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The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region.
Christianity was first brought to the historic region of Bengal (now divided between Bangladesh and India) in the sixteenth century by Portuguese traders and missionaries. Over the next few centuries, an indigenous Bengali Christian community emerged and greatly contributed to Bengali culture, intellectual thought and society. Apart from Bengali Christians, a significant portion of the tribal population in Bangladesh are Christians. They include most of the Garos in Mymensingh and many members of the diverse tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
In Bangladesh, Christmas Day is celebrated by Bengali Christians as Boro Din, or Great Day. The day is a national holiday and is officially celebrated by the President of Bangladesh in Bongo Bhaban. Bengali Christians greet family and friends by saying Shubho Boro Din, or Greetings of the Great Day, and offer traditional sweets and pithas (traditional Bengali cakes). Their homes are decorated with local Christmas handicrafts while artificial stars signifying the Star of Bethlehem are hung on rooftops. Christmas celebrations are also popular with the urban middle class in the country with hotels, cafes, restaurants and theme parks hosting festivities and special events.
China, Hong Kong and Macau
In Mainland China, December 25 is not a legal holiday. The small percentage of Chinese citizens who consider themselves Christians unofficially, and usually privately, observe Christmas. Many other individuals celebrate Christmas-like festivities even though they do not consider themselves Christians. Many customs, including sending cards, exchanging gifts, and hanging stockings are very similar to Western celebrations.
However, commercial Christmas decorations, signs, and other symbolic items have become increasingly prevalent during the month of December in large urban centres of mainland China, reflecting a cultural interest in this Western phenomenon, and, sometimes, as part of retail marketing campaigns.
South Korea recognizes Christmas as a national holiday. Christian and non-Christian Koreans engage in some holiday customs such as gift-giving, sending Christmas cards, and setting up decorated trees in their homes; children, especially, appear to have embraced Santa Claus, whom they call Santa Halabuji (Grandfather Santa) in Korean, Local radio stations play holiday music on Christmas Day and a few days before, while television stations are known to air Christmas films and cartoon specials popular in the Western countries. In addition, increasing numbers of stores and buildings are displaying Christmas decorations.
As in the West, Christian churches in Korea hold Christmas pageants and conduct special services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Young people especially enjoy the fellowship these observances provide; after the Christmas Eve services, for example, they go caroling to the homes of older church members, where they are usually treated to hot drinks and snacks.
Being a British colony till 1947, many British traditions stayed on in India. Christmas is a state holiday in India, though only 2.3%  of the population is actually Christian. Sincere devotees attend the church services. In many of the schools that are run by the Christian missionaries, the children actively participate in the programmes. Christmas often coincides with the winter solstice as celebrated in India (Makar Sakranti).
In India, most educational institutions have a mid-academic year vacation, sometimes called Christmas vacation, beginning shortly before Christmas and ending a few days after New Year's Day. Christmas is also known as bada din (the big day). Commercialisation and open markets are however bringing more secular Christmas celebration to the public sphere, even though it is not widely celebrated as a religious holiday.
Days before the festival markets take a colourful look as they are decorated with traditional Christmas trees, stars, images of Santa, balloons and festoons. Gift marketers too create many types of things for Christmas by launching a rigorous advertising campaign through newspapers, radio and television.
Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Israel is mainly a Jewish state, but with strong emphasis on religious freedom; thus, Jewish Israelis do not celebrate Christmas. The celebration of Hanukkah falls at approximately the same time, but it has not undergone the same osmosis of Christmas-like practices (such as exchange of gifts) that the holiday has in the United States. Israeli Arabs are chiefly Muslim, and thus do not celebrate Christmas, either, but there is a minority of Christian Israeli Arabs who do celebrate Christmas. Given the diversity of denominations among Christian Israeli Arabs, some celebrate with the Western Churches on the Gregorian 25 December, and others with the Eastern Churches on the Gregorian 7 January (Julian 25 December).
The pattern of Christmas observance among the Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is similar to that of their Israeli Arab brethren across the Green Line. A majority of Palestinians are Muslims, and do not celebrate Christmas, and among the Christian minority, some celebrate with the Western Churches and others with the Eastern.
Despite the Christian minority in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Christmas is extremely important in both areas on account of the importance of the region as a whole to the life of Jesus. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, lies in the West Bank, with the Church of the Nativity being a prominent symbol of the city for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians and a focus of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians annually, especially around the Christmas season. Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, is a majority-Arab city lying in northern Israel not far from the Green Line; it sees significant pilgrimage during the Christmas season, as well. Finally, Jerusalem is within Israel, and contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; although it is overall the largest centre of Christian pilgrimage, its associations—with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus--tends to focus pilgrimage towards Eastertide rather than Christmas.
Christian pilgrimage makes up a significant proportion of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, and accounts for a substantial proportion of tourism in Israel.
Encouraged by the commercial sector, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. A unique feature of Christmas in Japan is the Japanese type of Christmas cake, often a white whipped cream cake with strawberries.
The first recorded Christmas in Japan was celebrated with a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552, although some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held prior to this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan to begin missionary work. Starting with the expulsion of missionaries in 1587, Christianity was banned throughout Japan beginning in 1612, a few years into the Edo Period, and the public practice of Christmas subsequently ceased. However, a small enclave of Japanese Christians, known as Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians"), continued to practice underground over the next 250 years, and Christianity along with Christmas practices reemerged at the beginning of the Meiji period. Influenced by American customs, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread in major cities, but its proximity to the New Year's celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all Christmas celebrations and customs, especially those from America, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with the aid of a rapidly expanding economy, and influenced by American TV dramas, Christmas became popular, but mostly not as a religious occasion. For many Japanese, celebrating Christmas is similar to participating in a matsuri, where participants often do not consider which kami is being celebrated, but believe that the celebration is a tribute nevertheless. From the 1970s onwards, many songs and TV drama series presented Christmas from a lover's point of view, for example 'Last Christmas' by Exile.
The birthday of the current emperor, Akihito, on December 23 is a national holiday. Shortly thereafter businesses close for the New Year's holidays, usually reopening on the first weekday after January 3.
Christmas is a state holiday in Lebanon. Most Lebanese Muslims celebrate Christmas with Christian friends. A poll showed that around two thirds of the population celebrate Christmas, while only 45% of the population is Christian. Commercialization and open markets are bringing a more secular celebration of Christmas to the public. Churches are open all night for prayer and people go to visit friends and families, often to villages in the mountains. Christmas concerts are popular, not to forget to mention the wide popularity of both local and western Christmas carols. Prayers and carols start to be said and sung around mid-December and continue till the New Year's Eve. Internationally famous fashion designer, Elie Saab, donates a giant Christmas tree of 25m high for public display every year in Downtown Beirut.
Lebanese Christmas food is a mixture of European and Middle Eastern fare, for example, Tabbouleh, Kibbeh, Turkey and wine, and for dessert a "buche de Noël". Most of Christmas Greetings are spoken in French like "Joyeux Noël" or English. Christmas lights fill the roads. Houses are also decorated and beneath the Christmas tree, families place a nativity scene or crêche with a unique style, representing Jesus, St. Mary, St Joseph, the Three Kings, shepherds men and miniature people.
Christians are the second largest religious minority community in Pakistan after Hindus. The total number of Christians in Pakistan is approximately 2,800,000 in 2008, or 1.6% of the population. Of these, approximately half are Roman Catholic and half Protestant. Christmas Day is celebrated by Pakistan Christians as Big Day, or Great Day. The day is a public holiday, but it is in memory of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Pakistani Christians celebrate Christmas by singing carols and going from house to house collecting money. Mostly the money collected is used for charity work or is given to the church. Their homes are decorated with local Christmas handicrafts while artificial stars signifying the Star of Bethlehem are hung on rooftops. Christmas celebrations are also popular with the urban middle class in the country with hotels, cafes, restaurants and theme parks hosting festivities and special events.
Christmas is a public holiday in the Muslim-majority nation Malaysia, however, much of the public celebration is commercial in nature and has no overt religious overtones. Occasionally, Christian activist groups do buy newspaper advertorials on Christmas or Easter but this is largely only allowed in English newspapers and permission is not given every year. The advertorials themselves are usually indirect statements.
