Christmas is the festival of love, contemplation – and delicious feasts. With us cookies, roast goose and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree belong just as much to the Advent season as the gift-giving on Christmas Eve by Santa Claus or Christ Child. But it is not like that everywhere. How, for example, Australians celebrate Christmas in midsummer? And why do Herrnhut stars hang everywhere in Greenland?? Here are a few typical Christmas traditions from faraway countries summarized for you.
Christmas in Europe
Christmas in Sweden
In Sweden, the Christmas season begins – similar to Germany – with the first Sunday of Advent. The Julbock is special. It has been part of the Scandinavian Advent season since pre-Christian times and was originally the symbol of the fertility of the earth given by the gods. In fact, the Yule log was so important in Sweden that it was celebrated until the 19th century. In the 19th century the gifts brought and only later by the "Jultomte", Santa Claus, was replaced. Today it is very popular especially for Christmas decorations and Christmas tree ornaments. A significant custom is still to weave the goat, believed to represent the goat of the god Thor, out of straw and braid ribbons around it. This life-size animal image is then burned at Christmas.
On 13. December the Swedes celebrate Santa Lucia. Since the Swedish pre-Christmas period is very dark, Saint Lucia, the Queen of Lights, has a special significance. On the morning of Lucia’s Day, the children of the house bring sweet breakfast and glogg, the Swedish mulled wine, to the master of the house at bedtime. At the same time the children sing songs. Lucia, the Queen of Lights, wears a crown with lighted candles and holds another candle in her hand.
As with us, in Scandinavia, on the 24. December Christmas Eve is celebrated. The Christmas meal, the Julbord, is particularly important. The presents are then unwrapped under the Christmas tree. The Julklapp is a traditional way of giving presents. In this case, the gift giver knocks strongly on the door and throws the gift into the room. He must not be recognized, which is why many Swedes put on a glove made of silver paper for this custom. The Christmas gifts are usually wrapped funny. In addition there is a funny or also biting poem. The question of who is the gift giver becomes a guessing game for the whole family. At the end of the festivities the Swedes go 6 or 7 o’clock of the 25. December to the early mass in the church.
Christmas in Italy – modern traditions meet Roman traditions
The Italian Christmas, "Natale", begins on the 6. December with St. Nicholas Day. Shortly after, on 8. December, follows the High Day of the Immaculate Conception. On this day the Italians begin to decorate their houses for Christmas. In addition, the nativity scene and the Christmas tree are already set up. Five days later is the feast of Santa Lucia, giving presents to poor people.
On Christmas Eve, the Italians go to Christmas mass. It is also important that they do not eat meat on this day. The Christmas dinner therefore often consists of seafood, and for dessert there are numerous sweets. On the following day, the whole family celebrates Christmas with various meats, cheeses and other sweets.
The gifts find the children in parts of Italy on the morning of the 25. December in front of the bedroom door or also under the Christmas tree. These are brought by the Christ Child, but also the "Babbo Natale", a version of Santa Claus, spread in the last years more and more.
In the other Italian regions the enchantress/witch "La Befana" comes on Epiphany Day. She comes down the chimneys at night and leaves her gifts in shoes and stockings: the good children find nice Christmas presents, while bad children get pieces of coal.
Christmas in Asia
Christmas in Japan
In Japan, Christmas is the festival of gifts. It is not a public holiday, but in recent years Christmas has become more and more important, although for different reasons than in Europe, for example.
The Japanese celebrated Christmas for the first time with the Jesuits in 1549. After the introduction of religious freedom around 1873, Christian communities also began to hold Christmas fairs. To the 20. In the nineteenth century, the trend spread among the upper classes to hold parties and give each other presents.
Japanese Christmas does not necessarily have a religious background. Most Japanese do not know about the birth of Jesus Christ. Many believe that the American Santa Claus on 25. December had been born. Christmas shopping is more important during the celebration. Following the U.S. model, large department stores try to outdo each other with elaborate decorations.
Since the 1980s, "Christmas Eve" has become primarily a celebration for couples. Lovers give each other presents or have very special dates. The family or friends also receive gifts. Moreover, the Japanese Christmas includes the Christmas cake. This is usually white and is decorated with strawberries.
