholic countries, Christmas Eve is often a ‘fasting day’ meaning that some people don’t eat anything until after sunset (when the Church day officially ends). So that’s where the custom of the first star come from. Some people in central Poland say that at midnight the animals can talk.
One of the most important dishes is “barszcz” (beetroot soup) and it’s obligatory to have it. If you really don’t like it, you can eat mushroom soup instead! The barszcz may be eaten with “uszka” (little dumplings with mushrooms) or “krokiety” (pancakes with mushrooms or/and cabbage, in breadcrumbs, fried on oil or butter). Carp is the main dish of the meal.
The fish itself is traditionally bought a few days earlier alive and it swims in the bath until it’s put to death by the lady of the house! Now most people just buy a fillet of carp instead (especially if you only have a shower and not a bath in your house!). The carp’s scales are said to bring luck and fortune and by some are kept for the whole year (e.g. in wallets) Some older ladies put them in their bras for the time of the supper and give them next day to the guest for good luck!!!
“Bigos” is a dish which can be eaten either hot or cold. It’s made of cabbage, bacon, sometimes dried plums – so it is saved for Christmas day or the 26th as it has meat in it. It is made about a week or so before Christmas Eve, because with each day it gets better. Herrings are very popular and usually are served is several ways: in oil, in cream, in jelly. Each household has their own recipe that that say is ‘the best in the whole wide world’!
In most houses there is also “kompot z suszu” that is a drink made by boiling dried fruits and fresh apples. The most popular desserts at Kolacja wigilijna are “makowiec”, a poppy seed roll made of sweet yeast bread, “kutia” mixed dried fruits and nuts with wheat seeds, “piernik” a moist cake made with honey (that’s like gingerbread) and gingerbreads (which are usually dry and very hard). At the beginning of the meal, a large wafer biscuit called an ‘Oplatek’, which has a picture of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it, is passed around the table and everyone breaks a piece off and eats it. Sometimes a small piece may be given to any farm animals or pets that the family may have.
A place is often left empty at the meal table, for an unexpected guest. Polish people say that no one should be alone or hungry, therefore if someone unexpectedly knocks on the door they are welcomed. In some houses, the empty place is to commemorate a dead relative or for a family member who couldn’t come to the meal. Sometimes straw is put on the floor of the room, or under the tablecloth, to remind people that Jesus was born in a stable or cow shed.
The worst part about the Christmas Eve supper is that you can’t open the presents before it has finished! Older members of the family (who traditionally begin and end this meal) always make it last a long time. In most of the houses, before the presents are opened, the family sings carols together. Children really want to open the present and sometimes more carols are sung just to tease the children!
There are very many carols sung in Poland and each region has own carols. The most popular ones are “Wśród nocnej ciszy” (Within nights silence), “Bóg się rodzi” (God is born), “Lulajże Jezuniu” (Sleep baby Jesus) and “Dzisiaj w Betlejem” (Today in Bethlehem). The oldest carols are from medieval times, but the most popular ones are from the baroque period. Presents are brought by “Święty Mikołaj” (St Nicholas/Santa Claus), but in some parts of Poland there are different present bringers (because during the 19th century the borders of Poland were different, so people had different traditions).
In the east (Podlasie) there is “Dziadek Mróz” (Ded Moroz), in western and northern Poland “Gwiazdor”, the Starman. The starman is not always good and if someone was bad, he can give them “rózga”, a birch-rod that should be used on bad person! The Christmas tree is also often bought in and decorated on Christmas Eve. It is decorated with a star on the top (to represent the Star of Bethlehem), gingerbreads, lights (previously candles) and “bombki” which are baubles and glass ornaments in different shapes (though most often they are spheres).
They are usually hand-made, painted or decorated in other ways. In the east of Poland the decorations are traditionally made of straw and are very beautiful. In some houses there is also a custom of breaking one of the Christmas Tree decorations (e.g. breaking glass bauble) to scare the evil out of the house for the whole next year! Christmas Eve is finished by going to Church for a Midnight Mass service.
The days after Christmas are often spent with family and friends. People in Poland also like kissing under the mistletoe! In Polish, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Wesołych Świąt’ or ‘Bożego Narodzenia’ which means ‘Christ is Born’. Polish Children also often get dressed up and go carol singing on Epiphany, January 6th.
Father Christmas (‘Pai Natal’) is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. The presents are left under the Christmas Tree or in shoes by the fireplace. However, some people say that the presents are brought by the Baby Jesus rather than Father Christmas. Like in Spain, the traditional Christmas meal in Portugal, called ‘Consoada’, is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve and consists of codfish with green vegetables and boiled potatoes.
This is normally followed by shellfish, wild meats or other expensive foods. After the meal, people go to church for the ‘Missa do Galo’ or ‘Mass of the Rooster’ service. During the service an image of baby Jesus is brought out, and everyone queues up to kiss it. It is then put in the nativity scene (the presépio) that every church will have.
After the service people return home and open their presents. Before leaving for the service, parents secretly put the baby Jesus in the nativity scene in their houses and put the gifts under the Christmas Tree, so that Jesus will ‘miraculously’ be in his manger by the time the family returns home! Children run to check the nativity scene as soon as they enter the house as no baby Jesus means no presents! Some families have two present opening times with children being allowed to open a few gifts after midnight mass and most of them in the morning.
People that don’t go to a midnight service will put the gifts under the tree and the family will open the gifts when they wake up. Christmas Trees are common now, but not everyone had a tree until around the 1970s. However, the Nativity Scene (or Presépio) is the traditional christmas decoration in Portugal, and most families will have a small one with just the holy family and the animals; but often the scenes have dozens of characters including the holy family, animals, the wise men, shepherds, farmers, folk characters, etc. Children like to make the nativity scene, fetching moss to make the grass and arranging the figures.
Some shops and clubs still make huge nativity scenes with over one hundred figures, waterfalls, windmills that rotate, and lights! People like to go and see the big scenes. Every house has a rich table set in the living room full with traditional food, cakes, fried cookies, nuts and other goodies! Turkey is often the main dish now.
Traditionally it was goat or lamb in northern Portugal and pork in the south of the country. Also, each region traditionally has its own selection of deserts. In the northern province of Minho, rich people would have rich desserts made with lots of eggs such as ‘Lampreia de ovos’. Normal people would be more likely to have something like rice pudding.
French Toast (called ‘Rabanadas’) is popular throughout the country as are fried dough deserts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon like ‘filhós’. Filhós are also made differently in different regions. Alentejo province makes them with crated carrot and shapes them balls. Beira Province makes them flat and round with just the flour and water and sometimes some orange or lemon zest to flavour the dough.
The traditional Christmas cake is ‘Bolo Rei’ (which means ‘King Cake’) and is placed in the center of the table. There is also a version without candied fruit called the ‘Bolo Rainha’. Traditionally, a broad bean and a gift (a little token) are hidden in the cake. If you get the token you are allowed to keep it.