In 2004, the government organized a national-level Christmas celebration but allegedly imposed an unofficial ban on all Christian religious symbols and hymns that specifically mention Jesus Christ. OC Lim, a former lawyer turned Jesuit priest and director of the Catholic Research Centre (also assistant parish priest of St. Francis Xavier's Church) lodged a formal complaint. He also stated that "To exclude (such) carols and to use (Christmas) for political gain is outrageous, scandalous and sacrilegious." He also said "To call it a cultural event (as rationalised by Christian politicians who are more politician than Christian) is to downgrade Jesus to a cultural sage such as Confucius."
CFM general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri stated that the government wanted "nothing that insults Islam" during the open house.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Dr Rais Yatim later denied that any such ban had been "issued officially or unofficially". He also added that there is "nothing wrong in singing songs such as Silent Night and Merry Christmas" as they are "joyous songs for the festival".
Lee Min Choon, legal advisor to the CFM and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship issued a statement which said "It means that churches can celebrate Christmas as they have been doing all along. Otherwise, the very meaning of the occasion will be lost." "Now, everybody should take the government at its word and celebrate Christmas the way they normally celebrate and express their religious faith."
Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia (the other one being East Timor). The Philippines has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season. Although faint traces of the coming Christmas arise beginning from early September, it is traditionally ushered in by the nine-day dawn Masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) in the traditional Spanish. These Masses are more popularly known in Tagalog as the Simbang Gabi.
As in many East Asian countries, secular Christmas displays are common both in business establishments and in public, including lights, Christmas trees, depictions of Santa Claus (despite the warm climate), and Christmas greetings in English and Tagalog, as well as in Chinese and other Philippine languages and dialects. Occasionally such displays are left in place even in summer for example the parol representing the "Star of Bethlehem" which led the Three Kings to the newborn Baby Jesus.
In the capital Manila, Christmas Day is the start of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival during which locally produced films are featured in the city's theatres.
For Filipinos, Christmas Eve ("Bisperas ng Pasko"/Spanish: Vísperas de la Navidad) on December 24 is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and immediately after, the much-anticipated Noche Buena – the traditional Christmas Eve feast. Family members dine together around 12 midnight on traditional Noche Buena fare, which includes: queso de bola (Spanish: "ball of cheese"; this is actually edam cheese), "Tsokolate" (a hot chocolate drink) and jamón (Christmas ham). Some would also open presents at this time.
On December 31, New Year's Eve ("Bisperas ng Bagong Taon"), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the yearly ban on firecrackers, many Filipinos in the Philippines still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are not only meant to celebrate the coming of the New Year but are also supposed to drive away bad spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight so that they would grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in the good luck.
Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes in Spanish or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on January 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, so that the Three Kings would leave behind gifts like candy or money inside.
In Singapore, Christmas is a public holiday celebrated by almost everyone (Christian or otherwise). Typically it is also the boom time for retailers as Christmas season is also the time most people get their year-end bonuses. The entire shopping district like Orchard Road and Marina Centre areas is decorated with colourful lights from early or mid November till early January. In recent years, a charitable organization called Celebrating Christmas in Singapore Ltd (with links to the National Council of Churches of Singapore) organized the "Celebrating Christmas in Singapore" during Christmas period with carolling, concerts and a parade down Orchard Road. As Christmas is not a native festival here, there is nothing local except for maybe the warmer tropical climate. Christmas celebration in Singapore tends to be borrowed heavily from the American version with turkey dinner and decoration. As Christians only comprise 14% of the population, most of the celebration tends to be secular and commercial in nature. Local companies normally arrange gift exchange programs on the last working day before Christmas.
In Taiwan, Christmas is not officially celebrated or legally recognized. However, coincidentally, 25th December is the date of the signing of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 1947, officially the Constitution Day (Chinese:行憲紀念日). Hence there was already an official holiday on that date designated in 1963 by the Executive Yuan, which was largely, though unofficially, treated as if it were Christmas. In order to avoid having too many legal holidays when phasing in the two-days-off-per-week plan, Constitution Day is no longer a full legal holiday with a day off since 2001. Some people have become disappointed that December 25th has ceased to be a holiday, but there are still unofficial celebrations of Christmas.
Mexico's Christmas traditions are based on Mexico's form of Roman Catholicism and popular culture traditions called posadas. Over nine days, groups of townspeople go from door to door in a fashion of when the parents of the unborn baby Jesus Christ looked for shelter to pass the night when they arrived at Bethlehem, and are periodically called inside homes to participate in the breaking of a gift-filled piñata.
There are over thirty traditions found only within the Mexican Christmas. However, nowadays, the American Christmas is influencing the Christmas season more, especially in cities north of Mexico City where, for example, Santa Claus is more popular among children than "Niño Dios" or Baby Jesus as the person who brings the gifts.
In many Mexican places, children receive gifts not on Christmas Day but on 6th January, the Feast of the Epiphany, when, according to tradition, the Three Wise Men bring gifts not only to baby Jesus but also to children who have placed written requests in their shoes.
At midnight on Christmas, many families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nacimientos (Nativity scenes), as the symbolic representation of Christmas as a whole.
Mexican Christmas festivities start on December 12, with the birthday of La Guadalupana (Virgin of Guadalupe), and end on January 6, with the Epiphany. Since the 1990s, Mexican society has embraced a new concept linking several celebrations around Christmas time into what is known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon
United States and Canada
Christmas is a widely celebrated holiday in the United States and Canada. Christmas traditions are essentially the same as those in England and the rest of Europe. The celebration of Boxing Day on the day after Christmas Day is a tradition practiced in Canada, as it is in the Commonwealth. While 15% of Americans affiliate as non-religious, predominantly of Christian heritage, according to a poll by Fox News, 96% of the people in the United States celebrate Christmas,
Many Christmas-related tourist attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and elaborate animated department store windows in New York City are heavily visited by non-Christian tourists from all over the world.
Christmas Day is a public and federal holiday in both the United States and Canada. Christmas Day is the only day where almost all retailers, banks and government offices are closed.
Religious themes predominate in Christmas celebrations in heavily Roman Catholic South America. The secular customs and gift-giving in these countries are an admixture of traditions handed down from European and Native American forebears, plus the increasing influence of American culture.
In most of the southern cities of Brazil, as well as in the largest cities of the Southeastern Region, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte the celebrations resemble in many ways the traditions in Northern Europe and North America, with the Christmas tree, the exchanging of gifts and Christmas cards, the decoration of houses and buildings with electric lights and the Nativity Scene. In some cities like Curitiba, there are decoration contests, when judges go to houses to look at the decorations, inside or outside of the house, and decide the most beautiful house. Christmas Eve is the most important day. At midnight on December 24th the churches celebrate the Missa do Galo (the Rooster's Mass).
Christmas in Colombia is primarily a religious celebration. Presents are brought by El Niño Jesus / Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) instead of Papá Noél (Father Christmas), whose gift giving role has been downplayed some by the Church. However, Santa Claus is still an important Christmas figure, as Santa decorations are common, and Santa can be seen posing for pictures at shopping malls.
While Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November, the unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7, Día de las Velitas, or "Day of the Candles." At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8. Activities such as musical events and firework displays are planned by cities and held during this time.
In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual "tunnels of light." Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event.
Fireworks were a common item during the Christmas season in Colombia, often going on at any time of the day everyday in many cities, but a recent ban of fireworks has decreased the use of fireworks, and now only cities or towns are able to hold firework displays.
December 16 is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a pesebre (manger scene), sing religious Christmas carols called villancicos accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. From December 16 to 18, some people play games called aguinaldos. The games include Hablar y no contestar, Dar y no recibir, Si y no, Tres pies, Beso robado, and Pajita en boca.
Churches offer dawn and nightly masses during the nine days of the novena, culminating with the Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) on Christmas Eve at midnight.
Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Because Christmas Eve is the most important day, little goes on on December 25.
