is celebrated all over the world – Tricia Stewart takes
a tour round the globe to explore Christmas traditions and festivities
in different countries.
If you’ve ever wondered how Father Christmas manages to
make his way around the world in just one evening, it’s
probably because you didn’t have all the facts in front
of you. Christmas is celebrated in cultures all across the globe,
but sometimes with traditions peculiar to their country and even
on a different day! Largely English speaking nations often follow
the more European traditions, with the likes of Australia and
Canada similar in everything but the weather.
Austria is one of the earliest countries to celebrate Christmas
with their celebrations falling on the 6th December! The celebrations
in Austria are very musical and a number of the world’s
favourite carols originated here. St. Nicholas and his assistant,
Krampus may visit on Christmas Day but a day earlier ChristKind,
who also helps with the decorating of the tree, brings the gifts.
Belgium too holds its celebrations on the 6th December, although
they also celebrate on the 25th. The earlier date is dedicated
to Saint Nicholas, a bishop of a city called Myra, who was canonized
and who is thought to enter all the houses through the chimney
bearing gifts. Later, Pere Noel (Santa) delivers presents to the
whole family in the run up to the 25the December. On this day
the family gathers for a traditional meal and to open and exchange
Ghana is one of the many places that celebrate Christmas Day
on the 25th December but also one of the few in Africa that pay
particular attention to the season. The preparations for this
occasion are momentous and begin months before the actual event.
Homes, schools, neighbourhoods and even vehicles are adorned with
lights and paper decorations.
This time is special in Africa as it is a time when all relatives
and friends come together and visit each other, regardless of
their own personal religion. Often families try to arrive at the
ancestral home by Christmas Eve although there is a lot of fun
to be had out on the streets after the church service that night.
Processions are huge and often led by local bands, and the dancing,
merriment and celebrations continue well into the night and for
many nights after.
On the well-attended Christmas Day services, the story of Christmas
is told in the local ethnic languages before children receive
presents of chocolates, special crackers and if they are very
lucky, clothes or a book. Likewise in Zimbabwe, fathers give clothes
and candy to their wives and children to mark the event.
In Chile, as in all Latin America, the most important part of
all decorations and festivities is the manger scene. It’s
a very religious affair and on Christmas Eve, emphasis is placed
on the Mass of the Rooster, which is followed by a traditional
meal of the country.
Costa Rica, however, lends itself to more exotic celebrations
with the hot weather and their decorations consist of colourful
flowers. Trips are often arranged to the jungle where visitors
will pick some of the rare and exotic plants and orchids.
Denmark is a country that doesn’t do anything by halves
and Christmas, also celebrated on the 25th December, is a big
event. The children receive small gifts for every day of the advent
and on Christmas Eve presents are lain under the tree. The presents
are only given out once the family have walked around the tree
and sung many hymns and carols. A series of Christmas lunches
are held for the 12 days that follow. Similarly, in Latvia, Father
Christmas delivers presents for every day of Christmas starting
on Christmas Eve!
Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a highlight in Germany.
The decorations are taken very seriously and candles play an important
part in the celebrations. Many houses have little wooden frames
with electric candles in them displayed at their windows. Sometimes
you can also see a decoration which they call 'Adventskranz'.
This is a simple wreath of leaves with four candles in it and
on each Sunday of the Advent another candle is lit.
It is also common to see nativity scenes in German homes. These
will often feature a wooden crib or a small model of the stable
where Jesus was born with Mary, Joseph and animals. Their Christmas
services take place on Christmas Eve and it is only after this
that Father Christmas will visit, leaving presents under the Christmas
Russia traditionally celebrates Christmas on the 6th January
with church services and also their ‘Feast of St. Nicholas’,
as the saint is especially popular in this country. These celebrations
were repressed around the time of the communist revolution, but
have returned to make this one of the most celebrated times on
the Russian calendar, which runs 13 days ahead of the British
in Russia is a time to revel in old folk traditions and their
culture. After the Christmas Eve church service the attendees
carry candles, torches, and homemade lanterns parade around the
church, before returning to their places and singing hymns until
late, just as their grandparents did before them.
They eat their festive feast after the service, of which the
most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya.
The use of wheatberries and grains in this porridge is to symbolise
hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds ensure happiness,
success, and untroubled rest. The kutya is shared around the family
in the same bowl, which symbolises unity amongst the family.
In Russia there is a folktale about Babushka, an old woman who
delivers gifts to children at Christmastime. According to legend
she did not find accommodation or food for the three wise men
during their pilgrimage to meet the Christ Child and still roams
the countryside looking for him and visiting children in the season.
China, having a largely non Christian population tends to celebrate
New Year more than Christmas, which falls around the end of January
but some of the popular customs are still in place such as decorating
houses and trees and the yearly arrival of Santa Claus.
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