Tomorrow is Christmas Day, where millions of people will gather together and exchange gifts. However, traditions that we have known for years differ massively across the world. Here’s a look at just a few other countries and how they celebrate December 25th.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Navidad
Between the 16th and 24th of December, Mexicans celebrate Las Posadas to mark the part of the Christmas story where Mary and Joseph looked for a place to stay. Certain houses are designated to be an ‘inn’ and two people dress as Mary and Joseph leading a procession of guests. After initially being told there is no room at the house, they are eventually welcomed in and have a party with food and games, including piñata with seven spikes to represent the seven deadly sins.
Nativity scenes are very popular and can often be very large. The traditional figures are often accompanied by many other people, including people selling food and animals, including flamingos.
Other festivities also take place during the festive period, including the Night of the Radishes on the 23rd (where radishes are carved into scenes and human figures) and the Day of Innocent Saints on the 28th (a similar celebration to that of April Fools’ Day).
As well as traditional Western fare, such as roast turkey and glazed ham, Mexicans in the northwestern states also eat a tripe and hominy soup, known as menudo. This is often prepared on Christmas Eve, as cooking can take up to five hours.
Merry Christmas: Buon Natale
As a predominantly Catholic country, many Italian families have a Nativity crib in their homes, which are normally put out on December 8th. However, a figure of the baby Jesus is not put in the crib until the evening of Christmas Eve.
On the night before Christmas, no meat and sometimes no dairy is eaten, with families eating a light seafood meal before going to Midnight Mass. When returning from Mass, it’s common to eat a slice of panettone, an Italian Christmas cake (a fruity sponge cake). Christmas lunch in Italy is often a lengthy affair, with foods such as tortellini in chicken stock, cotechino (a sausage made from pig’s intestines) and panforte (gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds).
Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) brings children small gifts on Christmas Day, but the main day for present giving is on Epiphany on January 6th, which celebrates the arrival of the three wise men to give gifts to baby Jesus. On Epiphany night, children hang up stockings by the fireplace, believing that a kind witch called La Befana brings presents for them. La Befana travels on a broomstick, rather than a sleigh.
Merry Christmas: Gleðileg jól
13 days before Christmas Eve, children leave shoes by windows for the Icelandic version of Santa, the ‘Yule Lads’ (jólasveinarnir). The 13 Yule Lads put items in the shoes, with one Yule Lad visiting each night, leaving small gifts or rotting potatoes depending on the child’s behaviour. The Lads are very mischievous and supposedly live in Iceland’s mountains with their troll parents, Grýla and Leppalúði.
Icelandic folklore also says that everyone must get a new piece of clothing as a gift or they would be eaten by the malicious Christmas Cat, belonging to Grýla, one of the Yule Lads parents.
Icelanders begin celebrations from 6pm on Christmas Eve, with families eating together and exchanging presents. Roast lamb is commonly eaten as a Christmas meal, as well as caramelised potatoes, and möndlugrautur, a Christmas rice pudding with an almond hidden inside. Christmas is celebrated until Epiphany on January 6th.
Merry Christmas: Joyeux Noël
French children put their shoes by the fireplace or under the Christmas tree for Père Noël (Father Christmas) to give them gifts.
After Midnight Mass, people gather either at home or a restaurant for a réveillon, an exceptional, long dinner consisting of oysters, snails, goose, and wine. Dessert normally consists of a Yule log, but a tradition in Provence is to end the ‘big supper’ with 13 different desserts, each representing Jesus and the 12 apostles.
While children open all their presents on Christmas Day, not all parents and adults do, with some waiting until New Year’s Eve.
In some parts of France, Father Christmas comes early on St Nicolas Day (December 6th), bringing small gifts and sweets for children. On this day, he is accompanied by Père Fouettard (Father Whipper), who gives coal and flogs the naughty children.
Merry Christmas: Merry Christmas/Geseënde Kersfees
South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning that Christmas comes in the summertime. Despite this, depictions of wintery scenes are popular during the festive period.
The country maintains many of the European traditions introduced during its time as a colony, including leaving a stocking out for Santa Claus (also known as Sinterklaas and Kersvader), and carol singing. However, Christmas afternoon is often spent out and about, with families taking trips to the country or to the beach.