El día de los inocentes, or the "Day of the Innocents", falls in the Christmas season and is celebrated in Colombia as a day for pranks, equivalent to April Fool's Day. Prank victims are known as inocentes, or "innocent ones."
6th January, the day of the Revelation of the Magi, used to be a day of gift giving, but is celebrated less now. Some families still give presents, and it is also the day when godparents give Christmas presents.
In Venezuela Christmas is celebrated as a religious occasion. As in Colombia, the presents are brought by El Niño Jesus (Baby Jesus) instead of Papá Noél (Santa Claus), that still has an important role during this season.
The unofficial start of the Christmas festivities is after the celebrations of Feria de la Chinita, second half of November. The origin of this festivity is the cult to the Virgin Mary of Chiquinquirá, when various religious activities, processions, and music festivals with the typical gaita to honor "La Chinita" (nickname of this Virgin). This event takes place in the Zulia Region, specially in Maracaibo (the regional capital). After this festivity, the Christmas spirit is every where and many activities take place including musical events, firework displays, and many other events planned by other cities across the country.
In many cities, small rural towns and neighborhoods get together for the "patinatas" night festivals where kids go and play with skateboards, roller blades and bicycles. This events are usually sponsored by the local church, where neighbors organize themselves and sell typical Christmas food, hot chocolate, hallaca, cookies, etc. Also still in some neighborhoods there is the Parranda where people goes from one house to house with music and xmas songs. The singers stops at neighbors houses to get some food and drinks. Also in the Venezuelan Andes there is the same tradition of this kind of event but they carry an image of "baby Jesus" and this is called Paradura del Niño Children write request letters to Baby Jesus. The presents are sent by Baby Jesus at midnight, and most people have a party, which goes on until sunrise.
In Australia, as with all of the Southern Hemisphere, 25 December occurs during the height of the summer season.
According to tradition, children are told Santa Claus visits houses on Christmas Eve placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. Gifts are opened the next morning, 25 December. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Biscuits, Christmas cake and milk (sometimes liquor) may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit.
Traditionally, extended families gather on 25 December for a Christmas lunch similar to a traditional United Kingdom Christmas meal that includes decorated hams, roast turkey, roast chicken, salads and roast vegetables, accompanied by champagne, and followed by fruit mince pies, trifle, and plum pudding with brandy butter. Christmas crackers are a feature of the meal. Candy canes are a popular confectionery in Australia in the Christmas period. More recently, as appropriate to the sometimes hot weather on the day, lighter meals featuring fish and seafood may be served, along with barbecue lunches. However, the typical roast remains popular.
The Australian traditions and decorations are quite similar to those of England, the United States and Canada, and similar wintry iconography is commonplace. This means a red fur-coated Santa Claus riding a sleigh, carols such as Jingle Bells, and various snow-covered Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations appear in the middle of summer. The traditional Christmas tree is the most crucial decorative item, while strings of lights and tinsel are common. Decorations appear in stores and on streets starting in November, and are commonplace by early December. The tradition of sending Christmas cards is widely practised in Australia; the price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter; senders are required to mark the envelope "Christmas card only" when using the lower priced stamps. As novelties, some Australian songwriters and authors have occasionally depicted Santa in "Australian"-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and having his sleigh pulled by kangaroos, (e.g. the song Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris) but these depictions have not replaced mainstream iconography.
As Christmas falls in summer, the watching of television is not a strong part of Australian Christmas traditions, unlike in the United Kingdom, in which it is one of the most important days for television ratings. Television ratings in Australia are not taken during the summer and schedules are mostly filled with repeats of old programmes or previously cancelled shows. Some Australian-produced programs have a Christmas special, though often it will be shown early December and not on Christmas Day itself. Many television stations rerun old Christmas-themed films in the weeks leading up to and including Christmas Day, such as Miracle on 34th Street, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and various film versions of A Christmas Carol.
Many homeowners decorate the exterior of their houses. Displays range from the modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Particular regions have a tradition for elaborate displays, and attract a great amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the Christmas season.
Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that started in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia and the world. At the event people gather on Christmas Eve, usually outdoors, to sing carols by candlelight in a large-scale concert style event. The Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight which takes place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, is televised nationwide and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance. Carols in the Domain takes place in Sydney the Saturday before Christmas.
A popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000 people. Begun in 1933, the pageant is staged in early November every year, usually on a Saturday morning, marking the start of the Christmas season. It comprises a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus. At the terminus of the pageant Santa proceeds to the Magic Cave in the David Jones department store where he can be visited by children. Smaller scale pageants are also held in regional centres.
Special events for international tourists away from their families are held on Bondi Beach in Sydney. These may involve a turkey barbecue and such humorous stunts as a man dressed in a Santa suit surfing in to appear to the crowd.
Most workplaces conduct a "Christmas Party" some time during December, but rarely on Christmas Eve itself. As many people take their holidays between Christmas and New Year's Day, and many workplaces completely close for that period, these parties are effectively an end of year or break-up party and frequently feature little or no reference to Christmas itself. Often they will not even be named the "Christmas Party" but called the "end of year party" or a "break-up party".
Two major sporting events traditionally commence on the day after Christmas Day in Australia: the Boxing Day Test cricket test match, and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
Many of Australia's Christmas traditions also apply to New Zealand: as with its larger neighbour, New Zealand celebrates Christmas with traditional Northern Hemisphere winter imagery, though to some extent the symbols of the holly and ivy common to the British and North American Christmas are replaced by the Pōhutukawa tree, which blossoms annually in late December and is thus often called the "New Zealand Christmas tree". This does not stop New Zealand homes being decorated with the more standard pine tree however. Children in New Zealand are also told of the surreptitious visit of Father Christmas to leave presents.
Traditional winter-styled hot roast food also has a role in New Zealand's festivities, Christmas dinner is also the place where Christmas crackers are used, people will pull a cracker with another before eating. Traditional (generally British) Christmas desserts are also consumed, i.e. Christmas pudding, trifle, Christmas cake and mince pies. Also served is the traditional dessert of pavlova.
House decoration is also popular in New Zealand and people put up strings of lights on windows, roofs, decks and fences. Store chain, The Warehouse hosts a competition to find the best-decorated house of the year.
As with Australia, the watching of television is not a strong part of New Zealand Christmas traditions, though some Christmas-specific programmes are usually shown, usually including a mix of religious programmes and special one-off episodes of regular television series (many of them British or American shows). Christmas Day has one of the few distinctions in that advertising (apart from continuity advertising) is not allowed to be broadcast on television or radio for the whole day(along with Good Friday and Easter Sunday) The Queen's Christmas message is also broadcast at around 7:00pm on Christmas evening.
The Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight is popular in New Zealand, especially in Auckland and Christchurch, where there is usually a large outdoor carol-singing gathering known as Christmas in the park.
Several Christmas themed parades are held in New Zealand. The most popular is Auckland's Santa Parade down Queen Street. This features numerous floats and marching bands and attracts large crowds every year. It is held late November to accommodate holidaymakers and is seen as the preamble to the later festivities.
In countries of Central Europe (for this purpose, roughly defined as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary and possibly other places) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve (December 24). The day is usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they'll see a golden pig if they hold fast until dinner. When the evening comes preparation of Christmas dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, for example in the Czech Republic and Slovakia the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish (or cabbage) soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to twelve dishes.
After the dinner comes the time for gifts. Tradition varies with region, commonly gifts are attributed to Christkind (Little Jesus) or their real originators (e.g. parents). Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas tree, with name stickers. An interesting example of complicated history of the region is the "fight" between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") in the place of Christkind. Little Jesus won. Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production.
Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic churches for Midnight Mass. It is not uncommon to go to a church only one time a year, for this Christmas Mass.
Other attributes of Christmas include Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas garlands and Bethlehem cribs
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Christmas Eve (24th December) is celebrated as 'Štědrý den', which means "open-handed day", when the gifts are given in the evening. However, 25th and 26th December are also public holidays. According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek, or "baby Jesus". Many very old Christmas traditions are followed, mostly for fun. People are taught to fast on Christmas Eve until a ceremonial dinner is served, in order to be able to see a "golden pig". Carp is a popular dish for the dinner. The gifts are displayed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce or pine), and people open them after their Christmas dinner.