But if you find the broad bean, you have to pay for next year’s Bolo Rei! People drink porto wine, traditional liquors and eat ‘azevias’ and ‘felhozes’ (Portuguese biscuits and sweets). The party lasts until the early hours of the morning! On Christmas Day, the living room table remains untouched and people still enjoy their goodies together!
Families come together and have Christmas Day lunch together. After Christmas (and never before!) and going into the first weeks of January, groups of people will go from house to house with an image of the baby Jesus in his manger singing the ‘Janeiras’ songs (January songs). They are often accompanied with small instruments. They usually start with an opening song asking the owner of the house for food and drink!
The owner of the house should invite them in to warm up and to help themselves of a spread of snacks sweet like dry figs with walnuts inside them or savory like cheese and chorizo and some wine or brandy. If you don’t open your door, or your food and drink doesn’t meet what is expected (especially if you’re rich), the singers will sing songs mocking you (like saying you’ve got a big nose)! Normally after enjoying the food, the January singers will sing a song of thanks praising the generosity of the hosts, saying how nice you are and saying any single girls are very beautiful! In the region of Penamacor, a special Christmas tradition called the ‘Christmas Madeiro’ takes place on Christmas Eve.
Traditionally, young men who were about to go into the military (for compulsory military service) were meant to steal whole trees to make the tallest fire in the church yard. However, compulsory military service was stopped in 2004 in Portugal, but the tradition of lighting the Madeiro stump/fire still takes place in some area. The fire is lit just before the Midnight mass or during it “to warm baby Jesus’s feet”! It also gives people a warm place to meet friends, chat and sing songs when they come out of midnight mass.
The Madeiro is sometimes so big that it will keep on burning for Christmas day as well! The wood for this Madeiro was traditionally stolen – it should not be bought! If the boys were caught by the owners of the trees, then they have to pay for it. However, nowadays the wood is normally paid for after Christmas or it is discretely donated by the boy’s parents; or relatives who tell them where some trees that are sick, or which need felling are, so they can get them from there!
In Portuguese, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Natal or Boas Festas’. Songs and singing are very popular at Christmas time in Puerto Rico. People like to carol singing, known as Parrandas (also sometimes called Asalto or Trulla). Friends gather late in the evening (about 10pm) and visit different houses.
People are meant to be surprised and woken up by the music and singing of the ‘parranderos’ (those taking part in the ‘parranda’), although most people have ‘arranged’ that they will be visited; because the custom is that when you’ve been ‘woken up’ you have to join in the parranda so it grows during the evening as more party go-ers join in! The fun can last all night, finishing at dawn! Another popular type of music at Christmas in Puerto Rico are ‘Aguinaldos’ (Christmas songs). Some are religious and they’re called ‘villancicos’.
Some have a creole/criollo rhythm called ‘décimas navideñas’. Popular and traditional Christmas songs are also sung and played. Puerto Rican home are decorated with greenery, often with branches from palm trees as well as Christmas decorations similar to those in the USA like Christmas Trees (normally artificial). Nativity Scenes ‘nacimientos’ or ‘pesebres’ are also popular. The figures of the Three Kings are very important.
People also like to wear a traditional straw hat called a ‘pava’ at Christmas celebrations. Christmas Eve is known as ‘Nochebuena’. The main celebrations and Christmas meal happen on Nochebuena. Christmas Day (‘Navidad’) is the day that you recover from the Nochebuena!
‘Misa de Aguinaldos’ are special Catholic Masses which are held from the 15th to the 24th December. The services are nearly all sung and use traditional Puerto Rican musical instruments such as the cuatro (a Puerto Rican guitar), guitars, güiros (a percussion instrument you rub a stick up and down), and maracas. The masses are held at dawn (about 6am). On Christmas Eve there’s a special Misa de Aguinaldo at midnight called the Misa de Gallo (mass of the rooster).
It is a very important and festive mass which includes carols, a nativity play with children dressed people from the Christmas Story and there’s lots of candles. It’s traditional for families to go to the mass to celebrate Christmas. The main Christmas meal is normally ‘lechón asado’ (roast pork often cooked on a spit) served with ‘arroz con gandules’ (rice, pigeon peas and pork which is cooked in sofrito sauce), ‘plátano’ (plantains) and ‘pasteles’ (a dough made from mashed green bananas filled with meat and wrapped/cooked in banana leaves). Cooking the roast pig can take all day and starts early in the morning.
Lots of Christmas music is played during the day to keep people entertained. Popular Christmas desserts are ‘arroz con dulce’ (a kind of rice pudding) and ‘tembleque’ (a set custard made with coconut milk). The desserts are eaten cold. People like to drink ‘coquito’ (a drink like eggnog made with an adult beverage!).
Guests often bring the desserts. On December 28th, Holy Innocents Day ‘Día de los Inocentes’ is celebrated. It’s a bit like April Fools day where people try to trick each other. But in the town of Hatillo there’s an old custom of a carnival on that day.
Men dressed as King Herod’s soldiers ‘kidnap’ children and people have to give the soldiers sweets and candy to get the children back! New Year’s Eve is called ‘Despedida de Año’ or ‘Año Viejo’. When the clock strikes midnight, it’s traditional to eat a grape on each chime for good luck! Then everyone hugs each other and people celebrate the new year letting of fireworks and firecrackers and honk their car horns!
People then like to listen to a traditional poem called ‘El Brindis del Bohemio’ (A Bohemian Toast) which is played on the radio. Epiphany is also a popular celebration in Puerto Rico. Epiphany Eve on the 5th of January is called ‘Víspera de Reyes’. Traditional Catholics go to church to pray the rosary to honor the Three Wisemen/Kings.
Children also hope that they be left gifts by the Wise Men and leave fresh grass in shoeboxes under their beds for the King’s camels to eat. Epiphany on the 6th January is called ‘Día de Reyes’ (Day of the Kings). Children wake up early to check out what the Kings have left them! On the 6th, 7th and 8th people also remember the three Wisemen/Kings: 6th = Gaspar; 7th = Melchor; 8th = Baltazar.
Traditionally after Epiphany and starting on the 9th where the Octavas and Octavitas. There are special services honouring Jesus and the Kings/Wisemen. They last eight days each – so another sixteen days of celebrations! But not many people take part in them these days and Christmas and New Year celebrations often finish after ‘Día de Reyes’.
In Romania, Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is when people celebrate St. Ignatius’s Day. It is traditional that if the family keep pigs, one pig is cooked and used on this day. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals.
Sfantul Nicolae Day (St Nicholas) is celebrated on the 6th December. On the evening of the 5th December children clean their shoes or boots and leave them by the door and hope that Sfantul Nicolae will leave them some small presents! Sfantul Nicolae might also be called ‘Moş Nicolae’ (Old Man Nicholas) and although he is celebrated in December, it’s not part of the Christmas celebrations! A tradition says that if it snows on December 6th, Sfantul Nicolae has shaken his beard so that winter can begin.