Christmas lunch consists normally of turkey or duck, mince pies, a suckling pig with rice and raisins, followed by a Christmas Pudding or a Malva Pudding, a traditional South African dessert. Sometimes, due to the hot weather South Africa experiences in December, the traditional food may be abandoned in favour of a barbeque.
Merry Christmas: C рождеством
Christmas in Russia is not celebrated on the 25th of December but on January 7th, because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar which is 13 days behind. Christmas holidays, as a result, last from December 31st to January 10th.
Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden) bring presents to the children of Russia, similar to the Western tradition of Santa Claus.
On Christmas Eve, Russians have 12 dishes to represent Jesus’ 12 disciples and include borsch, and vzvar (a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water). On the day itself, there is a feast with dishes such as roast pork and meat dumplings, with gingerbread and Kozulya cookies, made in the shape of sheep or goats.
Merry Christmas: Frohe Weihnachten
Traditionally, ‘star singers’ (Sternsinger), dressed as wise men, go from house to house between December 27th and January 6th singing Christmas songs and collecting money for charity. When they finish singing, a signature is written in chalk on the door of the house, which must be left to fade by itself (it is considered bad luck to wash it away).
Children in Germany sometimes write to the Christkind, the traditional gift-bringer, asking for presents, decorating the envelopes with sugar to make them attractive to look at. These are left on the windowsill during Advent.
Like some other European countries, German families open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, a tradition introduced by Martin Luther as he believed emphasis should be put on Christ’s birth. For the main Christmas meal (normally dinner on Christmas Eve), goose is often served, as well as stollen, a Christmas fruit bread.
Germany is also well known for its Christmas markets, which sell food and decorations, including traditional glass ornaments.
Merry Christmas: Eid Milad Majid/عيد ميلاد مجيد
Although only 15% of Egypt’s population are Christian, a lot of people celebrate Christmas but as a secular holiday. Like other countries with Orthodox Christian populations, Egypt celebrates Christmas on January 7th.
During Advent (from November 25th to January 6th), Orthodox Christians eat a vegan diet, in a fast known as the ‘Holy Nativity Fast’. On Christmas Eve (January 6th), Christians go to church for a special service which begins at 10:30pm. Some of these can go on until 4am on Christmas Day.
Children leave special sweet biscuits known as kahk for Baba Noël (Father Christmas) in the hope that he will climb through the window and give them presents.
On Christmas Day (Jan 7th), people come together for parties and eat a big Christmas meal, which includes meat, eggs and butter (things not included in the Advent fast). One popular dish eaten at Christmas is a lamb soup called Fata, which includes bread, rice, garlic and boiled lamb.
Merry Christmas: Wesołych Świąt
As a predominantly Catholic country, Poland’s celebration of Christmas contains many more religious traditions. This includes a day of fasting and abstinence on Christmas Eve, and also attending special masses known as ‘roraty’, which are held at dawn and are dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
For their Christmas meal, which is traditionally eaten after the first star in the sky appears on Christmas Eve, Polish families eat from 12 different dishes, which are meant to give good luck for the year ahead and (for Catholics) represent the 12 disciples of Jesus. The main dish is carp, but herring is also served (but no meat, as that is saved until Christmas Day). Poles also place a piece of iron under the dinner table, to ensure that everyone has strong legs.
The main dish is carp, but herring is also served (but no meat, as that is saved until Christmas Day). Poles also place a piece of iron under the dinner table, to ensure that everyone has strong legs. Only after the Christmas Eve dinner are presents allowed to be opened.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Navidad
Also with a large Catholic population, many Spaniards go to Midnight Mass. Prior to this, they eat their main Christmas meal, with is traditionally a turkey stuffed with truffles (Pavo Trufado de Navidad).
Presents are normally left until the Epiphany on January 6th. Children write letters to the three kings on Boxing Day, asking for presents, and leave shoes on windowsills or under the Christmas trees in the hope they will be filled with presents. Like the tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa, Spaniards leave a glass of Cognac for each king, as well as a satsuma and walnuts. If the children have been bad, pieces of coal made out of sugar may be left for them. At Epiphany, Roscón (a doughy cake filled with cream or chocolate containing a gift) is eaten.
