Tis the season to be jolly falalalalalalalala…I love Christmas, it’s my favourite time of year. I find the origins of this holiday fascinating, and I love learning about each country’s traditions and customs and how Christmas has developed. I thought it would be fun to do a series on Christmas around the world and share with you what Christmas is like in other countries, starting with part one…
Germany – Norman from Années De Pèlerinage
Christmas might just be the best time to visit Germany. Plenty of snow, fairy tale castles and Christmas markets around every corner create a truly magical experience. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon countries, we celebrate on December the 24th. But there is so much more to Weihnachten, as we call it, than just the Christmas tree, the holly mass and lots of presents. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is called “Nicolaus”. On December the 6th, we remember the death of the Saint Nicholas. Children will line up their shoes in front of the door and Saint Nicolaus will stuff them with treats overnight.
In some areas of Germany Saint Nicolaus will come to visit the houses of all children and bring the presents himself. But beware! He is not coming alone. He will usually bring a couple of devilish helpers along. These are called Krampus and are truly frightening to behold. Imagine animal furs, horns, iron chains and a nightmarish mask. So, when he asks the children about their good deeds and their piety, better not lie, because you might be in for a little, playful beating.
U.S.A. – Emily from Happynfull
Christmas in the United States is very festive! Starting the last week of
November, after Thanksgiving, you will generally start hearing Christmas
tunes, seeing Starbucks’ red holiday cups, and admiring Christmas trees
and lights in every neighborhood and shop. There are a lot of traditions and the common theme is to spend time time with loved ones. For the religious, they will often go to a church service on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. On this Christmas Day, many families will have dinner together, with ham as
the main course. Gifts under the Christmas tree are often exchanged. It is
the one time out of the year that Egg Nog (with brandy or rum) is served!
While every family has varying traditions, one of my favorites is a game
called White Elephant. This is a great idea if you want everyone to
receive a gift, and you have too many people to buy gifts for. It has
become popular in the workplace and in large families. The idea is
everyone participating has to buy a gift (usually a set dollar amount is
given). The gift is wrapped and placed in the center with all of the other
wrapped mystery gifts. Everyone draws a number and grabs a gift in order.
The next person can opt to ‘steal’ a person’s gift or grab a new one. If a
person’s gift is stolen, they can choose to ‘steal’ another person’s gift
or grab a new one. In the end, everyone has a gift but it’s very funny to
see who ends up with what and what gift is the most popular!
Another great gift game is Secret Santa. In Secret Santa, everyone
participating draws a name of another participant in the hat. The
selections are secret and no one knows who has whom. On the gift exchange
day, the wrapped gift is given to the recipient and the person remains
‘Secret Santa’ as they do not know who it came from. While Christmas has become quite commercialized in the United States, there are still a lot of wonderful traditions and beautiful lights that make this holiday my favorite.
Australia – Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels
Whilst Hollywood would have you all dreaming about white Christmas, this couldn’t be further from reality for Christmas in Australia! With temperatures averaging anywhere from the high 20sC (70sF) to the high 30sC (86sF) you will find the average Australian family in their swimmers (“togs” as the aussies say) by the pool or at the beach cooling off as opposed to being around the fire place watching snowflakes float to the ground. Australians love getting into the Christmas spirit well before the big day. In the weeks leading up to Christmas day all Australian families put up lavish Christmas trees complete with beautifully decorated ornaments. Many Australian love to go crazy with outdoor lights and Christmas displays encouraging children from all over town to come and ohhhh and ahhh at their over the top displays.
On the night of Christmas Eve, families prepare for the big day by putting out a plate of biscuits and a cold beer for Santa, whilst Rudolph is left a carrot and water. Stocking are put out in hope of being filled to the brim by the morning. On Christmas Day, Mums and Dads are usually woken up far too early by children excited at all the presents Santa has left for them the night before. Usually after breakfast families pack up their cars and meet with their extended families including Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins for huge lunches which include seafood buffets or cold roast meats, salads and desserts. Usually the location for Christmas lunch is chosen based on which family member has a pool, or a large living area with air-conditioning so everyone can keep cool. The day is spent eating far too much food, talking and laughing, spending quality time with family members not seen often enough throughout the year. After lunch families return to their respective homes, with children usually asleep in the back of the car after such a long day.
Soon after Christmas Day, many Australian families go on family holidays, with a popular choice being camping on one of Australia’s gorgeous beaches. Families spend their Christmas holidays catching up with families, drinking beer, having barbeques, watching cricket and keeping cool. An Australian Christmas is a wonderful time to spend with family and see little children’s eye light up with joy as they experience the magic of Christmas.
Russia – Liza from Tripsget
Christmas in Russia is unique and pretty much strange (for all another Christian world). First of all, it’s celebrated on the 7th of January (2 weeks after the “normal” Christmas). Secondly, all the religious people either go to church – there’s usually a holy mass lasting all night long and the most religious people stand there all night (because it’s not common to sit in churches in Russia) or watch the ceremony on TV. It’s not really common to give presents on Christmas or to stay at home with your family at all, and even though Christmas is an official day off for everybody most of the shops, restaurants, services still work on Christmas.
So well, Christmas is not as important for Russians as… the New Year. Yes, New Year! It’s when Santa comes and brings presents to the kids and leaves them under the New Year’s tree (read Christmas tree), it’s the holiday that you celebrate either with your family or friends and when you give presents to everyone. Sounds strange, but that has a reason: Russia (as part of the USSA) was a socialist country, where religion doesn’t play any important role. Thus, most of the Cathedrals were transformed into museums and most of the religious holidays were either forgotten or stayed in the calendar for the sake of appearing.
So now Russia is trying to return to the roots and give a big importance to Christmas once again, but most of the people were raised as atheists, so the attempts were quite unsuccessful so far.
Croatia – Maja from Mexatia
***Maja’s website Mexatia and associated social media accounts are having an overhaul. I will update the post as soon as their new website and social media accounts are live!***
December is here again! The cities in Croatia are full of Christmas markets where you can buy traditional licitar hearts for your tree or heat up yourself with tasty mulled wine, grilled sausages and fritule (kind of fritters). After strolling around the city for a while, on December 13 we plant Christmas wheat. It symbolizes how successful will be the following year and we put it next to the decorated tree.
As the Christmas comes closer, we start to bake traditional cakes and cookies like makovnjača, orahnjača, kuglof, vanilin kiflice and many others. As a nation, we are known for preparing too much food in any occasion ☺ but nothing says better Christmas is coming than the warm cookie scent spreading from the kitchen, right?
During the holidays, we give lots of attention to the food. On a Christmas Eve day we usually serve a fish (often cod) and the day after roasted turkey with mlinci (kind of pasta). Most of the families still buy the real Christmas tree and decorate it on December 24, together with their family members. Presents are brought during the night by Santa Claus (Djed mraz ili Djed božićnjak), wrapped and placed under the tree. In the morning we wish all the best to each other and have fun opening the presents. Croatia is a Catholic country, but Christmas holidays today are mix of traditional and modern. Still, the days between Christmas and New Year are well spent with family, enjoying each other’s company and tasty food. If we are lucky enough, we get some snow too.
I hope you enjoyed part one of Christmas Around The World and thank you Maja, Liz, Emily, Melissa and Norman for contributing. Check back next week for part two!