Christmas, a worldwide festivity yet no two countries celebrate Christmas in exactly the same way. This year we have done a whistle-stop tour around the world to see how different countries and cultures take part in their celebrations.
Although each festive tradition may differ, the time before and during Christmas is sure to bring communities together, a time to reflect and respect with those nearest and dearest to us.
1 . Mexico – ‘Feliz Navidad’
The Mexican celebration of Christmas is known as ‘Las Posadas’ and begins around the 16th of December. In 1828, Joel, R. Poinsett, the American minister to Mexico gifted America with a red and green plant from Mexico. Given the name after Poinsett, the Poinsettia plant shortly appeared in stores across New York and has since been a universal symbol for the holiday.
2. Sweden – ‘God Jul!’
The beginning of the festive season for most Scandinavian countries begins on the 13th of December, on St. Lucia’s day, a day celebrating the Patron Saint of light. Many families attend local Christmas markets and the whole family helps to choose the Christmas tree just a few days before the big day.
After dinner on Christmas eve, a old tradition of ‘dipping in the kettle’ is done to remember a time of famine in Sweden, the family prepare a kettle of thin broth and each take turns in dipping the bread.
3. China – ‘圣诞节快乐 – 'shèng dàn jié kuài lè'
A small number of people in China celebrate Christmas, also known as ‘Sheng Dan Jieh’ which translates to Holy Birth Festival.
Families put up ‘trees of light’ in the countdown to Christmas and decorate it with beautiful flowers, lanterns and red paper chains. Many people exchange gifts at the New Year, following a tradition only very expensive and special presents are given to close family members.
Christmas is mainly celebrated in the major towns and cities, like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in the countries rural areas, however it’s becoming more well-known within villages and towns.
4. Croatia – 'Sretan Bozic!'
The festive seasons kicks off on the 25th of November which is St. Catherine’s Day and continues through the Advent season.
A traditional part of Advent in Croatia is to have a wreath made of mainly evergreen twigs with four candles. The candles symbolise different parts of history and life. The first candle symbolises creation and hope, the second candle symbolises embodiment and peace, the third candle resembles redemption & joy and the final candle symbolises love.
On St. Nicholas’s Eve (5th of December) children leave their shoes by the window in the hope that St Nicholas will leave them small goodies, however if the children have been naughty, Krampus (a big monster with horns) leaves them gold twigs to remind them to be good!
5. Montenegro – 'Hristos se rodi' (Христос се роди)
In Montenegro, Christmas Eve falls on the 6th of January and Christmas day is on the 7th. Why so late we hear you cry – this is because the main Orthodox Churches still use the ‘Julian’ calendar.
Advent for the local’s starts on the 28th of November and lasts for 6 weeks, some families take part in fasting or to adopt a vegan diet and not eat food that has come from animals.
Outside the churches, large bonfires are lit where people gather to watch the re-enactment of the nativity and Christmas plays.
6. Ghana – 'Afishapa'
With over 66 languages spoken in Ghana, there are many inidividual traditions and customs to each cultural group.
Typically, Ghanaians celebrate Christmas from the 20th of December through to the first week of January. Christmas Eve in Ghana is a time for celebration, even amongst the cocoa harvest locals attend church services with plenty of music and dancing! Joyful songs are sung in the most common language within the country, lasting all night long!
7. Italy – 'Buon Natale!'
The festive season begins in Italy on the first Sunday of Advent. In Naples many people attend street nativity scenes called ‘Via San Gregorio Amerno’. On Christmas day families attend services at church, followed by lots of family time and of course feasting!
Some children receive gifts from Babbo Natale (Baby Jesus) also known as Father Christmas. It wouldn’t be an Italian Christmas without a slice of the Italian Christmas Cake, Panettone.
8. Japan – 'Meri Kurisumasu' or 'Meri Kuri' for short!
A KFC advert that aired in 1974 was so influential that many Japanese families eat KFC on Christmas Eve! The campaign was called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ and has since stuck.
Christmas has only been celebrated in Japan for the last few decades,it is still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration, but several customs that came from America have caught on, such as sending and receiving presents and cards. White Christmas cards are sent to family and friends as red cards are traditionally the colour of funeral announcements.
Christmas is a time to spread happiness in Japan, and often Christmas eve is more celebrated than Christmas day. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, however schools are closed on Christmas Day.
9. Norway – God Jul! or Gledelig Jul!
For Norwegians, Christmas presents are traditionally exchanged on Christmas Eve. The gifts are shared by Julenissen (Santa Claus) or small gnomes called ‘Nisse’.
One of the most famous Norwegian traditions is the Christmas tree that Norway gives the UK every year, as a thank you for helping during WWII. This tree stands proud in Trafalgar Square in London and is a part of the ‘big switch on’ for the Christmas lights in London.
Christmas wasn’t celebrated in Norway until around 1100 when Christianity was first introduced. Before this the locals celebrated Jul in the middle of winter to celebrate the harvest and the looking forward to spring, with lots of juleol (beer) brewing!
10. Philippines – 'Maligayang Pasko' (Tagalog)
Locals in the Philippines like to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible!
The Christmas season unofficially kicks off on September the 1st – Christmas songs are welcomed into stores and on the radio! The formal Christmas celebrations officially start on December 16th and continue through to the first Sunday of January.
Many people attend church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ (Christmas Eve mass) soon to be followed by a midnight feast called Noche Buena. Noche Buena is a big celebration, many people open their houses to family and friends to drop in and give seasonal wishes!
11. Romania – 'Craciun Fericit'
On the evening of the 5th of December, children clean their boots or shoes and leave them by the door and hope that Sfantul Nicolae will leave them presents. An old tradition says that if it snows on December the 6th, Sfantul Nicolae has shaken his beard so that winter can begin.
The 20th of December is when the festive season starts for many Romanians, to celebrate St. Ignatius’s day through to the new year.
12. Colombia - ‘Feliz Navidad’
The Christmas preparations and celebrations start on the 7thof December which is known as 'Dia de las Velitas' also known as the 'Day of the little candles'. From the 16th of December many locals take part in ‘Novenas’ – a time where family and friends come together to pray in the countdown to Christmas.
A navitity scene is a common decorations in households, along with white and red candles displayed in windows and balconies.
The main Christmas meal for Colombians is eaten on the night of Christmas eve called ‘Cena de Navidad’. Traditional dishes may include ‘lechona’ (pork stuffed with rice and peas), ham, turkey or a chicken soup called ‘Ajiaco Bogotano’.