Unless you are my first grader, chances are you are not studying Christmas traditions around the world. You eat turkey, have a Christmas tree, exchange gifts, and watch “ELF”. Yet, there are so many other varied and rich celebrations across the globe that may actually be influencing your holidays.
Join us for a quick pre-Christmas Eve magical sleigh ride around the world to see how different places do Christmas.
Christmas Around the World
I grew up celebrating Three Kings Day, a tradition upheld in Latin countries. My grandparents are Puerto Rican. The Kings are EVERYTHING in their tradition. So the night before January 6, or Epiphany, we put out shoeboxes with grass and water for the camels. And when we woke? More presents! A week after Christmas!
Chances are we are all integrating pieces of holiday traditions from other cultures. Read on for some highlights of festivities from Christmas Around the World.
Christmas Traditions in Mexico
Las Posadas (Spanish for “inn” or hotel”) is a nine-day ritual commemorating Mary and Joseph’s difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and their search for lodging, as they awaited the birth of Baby Jesus. This Christmas tradition begins on December 16 and culminates on Christmas Eve, December 24, nine days in honor of Mary’s nine months of pregnancy.
Each evening, one family agrees to house the “pilgrims.” But first, the group, with participants playing roles of the Holy Family, as well as shepherds and angels, goes to a series of houses, singing songs and asking for lodging. They are refused repeatedly until they reach the night’s chosen “posada” where they are invited in and prayers, more singing, and festive eating follow.
The final moment of the evening involves a piñata shaped like a star.“Las Posadas” on Christmas Eve usually ends with a midnight mass.
Germany Shaped Christmas Around the World Significantly
Two Christmas traditions now widely experienced in the US, originated in Germany. The Advent Calendar (Adventskalendar) is a German tradition that first began with plain cards that had 24 doors opening to reveal a Christmas scene. The calendars evolved to contain chocolates for each day and now can even focus on a variety of themes.
German Christmas Markets are another Christmas Tradition now expanding into the United States. Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) began in the 15th century. Now, most city centers in Germany celebrate each year with countless vendors who sell handmade crafts, decorate their booths, and serve traditional foods. At last count, Germany hosted 2,500 Christmas Markets and the tradition is spreading across the globe.
And did you know, that the popularity of the Christmas tree also has its origin in Germany? Modern Christmas trees were first used in the 16th century in Germany, hanging upside down from the ceiling. Christmas tree ornaments and baubles are also said to have been developed in Germany.
How Do They Celebrate Christmas in France?
The French take the Christmas tradition of Santa Claus, known as Father Christmas, or Péré Noel, quite seriously. Beginning in 1962, French law mandated that all letters to Father Christmas be responded to in postcard form. The law creates traditions of extra hard work for the French post office and long-lasting belief for French children.
The nativity scene, or créche, holds significance in French Christmas traditions. French families display their scenes with care and pride, adding and collecting figures beyond the traditional Holy Family, shepherds, angels, and Three Wise Men. Nativity Scenes are displayed until February 2nd, forty days after Christmas.
Christmas Around the World: Sweden
Christmas Traditions in Sweden begin on December 13, St. Lucia Day. St. Lucia was a Catholic martyr who carried aid to third-century Christians hiding in the catacombs, by wearing a candle-lined wreath to light her way. Swedish people celebrate this tradition by the oldest daughter bringing family members buns, sweets, coffee or mulled wine, in the morning while wearing a wreath full of candles. (Careful!)
Christmas Eve, known as Julafton in Swedish, is when Christmas Celebrations in Sweden reach their peak. Neighbors process to church together, carrying candles, and afterward feast at, yes, a legitimate smorgasbord, or buffet, containing ham, pork, fish and treats. Most Christmas Eve dinners in Sweden will also include risgryngrot, a rice dish with a hidden almond. The one who finds the hidden almond in their meal gets to make a wish or is believed to be getting married in the coming year.
Japan Has Romantic Christmas Traditions
Interestingly, because there are fewer Christians in Japan, the Christmas holiday has only been celebrated for the last few decades. Even now, it is understood, not as a religious holiday, but more of a romantic tradition, similar to the US observance of Valentine’s Day. On Christmas Eve, couples often exchange gifts, spend time looking at Christmas lights and go out to dinner.
🎂Christmas cake is the seasonal treat in Japan, sponge cake with fruit and whipped cream. Check out the cake emoji on your phone, it’s the Japan Christmas cake!🎂
On Christmas Day, in Japan, people traditionally eat, not turkey, but fried chicken! In fact, this is the busiest time of year for fried chicken fast food restaurants, KFC in particular.
Funny Christmas Traditions Around the World: Australia
In Australia, Christmas comes in the heart of summer. You can often see “Surfing Santas” on the beaches, where many spend the holiday. Christmas lunch is a bigger event than Christmas dinner, usually a casual meal involving prawns on the barbecue, beer and even swimming in the pool.
Christmas Crackers are a tradition popular in Australia, by way of the UK. Sometimes known as poppers in the U.S., Christmas crackers are short cardboard tubes covered in wrapping paper with small gifts inside. When pulled, the cracker makes a loud pop! and out fall the surprise. Crackers usually contain bad jokes, which add to the revelry and ridiculousness celebrated all day in Australia.
Boxing Day, December 26, continues the festivities in Australia. Boxing Day began in England as a traditional day when servants of landowners were given the day after Christmas to visit family because they had to serve on Christmas Day. In Australia, though, the day is often centered on viewing the Boxing Day Text Match, a cricket match held in Melbourne.
Our Christmas Traditions
My youngest daughter won’t leave her shoebox with grass for the camels in her room the night before Epiphany. She places it right by the front door. Those camels need to keep their distance.
It can be challenging to pass on traditions to each new generation. But I’m determined to still celebrate Three Kings Day. The ritual connects me to my childhood, and more importantly, to my grandparents. Traditions teach us, remind us and connect us. And Christmastime provides so many opportunities to participate in traditions from around the world, and pass them on.