The Christmas celebrations really begin on Christmas Eve, 24th, when it’s time to decorate the Christmas Tree. This is done in the evening of Christmas Eve. In Romanian, Christmas Eve is called ‘Ajunul Craciunului’. Carol singing (known as ‘Colindatul’) is also a very popular part of Christmas in Romania.
On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house performing to the adults in the houses. They normally dance as well. The children get sweets, fruit, traditional cakes called ‘cozonaci’ and sometimes money for singing well. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.
A traditional Romanian Carol is the ‘Star Carol’. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. In the middle of the star is a picture of baby Jesus or a nativity scene. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing.
The words of the Star Carol are:
“The star has appeared on high,
Like a big secret in the sky,
The star is bright,
May all your wishes turn out right.”
Other popular carols to sing include ‘Oh, What Wondrous Tidings’ (‘O, ce veste minunata’) and ‘Three Wise Men coming from the East’ (‘Trei Crai de la rasarit’). In many parts of Romania, it’s also traditional that someone dresses up as a goat, with a multicolored mask, and goes round with the carol singers. The goat is known as the ‘Capra’ and it jumps and dances around getting up to lots of mischief!
Another Christmas Eve tradition is a drumming band or ‘dubasi’. This is normally made up of single men. A band can have up to 50 or 60 men in it! As well as the drums there’s often a saxophone and violin.
The band will practice for about a month before Christmas so they are really good. The go round the streets and are given presents. In Romanian, Merry Christmas is ‘Crăciun Fericit’. In Romania, Santa Claus is known as ‘Moş Crăciun’ (Old Man Christmas), and ‘Moş Gerilă’ (Old Man Frost).
Traditional Romanian Christmas foods include Roast Gammon and Pork Chops (made from the dead pig!), ‘Ciorba de perisoare’ which is a slightly sour vegetable soup made with fermented bran and pork meatballs; ‘Sarmale’ cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and served with polenta; ‘Cozonac’ a rich fruit bread; Romanian doughnuts called ‘gogosi’ and cheesecakes. New Year’s Eve is also an important celebration in Romania. It’s sometimes called Little Christmas.
Traditionally a small, decorated plough called a ‘Plugusorul’ is paraded through the streets on New Year’s Eve. It is meant to help people have good crops during the following year. On New Year’s Day, children wish people a Happy New Year while carrying around a special bouquet called a ‘Sorcova’. Traditionally, the Sorcova was made of twigs from one or more fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry or plum.
They’re put into water in a warm place on 30th November, so they hopefully come into leaf and blossom on New Year’s Eve! Nowadays often a single twig of an apple or pear tree is used and it’s decorated with flowers made from colored paper. In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time. Now Christmas is normally celebrated on January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December).
The date is different because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so it’s 40 days long. The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th.
In Russian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘s rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM’ (C рождеством!) or ‘s-schah-st-lee-vah-vah rah-zh dee-st-vah’ (Счастливого рождества!). Some people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat ‘sochivo’ or ‘kutia’ a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies! Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, this bowl symbolizes unity.
In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck to the ceiling, some people thought it meant they would have good luck and would have a good harvest! The Russian word for Christmas Eve ‘sochelnik’, comes from the word ‘sochivo’. Some Orthodox Christian Russian also don’t eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal/feast.
Other popular Christmas Eve foods include beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom); salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads. Sauerkraut is main dish in the Christmas Eve meal. It can be served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. It might be followed by more pies or porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms.
Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.’Vzvar’ (meaning ‘boil-up’) is often served at the end of the meal. It’s a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
Following the meal, prayers might be said and people then go to the midnight Church services. They often don’t wash the dishes until they get home from Church – sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am! The New Year celebrations are still very important to Russians (sometimes more than Christmas). This is when ‘Grandfather Frost’ (known in Russian as ‘Ded Moroz’ or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children.
He is always accompanied by his Granddaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year’s eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is ‘S Novym Godom’.
One of the most famous things about Christmas in Russia, to people in western Europe and the USA, is the story of Babushka. Babushka means Grand Mother in Russian. It tells the story of an old women who met the Wise men on their way to see Jesus. However, most people in Russia have never heard of the story.
It seems that it was probably created by an American poet and writer called Edith Matilda Thomas in 1907.
The Story of Babushka
Once in a small Russian town, there lived a woman called Babushka. Babushka always had work to do sweeping, polishing, dusting and cleaning. Her house was the best kept, most tidy house in the whole village.
Her garden was beautiful and her cooking was wonderful. One evening she was busy dusting and cleaning, so busy that she didn’t hear all the villagers outside in the village square talking about and looking at the new star in sky. She had heard about the new star but thought, “All this fuss about a star! I don’t even have the time to look because I’m so behind with my work. I must work all night!”
So, she missed the star as it shone brightly, high overhead. She also missed the little line of twinkling lights coming down towards the village at dawn. She didn’t hear the sounds of the pipes and drums. She missed the voices and whispers of the villagers wondering whether the lights were an army or a procession of some sort.
She missed the sudden quiet of the villagers and even the footsteps coming up the path to her door. But the one thing that she couldn’t miss was the loud knocking on her front door! “Now what is that?” she wondered, opening the door. Babushka gaped in amazement.
There were three kings at her door with one of their servants! “My masters need a place to rest,” the servant said, “and yours is the best house in the village.” “You want to stay here?” asked Babushka. “Yes, it would only be until night falls and the star appears again.” the servant replied.
Babushka gulped. “Come in, then.” she said. The kings were very pleased when they saw all of the of the home-baked bread, pies and cakes. She dashed about, serving them, asking lots of questions.
“Have you come a long way?” “A very long way.” sighed Caspar. “Where are you going?”
“We’re following the new star.” said Melchior. “But where?” The kings didn’t know, but they believed that it would lead the to a new-born king, a King of Earth and Heaven.
“Why don’t you come with us?” asked Balthasar. “You could bring him a gift like we do. I bring gold, and my colleagues bring spices and perfumes.”
“Oh, I’m not sure that he would welcome me,” said Babushka, “and what could I bring for a gift? Toys! I know I could bring a toy. I’ve got a cupboard full of toys.”
she said sadly. “My baby son, died when he was small.” Balthasar stopped her as she went to tidy the kitchen up. “This new king could be your king too.
Come with us when the star appears tonight.” he said. “I’ll think about it.” sighed Babushka.
As the kings slept, Babushka tidied up as quietly as she could. “What a lot of extra work there was!” she thought, “and this new king, what a funny idea, to go off with the kings to find him.” Babushka shook herself.
There was no time for dreaming, all this washing-up and putting away had to be done. “Anyway,” she thought, “how long would she be away? What would she wear? What about the gift?”
