Most of us living in the US and Europe know the common Christmas traditions of the western world. Although Christmas is a Christian religious celebration, it's surprising to find it is celebrated throughout the world, sometimes in places we wouldn't expect, and sometimes mixing Christian and local traditions.
● The Nativity scene is familiar throughout the Christian world, but the French are "Creche Crazy." In addition to the usual figures, all sort of other people [called Santons] are present, such as the baker, the street sweeper, the butcher, street vendors, and so on.
SWEDEN – "GOD JUL AND (OCH) ETT GOTT NYTT AR!"
In Sweden the Christmas is all about time spent with family and friends and eating lots of food and sweets.
The festivities start with the St. Lucia ceremony on December 13, the Winter Solstice on the old Julian calendar. The youngest girl in each family dresses in white with a red sash and wears a crown of evergreens with tall candles attached to it. Small children now use battery candles, but real ones are used after about 12-years-old.
Santa Lucia was a young Christian girl who was killed for her faith in 302 AD. There are several stories, but the most popular is that this girl brought food to the persecuted Christians in Rome when they were hiding in the catacombs. She wore the candles on her head so she would have both hands to carry the food.
GERMANY – "FROHE WEIHNACHTEN" or "FROEHLICHE WEIHNACHTEN!"
● Advent is an important part of the German celebrating of the season. An Advent Calendar can be a wreath of fir tree branches is decorated with 24 decorated bags or boxes hung from it, each marked with the day and holding a small present. An "Advent Kranz" is a ring of fir branches with four candles which are lit at the beginning of each week in Advent.
Even though Christmas comes in the summer in the southern hemisphere, the European traditions of the Christmas tree, snow, Santa Claus, are familiar but have local twists. The native Maori have influenced some of the Christmas traditions.
Maroi gingerbread cookies Maori Christmas Dance Strawberry/Kiwi Pavlova
● Santa is often seen in parades and at stores wearing jandals [New Zealand flip-flops] and occasionally wears a New Zealand "All Blacks" rugby shirt.
● Children leave out carrots for Santa's reindeer and beer and pineapple for Santa.
● Along with conventional Christmas Trees [with Kiwi birds as toppers instead of an angel or star], the New Zealand Pōhutukawa tree is associated with Christmas. They grow to a large size but small ones can be decorated along with their red flowers. They are often found on Christmas cards.
EGYPT – "EIDMILAD MAJID!" [Egyptian] or "EID ALMILAD!" [Arabic]
Egyptian Arabic for our Merry Christmas means Glorious Birth Feast, Although only 15% of the people are Christians, most of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, they are not the only Egyptians who celebrate Christmas. It is popular as a secular holiday with other religions there.
●Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January [as in Ethiopia, and some Orthodox in Russia and Serbia].
●During Advent, the 43 days before Christmas [November 25 through January 6], Coptic Christians eat a vegan diet, no animal products. It is called "The Holy Nativity Fast".
● Baba Noel [Father Christmas] is expected to climb through a window, not come down a chimney. I'm not sure if he rides on a sleigh or a camel.
CHINA - "SHENG DAN KUAI LE!" [Mardarin] or "SEN DAN FAI LOK!" [Cantonese]
Here, only 1% of the population is Christian, so it's possible to assume most Chinese don't know much about the religious basis for Christmas. Nevertheless, in large cities [most of them are large by our standards], the holiday has been embraced. Shopping malls and some streets are decorated in traditional themes, including Christmas trees.\
● In China, it is called "Sheng Dan Jieh" which means Holy Birth Festival.
● Most of the world's artificial Christmas trees and decorations are produced in China by people who do not know what the items are used for.
●A popular Christmas Eve tradition is giving apples. Stores sells them wrapped in colored paper. In Chinese, Christmas eve is called "Ping'an Ye" which means peaceful or quiet evening which was translated from the carol "Silent Night".
INDIA - "SHUB NAYA BARAS!"
There are 25 million Christians in India, which is only 2½ % of the population which is predominantly Muslin and Hindu. Christmas is not as big a festival as others but is widely celebrated, mostly in the southern part of the country, and fun.
● Instead of the traditional Christmas tree, banana or mango trees are decorated.
● Paper lanterns [leftovers from Diwali, The Hindu Festival of Lights] are hung between houses and clay lanterns are placed on ledges and window sills.
Christmas in Iceland is known as "Yule" or "Jól" and originated as the ancient winter solstice celebrations which were absorbed into early Christian tradition. Yule includes New Year through Epiphany.
●December 23, or Þorláksmessa, is a celebration of Iceland's major Saint, Saint Thorlakur Thorhallsson, the Bishop of Skálholt, who died on December 23rd. This is the day the traditional Christmas tree is decorated.
●Annar Jóladagur, is Boxing Day, the 26th of December. Public entertainment is not considered appropriate for Christmas eve and day, but on Boxing Day dancing is again allowed.
●Everyone gets a new piece of clothing and a book during Yule. Children also receive a candle and sometime a pack of cards.
●It is tradition to light up and decorate cemeteries during Yule season.
This is an interesting beginning for beings the Icelanders consider playful imps who like to eat and play tricks on people. They leave little presents for children in shoes placed on the windowsill.
The child may get a potato or message telling them to be good next year. The last one leaves January 8, the day the Epiphany is celebrated. Presents may also be brought by Jólasveinn, or Yule Man.
Christmas has only been celebrated in Japan for a few decades, so there aren't any truly Japanese traditions, except for foods prepared especially for Christmas. It isn't a religious holiday, and it's not a day off, but is widespread in cities with decorations in malls and the ubiquitous Santa Claus. The Japanese think of Christmas as more of a time to spread happiness. Christmas Eve is more like a romantic day when couples spend time together and give each gifts.
●Eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas day is a favorite. In China Christmas is KFC's busiest day of the year.
●Traditional Japanese Christmas dessert is sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.
AUSTRALIA – "HAPPY CHRISTMAS!"
Christmas comes in the summer "down under". The day is celebrated at the beginning of summer vacation there, and traditionally Australians have a big picnic on the beach. But most of the early settlers came to Australia from Britan and Ireland and, of course, brought their Christmas traditions with them.
● Christmas dinner is often a picnic at the beach with cold meats, prawns, crayfish, oysters, and other seafood. Lots of mangos, cherries and other summer fruits, and Christmas Crackers.
Photo from Bill Chappel article on Breaking news from NPR
● When Santa reaches Australia, he gives the reindeer a break and makes his rounds with kangaroos.
DO YOU KNOW OF OTHER INTERESTING CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS?