I have been very lucky and privileged in my life to meet people from very many different parts of the world, and this Christmas many of them have come together to share their own cultural Christmases with me, which I would like to share with you here.
Naturally, I will also include some of my own cultural and familial traditions, but with no further ado, and for your enjoyment: Christmas Around The World (in alphabetical order.)
Australia: Merry Christmas
Haha it’s a bit different, I can imagine. Xmas is always so hot. Minimal clothing, air con on freezing, and maybe lunch outside in the shade Strangely, with the steady americanisation of Australian culture, Christmas is still associated with snow and winter. Decorations are often snow sprinkled (fake of course haha).”
Canada: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Joyeux Noël
I spent many years living in Canada myself, so all of my teenage Christmases were spent here. It was always a picture book “White Christmas” and my magically there were always the most impressive hoof and sleigh marks on our back deck.
My Mum used to set the tree up on the 12th of December, in the Irish tradition, but eventually my Dad had this great idea to host a Christmas party with a German “Feuerzangenbowle” at the centre of it. So, as is customary in the cultural mixing pot that is Canada, we created our own traditions.
At the end of November, or the beginning of December (usually coinciding with the first advent) we would get the house decked up in all its festive glory, with a glistening tree and fragrant candles, and invited all of our nearest and dearest. It was always “pot-luck” style, meaning every guest brought some food for the table and dinner would be an adventure. However, the staples were always my Mum’s Irish Stew and Irish Coffee’s, my Dad’s German potato salad and Uncle Spencer’s Shrimp Tray and Spinach dip. You always knew that those would be there.
Then, we would gather in the living room as my dad brewed the “Feuerzangenbowle” and we would pass around a Santa Hat. The person with the hat would sing a song, or share a story or poem, usually Christmas themed. It became a staple of Christmas and the singular way of welcoming the Christmas Season for us and many of our nearest and dearest.
Our actual Christmases were an Irish/German combo, so more on that in those sections.
And now, a Canadian tale by my friend Rachelle:
“This was a tradition that my parents passed down to us. Every year when the tree went up and the Christmas angel went on top of the tree we were told that she was a messenger from Santa. Every night she would fly up to the north pole and tell Santa if we’ve been good or not. So you can imagine that the month of December we were as good as gold. I carried this on with my kids and [my daughter] does the same with [my grandson]. [She] told me a few days ago that she would look forward to the tree going up just to have the angel visiting our home.”
France: Joyeux Noël
“Christmas in France would not be Christmas without la Bûche de Noël ! http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BBche_de_No%C3%ABl
The most popular Christmas song is called “Petit Papa Noël”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR5NyGhKQkc”
I was also told, that in France, midnight mass is still very prevalent and important, even if not from a religious standpoint but as a cultural component of Christmas Eve.
Germany: Frohe Weihnachten
Christmas is a very popular and culturally important event in Germany and celebrations span over the four weeks before Christmas Eve. The 4 sundays before Christmas are called “Advent” and are counted 1 through 4, with a special candle being lit each Sunday, until finally on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve all 4 Candles are lit. They are usually presented on an ornate tray or wreath of evergreens.
Germany is also the birthplace of the ever popular Advent Calendar that many people in the world enjoy these days, except that it originated with each of the 24 doors revealing a special symbol of Christmas, to raise ones spirits. This eventually morphed into the symbols being moulded out of fine chocolate as a daily treat and of course we now have all kinds of calendars. I make one for both of my brothers and my sister in law every year. This year I even made one each for my Mum, Dad and husband. They’re a lot of work, especially if you want to wrap unique hand selected presents, but it get’s me in the spirit early and I get to watch everyone enjoy a gift every day.
The figure of Santa Claus, is known in Germany as St. Nikolaus, who brings gifts of sweets, fruits and nuts to good little girls and boys from the night of the 5th into the 6th of December, which is St. Nikolaus Day.
In Germany, the main festivities are held on Christmas Eve, with the family sitting for a special Christmas Meal in the early evening before going to mass, and once they get back from mass there would be “Bescherung” which is the exchange of gifts that had been brought by the “Christkind“, which is the angel of Christmas.
Ireland: Happy Christmas & Nollaig Shona
By: Sinead (my Mum)
“Stockings were the biggest things that we loved to get, it was full of chocolates like Bounties, and Mars and Snickers. We would come down in the mornings in our jammies to see if Santa had been there; was the milk gone? Were the cookies gone? And then we all got to find our pile of gifts that Santa had brought. Now that I think about it, I remember that donkeys years ago, our gifts weren’t even wrapped. I remember walking in and seeing my twin dolls staring at me, and I knew they were mine. That just came back to me; when we were small things weren’t wrapped all the time. And the tree was always real; stuck in a bucket with sand that was wrapped in tinfoil and the tree was covered in angel hair. If you got too close it stuck to you. Once we had received our presents we would get dressed in our sunday best; the whitest socks and my Daddy would have polished our shoes the night before and set them by the fire. Then we would go to mass. You would tell all your friends what you got for Christmas and show off your new clothes. After that we went home and when the Christmas Dinner was fully cooked and ready we had our Christmas Dinner around 4 o’clock and watch The Wizard of Oz in front of an open roaring fire. But Mummy and Daddy would wake up every morning to 5 bars of their favourite chocolate on their bedside lockers, because we would each take their favourites out of our stockings (so say if Mummy liked Bounty and Daddy likes Mars Bars) and we would all put ours on their bedside lockers. They would end up coming downstairs and bartering with us, so that they could get a mixture. hahaha.”