There are some regional differences to the traditions. For example, in the Basque County, presents are delivered on Christmas Eve by a magical overweight man called Olentzero, who dresses like a farmer and wears a beret. In Catalonia, traditional nativity scenes include a character known as the caganer (the crapper). The figurine squats down as if going to the toilet and, although often they depict shepherds, they are also made in the image of footballers, politicians and other celebrities.
Merry Christmas: Merry Christmas/शुभ क्रिसमस
Christmas is a relatively small festival in India, as only 2.3% of the population are Christian. Traditions among those who do celebrate vary by region. In the south of India, Christians put oil lamps on the flat roofs of their homes to show that Jesus is the light of the world and in Mumbai star lanterns are often hung up.
Some traditions are similar to European traditions due to historical connections, which include carol singing, eating Christmas cake and having Christmas trees in their homes. As fir trees aren’t common in India, mango trees or banana trees are decorated instead.
Merry Christmas: Feliz Natal
Like many other countries, re-enactments of the nativity are popular and known as ‘Os Pastores’ (The Shepherds). The plays traditionally feature a woman who attempts to steal the baby Jesus.
Children believe in Papai Noel (Father Christmas) and leave a sock near a window, believing that if he finds it, he will swap it for a present. Secret Santa is also popular at Christmas, where small gifts are given using a pretend name throughout December, with the gift giver revealed on Christmas Day.
The Christmas meal is served at 10pm on Christmas Eve and includes assortments of fruit, fried cod, turkey and French toast. After the meal, many attend Midnight Mass or watch the Pope’s service in Rome on television. Christmas Day is often spent at the beach as temperatures can often reach 30C.
Merry Christmas: メリークリスマス
The celebration of Christmas is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, and is more of a secular holiday as there are not many Christians in the country. Christmas Eve is celebrated in a similar way to Valentine’s Day, with couples spending the day together and exchanging gifts. As it is not a national holiday, schools, businesses and shops are open for business on December 25th.
As it is not a national holiday, schools, businesses and shops are open for business on December 25th. One strange tradition emerged in 1974 when American fast food chain KFC launched a ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ advertising campaign. It was extremely successful, and people often have to place orders with KFC and other fast food chains in advance.
Japanese New Year is similar to Christmas celebrations in the West, with families getting together, eating a special meal and sending cards to each other.
Merry Christmas: 圣诞快乐
Like Japan, Christmas Day is not a legal holiday in China, but is recognised in Hong Kong and Macau because of their colonial past.
Christmas is not widely celebrated outside of China’s major cities and is often a private affair, with Christians attending Midnight Mass. That said, Christmas decorations can be found in department stores, alongside grottos with Santa.
One tradition is to give apples to each other on Christmas Eve, because the day’s name (Ping’an Ye) is similar to the Mandarin for apple (píngguo).
Merry Christmas: Merry Christmas
Australian traditions are similar to that of Britain due to their colonial links, with Christmas wreaths hung on front doors, Christmas crackers, and people going carol singing on Christmas Eve.
However, some aspects are changed as Christmas falls during the summer. For example, words to carols that reference snow and winter are sometimes changed, and Santa ditches reindeer for kangaroos. Australians also often hit the beach for Christmas Day. The heat also, unfortunately, means that bushfires can also erupt over the holiday season.
Christmas Day is spent together as a family, with the main meal eaten at lunch time. A barbeque with seafood is very popular, with fish markets full of people on Christmas Eve.
Merry Christmas: Merry Christmas
The US shares many traditions with other European nations and Mexico due to their demographics. However, many of them are very similar to those in Britain.
On Christmas Eve, Americans will often leave cookies and glasses of milk for Santa, as well as hanging Christmas stockings on a mantelpiece, with children believing he will visit during the night and leave Christmas presents under the tree.
Presents are opened on Christmas Day with the main meal also taking place on this day. Traditional foods include turkey with stuffing, ham, roast beef, potatoes and chocolate.
Wherever you are tomorrow, I wish you all a very merry Christmas!