She sighed. “There is so much to do. The house will have to be cleaned when they’ve gone. I couldn’t just leave it.”
Suddenly it was night-time again and the star was in the sky. “Are you ready, Babushka?” asked Balthasar. “I’ll come tomorrow,” Babushka called, “I must just tidy here first and find a gift.”
The kings went away sadly. Babushka ran back into her house, keen to get on with her work. Finally, she went to the small cupboard, opened the door and gazed at all the toys. But they were very dusty. They weren’t fit for a baby king.
They would all need to be cleaned. She cleaned all of the toys until each one shined. Babushka looked through the window. It was morning!
The star had came and gone. The kings would have found somewhere else to rest by now. She could easily catch them up, but she felt so tired. She had to sleep.
The next thing she knew, she was awake and it was dark outside. She had slept all day! She quickly pulled on her cloak, packed the toys in a basket and ran down the path the kings had taken. Everywhere she asked “Have you seen the kings?”
“Oh yes,” everyone told her, “we saw them. They went that way.” For a day Babushka followed the trail of the kings and the villages got bigger and became towns. But Babushka never stopped.
Then she came to a city. “The palace,” she thought. “That’s where the royal baby would be born.” “No, there is no royal baby here,” said the palace guard when she asked him.
“What about three kings?” asked Babushka. “Oh yes, they came here, but they didn’t stay long. They were soon on their journey.”
“But where to?” asked Babushka. “Bethlehem, that was the place. I can’t imagine why.
It’s a very poor place. But that’s where they went.” replied the guard. She set off towards Bethlehem.
It was evening when Babushka arrived at Bethlehem and she had been travelling for a long time. She went into the local inn and asked about the kings. “Oh yes,” said the landlord, “the kings were here two days ago. They were very excited, but they didn’t even stay the night.”
“And what about a baby?” Babushka cried. “Yes there was.” Said the landlord.
“The kings asked about a baby, too.” When he saw the disappointment in Babushka’s eyes, he stopped. “If you’d like to see where the baby was,” he said quickly, “it was across the yard there. I couldn’t offer the couple anything better at the time.
My inn was really full, so they had to go in the stable.”
Babushka followed him across the yard. “Here’s the stable.” he said.
He left her in the stable. “Babushka?” Someone was calling her from the doorway. He looked kindly at her.
She wondered if he knew where the family had gone. She knew now that the baby king was the most important thing in the world to her. “They have gone to Egypt, and safety,” he told Babushka. “And the kings have returned to their countries.
But one of them told me about you. I am sorry but you are too late. It was Jesus that they found, the world’s Savior.” Babushka was very sad that she had missed Jesus and it is said that Babushka is still looking for him.
In Serbia and Montenegro, the main Church is the Orthodox Church and they still use the old ‘Julian’ Calendar, which means that Christmas Eve is on 6th January and Christmas Day is on the 7th January! Advent in the Orthodox Church starts on 28th November and last for six weeks. During Advent, some people fast and they don’t eat food that comes from animals (meat, milk, eggs, etc.). On Christmas Eve, families gather and many people fast and don’t eat food that comes from animals.
It is the last day of the Christmas fast. Christmas is a very religious holiday and most people go to the Christmas Services. There are a lot of old Serbian traditions associated with the countryside, which have now lost their meaning because more people live in towns and cities. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak called the ‘Badnjak’ (Christmas Eve tree) but today people just buy one.
Under the table there should also be some straw as a symbol of the stable/cave where Jesus was born. There are sometimes large bonfires outside churches where oak branches are burnt. At Christmas a special kind of bread is eaten. It’s called ‘cesnica’ and each member of the family gets a piece (and the house does too).
There is a coin hidden in it and whoever gets the coin will be particularly fortunate in the next year! In Serbian Happy/Merry Christmas is Hristos se rodi (Христос се роди) – Christ is born Vaistinu se rodi (Ваистину се роди) – truly born (reply). People in Serbia and Montenegro also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day, but on the 19th December. During the time when Serbia and Montenegro was under communist control (after World War II until about 20 years ago), the communist government didn’t like St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, so they had their own version called Grandfather Frost (Дедa Мрaз / Deda Mraz) or Christmas Brother (Божић Бата / Božić Bata), who came on New Year’s Eve.
Traditional Serbian customs have also mixed with western customs. For example, people also have Christmas Trees but they are decorated on New Year’s Eve, not at Christmas! In Slovakia, Christmas celebrations begin with Advent. Many Slovaks are Roman Catholics so this is the start of the important spiritual preparations for Christmas.
Slovaks also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day on the 6th December. In Slovakia he is known as sv. Mikulas. He comes in the evening of the 5th December and gives presents to good children. Young children place their shoes near the door so sv. Mikulas can fill them with sweets and fruit.
During Advent there are lots of preparations to be made for Christmas. This includes cleaning the house, baking, shopping and buying the Christmas Tree. Carps are also sold on the streets from big tanks (carp is eaten in the main Christmas meal). Christmas Eve is the most important day during Christmas for Slovaks.
It is called ‘Stedry den’ (the Generous Day). The actual evening is called ‘Stedry vecer’ (the Generous Evening) and the Christmas season is called ‘Vianoce’. In Slovakian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Vesele Vianoce’. Slovak Christmas Trees are decorated with coloured lights, fruits, hand-made decorations made of wood, baked goods made with honey in the form of Angels and other religious symbols and sweets.
Christmas Trees are kept until January 6th, Feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany). Then the children are allowed to finally eat the candies and other sweets from the tree. Christmas gifts are brought to children by the Baby Jesus. Family gifts are put under the Christmas Tree. A common tradition is that the children have to leave the room when the presents are being brought by Jesus.
When they are there, a bell is rung. The children then run to the Christmas Tree to try and see the Baby Jesus but they always narrowly miss him! Then the present are opened. Most people open their presents after the main Christmas meal, although some open them before they eat!
On Christmas Eve morning the carp is prepared for supper (or some other kind of fish is taken out of the freezer!). During the day the supper is cooked. It used to be the custom to fast (not to eat anything) all through Christmas Eve. This was a direction given by the Catholic Church.
The main Christmas meal is known as the ‘velija’ and consists of 12 dishes (the number of dishes symbolizes the number of Jesus’s disciples). The table is prepared with a white table cloth with straw and sheaves of wheat at each end. Christmas dinner begins with Oplatky small bread wafers and a blessing.
The main Christmas supper varies between regions and families. It normally has lots of courses including a fish dish and ‘Kapustnica’. Kapustnica is a thick cabbage soup with sausage, meat, dried mushrooms and cream. Every family has its own recipe.
Some recipes include ingredients that might seem unusual such as dried plums and apples. Carp is often the fish that is eaten. Some people buy it live and keep it in their bath until it’s time to prepare and bake it. And if you want a bath or shower, you have to take it out of the bath and put it in a bucket!
Other dishes might include a baked ham or a roost goose, ‘bobajky’ small pieces of bread mixed with butter and sauerkrat or sweetened with honey and poppyseeds, potato salad, pirohy dumplings, vegetables and plenty of walnut rolls or cookies.
Cookies are a popular dessert and treat at Christmas. Some favorites include vanilla ones made with poppy seeds and walnuts and apricot cookies. Sometimes people will make more than 10 different types of cookies.
These are given to visitors over Christmas. There are also special thin waffles that are eaten with honey. After supper people might visit the close family or neighbors and give small gifts. Then many people will go to a Midnight Mass Service.
This is the busiest Church service of the year. In Slovakia, there are many regional variations of the Christmas Eve celebrations. Some are local folk custom and rituals, that date back many years. One tradition is to clean the house and windows ready for Christmas.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day (26th) are much quieter and days of rest. People might go to Holy Mass Service and visit their family on Christmas Day. Families with children like to go to church and watch ‘Bethlehems’ (crib scenes) which are displayed in almost every church. Some of them are mechanical!
Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summer. So there’s lots of sun and beautiful flowers in full bloom. The schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and some people like to go camping. Going carol singing, on Christmas Eve, is very popular in towns and cities.
Because South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in the summer. So there’s lots of sun and beautiful flowers in full bloom. The schools are closed for the Christmas holidays and some people like to go camping. Going carol singing, on Christmas Eve, is very popular in towns and cities.
Carols by Candlelight services are also popular on Christmas Eve. And many people go to a Christmas morning Church Service. Traditional ‘fir’ Christmas trees are popular and children leave a stocking out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The Christmas meal is either turkey (or duck), roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice and raisins and vegetables, followed by Christmas Pudding or a traditional South African desert called Malva Pudding (sometimes also called Lekker Pudding).
People also like to pull Christmas Crackers! The meal is often eaten outside in the summer sun! If it’s really hot they might even have a barbecue or ‘braai’. South Africa also has several other UK Christmas traditions, because of its history with the UK. On Christmas day afternoon, people visit family and friends or might go for a trip into the countryside to play games or have a swim.
Boxing Day is also a public holiday in South Africa and again people like to be ‘out and about’ having a good time! In Afrikaans, (one the languages spoken in South Africa) Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Geseënde Kersfees’; in Zulu it’s ‘UKhisimusi omuhle’ and in Sesotho it’s ‘Le be le keresemese e monate’. Santa Claus is also known as Sinterklaas and Kersvader for people who speak Afrikaans (which has a base in Dutch).There are more Christians in South Korea (the Republic of Korea) than in other asian countries such as China and Japan, so Christmas is celebrated more widely.
There are more Christians in South Korea (the Republic of Korea) than in other asian countries such as China and Japan, so Christmas is celebrated more widely. (Christians make up about 25-30% of the population.) However, the other 70% of people in South Korea are Buddhist (about 25%) or don’t have a religion. Unlike Japan, Christmas is an official public holiday – so people have the day off work and school!
But they go back on the 26th (Boxing Day). There’s a longer official winter break in the New Year. Churches are decorated with lights and many have a bright red neon cross on top (all the year!) so that goes very well with the Christmas lights! Most churches will have a service on Christmas Day.
Going to Church for Christmas is becoming more popular, even among non Christians. Department stores put on big displays of decorations. There’s also an amazing display of lights in the capital city, Seoul. The lights are all over the city centre including the bridges over the Han River.
Some people (especially Christians and westerners who live in South Korea) will have decorations at home including a Christmas tree. Presents are exchanged and a popular present is money! Giving actually gifts has become more popular, but giving money is still very common. Santa Claus can also be seen around Korea but he might be wearing red or blue!
He’s also known as 산타 클로스 (santa kullosu) or 산타 할아버지 (Santa Grandfather). A popular Christmas food is a Christmas Cake, but it’s often a sponge cake covered in cream brought from a local bakery! Or you might even have an ice cream cake from a shop like ‘Baskin Robbins’! Happy/Merry Christmas in Korean is ‘Meri krismas’ (메리 크리스마스) or ‘Jeulgaeun krismas doeseyo’ (즐거운 크리스마스 되세요). Christians can say ‘Sungtan chukhahaeyo’ (성탄 축하해요) to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
If you live in North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Christmas will be very different. Being a Christian is ‘officially’ allowed but you can go to jail, or even be put to death for being a Christian or even having a Bible. Christians in North Korea have to meet in secret and any celebrations of Christmas will also be held in secret. 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!) In Galicia (a region in north-west Spain, surrounded by water) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood.
This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks, to lobster and small edible crabs. 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!’ A few different languages are spoken in different regions in Spain.
In Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’; in Catalan it’s ‘Bon Nadal’; in Galician ‘Bo Nadal’; and in Basque (or Euskara in basque) ‘Eguberri on’. December 28th is ‘Día de los santos inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’ and is very like April Fools Day in the UK and USA. People try to trick each other into believing silly stories and jokes. Newspapers and TV stations also run silly stories.
If you trick someone, you can call them ‘Inocente, inocente’ which means ‘innocent, innocent’. 28th December is when people all over the world remember the babies that were put to death on the orders of King Herod when he was trying to put the baby Jesus to death. New Year’s Eve is called ‘Nochevieja’ or ‘The Old Night’ in Spain and one special tradition is that you eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock at Midnight! Each grape represents a month of the coming year, so if you eat the twelve grapes, you are said to be lucky in the new year.
Apart from Christmas, there is another festival that is celebrated in Spain that is about the Christmas Story. It is called Epiphany and is celebrated on 6th January. In Spanish, Epiphany is called ‘Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages’: in English this means ‘The festival of the three Magic Kings’. Epiphany celebrates when the Kings or Wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus.
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. And on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) they leave shoes on windowsills or balconies or under the Christmas Tree to be filled with presents.
Gifts are often left by children for the Kings, a glass of Cognac for each King, a satsuma and some walnuts. Sometimes a bucket of water is left for the camels that bring the Kings! If the children have been bad, the Kings might leave pieces of coal made out of sugar in the presents! Some big towns and cities have Epiphany Parades with each King having a big float that is shaped like a camel.
Sometimes there are also real camels in the parade. The Three Kings in the Spanish Epiphany are:
Gaspar, who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Frankincense is sometimes used in worship in Churches and showed that people worship Jesus.
Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus. Myrrh is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice and showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
Christmas in the Basque Country
In the Basque Country (which is a part of northern Spain and southern France), on Christmas Eve, children’s presents are delivered by a magical man called Olentzero. He’s a big, overweight man wearing a beret and smoking a pipe. He dresses like a Basque farmer.
Christmas in Catalonia
In the Catalonia province of Spain there’s a Christmas character called ‘Tió de Nadal’ (the Christmas log) or he’s sometimes known as ‘Caga tio’ (the pooping log!). It’s a small hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. From the 8th December (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) Catalan families gives the log a few morsels of food to ‘eat’ and a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the log then ‘gives out’ small gifts!
People sing songs and hit the log with sticks to help its ‘digestion’ and the log drops sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. When garlic or an onion falls out of the log, all of the treats are finished for the year. Nativity Scenes ‘Pesebres’ are also popular in Catalonia (and all throughout Spain!). Many towns also hold ‘Pastorets’ which are big plays/presentations about the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus.
They have lots of music and readings from the Bible. A special cake called ‘Roscón’ is eaten at Epiphany. Roscón means ‘ring shape roll’. It is very doughy and is bought from a bakery on Epiphany morning.
Roscón can be filled with cream or chocolate and contain a little gift. Although Sri Lanka is a mostly Buddhist country (only 7% of people are Christians) Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday by everyone. Most Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholics. There has been influences from several different European countries.
Sri Lanka (it was also called Ceylon) was ruled by the Portuguese from 1505 to 1650, the Dutch from 1658 to 1796 and the British from 1815 to 1948. For Christians in Sri Lanka, the Christmas season starts on 1st December when people let off firecrackers at dawn! The streets are decorated and the shopping centres have large Christmas Trees in them. Big companies have Christmas parties and large hotels have Christmas dinner dances.
The Christians go to Midnight Mass services all over the country. They also invite friends, both Christian and non Christian to their homes for parties. New Year is also widely celebrated with more fire crackers! There are also Midnight Mass services for New Year.
In Sri Lanka Santa is called Naththal Seeya. In Sinhala, spoken in Sri Lanka, Merry Christmas is ‘Suba Naththalak Wewa’ (සුබ නත්තලක් වේවා). Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was put to death for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.
December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia’s Day. St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used! The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter.
Schools normally have their own St. Lucia’s and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung. A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucia also visits hospitals and old people’s homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out ‘Pepparkakor’, ginger snap biscuits.
Small children sometimes like dressing up as Lucia (with the help of their parents!). Also boys might dress up as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys) and girls might be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles). A popular food eaten at St. Lucia’s day are ‘Lussekatts’, St Lucia’s day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast. St Lucia’s Day first became widely celebrated in Sweden in the late 1700s.
St Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia. In Denmark it is more a of a children’s day and in some part of Italy, children are told that St Lucy brings them presents. They leave out a sandwich for her and the donkey that helps carry the gifts! Christmas Eve is also very important in Sweden.
This is when the main meal (well really a feast!) is eaten. This is often a ‘julbord’ which is a buffet, eaten at lunchtime. Cold fish is important on the julbord. There is often herring (served in many different ways), gravlax (salmon which has been cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon.
Other dishes on the julbord might include cold meats including turkey, roast beef and ‘julskinka’ (a Christmas ham); cheeses, liver pate, salads, pickles and different types of bread and butter (or mayonnaise). There will also be warm savoury foods including meatballs, ‘prinskorv’ (sausages), ‘koldomar’ (meat stuffed cabbage rolls), jellied pigs’ feet, lutefisk (a dried cod served with a thick white sauce) and ‘revbenspjäll’ (oven-roasted pork ribs). Vegetables such as potatoes and red cabbage will also be served. Another potato dish is ‘Janssons Frestelse’ (matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies that is baked to a golden brown).
There’s also ‘dopp i grytan’ which is bread that is dipped in the broth and juices that are left over after boiling the ham. The desert of the julbord might be a selection of sweet pastries, some more pepparkakor biscuits and some homemade sweets! To wash all that food down you can have some adult beverages to finish off the meal! Another popular food at Christmas in Sweden is ‘risgrynsgröt’ (rice porridge that’s eaten with ‘hallonsylt’ [raspberry jam] or sprinkled with some cinnamon). It’s often eaten during the evening after people have exchanged their presents.
If there is any risgrynsgröt left over, when it’s cold it can be mixed with whipped cream and eaten with a warm fruit sauce. This is called ‘Ris a la malta’ and sounds rather yummy! Presents are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve. People often go to Church early on Christmas morning.
Another popular and important that many Swedes do on Christmas Eve afternoon is to watch Donald Duck!
Every year, since 1959, at 3.00pm on Christmas Eve, the TV station TV1 shows the Disney special “From All of Us to All of You” or in Swedish it’s “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” meaning “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.” About 40 to 50% of the Swedish population stop to watch it! Families sometimes have goats made of straw in the house to guard the Christmas Tree!
Straw is used as a decoration in homes, to remind them that Jesus was born in a manger. Christmas Tree decorations that are made of straw are also very popular. In the city of Gävle, a huge straw goat is built every year for the start of Advent. It takes two days to put up!
In Sweden, presents might be brought by Santa called ‘Jultomten’ or by gnomes/elves called ‘Nissar’ or ‘Tomte’. They’re called Nisse’ in Norway. The end of Christmas in Sweden is on January 13th (twenty days after Christmas) which is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ (Twentieth Day Knut) or ‘Tjugondag jul’ (Twentieth Day Yule) and is named after a Danish prince called Canute Lavard. On Tjugondag Knut it’s traditional that the Christmas Tree is taken down and and left over cookies and sweets are eaten!
In Swedish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘God Jul’. Christmas in Switzerland shares many of the customs from its neighbours Germany and Austria. But it has many traditions of its own! Advent marks the start of the Christmas preparations.
Advent calendars and crowns are both popular. In some villages, there are ‘real’ advent calendars with different houses decorating an ‘Advent Window’. On the day when it’s your house with the advent window, you hold a party for the villagers in the evening. There’s food, adult beverages and music.
Christmas markets are very popular in towns and cities where you can buy all kinds of Christmas foods and decorations. There are big light displays and you can enjoy some more hot adult beverages! There are many local traditions of parades and carol singing in Switzerland. In the Bernese Oberland region, there are processions starting on Christmas Day and finishing on New Year’s Eve.
They’re known as the ‘Trychle’ as people parade wearing a big cow bell or carrying drums and normally wearing masks. They walk through the streets making lots of noise and are meant to scare the evil spirits away! The ‘Urnäsch Silvesterkläuse’ processions take place in the Appenzell Ausserrhoden, especially in the villages around Urnäsch. They take place from December 31 to January 13 and date back over 200 years.
The people (known as Kläuse in the processions) wear costumes, masks and head dresses. They go from house to house singing and making lots of noise to wish people a good new year. ‘Star Singing’ is also very popular among children. They go carol singing from the last week of Advent until Epiphany, carrying a large star infant of them.