Italy: Buon Natale
“From now on when I say ‘we’ I’m referring to my family and I, because there are different traditions if you’re from north, central or south Italy. Everything starts on Dec 8th for us. From this day on we build our Xmas tree and a presepe. Do you know what a presepe is? It’s basically a representation of the Holy Family during the night of the birth of Christ. There’s a wee house, a wee statue for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, then there’s also the ox, the donkey and the big star. I’m not a fan of the tree because my mum used to put too many decorations on it. Way too many decorations. The kitsch-est thing ever. I loved building a huge presepe: I used a specialty type of paper to make mountains, fake snow, and moss for the grass. Aluminium foil for the rivers and lakes, tiny houses for the sheperds, sheep, cows, golden fabric for the stars. I also used spare Xmas lights for trees to light up all the wee houses. My dad built some kind of wooden platform for me with tiny holes forthe lights, it protected them from the moist released by the moss (taken fresh from the woods!). It was a realy big thing for me and I also joined a competition for the best presepe among the other Sunday school kids. I don’t remember if I won (nor my parents do) but I don’t thinks so. It’s a shame I don’t have a scanner, I would have sent you a picture of that presepe! But the big fun starts on Xmas Eve, Dec 24th. That’s when we start eating. We only stop on Dec 26th, we have a total of 5 big meals with our relatives, moving from one house to another…. It’s like a marathon. Typicaly menu: 5 different type of starters, 2 pasta dishes (one is usually tortellini soup), 2 meat dishes, 3-5 type of cakes, sweet pies, candies. All washed down with water and wine. After all the food, we also have spirits like grappa (schnaps), limoncello, homemade vinsanto (a very sweet wine from Tuscany, amber coloured), rossantico (another sweet wine with a strong orange flavour, red coloured). Then coffee. Imagine having all of this for 5 TIMES. Hardcore eaters. Ah we don’t have meat on the 24th, because Catholic religion doesn’t want you to eat meat on the evening of big feasts. For example we also don’t have meat the day before Easter. Bullshit. On Xmas day we open all the presents, as usual. After the 26th we don’t celebrate anymore untill Jan 6th. That’s the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Man visit baby Jesus. Something I used to do with my presepe was this: I put the three men very far from the crib and after the 24th I moved them a wee bit every day, untill they were next to the crib on the 6th. What happens on that day is this: the day before we hang a red wool stocking next to the fireplace (ore the heaters if you don’t have one….), becase the Befana will bring you candies if you have been a good kid, or (sweet) coal if you have been a bad one. Who’s the Befana? It’s Santa’s wife! XD She’s a very ugly lady that rides a flying broom, some kind of witch with a good heart. My stocking was always filled with chocolate coins, toffee and milk candies. This feast ends all Xmas celebrations all over Italy and this is pretty much everyting I can think of right now. If I remember anything else I will write again!”
Netherlands: Vrolijk Kerstfeest
By: Ghyslaine and Anneke
“LINK This sums up what we do with our presents in December.”
Japan: メリークリスマス (Merīkurisumasu)
By: Ula (a wonderful lady, originally from Poland, who now lives in Japan)
“I insist on going to the midnight mass on 24 th and I usually work unles it is a weekend – but on 25 I never accept any evening classes or even emergency translations no matter what – we usually dress pretty and go to some stylish restaurant with some friends – have a meal together -take a photo and exchange some gifts. Sometimes my friends send me opłatek from Poland so we break it and that day . For New Years which is so close to get her we go for hatsumode ( first visit to the temple) listen to jyoyu no Kane beating out 103 minuses of human nature at midnight. Come home and fall a sleep – next morning rush out to get nengajyo’s and have a fancy meal. I always buy ice wine and we have sip of this!!! My super favorite ! And me and Masato play together some tune as a duet . In the afternoon we go the shrine drink some new year sake there and go home .we usually visit his parents and forbid time together before going home.”
In Japan, Christmas is not a major cultural event, so it is not given off as a holiday. This means, that those who do wish to celebrate it, need to request it off separately and that most celebrations are cultural rather than religious in nature, with Japanese youth exchanging gifts and setting up a little tree on weekends near Christmas Day.
Poland: Wesołych Świąt
“Well here it goes Wesolych świat ! Szczęśliwego nowego roku! (Vesolyh schviont) ( schchenshlivego novego rokoo) We celebrate on Xmas eve. The meal varies throughout Poland . I come from the south so we eat barszcz ( beetroot soup) we serve it with kind of gyoza but the filling is mushrooms and veggies. The main is fish potatoes red salad cabbage, the dessert is compote of dry fruits. Then after we eat, children can open gifts that the aniołek has left.
Aniołek =angel. Has dropped off . He/ she drops them off before the meal. Usually an adult will somehow distract the kids to leave the room and while they are out there will be Xmas gifts under the tree. There should 12 dishes to remember the 12 apostles. Each side dish counts as a dish – definitely no meat but herrings in cream sauce are a must! Pickled! A beautiful tradition, I am very fond of is the breaking of the opłatek. It is a flat biscuit paper thin made with flour and water and pressed like waffles. But it is paper thin – kind of resembles communion bread. There is one for every one at the table. It is tasteless so we offer honey to represent that there is always going to be sweet to go with the tears or hardship that may be ahead. We go to each person and break a little from theirs and they do the same from ours – wishing each other all the best . Then a head of the family or a special guest says a prayer. And we eat . One needs to try at least a mouthful of each dish to avoid bad luck. After the meal we sing a carol or two and kids can open the gifts. Someone acts as the passer of gifts and we edit as each opens and says thank you . We always have a spare plate for that lonely guest should they wander into your home – no one should be alone or sad and any arguing should be put off . At midnight we all go to church for pasterka – midnight mass. Then afterwards everyone wishes each other all the best . That’s about it . There are some superstitions too. As the year draws to the end cleaning – anything that doesn’t get done by New Year’s Eve – stays undone for the year .”
This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for reading. Take care.
Merry Christmas! xoxox