Other Czech and Slovak Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are always cut crosswise; if a star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, while a cross suggests a bad year. Girls throw shoes over the their shoulders; if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married soon. Another tradition requires pouring a little molten lead into water and guessing a message from the shapes that appear when it hardens.
German-speaking areas of Europe
In some German-speaking communities, particularly in Catholic regions of southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein, as well as in other Catholic regions of Central Europe, the character of Santa is replaced by the Christkind (literally "Christ child"). He brings the presents not on the morning of December 25, but on the evening of December 24 (Holy Evening or Heiliger Abend). The Christkind is invisible; he is never seen by anyone. However, he rings a bell just before he leaves in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.
It is a tradition to lavishly decorate a Christmas tree in the days directly before Christmas or on the morning of Christmas Eve. On late Christmas Eve, after the bell ring, the tree is shown to the children and presents are exchanged.
In Protestant churches there is a service in the late afternoon intended to immediately precede the Christmas Eve meal and the exchanging of gifts. This service, called Christvesper, consists most often of scriptural readings, the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2, a Krippenspiel (nativity play), favourite Christmas carols and festive music for organ and choirs. In some regions the tradition of "Quempas singing" is still popular.
Many Catholic churches also have a first Mass of Christmas on Heiliger Abend about 4 p.m. for the children and parents to attend before the families return home for their meal. The crib is a very important part of the celebrations in Catholic areas especially Bavaria.
See Saint Nicholas for information about Saint Nicholas Day, a festivity similar to Christmas from which many English and American traditions derive.
In Germany Christmas traditions vary by region. On Saint Nicholas' Day, the 6th of December, Saint Nicholas puts goodies in children's shoes. Sometimes Saint Nicholas visits children in kindergartens, schools or at public events. They have to recite a short poem or sing a song in order to get sweets or a small gift. "Knecht Ruprecht" (the servant Ruprecht - dressed in dark clothes with devil-like traits (usually noted as a long, bright red tongue) and with a stick or a small whip in the hand) sometimes accompanies St. Nicholas. His duty is to punish those children who haven't behaved during the year. Usually he doesn't have much to do. He merely stands near St. Nicholas as a warning to be good and polite. This festival is for the most part a children's festival.
The actual Christmas gift-giving (German: Bescherung) usually takes place on Christmas Eve. This tradition first began with the Reformation, since Martin Luther was of the opinion that one should put the emphasis on Christ's birth and not on a saint's day and do away with the connotation that gifts have to be earned by good behaviour. The gifts should be seen as a symbol for the gift of God's grace in Christ. This tradition has also become common in predominantly Catholic regions.
Gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (translation, "Christmas man"), who resembles either Saint Nicholas or the American Santa Claus, or by the Christkind, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. After the gifts are opened the children often stay up as late as they like, often till the early hours of the morning.
The Christmas tree is first put up and decorated on the morning of the 24th. The gifts are then placed under the tree. Often after Christmas Vespers in the church and an evening meal the father usually goes into the room where the tree is standing, lights the candles and rings a little bell. Then the children are allowed to go into the candlelit room. In many families it is still a custom to sing Christmas carols around the tree before opening up the presents. Some families, especially Catholic families, attend a midnight church service after the evening meal and gift-giving.
The culinary feast either takes place at supper on Christmas Eve or on the first day of Christmas, and usually involves poultry (typically roast goose). Some families prefer a lighter and simpler meal on Christmas Eve. They eat potato salad and sausages, carp or a hearty soup and eat goose, duck or pork roast on Christmas Day.
In Hungary, celebrations begin with Christmas tree decoration and gift packaging during daytime on 24 December, then comes a family dinner with traditional Christmas meals, and in the evening (Christmas Eve, in Hungarian: Szenteste) the Angel or the Little (Baby) Jesus (Hungarian: Kisjézus or Jézuska) delivers the presents. This is the most intimate moment of Christmas, featuring warmly lit Christmas trees and candles, soft Christmas music, family singing of Christmas or religious songs and gift pack openings.There is also a popular folk custom during December and especially on Christmas Eve, in which children or adults present the birth of Jesus. The custom is called 'playing Bethlehem' (Hungarian: Betlehemezés), the 'actors' wear costumes, and tell stories about the Three Kings, the shephards, Mary, Joseph and of course the birth of the Holy Child. A Christmas crib and a church are used as the scene. The actors go from house to house, and they receive gifts for their performance.
In Hungary Santa Claus (Hungarian: Mikulás} is not strongly connected with Christmas. He is said to visits families earlier, at dawn on 6 December, Saint Nicholas' Day, and put presents and candy-bags for the well-behaved children in their well polished shoes, put in the windows on the previous evening. Mikulás is said to be accompanied by a diabolical servant named Krampusz who gives golden coloured birches for so called badly-behaved children. Hungarian children usually get both gifts and golden birches in their shoes, no matter how they behave themselves.
In Poland, Christmas Eve is a day first of fasting, then of feasting. The feast begins with the appearance of the first star, and is followed by the exchange of gifts. The giftbearer varies. In some regions it is Święty Mikołaj (Saint Nicholas), in others Święty Mikołaj gives his gifts on 6 December and the giftbringer of the Christmas Eve is Gwiazdor ("star man"), Aniołek ("little angel") or Dzieciątko ("baby" Jesus). The following day is often spent visiting friends. Poland is a land of intriguing traditions, superstitions, and legends. Its people have always combined religion and family closeness at Christmastime. Although gift giving plays a major role in the rituals, emphasis is placed more on making special foods and decorations.
Christmas celebration in Russia is not as widely followed as in Western countries in favour of the New Year celebration. Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January (which corresponds to 25th December in the Julian Calendar). The tradition of celebrating Christmas has been revived since 1992, after decades of suppression by the communist government. It is centred on the Christmas Eve "Holy Supper", which consists of twelve servings, one to honor each of Jesus' apostles. The Russian traditions were largely kept alive by shifting some of them, including the visit by gift-giving "Grandfather Frost" and his "Snowmaiden", to New Year's Day. Many current Russian Christmas customs, including the Christmas tree, or yolka, were brought by Peter the Great, after his western travels in the late 17th century.
In Eastern Europe, Slavic countries have the tradition of Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). He is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka ("Snowmaiden"). According to legend, he travels in a magical decorated sleigh drawn by three white horses, and delivers gifts to children. He is thought to descend more from Santa Claus than from Saint Nicholas, having been promoted by the Soviets as a non-religious alternative.
Armenians celebrate Christmas ( surb tsnund, Սբ. Ծնունդ ) on January 6. It also coincides with the Epiphany. Traditionally, Armenians fast during the week leading up to Christmas. Devout Armenians may even refrain from food for the three days leading up to the Christmas Eve, in order to receive the Eucharist on a "pure" stomach. Christmas Eve is particularly rich in traditions. Families gather for the Christmas Eve dinner ( khetum, Խթում ), which generally consists of: rice, fish, nevik ( նուիկ, a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas ), and yogurt/wheat soup ( tanabur, թանապուր ). Desert includes dried fruits and nuts, including rojik, which consists of whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, bastukh (a paper-like confection of grape jelly, cornstarch, and flour), etc. This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner.
In addition to the Christmas tree (tonatsar, Տօնածառ), Armenians (particularly in the Middle East) also erect the Nativity scene. Christmas in the Armenian tradition is a purely religious affair. Santa Claus is not said to visit good Armenian children on Christmas, but rather on New Year's Eve. The idea of Santa Claus existed before the Soviet Union and he was named kaghand papik ( Կաղանդ Պապիկ ), but the Soviet Union had a great impact even on Santa Claus. Now he goes by the more secular name of Grandfather Winter ( dzmerr papik, Ձմեռ Պապիկ ). In the Armenian tradition, Santa Claus is not said to live at the North Pole. Instead, his workshop is located at the top of Mount Ararat.
Christmas Day in the Armenian tradition is a family day. Families visit each other. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives. Everyone gets together for a large meal.
