Christmas Traditions From Around The World
Written by Katherine Oakes
Photography by Photographed by James Kicinski-McCoy
We all have those holiday traditions in our homes that, for one reason or another, never cease to fade. Year after year, they draw families and loved ones together—seemingly standing the test of time. No matter if they are quirky or classic, old or new, they hold an importance because they are yours.
Since most of us are familiar only with the seasonal traditions in the U.S., we decided to do a little research into what other timeless Christmas festivities families from all over the world do to get into the holiday spirit. So, sit back and enjoy all the warm fuzzies you’ll get reading about the unique Christmas fetes in every corner of the globe—you might even find a few ideas to try out with your kids!
SWEDEN: Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia’s Day (or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. It is celebrated all over the country by a girl (or group of girls) wearing a white dress with a red sash and a crown of candles on her head delivering food, just like the Christian martyr Lucia.
ARGENTINA: Since the weather is quite warm, Argentinians celebrate on Christmas Eve at the strike of midnight with fireworks and a toast to start Christmas day. Some might even light and send up paper lanterns, similar to Chinese celebrations.
BELGIUM: In Belgium it is custom for children to believe that Sinterklaas or St. Niklaas brings them presents on December 6th, St. Nicholas’ Day. This holiday is a separate occasion from Christmas, which is a more religious festival.
FINLAND: Finnish people believe Santa Claus resides in the northern part of Finland, called Korvatunturi (more commonly known as Lapland), north of the Arctic Circle. In fact, many people from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. Fins also celebrate the holiday with their animals, who are given their own Christmas celebration. Farmers might hang a sheaf of wheat, nuts, and pieces of suet in bags from the branches on a tree to be eaten by the birds.
DENMARK: Advent is a popular tradition in Denmark in which a Kalenderlys (calendar-candle) is prepared for each of the 24 days until Christmas. An advent calendar with gifts instead of candles is called a Pakkekalender (gift calendar).
GERMANY: Like Denmark, a big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany revolve around Advent. Several different types of advent calendars are used in German homes: the traditional one made of cards, one made from a wreath of fir tree branches with decorated boxes or bags hanging from it, and another called Advent Kranz, which is a ring of fir branches with four candles. Sometimes used in churches, one candle is lit at the beginning of each week in advent.
AUSTRIA: On Heilige Abend, Christmas in Austria begins around 4pm on Christmas Eve when folks light their tree for the first time and sing carols. Austria’s most famous carol, “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht) was written in Austria in 1818.
MACEDONIA: Since most Christians in Macedonia are Orthodox, Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian Calendar on January 7th. The celebrations begin on the 5th, called Kolede, when people go caroling, celebrate around bonfires, and eat big meals.
ICELAND: In Iceland, Christmas is known as Yule or Jól during which the holiday season is primarily 6 specific days—December 23rd, when they celebrate St. Thorlakur’s Day, the 24th, 25th, and 26th (Boxing Day), during which they celebrate with big feasts and gift-giving. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are meant to be magical days where animals can talk and elves come out to play. The Yuletide season ends on January 6th, “The Twelfth Night,” which is similar to New Year’s celebrations and culminates with a large bonfire and party.
IRELAND: Celebrated in a similar way to U.K. and U.S. traditions, Christmas for Catholic Irish folks lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of Epiphany on January 6th, which some Irish people call “Little Christmas.” However, Epiphany isn’t now widely celebrated in Ireland.
ITALY: Also widely Catholic, Italians celebrate the Christmas season with a nativity scene. Hugely popular in Italy, the nativity crib is famous for being decorated with a baby Jesus figurine that isn’t put in until Christmas Eve. Naples is particularly well-known for its handmade nativity scenes and markets.
GREECE: On Christmas Eve children will sing Kalanda (carols) in the streets with instruments and, occasionally, will carry model boats decorated with gold-painted nuts. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands and the tradition goes that if the children sing well, they might receive money, candies, and dried figs.
CHINA: Only 1% of the Chinese population celebrates Christmas and does so in a similar way to the U.S. and European traditions. Santa Claus is called “Shen Dan Lao Ren,” which translates to “Old Christmas Man.” Some might not decorate with a Christmas tree and if they do it is strung with paper chains, lanterns, and flowers.
PALESTINE: Although Palestine is home to the heart and soul of the Christmas season (the biblical town of Bethlehem) only about 20% of the population celebrates this holiday. During their Christmas Eve parade bagpipes are played, a tradition the British left behind during the time they occupied the Palestinian territories from 1920-1948.
MADAGASCAR: This African island enjoys Christmas traditions much in the same way that the rest of the Christian world does. Folks decorate trees, string up holly, and even use fake snow. They celebrate by singing Christmas carols, one of them being the Madagascar or Malagsy (Madagascar’s native tongue) translation of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Avia Ry Mino.”
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