Christmas Traditions Around the World

We all know how the people of the United States celebrate Christmas. Do you know how people of the world celebrate this festivity? My name is Isa, and I am one of Santa's helpers. He has asked me to help you learn of the many different ways Christmas is celebrated around the world. Of course here in the United States we have many different cultures living in the same neighborhoods. It is possible that some of you already follow some of the traditions I will be telling you of and that is fantastic. So shall we get started?

History of Christmas

Choose the country you are interested in

Belgian
Canada/U.S.
China
Czechs
Denmark
England
France
Ghana, South Africa
Japan
India
Italy
Mexico
North Pole
The Netherlands
Poland
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Russia

Belgian

The children there believe it is kindly Saint Nicholas who brings them their presents. They also believe he rides a horse so they leave him hay and carrots and water for the horse just outside the house on December 6.

Canada/U.S.

Christmas trees are decorated and stockings are hung on the fireplace for Santa Claus to fill with gifts. Cards and gifts are exchanged with friends and relatives. Children put on pageants and go caroling.

China

The Christians in China light their homes with beautiful paper lanterns. Santa is called Dun Che Lao Ren. The children hang stockings just as we do.

CZECHS

They serve a very large and delicious dinner with many courses. Courses are like a appetizer, followed by soup, then a salad, then maybe the first meat dishes, and so on till the dessert is served. They serve this meal on Christmas Eve and it does not matter how big the family is, there is always a place set at the table that is set for the Christ Child.

Denmark

Santa is known as Julemanden and he arrives in a sleigh pulled by reindeer with a sack full of gifts. Danish children know the elves as Juul Nisse, and believe that they live in the attics of their homes. Instead of cookies and glasses of milk, they leave rice pudding and saucers of milk out for them.

England

From England we have acquired several customs. The first is the use of Christmas trees. This was made popular during the rein of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Albert came from the country of Germany and missed his native practice of bringing in trees to place on the tables in the house, therefore one Christmas the royal couple brought a tree inside the Palace and decorated it with apples and other pretty items.

The second custom is what is known as Boxing Day. It is celebrated the first weekday after Christmas. What this means is that small wrapped boxes with food and sweets, or small gifts, or coins are given to anyone who comes calling that day.

Santa is known as Father Christmas, wearing long red robes and had sprigs of holly in his hair. Instead of mailing out their christmas list, children throw it into the fireplace and Father Christmas reads the smoke. England is also where the tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney began, due to the fact that Father Christmas once accidentally dropped some gold coins on his way down the chimney which got caught in a drying stocking. Another interesting thing is that instead of opening up their gifts as soon as they wake up, English children wait until the afternoon.

France

Santa is known as Pere Noel. He is accompanied by Pre Fouettard who keep track of who has been good or bad for Pere Noel. In some parts of France, Pere Noel brings small gifts in the beginning of December (Dec 6) and comes back to deliver more on Christmas. In France the children get to open their gifts on Christmas, but the parents and other adults have to wait until New Years. In France the children place there shoes by the fire place in hopes that le Pere Noel/Father Christmas of le Petit Jesus/Little Jesus will place gifts for them. They also have dinner at midnight on December 24 this is called Le Reveillon. They have a cake called La Buche de Noel that is served after the dinner.

Tiny clay figures are used in the Christmas Crèches, Mangers. These figures are most unique as they are dressed in what is popular in provincial clothing that year. The figures are Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the Wise Men, the Shepherds, and Angels.

Italy

It Italy, the main exchange of gift doesn't occur until January 6th, the day traditionally believed that the Wise Men reached the baby Jesus. Italy has La Befana who brings gifts to for the good and punishment for the bad. She is the same character as Russia's Babouschka who refused to give the Wise Men food and shelter. The nativity scene may have first been set up by Saint Francis of Assisi. This first one was set up in a cave outside of a village and the villagers were so impressed by the display that now many of the communities compete for the best nativity.

India

Houses are decorated with strings of mango leaves. Lights are place on the window sills and walls and a star is hung outside. A sweet holiday treat is made called thali and it is brought to neighbors and friends.

Christmas Traditions in Ghana, South Africa

"Afishapa"

Christmas in Ghana has always been for us one of the most important and joyous religious festivals. It lasts for many days in all parts of the country. It is the time for beautiful Christmas music on the streets, on radio, television, and everywhere. As a religious celebration the churches start preparing many months before December 25th. The preparations are so intense that one really feels as if the whole country is actually preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas in Ghana is the time when relatives and friends visit each other from town to town and from village to village in all regions of the country regardless of their Religious Persuasion. One may see people in cars, buses, and Lorries brightly decorated with Christmas themes traveling all over the place with the usual Ghanaian Joy. Many people try to at least get home by Christmas Eve to visit the Ancestral home and to visit with families and friends.

The traditional Christmas Eve Dinner consists either of a specially cooked rice and goat or chicken stew or soup and is eaten before the Annual Christmas Worship Service and all friends and relatives as well as strangers are invited. The food consumed at the Christmas Day dinners may include rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds. There may be mangoes, oranges, pawpaw or cashew fruits. The families always brightly decorate the houses with beautiful paper ornaments specially made for the occasion. A tree in the center of the courtyard is also decorated. It may be a mango tree or a guava tree or a cashew tree. Usually the children and the young people in each family do this. Not only homes but also schools and neighborhoods are brightly decorated with colorful crepe paper while we look forward to the Christmas Eve Services at the various churches.

After the service there is usually a joyous procession through the streets led by local bands and Christmas Revelers which is joined by all. The dancing in the streets may continue till the wee hours of the morning. The gala mood continues night after night for a long time.

On Christmas Day everyone returns to the church in his or her finest new clothes and the churches are generally full. At the church we hear again the story of the first Christmas in all the ethnic languages along with the singing of traditional carols in our own ethnic languages reminding us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. After the Christmas service young people receive special gifts such as special imported chocolate, special cookies, and special crackers. They are told that the gifts come from Father Christmas, (a carry over from the colonial days). The young may also receive new clothes and perhaps new shoes or a diary or a book. Meanwhile, throughout the celebration, everyone is greeted with the special Akan greeting word, "Afishapa," meaning Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Japan

The Japanese decorate their stores and homes with greens. The only part of Christmas that they celebrate is the giving of gifts. HOTEIOSHA the priest is like our Santa Claus, and he brings the children their presents.

Mexico

Mexico calls Christmas Navidad. They celebrate Christmas for nine days with Las Pasdas. It is a time where people dress as Mary and Joseph, traveling from house to house asking if Mary may stay the night. They are told the is full. After which the door opens back up and all are invited in for a party with food, songs, and for the children a Pinata. The Pinata is made of paper mache and filled with all kinds of goodies. The object is to break it open with your eyes blindfolded. After which the children all dive for all the goodies they can pick up. On the ninth night they are told yes there is room for Mary in the stable and all come in for food and after all go to Church to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

The Netherlands

Santa is known as Sinterklaas, and he came to Sweden originally by boat, setting out on December 6th from Spain. He makes his gift deliveries by horseback. The children leave their shoes out, filled with hay and sugar for Sinterklaas' horse. In the morning they find their shoes filled with candy and nuts. When Sinterklaas appears to the children, he takes the form of their father or a favorite male relative.

North Pole

Santa and his helpers are getting ready to deliver gifts to the children of the world.

POLAND

From Christmas to New Years the streets are lined with lovely stalls called, JOSELKI, each one is carefully painted with scenes from the Christmas story. The booths are elaborately decorated in tinsel and lighted candles.

Spain

The children of Spain leave their shoes on the windowsills filled with straw, carrots, and barley for the horses of the Wise Men, who they believe reenact their journey to Bethlehem every year. One of the wise men is called Balthazar, who leaves the children gifts. They call Christmas Eve Nochebuena, and families gather together to rejoice and share a meal around the Nativity scene.

Sweden

The Swedish people call Santa tomte, and see him as a gnome who comes out from under the floor of the house or barn carrying his sack of gifts for them. He rides in a sleigh drawn by a goat.Santa Lucia day, the oldest daughter wears a wreath of seven candles on her head and servers a special meal of ham, fish, and rice pudding. God Jul!

On Saint Lucia’s Day, December 13, in the first light of dawn the oldest daughter of the house dresses in a white robe and places a ring of candles in her hair. It is then her job to wake the rest of the family and serve them coffee, buns, and cookies.

JULKAPP is another custom, in Sweden. a present is wrapped in many layers of paper and then someone knocks on the door to a house and they leave the gift their. The longer it takes for the present to be opened the better the JULKAPP.

Russia

Russia has someone named Babouschka, who would bring gifts for the children. The tradition says that she failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men and so she now searches the countryside searching for the baby Jesus, visiting all children giving gifts as she goes. Santa was known as Saint Nicholas but today is called Grandfather Frost, wearing a blue outfit instead of red.

The Russians use to celebrate Christmas with great joy and happiness before the Revaluation of 1917. They used to stroll up and down the streets with stars on the end of sticks that they called Stars of Bethlehem. The people went to church services and shared a special meal at home. After the Revaluation the Soviet Government banned Christmas. What the Russians do today is celebrate New Years Day with a special tree decorated like we do ours for Christmas and they have a New Years Day Children’s party. The children join hands and sing songs as they walk around the tree. They wait for DYET MOROZ Grandfather Frost, and his helper SYYEGORACHKA The Snow Maiden to bring them their gifts.

Switzerland

Santa Claus is called CHRISTKIND, the Christ Child coming to bring gifts to the children dressed in all white with a golden crown, He is helped by Saint Nicholas.
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