Christmas Customs Around the World
by: Freda J. Glatt, MS
Greeting – Merry Christmas
Santa’s Name – Santa Claus. Children leave him a piece of cake or biscuits and a glass of milk or a bottle of beer.
Food – Many Christmas dinners include roasted meats and vegetables, special fruit cakes, and puddings with a coin baked inside. Since the temperature can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, people are starting to eat cold meats and salads, tropical fruits like mangoes, and stone fruits like plums. Often, the main meal is eaten for lunch.
Gifts – These are left under the Christmas tree and opened Christmas morning.
Decorations – Shops and homes are decorated with tinsel, Christmas trees, decorations for the holiday, and special lights.
Customs – Traditional and Australian carols are sung by candlelight on Christmas Eve and are broadcast on television. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, two sporting events take place:
The Boxing Day Test Match (cricket game) and the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Greeting – Feliz Natal
Santa’s Name – Papai Noel (Father Noel), who is dressed in a red, silk suit with boots.
Food – Many people eat a traditional feast with roast turkey and vegetables, while others eat chicken and rice or beans. Beer and wine are also served. Some regions begin eating around 9 PM on Christmas Eve, while others eat around midnight.
Gifts – Local charities take in donations but do not seem to have enough presents for all the children.
Decorations – Brazil has a mixture of people so Christmas is celebrated in different ways. In the northeastern area, it is common to find Nativity Scenes; in the southern part, snow is simulated with little pieces of cotton on pine trees.
Customs – Brazilians sing a number of Christmas carols.
Greeting – Eftihismena Christougenna
Food – Special holiday cakes are baked.
Gifts – Most Greek people exchange gifts on Saint Basil’s Day, January 1.
Customs – To honor Saint Basil, the holiday cakes have gold coins hidden inside them. The cakes are cut at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Whoever has a gold coin in his piece of cake will have good luck the following year.
Santa’s Name – Actually, the Baby Jesus is said to bring presents on Christmas Eve. A bell sounds signaling that the Angels have brought the tree and gifts.
Customs – On December 5, children leave out their shoes. During the night, Mikulas and Black Peter come to fill them with goodies for well-behaved children and switches for naughty children.
Decorations – Sometimes, houses are decorated with mango leaves; mango or banana trees are also decorated. Small, clay, oil-burning lamps are placed on the edges of flat roofs as decorations.
Greeting – Chag Semeach (Happy Chanukah)
Santa’s Name – Actually, parents, grandparents, and other family members give presents to the children.
Food – Because oil is an important part of the holiday, many foods are prepared with it. A favorite is potato latkes (pancakes).
Gifts – Since Chanukah lasts for eight days, children may receive one present each night.
Decorations – Jewish stars, blue or silver foil garlands,
dreidels (spinning tops), Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins), and pictures of the Macabees (Jewish army that recaptured the Holy Temple and Jerusalem from the Assyrian Greek King Antiochus) are found around the house.
Customs – The menorah (candelabra) is lit each night. On the first night, one candle is lit; on, the second night, two candles; and so on until all the candles are lit on the eighth night. After lighting the candles, families eat a festive meal, dance, play games, and open presents. They also attend Chanukah parties.
Greeting – Kurisumasu Omedeto
Santa’s Name – Santa Kurohsu. He does not appear in person but is pictured in advertisements as a kind old man with a round sack on his back.
Food – Depending upon the family’s custom, they eat turkey on Christmas Day or on Christmas Eve. Japanese families also eat Christmas cake.
Gifts – Stores sell merchandise for men, women, and children; and on Christmas Day, families exchange gifts.
Decorations – More and more artificial Christmas trees are beginning to appear. They are decorated with small toys, gold paper fans, dolls, lanterns, paper ornaments, and wind chimes. A popular ornament is the origami swan. Other decorations are mistletoe, evergreen, tinsel, and lights. An amulet is put on the front door for good luck and children exchange ‘birds of peace,’ pledging there must not be anymore war.
Customs – The daiku, or Great Nine, refers to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and is performed many places.
Greeting – Feliz Navidad
Customs – Beginning on December 15, some families carry colorful lanterns and walk from house to house in their neighborhoods, each night, until Christmas Eve. This is called La Posada, which means ‘the procession.’ On each of the nights, the families are invited into different houses where they become guests at a party. There is plenty to eat and drink. Children play the pinata game, trying to break open the papier-mache figure with a stick while blindfolded; when it is cracked open, candies and small gifts fall out.
Greeting – Hartelijke Kerstroeten
Santa’s Name – Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas), who wears a red bishop’s hat and bishop’s cloak and has white hair and a white beard. He arrives on a white horse with his servant, Black Pete, to put small gifts in children’s wooden shoes.
Food – The Dutch people eat lots of marzipan, spiced ginger biscuits, tall chocolate letters, and ‘bankletter’ – initials made of pastry and filled with almond paste. When they are around the Christmas tree singing songs, they eat ‘Kerstkrans’ – a Christmas ring.
Gifts – On December 6, after hearing a knock at their door, children find a bag full of toys, nuts, and gifts.
Decorations – The Christmas tree is known as the Paradise Tree. Decorations of the season include dolls, musical instruments, fruit, candies, and lights.
Customs – The Dutch sing carols, the most popular one being “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.”
Greeting – God Jul
Food – Coffee, cakes, and special buns are served on Santa Lucia Day, December 13.
Customs – Santa Lucia Day honors Saint Lucy, who helped blind people. The oldest daughter in each Swedish household dresses in a white gown with a red sash, wears a crown of evergreen
with seven candles in it, awakens the family with a song, and serves the coffee, cakes, and buns. Each town and city also chooses a young woman to be Lucia for the day. She then serves coffee and food to the townspeople at schools, hospitals, and other public buildings. From these women, a national Lucia is chosen; followed by a parade, feast, and dance.
Now that you have this data, let your children put the information in a comparison chart. Label the left side with the names of the countries and the bottom with the various information (ie: Greeting, Food, and so on). Then fill in the boxes!
Let your children do research to find out the information I left out.
Conduct research to find out the same customs for other countries, especially the heritage countries of students in your class or your own family.
However you celebrate the holidays, have a safe, wonderful season and a Happy New Year!
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