Georgians celebrate Christmas (Georgian: shoba) on 7th January (25th December on the Julian calendar). It is traditional in Georgia to go on Alilo (a modified pronunciation of Alleluia), a mass walk in the streets, dressed in special clothing to celebrate and congratulate each other. Most members of the Alilo march are children and they are given sweets by the adults. The Alilo carols vary across the provinces of Georgia. In most songs these words are used: "ოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა, ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემსაო'" (otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao) - "on 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem". A local variant of the Christmas tree, called Chichilaki, is made of soft wooden material with curled branches. Sometimes it is hazelnut branch which is carved into a Tree of Life-like shape and decorated with fruits and sweets. The Western custom of a Christmas tree (nadzvis khe) is also popular and has been imported through Russia. The Georgian equivalent of "Santa Claus" is known as tovlis papa (or tovlis babua in western Georgian dialects), literally meaning a "Grandfather snow", and is traditionally portrayed with long white beard, dressed in national costume "chokha" and wearing a fur cloak "nabadi".
Sviata Vecheria or "Holy Supper" is the central tradition of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes and takes place in most parts of the country on 6 January. In Western Ukraine, especially in Carpathian Ruthenia, due to historical multi-culturism, Christmas can be observed twice—on 25 December and 7 January, often irrespectively whether the family belongs to Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholic Church, one of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches or one of the Protestant denominations.
The dinner table sometimes has a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem.
When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, which symbolizes the trek of the Three Wise Men, the Sviata Vechera may begin. In farming communities the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally "grandfather spirit" so it symbolizes the family's ancestors. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table.
A prayer is said and the father says the traditional Christmas greeting, Chrystos rodyvsya! which is translated as "Christ is born!", which is answered by the family with Slavite Yoho! which means "Let Us Glorify Him!". In some families the Old Slavic form Сhrystos rozhdayetsya! is used.
At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas carols. In many communities the old Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations.
Traditionally, Christmas Day opens for Ukrainian families with attendance at church. Ukrainian churches offer services starting before midnight on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning. Christmas supper, without Lenten restrictions, does not have as many traditions connected with it as Sviata Vechera. The old tradition in Ukraine of giving gifts to children on Saint Nicholas Day, December 19, has generally been replaced by exchange of gifts on Christmas day.
Danes celebrate on December 24, which is referred to as Juleaften (literally "Yule Eve"). An evening meal with the family consists of either roast pork, roast duck or roast goose and eaten with potatoes, red cabbage and plenty of gravy. For dessert, rice pudding is traditionally served, at midnight Christmas Eve, everyone looks forward to dessert when the rice pudding is served in which a single almond is hidden. Whoever finds the almond will have good luck for the coming year, and the lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gathers around the Christmas tree and sings Christmas songs. When the singing is complete, traditions vary. In some traditions, the family will select one child to hand out the presents. All children take turns handing out presents in other traditions. They are opened and this is followed by more snacks, candy, chips and, sometimes, a traditional Christmas drink called gløgg.
The Danish are somewhat famous for their Julefrokost, literally meaning "Christmas lunch", which includes various traditional Danish dishes, frequently accompanied by beer and Snaps. These Julefrokoster are popular and held within families, as well as by companies and other social groups. They would traditionally have taken place leading up to Christmas, but due to time constraints and stress during the Christmas month they are nowadays commonly held during November and January as well. The family Julefrokoster however are normally held between Juleaften and New Year's Eve.
Another more recent Danish tradition is the concept of television Julekalendere, special Christmas-themed, advent calendar-type television programmes with a daily episode shown on each of the first 24 days of December, thus culminating on Juleaften. Several television stations produce their own, most, but not all of which are targeted at child viewers. Some of the television advent calendars become extremely popular and go on to be reprised in subsequent years. In Denmark, Santa Claus is known as Julemanden (literally "the Yule Man") and is said to arrive in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, with presents for the children. He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves known as julenisser (or simply nisser), who are traditionally believed to live in attics, barns or similar places. In some traditions, to maintain the favour and protection of these nisser, children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding or other treats for them and are delighted to find the food gone on Christmas morning.
In Estonia in the weeks preceding Christmas or Jõulud, children place a sliper in their windows and receive a piece of candy or some other sweets from visiting elves ("päkapikud"). Estonians celebrate Christmas on December 24, which is referred to as Jõululaupäev ("Christmas Saturday").
The evening meal typically includes pork with sauerkraut or Estonian sauerkraut (mulgikapsad), baked potatoes, white and blood sausage, potato salad with red beet, and pāté. For dessert, Estonians eat gingerbread piparkoogid) and marzipan. The most highly regarded drinks during this time have been beer and mulled wine or glögi and hõõgvein ("glowing wine").
Estonians leave the leftover food from Christmas dinner on the table over night, in hopes that the spirits of family, friends, and loved ones will visit and also have something to eat. It is also customary to visit graveyards and leave candles for the deceased.
Each year on 24th December, the President of Estonia declares the Christmas Peace and attends a Christmas service. The tradition was initiated by the order of Queen Christina of Sweden in the 17th century. Estonian children are visited by Jõuluvana (Old Man Christmas) on Christmas Eve and must sing songs or recite Christmas poems before receiving their gifts.
25th December or "Jõulupüha" is a relaxed day for visiting relatives.
In Finland Christmas is an extensively prepared celebration centring on the family and home, although it has a religious dimension also. The Christmas season starts from December or even in late November, when shops begin advertising potential Christmas gifts. Christmas decorations and songs become more prominent as Christmas nears, and children count days to Christmas with Advent calendars. Schools and some other places have the day before Christmas Eve as a holiday, but at the latest on the Christmas Eve, shops close early. Christmas Day and the following day (Tapaninpäivä, "Saint Stephen's Day") are mandatory holidays. Schools continue holidays up to the New Year.
Finnish people clean their homes well before Christmas and prepare special treats for the festive season. A sheaf of grain, nuts and seeds are tied on a pole, which is placed in the garden for the birds to feed on. Fir trees are cut or bought from a market and taken to homes on or a few days before Christmas Eve and are decorated. Candles are lit on the Christmas tree, which is traditionally decorated using apples and other fruits, candies, paper flags, cotton and tinsel. Actual candles are no longer used, being replaced by incandescent lamps. A star symbolizing Star of Bethlehem is placed at the top of the tree.
Just before the Christmas festivities begin, people traditionally go to the sauna and dress up in clean clothes for the Christmas dinner or joulupöytä, which is usually served between 5pm and 7pm, or traditionally with the appearance of the first star in the sky. The most traditional dish of the Finnish Christmas dinner is probably Christmas ham, roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham, but some may prefer alternatives like turkey. Many kinds of casseroles are also popular. Other traditional Christmas dishes include boiled codfish (soaked beforehand in a lye solution for a week to soften it) served snowy white and fluffy, pickled herring and vegetables. Prune jam pastries, plum or mixed fruit soup, rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar and cold milk, and sweets like chocolate are popular desserts.
Christmas gifts are usually exchanged after Christmas Eve dinner. Children do not hang up stockings in Finland but Santa is said to visit the household (maybe with a Christmas elf to help him distribute the presents).
Christmas Day services begin early at six in the morning and people visit families and reunions are arranged on this day.
The major day of celebration in Norway, as in most of Northern Europe, is December 24. Although it is legally a regular workday until 16:00, most stores close early. Church bells toll in the Christmas festival between 17:00 and 18:00, and many people attend the church service thereafter. In some families the Christmas story from Luke 2 will be read from the old family Bible. The main Christmas meal is served in the evening. Common main dishes include pork rib, pinnekjøtt (pieces of lamb rib steamed over birch branches), and in some western areas burned sheep's head. Many people also eat lutefisk or fresh, poached cod. Rice porridge is also popular (but most commonly served the day after rather than for the main Christmas dinner), an almond is often hidden in the porridge, and the person who finds it wins a treat or small gift. In some parts of Norway it is common to place porridge outside (in a barn, outhouse or even in the forest) to please Julenissen. In many families, where the parents grew up with different traditions, two different main dishes are served to please everyone.
For a lot of Norwegians, especially families, television is an important part of the earlier hours of Christmas Eve. Many Norwegians do not feel the Christmas spirit until they have watched the Czech-German fairy tale Three Nuts for Cinderella (Norwegian title: Tre nøtter til Askepott) and the Disney Christmas cavalcade.
If children are present (and they have behaved well the last year), Julenissen (Santa Claus) pays a visit, otherwise gifts stored under the Christmas tree.
December 25 is a very quiet and relaxed day. Church services are well attended. The old tradition of a very early morning service before breakfast has been replaced in most areas by a service in the later morning. Afterwards many families get together for a large festive meal.
December 26 is also a day of many festivities. Cinemas, night clubs and bars are full, and there are lots of private gatherings and parties, where all kinds of traditional Christmas cookies and sweets are enjoyed. Fatty, tasty dinners are also part of it. The time between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve is called romjul. During this time children in the western parts of Norway dress up with masks and go Julebukk - "Christmas goat" - asking for treats, much the same way as in the American Halloween. January 13 (20th day of Christmas, called St. Knuts Day) is the official end of Christmas.
Swedish Christmas celebrations begin with the first of Advent. Saint Lucy's Day (locally known as Luciadagen) which is the first major celebration before Christmas itself. Electric candles and glowing stars are placed in almost every window in Sweden during December. As in many other countries in Northern Europe, the Jultomte (or simply Tomte) are said to bring presents on December 24, Christmas Eve. The Jultomte was originally a small invisible Christmas house gnome or dwarf from Nordic mythology, who watched over the house and its inhabitants. An old superstition still calls for feeding the Tomte on Christmas Eve with a small bowl of porridge. If a bowl of porridge is not laid out for him somewhere in or outside the house, he will bring bad luck to everyone in the house the next year.
The modern Jultomte is a version of Santa Claus in red cloth and white beard, except that he does not enter the house through the chimney, but knocks on the door and asks "Finns det några snälla barn här?" ("Are there any good children here?")
Christmas is, as everywhere else, an occasion celebrated with food. Almost all Swedish families celebrate on 24th December with a Christmas table, called Christmas smörgåsbord (julbord), a display of several Christmas food items. Almost all julbord have Christmas ham, (julskinka) accompanied by other Christmas dishes, such as small meatballs, pickled herring, spareribs, small hot dogs, lutfisk, pork sausage, salmon, Janssons frestelse (potato casserole with anchovy), and rice pudding. The Christmas julbord is served with julmust and beverage like mulled wine, Christmas beer or snaps. A Scandinavian speciality is the glögg (mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins), which is served hot in small cups. The different dishes of the julbord may vary throughout Sweden. Businesses traditionally invite their employees to a julbord dinner or lunch in the weeks before Christmas, and people go out privately to restaurants which also customarily offer julbord during December.
Examples of candies and treats associated with Christmas are marzipan, toffee, knäck (quite similar to butterscotch), nuts and fruits: figs, chocolate, dates and oranges decorated with cloves.
Television also plays a big role in most families, the Disney Christmas special and Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton (animated short) are regarded by many to be the most important highlights of the Christmas television programming.
After the julbord on Christmas Eve, the presents are distributed, either by Jultomten or a family member, and usually from a sack or from under the Christmas tree where they have been lying all day or for several days. Many Swedes still adhere to the tradition that each present should have a rhyme written on the wrapping paper, to hint at the contents without revealing them. In older days a yule goat was an alternative to Jultomten, nowadays it is used as an ornament, ranging from sizes of 10 cm to huge constructions like the giant straw Christmas Gävle goat, famous for frequently being vandalised or burnt down.
If one has two families to celebrate Christmas with, it is common that one of the families move their celebrations to Christmas Day or the day before Christmas Eve (commonly referred to as little Christmas Eve).
After Christmas Eve, the Christmas celebrations have more or less come to an end. Some people attend the julottan, an early morning church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are of no great significance to Swedish celebrations. On January 13 (locally known as knutdagen), twenty days after Christmas, the Christmas celebrations come to an end and all Christmas decorations are removed.
Southeastern Europe (Balkans)
In Bulgaria, Christmas (Bulgarian: Коледа, Koleda or more formally Рождество Христово, Rozhdestvo Hristovo, "Nativity of Jesus") is celebrated on 25 December and is preceded by Christmas Eve (Бъдни вечер, Badni vecher). Traditionally, Christmas Eve would be the climax of the Nativity Fast, and thus only an odd number of lenten dishes are presented on that evening. On Christmas, however, meat dishes are already allowed and are typically served.
Among the Bulgarian Christmas traditions is koleduvane, which involves boy carolers (коледари, koledari) visiting the neighbouring houses starting at midnight on Christmas Eve, wishing health, wealth and happiness and patting the backs of the people with decorated cornel sticks (сурвачка, survachka). Another custom is the baking of a traditional round loaf (пита, pita).
As in other countries, a Christmas tree is typically set up and the entire house is decorated. The local name of Santa Claus is Dyado Koleda (Дядо Коледа, "Grandfather Christmas"), with Dyado Mraz (Дядо Мраз, "Grandfather Frost") being a similar Russian-imported character lacking the Christian]] connotations and thus popular during Communist rule. However, the character has been largely forgotten since 1989, when Dyado Koleda returned as the more popular figure.
Croatia and Slovenia
In Croatia and Slovenia, Christmas (Croatian: Božić, Slovene: Božič) is celebrated mainly as a religious holiday, as a majority of the country professes to the Roman Catholic faith. The festivities begin on Saint Nicholas's Day on December 6 (in Slovenia) or Saint Lucy's Day on December 13 depending on what region (in Croatia). St. Lucy or St. Nicholas brings children presents, and St. Nicholas is said to be accompained by the devil Krampus who steals away the presents of bad children. In Croatia on St. Lucy's, families will plant wheat seeds in a bowl of shallow water, which will grow several inches by Christmas and are then tied together with a red, blue and white ribbon called trobojnica'.
On Christmas Eve (Croatian: Badnjak, Slovene: Sveti večer (holy eve)), three candles representing the Trinity are lit and placed in the middle of the wheat, the glow symbolizes the soul of each person. On this day, the tree is decorated, the home is decked with greenery and the women already beginning to prepare the Christmas meal. They also bake special types of bread: one is round inscribed with a cross on top known as the cesnica, another is made with honey, nuts and dried fruit called the Christmas Eve Bread (Croatian: Badnjih Kruh, Slovene: Božični kruh). In many villages, straw (which symbolizes Christ's birth in the manger) is spread around the floors of the home for the Christmas Eve dinner. As is customary with Catholic people, meat is not consumed in Croatia, while in Slovenia is. Instead of meat in Croatia and with other food in Slovenia, salad and fish is served, many choosing to eat the Dalmatian specialty bakalar, dried cod fish. The family then sprinkle holy water on their Yule log (badnjak) which they light and watch. In villages, the badnjak is freshly cut that very morning by the father of the household while reciting tradtional prayers. At the end of the meal, a piece of the cesnica is cut and dipped in wine and used to sprinkle on the candles to estinguish them, while reciting the Trinitarian formula ("In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen").
Religious familes will go to a midnight mass and often another mass on Christmas day. Nowadays it is common for Christmas presents to be placed under the tree, to suggest that Santa Claus leaves them there while others are attending midnight mass. Presents are opened after the mass. Christmas is a day of celebrating with family; a large feast is prepared and traditional foods such as stuffed cabbage, turkey, pot roast, pita and smoked meat are served, along with various desserts such as fritule, potica (especially in Slovenia), strudel, and cookies.
Slovenes are also visited by another one of their trije dobri možje (three good guys, who bring presents in December: Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz). Families mostly celebrate New Years Eve at home with extended family members, friends, and sometimes neighbours. Women prepare sarma, which they will eat on January the 1st, and steak tartare, which they eat on New year's eve on toast with butter. At midnight, people go outdoors to watch fireworks, while Dedek Mraz leaves presents under the tree. Epiphany on January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season.
