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How Christmas is Celebrated Around the World

Christmas Around the World

03.09.2016 How do you celebrate Christmas? In the UK, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th to mark the birth of Jesus. Homes are decorated with Christmas fir trees and children hang up stockings on Christmas Eve, anticipating the overnight visit of Father Christmas who arrives in his reindeer-drawn sleigh and climbs down the chimney to fill the stockings with gifts. Children open their presents in the morning and Christmas gifts are exchanged throughout the day between family and friends. Some families go to Church on Christmas morning and the traditional Christmas lunch is a turkey roast dinner followed by Christmas pudding. That’s a UK Christmas in a nutshell.

But elsewhere in the world, Christmas is celebrated in very different ways. In many countries it’s not even celebrated on December 25th! Santa Claus is not the global festive gift giver that Coca Cola would have us believe and stockings are not the only item of footwear used as substitute gift bags.

Western and Central Europe

Christmas in Central Europe

In many Western and Central European countries such as Holland, Germany, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, gifts are left for children on the night of December 5th, the night before St Nicholas Day. Traditionally, children leave a boot or a shoe outside the front door or in the window for St Nick to fill with gifts and sweets. St Nicholas is sometimes accompanied by a devil-like character known as the Krampus, who weeds out the badly-behaved children and either steals their presents or leaves them a golden-coloured birch. Post-Reformation Germany celebrates Christmas on December 24th and gifts are delivered to children by either St Nick or by the Christkind, ie the Christ Child or Baby Jesus. In France, Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, delivers the presents but instead of hanging stockings French children place their shoes by the fireplace in the hope that they’ll be filled with christmas gifts.

Eastern Europe

Russia celebrates Christmas on January 7th and presents are delivered to children by Babouschka, based on the story of an elderly woman who is repenting for failing to give a gift to the baby Jesus. In Poland, children watch out for the first star to appear in the sky on Christmas Eve, marking the Star of Bethlehem. Only then can dinner begin. In many regions, the Star Man brings the gifts. The Caucasus and Eastern Slavic countries have a gift giver known as Grandfather Frost who travels in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Christmas in Northern Europe

Northern Europe

In Finland, children receive their Christmas presents from Joulupukki, which translates approximately as Christmas or Yule Goat. He’s often accompanied by a tonttu, a Scandinavian figure from folklore associated with the Winter solstice. He’s thought to bear a startling resemblance to a garden gnome dressed like Santa Claus and is part of the Christmas celebrations in all the Scandinavian countries. In Iceland, children leave out shoes 13 days before Christmas Eve so that the Yule Lads can leave them gifts. The Yule Lads are the mischievous sons of two mountain trolls. Thirteen days after Christmas Eve the Yule Lads and other folklore characters say their farewells during bonfire parties.

Christmas in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean

St Basil rules Christmas in Greece and Cyprus. St Basil is said to visit children and give gifts on January 1st, St Basil’s Day, instead of St Nicholas visiting on December 24th. Spanish children receive some gifts on Christmas Day from Papa Noel and then have to wait until January 5th, when they hope the Three Wise Men will fill their shoes with presents. In Italy, traditions vary according to region. Gifts are exchanged on either December 24th or December 25th and children are given presents by either Santa Claus or by the Baby Jesus. In some regions children receive their gifts on St Lucy’s Day or on Epiphany. In some places La Befana, the good Epiphany witch, rides the sky on her broomstick and delivers gifts to the children on the eve of December 6th and in other places the Three Wise Men deliver presents. What a complicated Christmas!

Christmas in the Americas

The Americas

US and Canadian Christmas celebrations are very similar to those in the UK. Yule logs are still a big Christmas tradition in the USA and in Canada children write to Santa Claus in the Canadian North Pole using the post code HOH OHO. In Mexico, children get presents on Christmas Eve and then celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th when the Three Wise Men fill the children’s shoes sweets and treats. In Columbia and Venezuela, Christmas presents are brought by the Baby Jesus. Columbians celebrate the Revelation of the Magi, or the Epiphany, on January 6th and this used to be the main day of gift giving before Christmas Eve took over. However, many godparents give their Christmas presents on this day.

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