Christmas around the world is celebrated as a festival of joy, hope and love. We all love Christmas for the way it unites people and the sheer love of Christmas gifts.
Though the message remains the same, local customs and traditions have influenced the celebration to a remarkable extent. We take a look at some of the ways in which this festival is celebrated in some countries.
The Christmas celebration in Mexico is unique as there are over thirty traditions governing the event. The celebrations start as early as 12th December, with the feast of Virgin of Guadalupe. Similar to how Mary and Joseph went around Bethlehem looking for a place for Shelter, for over nine days groups of people go from door to door. Periodically, they would be invited into the homes and made to participate in the breaking of a candy-filled container. On Christmas Eve, families place the figurine of infant Jesus in their nativity scenes. Christmas gifts are also given to children during the Christmas Eve. The celebration continues till 6th January when again children are given Christmas gifts symbolizing the wise men gifting child Jesus.
United States of America
My study on the celebration of Christmas around the world takes me to the United States of America next. Here, Christmas day is an official holiday and the celebrations start off as soon as Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving called Black Friday, is when major shopping takes place. Schools and other institutions remain closed from Christmas to New Year day for the people to spend time with their family as well as return unwanted gifts to the stores. In the days leading to the Christmas Eve, both the exterior and interior of houses are decorated. Christmas trees either real or artificial are procured and decorated with ornaments, small lights and stars. Christmas stockings are hung up, usually near the mantel for the Santa to leave his Christmas gifts for the kids. Traditionally, children leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies for the Santa in return for the Christmas gifts. Among adults Christmas gifts are wrapped well and exchanged while reminding each other not to open the gift pack until Christmas. The dinner usually features roasted turkey, ham or roasted beef along with other items. People also attend the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
In Brazil the tradition is not much different from how Christmas around the world is celebrated, especially with European and North American influence. Most Brazilians build a Christmas tree in their homes. On Christmas Eve, parents lock their children in a room until they decorate the tree completely with all the ornaments. Some families also set up a nativity scene – the crib near the tree, involving the children too. On Christmas Eve, dinner is served quite late around 10 or 11 pm. It usually consists of roasted turkey, assorted fruits and follows drinking of wine or champagne. Usually, night mass service is attended in the mid-night. Christmas Gifts are exchanged during the Christmas Eve, before meals.
In Africa, the customs are unique and quite different from the celebration of Christmas around the world. Christmas day is a public holiday in most African nations that is on 25th December. In Nigeria, Christmas season marks the exodus of people from the cities to their ancestral villages. On Christmas Eve, meals are prepared as per the tradition of each region. There is sumptuous usage of meat in the meals along with the traditional palm wine or other alcoholic beverages. Christmas gifts are predominantly given in the form of money, by the rich to the less rich.
Interestingly, in Ethiopia and Eritrea Christmas is celebrated on 7th January. Many Christians fasts for 40 days preceding the day of celebration. The celebration starts with the faithful visiting the Church in the early morning, usually dressed in white where there would be colorful musical celebrations with the priests, clad in their best robes performing the rituals amidst the people dancing, and playing musical instruments. In the afternoon they play a game called Gena, which is similar to the modern hockey under the auspices of the community leaders and the winner is rewarded. Legend has it that this game was played by the shepherd folks on the night when Jesus was born.
In South Africa, most of the European traditions are upheld, thanks to the colonial occupation for many years in the past. The celebration is typical with Christmas trees being built and Christmas gifts being presented to kids in their stockings. The Christmas meal includes roasted turkey or beef and is finished with a Christmas pudding. Sometimes even crackers are burst to celebrate.
My note on celebration of Christmas around the world would be incomplete if I miss the Scandinavian nations. Here, especially in Sweden Christmas celebrations start with St. Lucy’s day, which falls on 13th December. Traditionally, the eldest daughter in the family rises early in the morning dresses herself in a long, white gown with a red sash. She also wears a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles and goes about waking up each one of family members. She is called “Lussi” or “Lussibruden (Lucy bride) ” on that day. The family then has breakfast together in a room lighted with candles. People light up their house brightly and at night they carry torches in a parade. The night ends with everyone throwing their torches on to a pile of straw, starting a bonfire. By this time, you would’ve realized that light is the central theme of this celebration. St. Lucy happens to be the patron saint of the blind.
In Denmark, on Christmas Eve families gather together for the evening meal that mostly includes either roasted pork or duck or goose. After the meal they gather near the Christmas tree, and start singing Christmas songs. Once the festive mood is set, they start holding hands and dancing in circles. After the singing and dancing is done one child would be selected to hand out the Christmas gifts while recipients of the Christmas gifts have to offer him a suitable drink in return to keep him motivated to continue his gifting journey. On Christmas day lunch is also celebrated grandly.
In Finland, Christmas mood sets in quite as early as in November, with shops advertising many potential Christmas gifts. Children use Advent Calendars to count day till the D-day. On Christmas Eve people visit the sauna. Families get together to listen to the “Peace of Christmas” message and pay a visit to the graveyard to pray for the departed souls of their family. The Declaration of Christmas peace is a tradition wherein a male member of the choir reads it out followed by the National Anthem. Christmas gifts are exchanged after dinner on Christmas Eve. Christmas day services start early in the morning after which people visit their families and loved ones.
In Southern European countries; Bosnia, Herzegovina, Slovenia and Croatia Christmas Celebrations start with St. Nicholas Day(6th December) or St.Lucy’s day (13th December). On this day, wheat seeds are planted in a bowl of shallow water so that they grow by several inches come Christmas, and are tied together with a red, blue and white ribbon. On Christmas Eve three candles are lit up to represent the Trinity and placed in the middle of the wheat. The Christmas tree is decorated and Christmas meal is served. Families go for the midnight mass. Christmas gifts are placed under the tree and opened after the mass.
Being the centre of Catholic faith and Christmas around the world, in Italy the season begins on 8th December with the feast of Immaculate Conception. St. Lucy’s day is also celebrated as in other European countries. Other practices like the parade of torches leading to a bonfire and exchanging of Christmas gifts are in line with the practices in other European nations.
In Spain, Christmas celebration starts with Christmas Eve when homes, stores and churches display the nativity scene. On Christmas Eve there is a wide variety of food items prepared and served. Children are given one or two Christmas gifts. There is a special Christmas dance too that people participate in called Jota. Beside Christmas, 26th December is celebrated as St. Stephen’s day with a family gathering.
Being under the British regime for more than a century, many of the British traditions are still practiced in India. Christmas is a state holiday on 25th December. Christians in India celebrate Christmas by building cribs, distributing cakes and sweets to friends and neighbours. The kids are often given Christmas gifts, though this is not a tradition. Further, Christmas is a festival that is increasingly celebrated by people of other religion in India. Pakistan also being under the colonial rule as India, has adopted a lot of European traditions and the celebrations are in line with it. In China, Christmas day is not a holiday and it is celebrated quite privately. Though the followers of the Christian religion are minimal, many Christmas traditions like sending cards, exchanging Christmas gifts are followed widely.
Typically, irrespective of the country, Christmas around the world is celebrated with a lot of passion and joy. Across continents, though the traditions may vary the concept of celebrating Christmas around the world remains the same.