The festive period in Greece lasts from 25th December (Christmas) to 6th January (Epiphany). Most families set up Christmas trees and shops have decorations and lights. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree and are opened on New Year’s Day. In Greek tradition, Basil’s (of Caesarea) name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and give presents on New Year’s Day (when Basil's memory is celebrated), unlike other European traditions, where this person is Saint Nicholas and he is said to come every Christmas. Carol singing is another tradition on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The Christmas meal usually includes lamb or pork and desserts such as kourabies (κουραμπιές) and melomakarona (μελομακάρονα).
Romania and Moldova
Christmas (Romanian Crăciun – presumably from Latin creatio, -onis meaning "birth") in Romania falls on December 25 and is generally considered the second most important religious holiday, after Easter. Celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree during daytime on 24 December, and in the evening (Christmas Eve, in Romanian: Ajunul Crăciunului) Moş Crăciun (Father Christmas) delivers the presents.
The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible. Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and coloured ribbons. An image of the Nativity is painted on the star's centre, and this piece of handiwork is attached to the end of a broom or other long stick.
Romanians Christmas food is a hearty multi-coursed meal. Most of which consists of pork (organs, muscle, and fat). This is mainly a symbolic gesture for St. Ignaus.
Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro
The Serbs and most Montenegrins celebrate Christmas for three consecutive days, beginning with Christmas Day. The Serbian Orthodox Church and Montenegrin Orthodox Church use the traditional Julian Calendar, as per which Christmas Day (25th December) falls currently on 7th January of the Gregorian Calendar. This day is called the first day of Christmas, and the following two are accordingly called the second, and the third day of Christmas. During this festive time, one is to greet another person with “Christ is Born,” which should be responded to with “Truly He is Born.” The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić (Cyrillic: Божић), which means the young or little God.
This holiday surpasses all the others celebrated by Serbs, with respect to the diversity of applied folk customs and rituals. These may vary from region to region, some of them having modern versions adapted to the contemporary way of living. The ideal environment to carry them out fully is the traditional multi-generation country household.
On the morning of Christmas Eve an oak tree is felled, and a log cut from it and referred to as the badnjak. In the evening, the badnjak is ceremoniously put on the domestic fire. A bundle of straw is taken into the house and spread over the floor. The dinner on this day is festive, copious and diverse in foods, although it is prepared in accordance with the rules of fasting. Groups of young people go from house to house of their village or neighbourhood, congratulating each other, singing, and making performances; this continues through the next three days.
On Christmas Day, the celebration is announced at dawn by church bells and by shooting. Great importance is given to the first visit a family receives that day. People expect that it will summon prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year; this visit is often pre-arranged. Christmas dinner is the most celebratory meal a family has during a year. A special, festive loaf of bread is baked for this occasion. The main course is roast pork from a pig cooked whole by rotating it impaled on a wooden spit close to an open fire. It is not a part of Serbian traditions to exchange gifts during Christmas. Gift-giving is, nevertheless, connected with the celebrations, being traditionally done on the three consecutive Sundays that immediately precede it. Children, women, and men, respectively, are the set gift-givers on these three days.
Christmas (or Il-Milied, as it's known in Maltese) in Malta is mainly a religious affair since most of the population is Roman Catholic. However over the years, the island has adopted other popular Christmas customs and traditions such as the Christmas tree and Father Christmas.
Christmas cribs (nativity scenes) are a popular Christmas tradition with some nativity scenes being literally works of art.
Christmas Day in Malta is a time to spend with family. Christmas lunch usually consists of turkey served with potatoes and vegetables. A local Christmas specialty are the Qaghaq ta' l-Ghasel or honey rings. These Maltese Christmas sweets are eaten as a dessert during the Christmas season but can also be purchased all year round.
Modern traditions combine with holdovers from ancient Rome in the celebration of Natale, the Italian Christmas. The pagan feast of Saturnalia coincides with the Christian advent, and the Christmas season there spans from these weeks through to Epiphany, a Christian holiday on 6th January celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. Christmas is celebrated in Italy similarly to other Western European countries, albeit with a stronger emphasis given by the media to the Christian meaning of the holiday and its celebration by the Roman Catholic Church, also reinforced by the still widespread tradition of setting up the presepe (nativity scene), a tradition initiated by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Christmas decorations, including the presepe, as well as the Christmas tree (called "Albero di Natale"), are usually put up on the 8 December, a national holiday. On Christmas Eve ("Vigilia di Natale") it is customary not to eat any meat. Some people, especially in the South, celebrate Christmas on the 24th; dinner traditionally consists of seafood, with the "feast of the seven fishes", followed by typical Italian Christmas sweets, such as pandoro, panettone, torrone, panforte, struffoli, Monte Bianco or others, depending on the regional cuisine. It is quite common, for religious families, to attend midnight mass on the evening of the 24th of December. In the North it is more common to celebrate Christmas on the 25th with a family lunch, consisting of different types of meat dishes, cheese and local sweets.
Traditions regarding the echanging of gifts vary from region to region. Very frequently, adults exchange gifts that they bought for each other on the 25th.
Often presents are left for good-behaving children under the family Christmas tree either by Babbo Natale (literally "Father Christmas") or by Gesù Bambino (baby Jesus) himself, and they will be opened on Christmas morning. In some areas of Italy, however, children receive gifts earlier (in some areas of the North, S.Lucia brings gifts on the 13 December) or later (in the South, "la Befana" the benevolent hag, is said to bring sweets and gifts to good children and charcoal or bags of ashes to naughty children in the night between the 5th and 6th of January).
On the 6th of January decorations are usually taken down, and in some areas female puppets are burned on a pire (called "falò"), to symbolise, along with the end of the Christmas period, the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one.
Christmas in Portugal is widely celebrated and is associated with family gathering. People from main cities, like Lisbon or Oporto, or even migrants to other countries, still travel to their home towns and villages to spend Christmas Eve with their families. After the Missa do Galo ("Rooster's Mass"), that celebrates the birth of Christ, families gather around the Consoada, the late supper held on Christmas Eve. The traditional dish is Bacalhau com Todos (dried codfish boiled with vegetables), although, in northern Portugal, the Bacalhau is often replaced by octopus. Nowadays, Santa Claus or Pai Natal is most popular among children but, nevertheless, in some regions, people still believe that is the Menino Jesus (Baby Jesus) that brings presents to children.
In most of Spain, the Christmas period lasts from 24th December to 6th January and is referred to as Navidad. Most homes and churches display a Nativity scene. In the Catalan region, the Tio de Nadal is a part of the celebrations.
A large family dinner is celebrated on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) and can last until 6 o'clock in the morning. Even though there is still the traditional Misa del Gallo at midnight, few Spaniards continue to follow the old custom of attending.
Children usually receive one or two presents on Christmas Day, brought by "Papá Noel" (Father Noel), which is a non-traditional imitation of the American Santa Claus. On 31st December (Nochevieja,) there is also a large family feast. On 5th January a huge parade (La Cabalgata or cavalcade) welcomes the Three Kings to the city. Children put their shoes in the window on 5th January in the hope that the Three Wise Men will deliver them presents.
The Basque people, who live in Northern Spain and Southern France, have their own traditions at Christmas. The Three Wise Men are popular in the South and Père Noël (Father Christmas) in the North, but there is also another character which is well known on both sides of the Pyrenees, called Olentzero. Olentzero was a pagan coal worker who went to adore Jesus in Bethlehem. Nowadays, it is said that he brings presents to all good people at Christmas Eve.
Christmas in France is celebrated mainly in a religious manner, though some secular ways of celebrating the occasion also exist, such as Christmas decorations and French versions of popular carols. Children put their shoes by the fireplace so Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) can give them gifts, as opposed to the American variation of hanging Christmas stockings on the fireplace's mantlepiece. Many French families also decorate their homes with Nativity Scenes depicting the birth of Jesus. Many families attend midnight mass. Some people put additional Santons (little saints) in their nativity scenes, which are bought at special Christmas fairs.
Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration of the year and lasts from 24th December to 6th January, although many may view 8th December as being the start of the season as it is the traditional Christmas shopping day in Ireland due to all schools being closed. It plays an extremely important role in both religious and secular aspects of Irish life.
