For many people, Christmas is the most important holiday of the year. Despite traditionally being a Christian holiday, Christmas is now celebrated as a religious and cultural event in 160 countries across the world.
The Christmas season symbolises a time of joy, prosperity, and family. Throughout December, Christians and non-Christians alike gather with their friends and family to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the year.
In the UK, family and friends exchange gifts and eat a turkey roast, pull Christmas crackers, and decorate trees in baubles and lights. These Christmas traditions are sacred to those celebrating Christmas in the UK, and are part of what makes the holiday so special.
But what about other countries across the world? What traditions do they have, and how do they celebrate Christmas?
Join us in taking a look at Christmas traditions around the world, and how various different countries celebrate!
Most of us imagine snow and knitted jumpers when we think of Christmas. For people in New Zealand, however, this image is the opposite! Our winter is their summertime, and so New Zealanders celebrate their Christmas in the heat of the summer sun. Because of this change in climate, certain Christmas traditions look slightly different in New Zealand.
Lots of people in New Zealand spend the Christmas Holidays sprawled on the beach, so its only natural that Santa Claus does the same! Some renditions of Santa see him ditch his steel-capped snow boots for more weather appropriate jandals (New Zealand sandals), donning a red and white flower-print shirt instead of his trademark suit.
New Zealander’s also have their own Christmas tree, the Pōhutukawa. The Pōhutukawa has bright red flowers, and holds an important place in Maori mythology. In the myth, the blood-red flowers are said to represent the blood of a warrior who perished while trying to avenge his father’s death. The Maori also used the flowering of the Pōhutukawa tree as an indicator of the changing seasons from December through to January – which is how it came to be known as a Christmas tree.
Christmas in Germany starts at the beginning of Advents Zeit, Advent season. Throughout December, German families often partake in Adventskranz. Unlike chocolate advent calendars, these traditional Advent wreaths consist of four candles, set in a bed of pine cones, dried flowers, berries, and Christmas ornaments. Families light an extra candle every Sunday in the lead up to Christmas, counting down to Christmas day!
A favourite festive holiday among children in Germany is December 5th, St Nicholas Day. On the night of this holiday, German children clean and shine their boots and shoes, and leave them outside their doors before going to sleep. When they wake the next morning, St Nicholas has filled their shoes with nuts, sweets and small gifts – if they have been good, that is.
While in the UK, Christmas Eve may be a cause for indulgence and celebrations, in Germany, one in two Germans eat a simple meal of sausage and potato salad. This Christmas custom dates back to the traditional German fasting period from St Martin’s Day on 11 November until 24 December. This simple dish is symbolic of fasting and helps to prepare Germans for their lavish Christmas Day meal of traditional roasted goose, red cabbage and potato dumplings.
In the Philippines, Christmas is known as Pasko. Formal Christmas celebrations start on the 16th of December, when many people attend the first of nine early morning masses. These consecutive early morning masses are called Misa de Gallo, or Simbang Gambi, with the last mass taking place on Christmas Day.
In the Philippines, Christmas customs come from a mixture of native Filipino traditions and western influences. One of the most beautiful Christmas customs that can be observed in the Philippines is the Ligligan Parul, or ‘The Giant Lantern Festival’.
Held in the City of San Fernando, Pampagna, The Giant Lantern Festival is an exhibition of huge, colourful lanterns that symbolise the Star of Bethlehem. Each sparkling parol (lantern) is made from thousands of spinning lights that are beautiful against the night sky.
Christmas has only been a widespread celebration in Japan for the past few decades. It’s not necessarily considered a religious holiday, as there are not many Christians in Japan. However, for many people in Japan, Christmas is recognised as a time of great happiness and, for some, even romance.
Japanese people primarily celebrate Christmas Eve over Christmas day, which is thought of as a romantic day. Much like Valentine’s Day celebrations in the UK, Christmas Eve is a day where young couples might exchange gifts, take sentimental walks and go for romantic dinners in expensive restaurants.
Unlike a turkey roast, Christmas dinner in Japan looks a little bit different. The Christmas food of choice is fried chicken, especially chicken from KFC. It is the busiest time of the year for restaurants such as KFC, with people in Japan placing orders at their local branch months in advance! Alongside KFC, people in Japan also enjoy a Christmas cake, a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.
In Poland, Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia. On this evening, many Polish families share in an oplatek, a rectangular, thin, flavourless wafer that must be consumed before the Christmas Eve meal can begin.
The eldest member of the family begins by breaking off a piece of the waver, and then passes it round the table for the rest of the family to take a piece. Prayers are said throughout this ritual, with family members wishing each other good health and fortune.
Dinner may not begin, however, until it the first star can be seen in the night sky – this reminiscent of the Wisemen who followed the star to Jesus. When the first star has appeared, dishes are set out on the table. These 12 dishes represent good luck for the coming 12 months, or, if the family are religious, the 12 dishes can also represent Jesus’ disciples.
All the dishes are meat free and include food like beetroot soup, carp and dumplings.
In Mexico, Christmas celebrations run from December 12th, all the way through to January 6th. From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children in Mexico often perform Posadas. Translating to a hotel or inn, these processions are a celebration of the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph and their search for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem.
Posadas often feature hot drinks and food, music, and sweets, with the outside of houses lit up by paper lanterns. Piñatas are an especially important part of Posada party celebrations and are often made from decorated clay or papier-mâché jars.
Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, is considered a family day in Mexico. On the day, families take part in the final Posada, then return home to sit round the table for their main Christmas meal. Popular dishes for a Mexican Christmas meal include Pozole, a thick soup made with chicken or pork that is sprinkled with chillies.
It is incredible to see just how different Christmas around the world varies. From fried chicken in Japan, to potato salad in Germany – you might even want to introduce some of these traditions into your own home!
However you celebrate Christmas, we think you’re certain to wow your family during your Christmas dinner with your newfound cultural knowledge.
If you think you could make a difference to the life of a vulnerable young person this Christmas, get in touch with us to find out more about fostering.