As the Christmas season approaches (it seems to get earlier every year!), the world adorns itself with festive lights, joyful singing and the unmistakable scents of pine, cinnamon and orange.
Of course, we all know and love the popular traditions such as manger scenes, Santa Claus, Christmas crackers, snowmen, candy canes and Christmas trees. But if you look hard, you’ll discover many more interesting and different takes on December’s most famous day.
Christmas is a celebration which transcends around the world and is celebrated with many different traditions from one corner of the globe to another. Lets’ have some fun and explore some of the (not so obvious) traditions for Yuletide celebrations around the world.
Let’s Start With Our Own Back Yard – AUSTRALIA
As we all know, unlike other parts of the world our festivities this time of year are mainly held outside due to the hot sunny weather. Santa is quite likely to be spotted wearing shorts, sunnys and flip-flops! Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve has more recently become an Aussie tradition, with everyone coming together to sing carols both old and new.
Some people like to cook up an English turkey roast. However, a seafood lunch or bbq with friends and family at the beach, park or back yard is more traditional here. And, of course, this should be accompanied by the all-important game of Christmas day cricket!
Christmas In NEW ZEALAND
In New Zealand they don’t use pines as their traditional Christmas tree, they are all about the Pohutukawa tree there.
The Pohutukawa is a beautiful native tree which boasts rich crimson flowers.
It was first recognised in 1867 by an Austrian geologist who witnessed locals decorating their homes and churches with the brightly coloured branches. Today, children sing carols about the Pohutukawa tree and it is seen on many Christmas cards and decorations throughout this time of year.
Along with Australia, New Zealand is one of the first places in the world to see the sun on Christmas Day and it doesn’t get dark in some parts until 10pm!
Christmas In FRANCE
The French begin their Christmas festivities from the 6th December with elegantly decorated towns and cities across the country. In the Alsace region they decorate some Christmas trees which date back as far as the fourteenth century.
Around midnight on Christmas eve French families eat a special meal to celebrate the very beginning of Christmas Day. This is known as ‘Le Reveillon de Noel’.
Unlike other countries where stockings and nibbles are put out, the French children polish their shoes and leave them by the fireplace. They wait in hope that ‘Pere Noel’ (Father Christmas) will fill them with sweets and presents.
Christmas In NORWAY
According to Norwegian folklore, mischievous witches and spirits emerge and take to the skies to run amok on Christmas Eve. Norwegian families traditionally hide away their broomsticks in order to keep any witches from finding them. Spruce logs are sometimes burnt in the fireplaces to stop with witches from coming down the chimney.
Also, did you know that one of the major Norwegian traditions actually takes place in the British Capital?! Each year, London receives a huge Norwegian grown Christmas tree to stand proud in Trafalgur Square. During a traditional ceremony Norway will fell a 50-60 year old spruce from outside Oslo. They send it as a token of gratitude for the help and support that Britain gave them during World War II.
Christmas In CZECH REPUBLIC
In this country there’s a festive superstition for single females to throw a shoe over their shoulder. Should it land with the toe pointing towards the door then apparently it means they will be married soon.
Also, on the eve of Christmas many people will fast for the day in hope that they will see ‘the golden pig’ appear on the wall before they eat Christmas dinner. This golden pig represents good luck for the future.
Christmas In AUSTRIA
On Christmas Eve, an evil creature called a ‘Krampus’ is said to wander the streets searching for naughty children. Throughout December some Austrian people will wander the streets wearing ghoulish masks and play tricks on kids and adults alike.
Christmas In VENEZUELA
Each morning between 16th and 24th December the country’s capital closes many of its streets (to traffic). This allows for masses of city dwellers, at 8am, to safely make their way to church services on roller skates!
Like all countries Venezuela has a number of tradition Christmas foods, one of which is called ‘Hallacas’.
Hallacas is a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins and olives. These ingredients are wrapped in maize and plantain leaves then tied up with string. It’s then boiled or steamed.
Christmas In SOUTH AFRICA
Speaking of traditional foods, in this country children are accustomed to eating fried caterpillars as part of their Christmas meal. These caterpillars are colourful and known as Christmas caterpillars (aka the pine tree emperor moth). They are said to bring good luck in the coming year to all who swallow them.
Christmas In Italy
Along with other children of the world, each Christmas Eve Italian children are visited by Santa Claus (also known as ‘Babbo Natale’). However, on the 5th January each year, they receive gifts from another visitor called ‘Befana’. Legend has it that Befana was a witch who didn’t give baby Jesus a gift while in the manger. To repent, she now gives gifts to all children who leave out food and wine for her.
Similarly in Russian folklore, an old woman ‘Babouschka’ brings gifts for the children before Christmas time.
Christmas In GERMANY
In Germany, families have an unusual addition to their decorations. It’s customary for a pickle to be hidden somewhere amongst the branches of the Christmas tree. The first child of the household who finds it is given a special gift.
Christmas In ICELAND
Iceland traditionally have 13 troll-like ‘Yule Lads’ who, during the 13 days leading up to Christmas day, visit the children across the country to leave sweets and little gifts in their shoes. Each of the 13 troll-like characters has a mischievous name – let’s have a little chuckle…. (Skyrgámur), ‘Sausage-Swiper’, ‘Bowl-Licker’ (Askasleikir), ‘Doorway-Sniffer’ (Gáttaþefur), ‘Sheep-Cote Clod’ (Stekkjastaur). ‘Gully Gawk’ (Giljagaur), ‘Stubby’ (Stúfur), ‘Spoon-Licker’ (Þvörusleikir), ‘Pot-Scraper’ (Pottaskefill), ‘Door-Slammer’ (Hurðaskellir), ‘Skyr-Gobbler’ (Bjúgnakrækir). ‘Window-Peeper’ (Gluggagægir), ‘Meat-Hook’ (Ketkrókur) and ‘Candle-Stealer’ (Kertasníkir).
Apparently, many years ago the ‘Yule Lads’ were pranksters who would leave rotting potatoes for any naughty children!
Christmas In The Philippines
On the Saturday before Christmas Eve each year, the city of San Fernando in the Philippines holds a Giant Lantern Festival called the ‘Ligligan Parul Sampernandu’. It’s a competition between villages to see who can build the most beautiful and elaborate paper lantern. Some of the lanterns can measure up to six metres in diameter, they get arranged into intricate patterns and are full of vivid colours.
As we embrace our own cherished customs and learn about those from distant lands, we find that the magic of Christmas is universal. It brings people together in the joyous warmth of festive spirit.
We really hope that you’ve enjoyed reading some quirky facts about Christmas around the world. Maybe you might like to adopt one or two of them as new traditions for your family?
Who would’ve thought that Christmas around the world could be so different.
Happy Christmas! Have fun, eat lots and be merry!
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