Christmas in India
Many Asian countries are influenced by western media or for historical reasons. So also India. There Christmas is even an official holiday and is called in Hindi "bada din" – the great day. Christmas Eve is strongly marked by consumption, Santa Claus brings the Christmas presents to the children. Schoolchildren even have Christmas holidays from Christmas into the new year.
Christians in India, of course, also attend church services. In Christian missionary schools, all children, including Hindu ones, take part in the festivities. They rehearse a nativity play and sing Christmas carols.
Christmas in Russia
In Russia the official holiday is the 7. January and is celebrated with a Christmas mass. Before that, people fast for 40 days. St. Nicholas does not play a major role in the Christmas season, unlike in other Eastern European countries.
Father Frost brings the presents with his granddaughter, a snowflake. He wears a long red or white coat similar to Santa Claus has a thick white fur wrapped around his neck. His walking stick is a large icicle. Also it comes with a horse-drawn sleigh from the North Pole to the villages and towns. But Father Frost, unlike Santa Claus, is a magician who rules over the Russian winter.
On 31. December, children in Russia dress up as snowflakes and wait for the arrival of Father Frost. On this day there is also the big Christmas dinner. Besides cakes and pastries, the Russians cook different kinds of meat and grits. They serve hot tea and cold vodka with it. The same evening the children already get their presents.
The late Christmas is due to the different calendars. Orthodox Christians usually follow the Julian calendar – we follow the Gregorian calendar. This is how the Russian Christmas falls on the 7th day of the year. January. And when it is 11. January, Russia celebrates New Year’s Eve.
Christmas in Australia
In Australia, Christmas is celebrated in a big way – but with shorts and a T-shirt instead of a thick winter coat. Australians celebrate Christmas at an average temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, and they are strongly oriented toward American traditions: colorful Christmas lights, festively decorated department stores and decorated Christmas trees. Also the walls of the houses are covered with lights in the American style.
Every year, Sydney has a Christmas tree that is about 26 meters high and has. This is celebrated at about 21.000 light bulbs, 4.000 golden balls and 1.decorated with 500 green and gold ribbons. The locals decorate their houses at the beginning of December. Since a real Christmas tree is very rare and therefore expensive, most families have plastic Christmas trees in the living room. Due to the heat, there are no real Christmas candles in Australia – the wax would melt within a short time.
On Christmas Eve, the whole family comes together for roast turkey and plum pudding. The children put out a carrot and a bowl of milk in the evening so that Santa Claus and his reindeer are well provided for. On the night of 25. December Santa Claus comes and throws the gifts into the stockings in front of the fireplace. The next morning, the presents are given. It is customary for the family to get together for brunch. All day long they celebrate, many even go to the beach for barbecues. The following day is also "Boxing Day" in Australia. Department stores open on this day and sell everything left over from Christmas sales.
By the way… Christmas on the Christmas Islands?
The name gives hope for big Christmas parties. But the inhabitants of the islands, which officially belong to Australia, do not celebrate Christmas at all. Like the Easter Islands, the Christmas Islands got their name from the day they were discovered. This was Christmas 1643.
Christmas in Africa
Christmas in Tanzania
In Tanzania, too, Christmas is celebrated at the height of summer. As in Germany, the celebrations last from 24. Until 26. December. Christmas decorations are not as common as in Germany. This is partly explained by the fact that the poor birth of Jesus Christ became a celebration of love and hope, and therefore it is not defined by luxury. Nevertheless, regular Advent services are also held in the run-up to Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, people also go to church in Tanzania. This is then presented with gifts in the form of money or agricultural products. On the following days, the whole family celebrates together. The big Christmas dinner usually consists of chipsi, ugali, vegetables, pilau rice, meat and various sauces. In the process, everyone cooks more than is actually needed. In this way, the guests who come to visit with friends and relatives can also have something to eat. Tanzanians usually give each other new clothes for Christmas, as it is an important tradition to wear new clothes on Christmas Day.
Christmas in Egypt
Only on 29. On the 7th day of the Coptic month "Khiakh" the Egyptians celebrate Christmas, which corresponds to our 7. January. This has also been an official national holiday in Egypt since 2002.
