Christmas is celebrated around the world on different days and in different ways. Here is a collection of a few countries and their special traditions:
Belguim: On the sixth of December Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicholas is celebrated, which is an entirely different holiday from Christmas. Santa Claus in Belgium is called de Kerstman or le Père Noël and he does come around on Christmas day to bring children presents. Small family presents are given at Christmas under the tree, or in stockings near the fireplace, to be found in the morning. Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread called ‘cougnou’ or ‘cougnolle’ – the shape is supposed to be like baby Jesus. Some families will have another big meal on Christmas day.
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Brazil: Father Christmas is called Papai Noel. Many Christmas customs are similar to USA or UK. For those who have enough money, a special Christmas meal will be chicken, turkey, ham, rice, salad, pork, fresh and dried fruits, often with beer. Poorer people will have chicken, rice and beans and will also drink beer and coke. For dessert people enjoy some Brazilian sweets Brigadeiro made of condensed milk and chocolate. Both rich and poor have Christmas trees. A poor person’s Christmas tree is made of plastic or is just a dry tree branch. Since there is no snow, poor people put cotton over their Christmas tree branch to simulate snow.
France: In France, Christmas is always called ‘Noël. Everyone has a Christmas tree, sometimes decorated with red ribbons and real white wax candles. Fir trees in the garden are often decorated too, with lights on all night. Father Christmas is called Père Noël. The Christmas meal is an important family gathering with good meat and the best wine. Christmas lunch is a starter of fois gras (a strong tasting pate made from goose liver) followed by lunch of seafood – usually including lobster and oysters.
Germany: Houses are decorated with an ‘Adventskranz’ – a wreath of leaves with four candles. (Advent – meaning ‘coming’ – is the 4 week period before Christmas). On each Sunday of Advent, another candle is lit. Most homes will also have little wooden ‘cribs’ – a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and animals. Father Christmas – ‘Der Weihnachtsmann’ – brings presents in the late afternoon of Christmas Eve (December 24th), after people have been to a church meeting. The presents are then found under the Christmas tree. One person in the family will ring a bell and call everyone to come to the room. On Christmas Day, fish (carp) or goose will be cooked.
Hungary: Santa Claus (Winter-grandfather) (Tel-apo or Mikulas) comes on the 6th of December. Children clean and put their shoes outside next to the door or window before they go to sleep. The next day, candies and/or small toys appear in them in red bags. For children who don’t behave well, a golden birch is placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking. On December 24, children go to their relative or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles (real or electrical), and sparklers. Families usually cook a festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time.
Latvia: Latvians believe that Father Christmas brings presents on each of the 12 days of Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. Usually the presents are put under the family Christmas tree. Some believe that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Latvia. The Christmas Day meal consists of brown peas with bacon (pork) sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.
Romania: On the 6th December, St. Nicholas comes and puts small gifts in children shoes that have been polished and placed near the windows and if children have been naughty, they get a little stick. Usually people in the country side grow their own pigs which are sacrificed for Christmas on the 20th of December, and the meat is cooked in different ways for the Christmas meal. Mince is made and together with rice, onions and spices is used for the stuffed cabbage or vine leaves, which are called ‘sarmale’. On Christmas Eve, children go around houses and sing carols and get fruit, sweets or money in exchange. On Christmas Day, everyone has a big family meal and visits relatives. In the countryside, people dress as bears and goats and go and sing special traditional songs at each house in the village.
Here are some traditional Christmas sweets in different countries:
- FRANCE: Buche de Noel (a Génoise or other sponge cake, baked in a large Swiss roll pan)
- USA: Pumpkin Cake (with cinnamon and ginger, frosted with cream cheese frosting)
- SPAIN: Nougat (made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts)
- HUNGARY: Beigli (roll of sweet yeast bread with a dense, rich, bittersweet filling)
- ITALY: Panettone (is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan)
- SWEDEN: Pepparkakor (heart-star and goat-shaped gingerbread biscuit)
- UK: Christmas Pudding (steamed pudding, with dried fruit and nuts, usually made with suet)
- PORTUGAL: Pain Perdu (French toast made with bread and eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon)
- GERMANY: Lebkuchen (large cookies made of honey)
Here are some miscellaneous international Christmas traditions:
- The tradition of burning a Yule log actually has its roots in ancient Scandinavia. Supposedly the Yule log was a source of good luck and its remnants were saved to inspire good fortune throughout the year. It was such a widely held belief that people even threw the ashes in wells to make the water safer to drink.
- The Holy Days and Fasting Act of 1551 in Britain declares that all its country’s citizens must attend the annual church services held on Christmas day. In fact it goes as far as stating that no vehicle should be used to travel to church on this day. The law still exists on the books, although it is not observed.
- Christmas was illegal in England from 1647-1660. This was enforced by the then leader Oliver Cromwell who believed it was immoral to hold celebrations on one of the holiest days of the year. The celebration of Christmas was therefore a criminal offence which could lead to an individual being arrested if he or she was found guilty of condoning any revelry during the period.
- Postmen in Victorian England were popularly called “robins”. This was because their uniforms were red. Victorian Xmas cards often showed a robin delivering Xmas mail. In the nineteenth century, the British Post Office used to deliver cards on Christmas morning.
- The first Christmas stamp was released in Canada in 1898.
- The average budget for Christmas presents by country: USA: $677– UK: $618 – GERMANY: $352 – ITALY: $423 – FRANCE: $477 – SPAIN: $499 – NETHERLANDS: $268
Information about international Christmas traditions found here: