Many of us take our yearly holiday traditions for granted for no other reason other than it’s what we know. And change doesn’t come easy because as the saying goes, “but we’ve always done it this way!” Heaven forbid we should do something different. 😀
While most of my family members exchange gifts, my five sisters and I don’t purchase gifts for each other. Instead, we have to give up personal possessions. When we all lived closer together, we’d each set up ‘displays’ to browse. Fast forward to the present and we’re texting photos, and anything is up for grabs, from clothing, jewelry, and cologne to household goods. Our mom laughs at us… then takes from us all! We never know who will end up with what! 😀 😀 😀
Do you put up a Christmas tree? Have a white elephant gift party? Make charitable donations? Adopt members of the military? What are some of your traditions?
Below, you’ll find some of the ways our friends from around the world celebrate this time of year.
Love Christmas, but think it could be improved by a spot of roller-blading? If the answer is yes, visit Caracas, Venezuela this year. Every Christmas Eve, the city’s residents head to church in the early morning – so far, so normal – but, for reasons known only to them, they do so on roller skates.
This unique tradition is so popular that roads across the city are closed to cars so that people can skate to church in safety, before heading home for the less-than-traditional Christmas dinner of ‘tamales’ (a wrap made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with meat, then steamed).
Little Candles’ Day (Día de las Velitas) marks the start of the Christmas season across Colombia. In honor of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, people place candles and paper lanterns in their windows, balconies and front yards.
The tradition of candles has grown, and now entire towns and cities across the country are lit up with elaborate displays. Some of the best are found in Quimbaya, where neighborhoods compete to see who can create the most impressive arrangement.
Perhaps one of the most unorthodox Christmas Eve traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms. It’s a tradition that dates back centuries to when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.
Christmas for the Irish, who are Catholics, lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of Epiphany on January 6th, which some Irish people call ‘Little Christmas’. Epiphany isn’t now widely celebrated in Ireland.
There is an old tradition that in some Irish houses (although now not many), people put a tall, thick candle on the sill of the largest window after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle is left to burn all night and represents a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph.
In Kenya, Christmas is a time when families try and be with one another. Many people travel from cities, back to the villages where the main part of their family might live. (Although there are more whole big families now living in cities, so they don’t have to travel!) This is often the only time large families will see each other all year, so it is very important.
People try to be home for Christmas Eve so they can help with the Christmas preparations. Houses and churches are often decorated with colorful balloons, ribbons, paper decorations, flowers and green leaves. For a Christmas Tree, some people will have a Cyprus tree.
In cities and large towns, stores can have fake snow outside them! And there might be a Santa in the stores as well.
Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born.
Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner is ‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’ which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!), although it’s not commonly eaten now. In Galicia (a region in north-west Spain, surrounded by water) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood. This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks to lobster and small edible crabs.
After the midnight service, one old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. One Spanish saying is ‘Esta Noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es Noche de dormir’ which means ‘Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!’
A few different languages are spoken in different regions in Spain. In Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’; in Catalan, it’s ‘Bon Nadal’; in Galician ‘Bo Nadal’; and in Basque (or Euskara in Basque) ‘Eguberri on’.
In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is often more important than Christmas Day. Christmas isn’t an official public holiday and many people think it’s only a holiday for Christians.
In Ho Chi Minh City (which is the largest city in Vietnam and used to be called Saigon) people (especially young people) like to go into the city center, where there is a Catholic Cathedral. The streets are crowded with people on Christmas Eve and in the city center cars are not allowed for the night.
Happy Christmas in Vietnamese is Chuć Mưǹg Giańg Sinh. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages
Also, like in France, the special Christmas Eve meal is called ‘reveillon’ and has a ‘bûche de Noël’ (a chocolate cake in the shape of a log) for dessert. Vietnamese people like to give presents of food and at Christmas, a bûche de Noël is a popular gift. Other Christmas presents aren’t very common, although some young people like to exchange Christmas cards.
It’s very hot for Santa in Vietnam and it can’t be very comfortable wearing all that velvet in a hot country! Santa is called ‘Ông già Noel’ (it means Christmas old man).
In the villages of Polar Inuits, families like to visit each other and have parties. They drink coffee and eat cakes and exchange brightly wrapped parcels. Traditional presents are model sledges, a pair of polished walrus tusks, or sealskin mitts. Everyone in the village gets a gift and children go from house to house, singing songs.
On Christmas Eve, Church Services are held, and most people go to them, many in national costume. Some men wear the white anoraks which are worn on special occasions.
Christmas Trees have to be imported because no trees grow as far north as Greenland. The trees are often imported from Denmark. Trees are traditionally decorated on the evening of 23rd December. People who don’t use an imported tree might have a traditional driftwood tree decorated with heather.
Another traditional and popular decoration is to put an illuminated star in windows. There are stars in most homes and in all public buildings. Because Greenland is so far north, and within the Arctic Circle, during the winter the sun never rises! (You might get a brief glimpse over the southern mountains, but that’s it!) So, the stars help to bring some light.
In Greenland, there are two main languages spoken, Inuit/Greenlandic and Danish. In Greenlandic, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Juullimi Pilluarit’; in Danish it is ‘Glædelig Jul’.
Greenland also claims to be the place where Santa Claus lives or at least goes for his summer holidays! He is said to have a home in the north of the country in Spraglebugten, near the town of Uummannaq!
In Egypt about 15% of people are Christians. They are the only part of the population who really celebrate Christmas as a religious festival. Most Egyptian Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church and they have some very unique traditions for Christmas.
Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia).
The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk. People sing special praise songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service.
For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. They don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk, and eggs). This is called ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’. But if people are too weak or ill to fast properly they can be excused.
In Egypt, Santa is called Baba Noël (meaning Father Christmas). Children hope that he will climb through a window and will leave some presents! They might leave some kahk out for Baba Noël.
Christmas in Nigeria is a family event, a time when lots of family members come together to celebrate and have fun. Most families, that live in cities, travel to the villages where their grandparents and older relatives live.
Many different languages are spoken in Nigeria. In Hausa Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Barka dà Kirsìmatì’; in Yoruba it’s ‘E Ku odun, e Ku iye’dun’; in Fulani it’s ‘Jabbama be salla Kirismati’; in Igbo (Ibo) ‘E keresimesi Oma’; in Ibibio ‘Idara ukapade isua’ and it’s Edo it’s ‘Iselogbe’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve! Then, on Christmas Morning, they go to church to give thanks to God. Homes and streets are often decorated. Most homes will have an artificial Christmas tree.
Children love to play with firecrackers at Christmas. The church choir may visit the church congregation in their homes to sing Christmas carols to them. Christmas cards are sent to friends and family members. Presents are exchanged amongst family members and some families may take their children dressed in new outfits to see Santa Claus.
In addition to serving turkey, a traditional Christmas meal in Nigeria may include beef, goat, sheep, ram or chicken. Other dishes might include pounded yam, jollof rice, fried rice, vegetable salad and some type of stew.
However you celebrate, have a joyous holiday!
Merry Christmas from my home to yours!