The Copts fast for 43 days before Christmas. During this time they are not allowed to eat animal food. They symbolically commemorate Moses, who waited 40 days on Mount Sinai for the 10 Commandments to be given. The three other days represent the miracle of El Mokattam mountain, which was moved by divine hand. The big Christmas dinner ends this fasting period. There are traditional dishes such as the pastry Zalabya and the fish dish Bouri. The traditional cookies "kahk" is also baked by Muslims on Eid el fitr.
Children in Egypt get sweets and small gifts for Christmas. Some also receive the traditional El’aidia, a gift of money that children can use to buy themselves sweets. In addition, there are small concerts with international and Coptic music everywhere.
On Christmas Day, Copts usually attend mass at eleven at night. Many go to several churches on Christmas. According to tradition, these are on the way of the Holy Family through Egypt. The largest service is celebrated by the church St. Mark in Cairo. This is performed by the Coptic Pope and is broadcast on television throughout Egypt.
In Egypt, many Muslims also celebrate Christmas. Although it is not about the birth of Jesus Christ, but since the feast is very popular, they simply take part in the festivities. The Christians also celebrate the Muslim holidays.
Christmas in America
Christmas in Mexico
In Mexico, the Christmas season begins on 16. December with the Posadas. The nine-day Lent symbolizes the futile search for shelter of Mary and Joseph. Each of the nine days represents one of the months of Mary’s pregnancy. Typical for this time are also the colorful street parades with fireworks. The whole community parades through the village with handmade figures from the Nativity story. They knock on every door until they are let in. Based on the biblical story, they then celebrate the arrival of Mary and Joseph to a shelter.
The highlight of the Mexican Christmas celebration is the pinatas. The figures made of papier-mâche are filled with sweets, fruits and small toys and are hung on a tree. The children have to beat the pinatas with sticks and blindfolded until the contents are spread over them. However, each child has only three attempts.
In Mexico, too, there is a midnight mass for the whole family on Christmas Eve. Bonfires and fireworks are also lit. The Mexicans dance the "Baile de la Flor", the flower dance. However, the children have to wait longer for the presents – they are only given on the 6th. January. The night before, they have to put their shoes at the window, similar to our St. Nicholas day. The next day the gifts are inside.
Christmas in Greenland
Christmas is a big festival of lights in Greenland. In addition to many candles, you can also find a poinsettia everywhere, which many are more familiar with from Germany. The Herrnhut Stars are a legacy of the German Herrnhut missionaries who were founded in the 18th century. The first Christmas gifts came to Greenland in the eighteenth century. No matter if public building or private household – these special stars are hanging everywhere, creating a big sea of lights. This picture is usually completed by the glowing northern lights, which can often be seen in the sky during the Christmas season.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the cities light the candles on the fir trees. Now most families begin to decorate their houses, bake cookies and drink mulled wine. Since Greenland is very bare, the Christmas trees have to be ordered well in advance and delivered from Europe. But when all the candles are lit for the first time, everyone gathers around the tree and sings Christmas carols. During the Christmas season, children and young people go from house to house singing. As a reward, they receive Christmas cookies from the inhabitants. The Lucia procession is also very important in Greenland. On 13. December, children wear wreaths on their heads and candles in their hands. In addition they sing songs of the holy Lucia.
Christmas singing Greenlanders
In general, singing is an important aspect of the Greenlandic Advent season. Everywhere people sing or listen to psalms and Christmas music. During church services, the Greenlanders often sing in two or three voices, as the numerous churchgoers are thus skilled singers. For the islanders, worship is also a part of Christmas, as is the psalm "Guuterput" (Our God). The Christmas masses are always packed. The sermons and songs are in Danish and Greenlandic.
On Christmas Eve the children already get their presents in the morning. These are brought by Santa Claus with a dog sled. In addition, on this day the men spoil the women and everyone dances around the Christmas tree. The big Christmas dinner usually consists of seal, whale or reindeer meat. Christmas in Greenland is a family celebration. Often relatives and friends organize the spontaneous family dinner together.
However, the Christmas season does not end on the big island immediately afterwards. Not until Epiphany, the 6th day of the year. On January 1, the Greenlanders take down their Christmas decorations and the Herrnhut stars. Until then, they also greet each other with "Juullimi Pilluarit!"(Merry Christmas).
Every country, every region, and probably even every family has its own Christmas traditions. All over the world there are people who find Christmas. It is the feast of love and contemplation. And therefore, of course, a nice occasion to spend the days with your loved ones – wherever you are.