Our own Christmas traditions are so much part and parcel of our festive season, but Christmas is a time that is celebrated throughout the world and in many different ways. The meaning of Christmas is unanimous, however the representations and traditions surrounding it vary worldwide. The festive period brings about a sense of community, which is demonstrated through the celebrations that take place. Christmas is viewed as not only a religious celebration for Christians, but also as a time for loved ones to come together. Take a look at our list to see just how much variation there is in Christmas traditions around the world.
Some of the less usual Christmas traditions take place in Africa. If you’re celebrating Christmas in Ethiopia you’ll be wishing everyone a Melkin Yelidet Beaal (Merry Christmas) on January 7th, which is known as Ganna. Solid volcanic rock has been carved to make the ancient churches that the celebrations take place in. They are also carried out in modern churches that have been purposely designed and built in three concentric circles. People are presented with candles as they listen to the choir outside the circle, whilst entering the church. Once inside the church, the males sit separately to the females. Once the candles have been lit, people then proceed to walk around the church three times and then stand for up to a further 3 hours, whilst the mass takes place. Presents do not play an important part of Christmas in Ethiopia. A child is likely to receive a gift such as clothing.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Bulgaria then you’ll be wishing everyone a Vesela Koleda. Most customs of Christmas tend to be paramount on Christmas Day, however, in Bulgaria, Christmas Eve is just as important. This is when a dinner consisting of at least twelve dishes is made for the whole family. All the courses are prepared without meat and include different types of nuts, beans, cakes, dried plums and the traditional dish of Banitza. The family sit on straw whilst they eat their feast, and once they’ve finished eating, they all leave the table at the same time.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Finland, you’ll be wishing everyone a Hyvaa Joulua. People prepare for the festive period by thoroughly cleaning their houses and spending lots of time in the kitchen making lots of special treats. Fir trees are one of the many traditions of Christmas and play an important part of the celebrations in Finland. They are decorated on Christmas Eve with an array of fruits, paper flags, candles and tinsel. Once the house is prepared, then a trip to the famous steam baths is a must, in preparation for the Christmas dinner afterwards. People often place nuts and seeds for the birds in the garden and the majority of people in rural communities will refrain from eating their Christmas meal until the birds have eaten. Dinner is served between 5 and 7pm and presents are given out either before or after the meal. One of the most popular festive customs that is enjoyed by children is the hanging of their stocking. However this is not necessary in Finland as Santa Claus comes to the house, with as many as half a dozen elves, to give the children their presents. Christmas day begins at 6am with Church services and the remainder of the day consists of family visits and reunions.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Japan then you’ll be wishing everyone a Shinnen Omedeto or Kurisumasu Omedeto. Even though only 1% of Japanese people celebrate Christmas for religious purposes, they still follow many recognizable traditions of Christmas. The majority of people decorate their homes and participate in the exchange of presents. A Buddhist monk plays the role of Santa Claus, who leaves presents at the houses of the children.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Italy then you’ll be wishing everyone a Buon Natale. In Italy the festive season takes place over 3 weeks and starts 8 days before Christmas. This period is called Novena and in this time children dress up as shepherds whilst they recite Christmas poems, sing and play musical instruments. They go from house to house entertaining people and in turn are given money to use to buy gifts. However, unlike other Christmas traditions around the world, children wait till January 6th to open their presents, when according to tradition, they are delivered by a kind ugly witch called Befana.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in the Philippines then you’ll be wishing everyone a Maligayang Pasko. Christmas celebrations around the world all start at different times but in the Philippines they commence with a Mass 9 days before Christmas. The Mass concentrates on the story of the birth of Christ. The Panunuluyan pageant is held every year on Christmas Eve. This tradition allows a chosen couple to re-enact the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph in their search for shelter. Everyone is encouraged to attend Mass on Christmas Day, which is why it is held every hour. The service finishes with the Pastor sliding down a star on a piece of wire, attached from the top area of the church onto the Nativity scene that has been created.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Greece you’ll be wishing everyone a Kala Christouyenna. One of the most recognizable Christmas traditions around the world is the figure of St. Nicholas. This is especially true in Greece, where he is also the patron saint of sailors. Greek tradition claims that St. Nicholas rescues sinking ships and in turn a Greek ship never sails without an icon of the figure on board. Christmas Eve is a time when small boys go from house to house singing carols whilst beating drums and playing triangles. They are welcomed with almonds, dried figs, walnuts, sweets and even small gifts at times. For 40 days before Christmas, people are fasting, so the wait for the Christmas meal is eagerly anticipated. Unlike one of the main Christmas customs, the people of Greece tend not to use Christmas trees. Instead they use a wooden bowl that has a piece of wire across it. A sprig of basil is wrapped around a wooden cross and is hung from the wire. January 1st – St Basil’s day sees the exchange of presents, although many people prefer to give small gifts to orphanages and hospitals.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Russia you’ll be wishing everyone a Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom. Nowadays Russia tends to celebrate the Festival of Winter, however you can still find some traditional customs of Christmas in some areas of the country. Traditional Russian festivities include fasting that can be for as many as thirty-nine days, until Christmas Eve, which is held on January 6th. This is when people will see the first evening star appear in the sky. A twelve-course meal then commences, to pay honor to the twelve apostles. On Christmas Day, people gather in church to sing hymns and carols. In Russia they have a traditional figure named Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, who gives the presents to the children along with his granddaughter, Snegurochka.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in China then you’ll be wishing everyone a Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun (Cantonese) or a Sheng Dan Kuai Le (Mandarin). Worldwide representations of Christmas are shown in China through the use of decorations on the Christmas tree. The Christian children make and decorate the trees, which are known as ‘Trees of light.’ They make paper ornaments in the shapes of chains, lanterns and flowers. Santa Claus is named Dun Che Lao Ren, which translates to Christmas Old Man. The populations of China who are not religious celebrate this period as the Spring Festival. While celebrating through many different festivities they pay respect to their ancestors. Children pay an important role in the festival and receive new toys and clothes. Firework displays always prove popular amongst the young ones.
If you’re celebrating Christmas in Sweden then you’ll be wishing everyone a God Jul. The Saint Lucia Ceremony commences the Christmas celebrations in Sweden. On the morning of December 13th, before dawn, the youngest daughter of the family wears a white robe accompanied by a red sash. On her head she wears a crown made out of evergreens, which has lighted candles on it. She then wakes her parents and offers them Lucia buns and coffee. Although the custom dates back to the 4th century, it is quite a recent tradition in Sweden and is significant as it represents the return of the star. Christmas trees are decorated 2 days before Christmas and on Christmas morning the churches are lit up entirely by candles.
I love Christmas and am always fascinated by how people in other countries may celebrate. It’s a shame that some of these Christmas traditions and customs may be dying out, do you agree?