Christmas Around the World
For the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December—or on the calendar at all.
The first Christmas: December 25, 336, is the first recorded celebration.
13th Century: Christians began to sing Christmas carols.
By the end of the 16th Century: Christmas trees were common in Germany.
1843: Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol”
More than 160: countries celebrate Christmas.
Some: Refer to the holiday as Family Day, including Angola and Uruguay.
Some –like Jordan and Pakistan–designate December 25th as an official holiday only for Christians.
Traditions Around the World
The Gävle Goat
The town of Gavle in Sweden is home to a particularly unique Christmas tradition. For the last 40 years the town has erected a giant goat made of straw to mark the beginning of the holiday season.
In the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, Christmas Crackers are a staple of the holiday season. The crackers are cardboard tubes wrapped in decorative paper which is twisted at the ends. When two people pull on the ends of the cracker hard enough, the cracker splits with the bang of a small firework. Whoever is left holding the larger end wins a party favor.
Skating to Mass
In Caracas, Venezuela roads are closed to motor traffic by 8 AM from December 16th to December 24th. People go to Misa de Aguinaldo (Early Morning Mass) by rollerskates.
In Catalonia, Spain you might find an extra figure in nativity scenes. The Caganer “The Crapper” is peasant, wearing a Catalan red cap, with his pants around his ankles, and in the act of defecating on the ground. The Caganer symbolizes fertilizing the earth.
The Many Faces of Gift Giving
Nikolaos of Myra was born in 270 A.D in Turkey. As Bishop of Myra, he had many miracles attributed to him when, for which he came to be known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. Combined with his penchant for secret gift-giving, Nikolaos became the model for Santa Claus.
He is the patron saint of children, sailors, students, and all of Greece.
Country: Netherlands, Flanders
It is from the Dutch Sinterklass that that the name Santa Claus is derived. Much thinner than the American Santa Claus, Sinterklass rides a white horse and is assisted by Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) in handing out gifts and candy.
Countries: UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and many others Father Christmas (UK) Père Noël (France), Papá Noel and Padre Noel (Spain) Papá Noel (South America), Papai Noel (Brazil), Pai Natal (Portugal), Babbo Natale (Italy), Christmas Father (India), and Noel Baba (Turkey), has had the largest influence on the American ideal of Santa Claus, he is traditionally depicted as a jolly old man with a long beard, who delivers gifts to children on Christmas Eve.
An elderly gnome with a white beard and a pointed red cap, the gift-giving Jultomten is protective, caring, and quite fond of porridge.
Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost)
Countries: Russia, Serbia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Poland, and other former Soviet republics Russia’s take on Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost dresses in red, white, or blue, and along with his granddaughter “The Snow Maiden” travels across Russia delivering gifts to children in person on New Year’s Eve.
5 VERY Strange Christmas Customs You’ve Never Heard About
• In the Czech Republic, Slovakia: on Christmas Day, stand with your back to the door and throw a shoe over your shoulders! If the shoe lands with the toe pointing to the door, congratulations, you’re going to get married soon!
• Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan. Yup, the Japanese eat kfc for Christmas dinner.
• Families in Finland usually visit the graves of their ancestors and relatives on Christmas Eve to light candles in memory of the deceased.
• Instead of glittering ornaments and tinsel, Ukrainian Christmas trees are covered with an artificial spiders and cobwebs.
• Finland again: Every Christmas Eve, people would head to their sauna, strip to their toes, and enjoy a nice, good soak, naked.
Christmas Meals Around the World
Traditionally served after midnight mass, the French Christmas meal is known as Le Reveillon. It features a main course of lamb, beef, or roast goose stuffed with chestnuts.
The Polish Christmas Eve dinner follows a day of fasting. The generally meatless meal consists of fish dishes such as herring in sour cream, or fish au gratin, followed by mushrooms, pudding, and cake.
The tradition Christmas Eve meal (The Noche Buena) consists of over a dozen dishes. The main course is usually a cured ham or roasted pig and is often followed by kalamay, a rice based dessert with, coconut, peanut butter, brown sugar.
The julbord serves as the main meal on Christmas. Served buffet style, the dishes on the julbord frequently include cold meats, cheeses, meatballs, oven-roasted pork ribs, , potatoes, and cabbage.
The main Christmas meal in Greece is often roasted lamb or pork, various vegetables, salads, and spinach and cheese pie..
The Sweet Side of Christmas
Traditional Christmas Sweets:
- 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)
More Fun Facts
- 832 – The number of homes Santa visits every second to deliver all his presents
- 1 in 10 – The number of the presents received that will be broken by the New Year
Christmas World Record: The world’s largest Christmas present was the Statue of Liberty. The French gave it to the US in 1886. It stands 151 feet 1 inch high and weighs 225 tons.