Christmas Traditions Around the World
Christmas is just around the corner and before you dive into your Christmas celebrations (or traditions) find out how Christmas is celebrated in some countries around the world. It is really crazy that every country has its own way to celebrate Christmas. Besides commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also a cultural celebration and most of the time it is synonymous with holidays and gifts.
As for us let me start by saying that we bought our tree last year at the “Mondo Verde Garden Centre” in Taneto di Gattatico. We have fixed it already and now it is waiting for its gifts.
People around the world celebrate Christmas in different ways. For some, it is all about food, for some others, it is about decorations and gifts, and sadly, nowadays only for a few, it is about holiness.
Norwegian Christmas traditions, for example, are focused on Christmas Eve rather than the Christmas day itself.
Christmas Traditions in Sri Lanka
Although Sri Lanka is a mostly Buddhist country since it is made up of only 7% Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday by everyone of any religion. Sri Lanka was ruled by the Portuguese from 1505 to 1650, the Dutch from 1658 to 1796 and the British from 1815 to 1948; for this reason Christmas traditions in Sri Lanka are a mixture of western and native customs. It is very normal to see the streets decorated with colourful lights and shopping malls with large Christmas Trees in them. In the year 2016, Sri Lanka so proudly presented the world’s tallest artificial Christmas tree. It was built on the Galle Face Green in Colombo; the tree was 72.1m (236 ft. 6.58 in) tall and opened on Christmas Eve 2016.
Big companies celebrate Christmas parties with dinners, music, and dance. For Christians going to Midnight Mass is very important and it is typical to wear a new dress for this occasion. On the 25th they invite friends, both Christian and non-Christian, to their homes for parties, lunch, or dinner. They also visit relatives to give them their Christmas wishes. In Sri Lanka, the holiness comes first and everything turns around it!
Sri Lanka has three main languages: English, Sinhalese and Tamil. Merry Christmas in the Sinhalese language is said, ‘Suba Naththalak Wewa’ and in Tamil language “Nathar Walthukkal”.
Christmas Traditions in Italy
Contrary to what we all could believe, one of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is dinner and lunch; for Christmas Eve they always eat fish dishes and meat only on the 25th. Yes, it is often food-centred. Most of the time everything comes after this! Having a Nativity crib and a Christmas tree in the house is very popular and are traditionally put out on the 8th of December. But the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t put into the crib until the evening/night of December 24th! Gifts are opened on the 24th night after dinner.
During the Christmas period, a special cake called Panettone is sold everywhere and is also used to exchange wishes among the people. If you are close to Modena and if you ever have a chance to buy one, I’ll suggest to you the homemade Panettone from Reverberi’s Bakery of Sassuolo.
All the companies celebrate Christmas by giving a gift box with yummy treats to their employees.
Epiphany is also important in Italy. Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It lands on 6th January. On Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called ‘Befana’ brings presents for them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill.
In Italian Merry Christmas is said ‘Buon Natale’.
Christmas Traditions in the Philippines
People in the Philippines like to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible, yes, the Christmas season starts in September but the formal Christmas celebrations start on the 16th of December when many people go to the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. The Christmas celebrations continue until the First Sunday in January when the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated.
In the Philippines, the early masses held before Christmas are called the ‘Misa de Gallo’ or ‘Simbang Gabi’ in the Filipino language, Tagalog. Most Filipinos are Christians with about 80% of people being Catholics. It’s the only Asian country with so many Christians. Because of this, Christmas is the most important event in the Philippines.
Like in Sri Lanka, Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of western and native traditions since Christianity became widely known in the country in the 1500s when missionaries from Spain travelled and conquered the country. So people in the Philippines have Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, Christmas cards and Christmas carols just like in the western countries! Nevertheless, they also have their own Christmas traditions such as the ‘parol’ which is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it. It’s traditionally made from bamboo strips and coloured Japanese paper or cellophane paper and represents the star that guided the Wise Men. It is the most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines.
Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay awake all night into Christmas day! During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena which is wish dropping event. Carol singing is permitted only on certain days in December. The Philippines has eight major dialects and they commonly use Merry Christmas for wishes.