The star represents the star that the Wise Men followed when they visited the baby Jesus. In Switzerland, St Nicholas is known as ‘Samichlaus’ and he might visit you on 6th December. You might also be fortunate enough to have some presents from the baby Jesus (or Father Christmas) on the 25th and on Epiphany (6th January) you might be visited by the Befana (in South Switzerland) and/or the Three Kings (in the rest of Switzerland). That’s a lot of present bringers! Christmas Trees are popular in Switzerland and are often bought and decorated on Christmas Eve.
Some people like use real candles on the tree, which are traditionally lit on Christmas Eve (when the presents are being opened!) and on New Year’s Eve (for good luck). The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve and popular foods include a Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes with melted cheese and milk baked into it. Desert is often a walnut cake and Christmas cookies. Cookies are very popular to buy and make.
Each family has their own recipes and favorites. Another popular food, especially for parties, is fondue (a pot of melted cheese which you dip bread in – and you might have to kiss the person on your left!). Sometimes ‘FIGUGEGL’ (fee-goo-geck-ul) is added to party invitations. This means ‘Fondu isch guet und git e gueti Lune’ (fondue is good and gives a good mood).
Christmas is celebrated more widely in Taiwan than in mainland China. Although not many people in Taiwan are Christians (about 5%), many stores will sell Christmas related items at Christmas time. It’s also not a national holiday in Taiwan. Even so, most children know about Santa Claus and might even know a Christmas song or two!
Parents of children at popular English schools expect a full Christmas festival, complete with gift exchanges, singing, and of course, a visit to the school from Santa! Many schools will perform a kind of Christmas a pageant or play with sugar plum fairies, reindeer, snowflakes, elves and other Christmas characters singing on stage for parents. People also like to wear santa hats around Christmas time! Many store owners will wear the hats as well.
Christmas cakes, a tradition more from Japan, is something that is slightly popular in Taiwan. Christmas is a very social time in Trinidad and Tobago with most people having parties. Both children and adults go from house to house between neighbors and relatives for food and drink. The radio stations play Trinidadian Christmas carols and songs as well as traditional and contemporary carols from the USA.
A special Trinidadian music, Parang, is also played. Parang is an upbeat Venezuela-Trinidad hybrid. Most people paint and make repairs to their houses and hang new curtains and decorations (especially lights) for Christmas. Often, this is the time that most people buy new electrical appliances and furniture.
Most families spend Christmas Day at home with friends and family members. The Christmas day meal is usually prepared throughout mid-December, and into the new year! The traditional Trinibagonian Christmas meal include apples and grapes, sorrel, ponche-de-creme (a version of egg nog), ham, turkey, homemade bread, ginger beer, pastelles (a version of tamales) and local wine. Trinidadian Christmas fruitcake is traditional and is eaten in most homes.
The fruits (such as raisins and sultanas) in the cake are usually soaked in cherry wine, sherry and rum for several months before Christmas! New Year’s Eve is known as ‘Ole year’s night’ in Trinidad, and people love to let off fireworks to celebrate the coming of the new year! In the UK (or Great Britain), 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. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in to England. 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. The Church that I go to always has a Carols by Candlelight Service where the church is only lit up by candles. It is a very special service and always makes me feel very Christmassy!
Lots of other British churches also have Carols by Candlelight and Christingle services. Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillowcases. 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.
Now, some people say that a non-alcoholic drink should be left for Santa as he has to drive! Children write letters to Father Christmas/Santa listing their requests, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas/Santa reads the smoke. There are some customs that only take place, or were started, in the UK.
Wassailing is an old anglo-saxon custom that doesn’t take place much today. Boxing Day is a very old custom that started in the UK and is now taken as a holiday in many countries around the world. In Scotland, some people celebrate New Year’s Eve (which is called Hogmanay) more than Christmas! The word Hogmanay comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve.
All across the UK, in cities and towns, there are fireworks to celebrate the New Year. Two of the most famous fireworks displays are in London, along the River Thames, and in Edinburgh at the Hogmanay celebrations. Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there! Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck.
Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as ‘first footing’. In England, it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck. In Scots (a Scottish dialect) Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Blithe Yule’; in Gaelic it’s ‘Nollaig Chridheil’; in Welsh (which is spoken in some parts of Wales it’s ‘Nadolig Llawen’ and Manx (spoken by some people on the Isle of Man) it’s ‘Nollick Ghennal’.
In the UK, the main Christmas Meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It’s normally roast turkey, roast vegetables and ‘all the trimmings’ which means vegetables like carrots & peas, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages. It’s often served with cranberry sauce and bread sauce. (Traditionally, and before turkey was available, roast beef or goose was the main Christmas meal. In Scotland, some people might even have Haggis instead of turkey!).
One vegetable that is often at Christmas in the UK are brussel sprouts. Some people dislike the brussel sprouts. Dessert is often Christmas Pudding. Mince pies and lots of chocolates are often eaten as well!
The dinner table is decorated with a Christmas Cracker for each person and sometimes flowers and candles. The UK is also famous for Christmas Cake – some people love it and some people really don’t like it! It’s traditionally a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing – and often top with Christmas themed cake decorations like a spring of holly. In the UK, it doesn’t snow very often, but people always want to know if it will be a ‘White Christmas’.
In the UK, it doesn’t snow very often, but people always want to know if it will be a ‘White Christmas’. The British definition, used by the UK Meteorological Office (who say if it has been a White Christmas in the UK or not!), is that a single snow flake has been seen falling in the 24 hours of Christmas Day! This doesn’t happen a lot in the UK!!! Statistics show that in the UK, they get an official White Christmas about every 4 or 5 years and have real snow at Christmas about 1 in 10 years (but often this is only normally in Scotland!).
Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on the 7th January is because, like many countries where the main Church is the Orthodox Church, they use the old ‘Julian’ calendar for their church festivals. In Ukrainian, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Веселого Різдва’ Veseloho Rizdva (Merry Christmas) or ‘Христос Рождається’ Khrystos Rozhdayetsia (Christ is Born). The main Christmas meal, called ‘Sviata Vecheria’ (or Holy Supper) is eaten on Christmas Eve (6th January). Traditionally people fast (don’t eat anything) all day but you might start the day drinking some holy water that has been blessed at church.
You can’t start eating the meal until the first star is seen in the sky. So people (especially the hungry ones!) go outside as soon as it start getting dark in the afternoon to try and spot the first star. The star represents the journey of the Wise Men to find Jesus and that Jesus has been born, so Christmas can start! The meal normally has 12 dishes which represent Jesus’s 12 disciples.
The main dish is often ‘kutia’ a type of a kind of sweet porridge made of wheat. Other dishes can include mushrooms, sauerkraut, red ‘borsch’, dumplings known as ‘varenyky’ (Pierogi), whitefish, ‘bigos’ (a meat and cabbage stew), cheese cake and bread. The room where Sviata Vecheria is eaten normally has a Didukh decoration placed in it. The Didukh is a made from a sheaf of wheat and symbolises the large wheat field in Ukraine.