Although religious devotion in Ireland today is considerably less than it used to be, there are huge attendances at religious services for Christmas Day, with Midnight Mass a popular choice. Most families get their deceased relatives prayed for at these Masses as it is a time of remembering the dead in Ireland. It is traditional to decorate graves at Christmas with a wreath made of holly and ivy. Even in the most undevout of homes in Ireland the traditional nativity scene takes centre stage along with the Christmas tree as part of the family's decorations.
In the secular side of Irish society, Christmas is the biggest event of the year. Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve or often a few days beforehand. Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day are public holidays and many people do not return to work until after New Year's Day. Irish people spend more and more money each year on celebrating Christmas. In 2006, the total amount spent in Ireland to celebrate Christmas was €16 billion, which averages at approximately €4,000 for every single person in the country.
Santa Claus, known in Ireland simply as Santy or Daidí na Nollag in Irish, brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and a variety of potatoes, as potatoes still act as a staple food in Ireland despite the popularisation of staples such as rice and pasta. Dessert is a very rich selection of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter.
Christmas celebrations in Ireland finish with the celebration of Little Christmas also known as Oíche Nollaig na mBan in Irish on 6th January. This festival, which coincides with Epiphany, is also known as Women's Christmas in Cork.
Christmas traditions in the Netherlands are almost the same as the ones in Dutch speaking parts of Belgium. Grilling is a popular Christmas tradition in the Netherlands. People (most of the times a group of friends or family), grill meat, fish or omelets on a big plate. In some parts of the country they also bake Pannekoeken on it. The last week before Christmas is important for the retail industry because it one is the biggest sales week in the country. Christmas songs are heard everywhere across the country. Southern regions of the Netherlands are known for their religious inhabitants, churches are always full on Christmas Day.
In the United Kingdom the Christmas traditions are quite similar to those of Australia, Ireland, the USA and New Zealand, and all other Commonwealth traditions as they stemmed from the UK. They are also similar to the other countries of Northern and Western Europe.
The Christmas season starts at Advent, where holly wreaths are made with three purple, one pink and one white candle. However many shops sell Christmas decorations beforehand. It lasts until 6 January (Epiphany), as it is considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations up after this date. On Christmas Eve, presents are supposedly delivered in stockings and under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas, who previously had been something like The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but has now become mainly conflated with Santa Claus. The two names are now used interchangeably and equally known to British people, but Father Christmas tends to be used more often, and some distinctive features still remain. Many families tell their children traditional Christmas stories, about Father Christmas and his reindeer. One tradition is to put out a plate of carrots (for the reindeer) and mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas, to help him on his way.
On Christmas Day, nearly the whole population has the day off to be with their family and friends, so they can gather round for a traditional Christmas meal, which is usually a turkey, traditionally with cranberries, parsnips, roast potatoes, quite like the Sunday roast, and traditionally followed by a Christmas pudding. During the meal, Christmas crackers are often pulled containing toys, jokes and a paper hat.
Another tradition is carol singing, where many carols are sung by children on people's doorsteps, and by professional choirs. Other traditions include sending Christmas cards. On the whole, although Christmas has become commercialised, Christmas in the UK is still very traditional.
In public, most shops have decorations and lights, especially in town centres, and even in Indian and Chinese restaurants. Churches and Cathedrals across the country hold masses, with many people going to midnight mass or a service on Christmas morning. Even though church attendance has been falling over the decades some people who don't go to church often think it is still important to go on Christmas, so Church attendance increases.
Most theatres have a tradition of putting on a Christmas pantomime for children. The pantomime stories are traditionally based on popular children's stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and Aladdin, rather than being directly concerned with the Christmas story as such, although there is sometimes a link.
Television is widely watched: for many television channels,Christmas Day is the most important day of the year in terms or ratings. Many Britons still watch the Queen's annual Christmas message.
The celebration of Boxing Day on the day after Christmas Day is a tradition practiced in the UK. It is a bank holiday, and if it happens to fall on a weekend then a special Bank Holiday Monday will occur. Also, depending on the day of the week, it is often a day when football matches are played in the professional leagues and many people go to watch their team play. Notably, for Catholics, it is one of the main Holy Days of Obligation.
Christmas in Scotland was traditionally observed very quietly, because the Church of Scotland - a Presbyterian Church - never placed any great emphasis on the Christmas festival, for various reasons. Hogmanay is traditionally the largest celebration in Scotland, because Christmas Day was a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960s and even into the 1970s in some areas. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were held between the 31st of December and 2nd of January rather than between 24th December and 26th December. However, since the 1980s, and the fading of the Church's influence as well as influences from the rest of the UK and countries abroad, Christmas and related festivities are now on a par with Hogmanay and "Ne'erday". The capital city of Edinburgh has a traditional German Christmas market from late November until Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day is a public holiday which is celebrated mainly in the southern and eastern parts of Nigeria. Nigerians have special traditions they follow to celebrate Christmas. Almost everyone goes to church on Christmas Day. Weeks before the day, people buy lots of hens, turkeys, goats and cows. Children hover around the beasts, taunting, and mostly gawking at them. There are feverish preparations for travel, holidays, and exchange of gifts, carolling and all manner of celebrations.
On Christmas Eve, traditional meals are prepared, which usually include Iyan, (pounded yam) eba or amala, served with peppery stewed vegetables. People find themselves eating this same meal three to four times on that day, as they are offered it at every house they visit; and according to Yorùbá customs, it is considered rude to decline to eat when offered food. Other meals include rice served with chicken stew, which is similar to Indian curry. Some families would include a delicacy called Moin-moin; which is blended black eyed beans, mixed with vegetable oil and diced liver, prawns, chicken, fish and beef. The concoction is then wrapped in large leaves and then steamed until cooked.
Another tradition is that of decorating homes (compounds) and churches with both woven and unwoven palm fronds, Christmas trees and Christmas lights. There are festive jubilations on the streets, the loud crackling of fireworks and luminous starry fire crackers going off, traditional masqueraders on stilts parading about and children milling about displaying their best clothes, or Christmas presents. There are no other celebrations that compare to Christmas festivities in Nigeria, where everyone can personalize their own festival, and one family’s gusto merges with others; both physically and psychologically, creating an atmosphere of fun and bonhomie.
- Penne L. Restad, Christmas in America: A History, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-19-509300-3Nigeria
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 "How Christmas Started in China - LoveToKnow Christmas". Christmas.lovetoknow.com. 2009-10-27. http://christmas.lovetoknow.com/How_Christmas_Started_in_China. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- ↑ "Christmas in India". Theholidayspot.com. http://www.theholidayspot.com/christmas/worldxmas/india.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- ↑ "Census of India - India at a Glance : Religious Compositions". Censusindia.gov.in. http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/religion.aspx. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- ↑ http://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/pakistan.shtml
- ↑ "Rev Lim: Excluding carols with Jesus' name is scandalous". Malaysiakini.com. http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/32072. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- ↑ "Government Information Office of the Republic of China: Constitution Day". Gio.gov.tw. 1946-12-25. http://www.gio.gov.tw/info/festival_c/law_e/law.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
- ↑ Fox News on Christmas
- ↑ Ernst, Eugen: Weihnachten im Wandel der Zeiten, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2. Aufl. Darmstadt 2000, pp. 34 - 35
- ↑ "Hungarian Heritage Museum". http://www.jcu.edu/language/hunghemu/hunghe7g.htm. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
- ↑ [dead link]
- ↑ Jeremy Stahl (Dec. 22, 2009). "Nordic Quack: Sweden's bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve". Slate. http://slate.com/id/2239252/. ""At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, you can't to do anything else, because Sweden is closed""
- ↑ With food, drink and candles, Sweden embraces Christmas CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-12-02.
- ↑ Christmas. World Book encyclopedia. 2003 edition. Volume Ch. P. 531
- ↑ "Christmas" World Book encyclopedia 2003 edition. The french word for Christmas is noel Volume "Ch" P.530
- ↑ Black, Rebecca. "News Ireland". Unison.ie. http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/index.php3?ca=43&issue_id=11790. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
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