Christmas Traditions in Poland
Poland is a largely Catholic country, and so, the Polish have plenty of traditions around Christmas. So so so many that sometimes it gets very late before the kids can finally open their gifts. Advent is the beginning of the Christmas season and it is a kind of fasting period. I mean they don’t overdo it with food, drinks, and parties. Some people also go to Church quite frequently. They have special masses at dawn dedicated to Mary for receiving the good news from the angel Gabriel.
During Advent, people also prepare their houses for Christmas. Everything must be clean for Christmas day! For example, people wash their doors, windows, cars, and clean their carpets very thoroughly.
One of the popular events before Christmas is “Jasełka,” a Nativity Plays for children.
Christmas Eve is a very important day for the Polish and traditionally it was a day of hard fasting. Like in Italy, the Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia. The 24th supper is eaten only when the first star is seen in the sky! The beetroot soup here is one of the most important dishes and it’s obligatory to have it. Meat is not allowed to be eaten. Carp is often the main dish of the meal. Tradition is for the fish to be bought alive a few days earlier and it is kept alive in the bath basin until it’s killed by the lady of the house! The young generation seems to not be following this tradition anymore. It is strongly believed that scales of the carp bring fortune and many keep it for the whole year. Some old ladies put it in their bras during the supper and give it the next day to the guest for a good luck!
At the beginning of the supper, a large unholy wafer which has a picture of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus on it is passed around the table and everyone eats a piece of it as a symbol of exchanging good wishes. At the meal table, a seat is often left empty for an unexpected guest. Carol singing follows the supper and followed by that the presents are opened.
The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve. In some houses, there is also a custom of breaking one of the Christmas Tree decorations out of the house to scare away evil for the whole next year! Christmas Eve ends by going to Midnight Mass. In Polish Merry Christmas is said ‘Wesołych Świąt’. Polish Children also often get dressed up and go carol singing on Epiphany, January 6th.
Christmas Traditions in the United Stated of America
Due to its multi-cultural nature, the United States of America has many different ways to celebrate Christmas. Many Americans eat a Christmas turkey with cranberry sauce on Christmas Day, but some prefer to have roast beef or ham as the centrepiece of their traditional meal. Many Americans incorporate foods in their holiday meal that have origins with their ancestors. Therefore, it’s common for people to have Italian lasagna, Mexican tamales, or a myriad of other international dishes on their Christmas table.
Christmas cookies are a very common treat, especially sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies that are decorated, though as with all the other traditions, it depends on each family’s background and preferences. Candy canes and chocolate are also common treats, and many families enjoy drinking eggnog, hot cocoa, or hot apple cider during the Christmas season. All the little children leave treats for Santa on Christmas Eve – usually cookies and milk, though sometimes they add treats for the reindeer, such as carrots and bits of grass.
Some Americans have special Christmas Eve traditions. Those who are Catholic usually go to church on Christmas Eve, and many Protestants attend Christmas Day services. Nowadays many Americans are not very religious and don’t attend church at all. Christmas Day is the main time to celebrate for most Americans. Christmas gifts are usually opened on Christmas Day. Most families do so first thing in the morning, as soon as the little kids wake up!
Many churches have special Christmas Carol services and events where the birth of Jesus is told. In some of the American States like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, there are shops called ‘Christmas Shops’ that only sell Christmas decorations and toys all year round!
Most Americans decorate Christmas trees, even many of the non-Christians. It’s customary to wait until after Thanksgiving, which is the third Thursday in November, to put up your Christmas decorations. Many Americans are very quick to get their tree and get their decorations up as soon as possible so they can enjoy them for the whole month of December. Americans tend to be very over-the-top with their decorating – they like to “think big.”
More than anywhere else, Americans like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even figures of Santa , snowmen and reindeer.
Another very common Christmas tradition in America is to have an Elf on the Shelf. Families have an elf that comes to visit their house during the Christmas season. He or she sits in the house and watches the kids to make sure they are being good, and reports back to Santa. Americans also love to rewatch the same Christmas movies year after year. Many families love A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and many more.
In Hawaii, Santa is called Kanakaloka, and to say Merry Christmas, it’s “Mele Kalikimaka!”
That is all for this year! Me With My Suitcase Blog is giving out some Christmas e-cards for free, you can download and use them to spread your Christmas wishes.
Contact me at [email protected] in case you want me to customize a card for free. For this Christmas, please, take your time and write MERRY CHRISTMAS and not MERRY ‘XMAS!