It literally means ‘grandfather spirit’ and can represent people’s ancestors being with them in their memories. Sometimes people use some heads of wheat in a vase rather than a whole sheaf of wheat. After the meal, people love to sing carols or ‘Koliadky’. They can be sung around the table or you might go out caroling in the streets.
People sometimes carry brightly coloured stars on poles when they go caroling singing. The Ukrainian carol ‘Shchedryk’ is where the popular ‘Carol of the Bells’ came from. St Nicholas (known as Svyatyi Mykolai) visits children in Ukraine on December 19th which is also when Ukraine celebrates St Nicholas’s Day. The United States of America has many different traditions and ways that people in celebrate Christmas, because of its multi-cultural nature.
Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Mexico. The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne! Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree!
In New England (the American States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), there are shops called ‘Christmas Shops’ that only sell Christmas decorations and toys all the year round! 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 Rockefeller 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. In Hawaii, Santa is called Kanakaloka! Customs such as Mumming take place in some communities.
On New Year’s Day in Philadelphia there is a Mummer’s Day parade which lasts over six hours! Clubs called “New Year’s Associations” perform in amazing costumes which take months to make. There are four categories (Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades) which are judged. In the Southwest USA, there are some special customs which have some similarities to those in parts of Mexico.
These include ‘luminarias’ or ‘farolitos’ which are paper sacks partly filled with sand and then have a candle put in them. They are lit on Christmas Eve and are put the edges of paths. They represent ‘lighting the way’ for somewhere for Mary and Joseph to stay. A popular food at Christmas in the Southwest USA are tamales.
In the south of Louisiana, on Christmas Eve, families in small communities along the Mississippi River light bonfires along the levees (the high river banks) to help ‘Papa Noel’ (the name for Santa in French as Louisiana has a strong historical connection with France) find his way to the children’s homes! Christmas in Venezuela is one of the most colourful in Latin America and the whole world! Firework shows are very popular. Some traditional Christmas music in Venezuela is ‘Gaita’ music.
This is a type of folk music from the Zulia state. It’s played on several instruments including the ‘Cuatro’ (a guitar with four strings) a ‘Tambora’ (a Venezuelan drum), the ‘Furro’ (a type of drum but it has a stick coming up through the middle of the skin of the drum – this can make it have some different sounds) and the ‘Charrasca’ (a ribbed tube that you rub a stick up and down). The singers are known as ‘Gaiteros’. Another type of music in Venezuela is called ‘Aguinaldos y Parrandas’.
This style is also popular at Christmas as the songs are like carols. Some homes will have a Christmas Tree, but they’re normally artificial ones as pine and fir trees aren’t common in Venezuela. Nativity Scenes (Nacimiento) are very popular and in some regions they are more common than Christmas Trees. Going to Midnight Mass (Misas de Aguinaldo) is very popular and there many other masses and church services in the days before Christmas.
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, there’s a tradition of people roller skating to the early morning church services from 16th to 24th December. The roads are often closed to traffic by 8.00am to make it safe for people to skate! Traditional Venezuelan Christmas foods include ‘Hallacas’ – a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives that is wrapped in maize and plantain leaves and tied up with string into a parcel and then boiled or steamed afterwards; the Pan de Jamón – a type of bread that’s made with puff pastry, filled up with ham, raisins, olives and bacon and shaped like a ‘swiss roll’! Chicken Salad and Pernil (a leg of pork).
Some people also celebrate Santa Barbara’s day on December 4th. The real Christmas celebrations start on December 21st. Another important day, is Epiphany or ‘El Dia de los Reyes Magos’ (the day of The Three Kings) on January 6th. Main presents are given at midnight on Christmas Eve.
In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas day! In Ho Chi Minh city (which is the largest city in Vietnam and used to be called Saigon), people (especially young people) like to go into the city centre, where there is a Catholic Cathedral. The streets are crowded with people on Christmas Eve and in the city centre cars are not allowed for the night. People celebrate by throwing confetti, taking pictures and enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights of big hotels and department stores.
Lots of cafes and restaurants are open for people to enjoy a snack! Not many people in Vietnam are Christians, but some people like to go to Midnight Mass services. Vietnam used to be part of the French Empire and there are still French influences in the Christmas traditions. Many Catholic churches have a big nativity crib scene or ‘creche’ with nearly life size statues of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds and animals.
In some areas of Ho Chi Minh city, usually in Catholic parishes, people have big crib scenes in front of their houses and decorate the whole street, turning it into a Christmas area! These are popular for people to visit and look at the scenes. Happy Christmas in Vietnamese is Chuć Mưǹg Giańg Sinh. Also like in France, the special Christmas Eve meal is called ‘reveillon’ and has a ‘bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for desert.
Vietnamese people like to give presents of food and at Christmas a bûche de Noël is a popular gift. Other Christmas presents aren’t very common, although some young people like to exchange Christmas cards. It’s very hot for Santa in Vietnam and it can’t be very comfortable wearing all that velvet in a hot country! Santa is called ‘Ông già Noel’ (it means Christmas old man).
Many churches in Zambia have nativity plays and a crib in the church. One or two days before Christmas, Zambians like to go carol singing around the local streets for charity.
On Christmas Day, children are encouraged to bring a present to church for children who are in hospital or might not get a present because they are less fortunate. After church, on Christmas day, it is a custom that all the children go to one house and all the adults go to another house to have a party and to eat!
For most people in Zimbabwe, Christmas day starts with a Church service. After the Church service, everyone has a party in their homes and people go from house to house, visiting all of their family and friends on the way home! Sometimes, this can take all of the rest of the day! At every house you have something to eat, exchange presents and enjoy the party.
For most people in Zimbabwe, Christmas day starts with a Church service. After the Church service, everyone has a party in their homes and people go from house to house, visiting all of their family and friends on the way home! Sometimes, this can take all of the rest of the day! At every house you have something to eat, exchange presents and enjoy the party.
Children in Zimbabwe believe that Santa Claus brings them there presents early on Christmas Day, ready to show their friends at Church and at the parties. Only the main room in the house is often decorated in Zimbabwe. Some Zimbabweans have a traditional ‘European’ Christmas Tree, but they decorate the room with plants like Ivy. This is draped around the whole of the top of room.
Christmas Carols are sung during the Christmas Day morning service and in services leading up to Christmas. There are also sometimes Carols by Candlelight Services in city parks. The Christmas Cards that are used in Zimbabwe sometimes have African pictures on them, such as wild animals, but most are imported so they have the traditional ‘snow scenes’ and pictures of the Christmas story on them. The special food eaten at Christmas in Zimbabwe is Chicken with rice.
Chicken is a very expensive food in Zimbabwe and is a special treat for Christmas. This is often eaten at the Christmas Day parties. Santa might sometimes arrive at big stores in a Fire Engine. The streets in the big cities also can have colorful Christmas lights.
I hope you enjoyed!
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