Christmas Tree (and other) Christmas Traditions Around the World

And How to say "Merry Christmas" in every major language! And more here!

Mistletoe is hung in many English-speaking countries, presumably from a Norse tradition, to kiss under.  See this page for more information about mistletoe and where you can gather your own mistletoe!

Australia
Of course, in Australia, Christmas is in the middle of their summer!  So, Christmas is often celebrated like the 4th of July in the United States: at the beach or  with a back yard barbecue. Many Australians decorate Christmas Bushes, native plants with little red-flowered leaves. More info: Christmas Down Under

Austria

Click here for information

Brazil
Again, in the Southern hemisphere, Christmas falls during the summer! Pine trees are decorated with little pieces of cotton to represent falling snow.

Britain
Trees: Since Henry VII deforested the land, the Norway Spruce which was replanted is the most common tree in homes in Britain.

Lights: Colored lights and wreaths are common in the High Streets and outside some homes. Gifts are left under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning. A large number of packages, even of quite small items, is preferred!

Mistletoe is still hung in doorways, usually during parties and New Years eve.  This goes back to Celtic beliefs that mistletoe had the ability to heal wounds and increase fertility, as it remained green and had white berries in the dead of winter. Kissing someone under the mistletoe became popular!

Foods: The main meal on Christmas day is a turkey, ham or roast beef.  Goose is quite rare. Turkey is a relatively recent addition, as turkeys are native to America and don’t do well in the English climate. Christmas pudding, Figgy pudding and plum pudding are English fruitcakes, saturated in brandy, that date back to the Middle Ages. Suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts, and spices are tied loosely in cloth and boiled until the ingredients are "plum," meaning they have enlarged enough to fill the cloth. Brandy is poured over it daily for weeks until it is well pickled! It is then unwrapped, sliced, and topped with cream or custard. You can feel your arteries hardening just looking at it; but it still tastes better than a fruitcake.

Caroling also started in medieval England. Wandering musicians would travel from town to town visiting castles and homes of the rich. In return for their performance, the musicians would (if they were good) receive a hot meal or money.

In both the United States and England, children hang stockings on their by a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus, St. Nick or most commonly in the UK, father Christmas) will fill it with small gifts while they sleep. For more information: Christmas in the UK

Canada
Trees: Thanks to the German settlers to Canada in the 1700’s, Canadians today still have Christmas trees!

Foods: Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, Christmas cookies are also popular. Of course, Canada has several major cultures, notably the French and English speaking groups, each of which has their own variations to Christmas traditions. Gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning.

China
Of the small percentage of Chinese who do celebrate Christmas, most erect artificial trees decorated with spangles and paper chains, flowers and lanterns. Christmas trees are called "trees of light."

Finland
Trees: In the year 1829, a Helsinki nobleman, Barön Klinckowstrom, decorated his  house (inside) with 8 Christmas trees; one of the earliest know uses of the trees. The first known outdoor Christmas tree decorated with electric lights was in the market square in the town of Pietarsaari in 1905. The city of Helsinki has had a Christmas tree in the Senate Square since 1930 and since 1954, Helsinki has donated a Christmas tree to Brussels, Belgian.

Other traditions: Finns love the sauna and many families visit the sauna on Christmas Eve. Families gather to listen to the national "Peace of Christmas" radio broadcast. More information about Christmas in  Finland

France
Trees: The French also like Christmas trees, but now quite to the extent of the Germans or English. The "yule Log" tradition stems from an ancient tradition in southern France, where some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day.  

Germany
Germany is the source of many of the world’s Christmas traditions. Martin Luther is attributed with bringing fir trees into the home, but it is much more likely that it is a tradition assimilated from the pagan’s winter solstice tradition in the early sixteenth century, combining the  Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) that represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Small candles were attached to the trees to represent the stars and the apples were replaced with red glass balls.  For more information Click here!

Greece
In Greece, many people believe in kallikantzeri, goblins that appear to cause mischief during the 12 days of Christmas. Gifts are usually exchanged on January 1, St. Basil's Day

Greenland
Christmas trees are decorated with candles and ornaments here. Again, gifts are left under the tree to be opened on Christmas morning.

Guatemala
As in Mexico, the Nativity scene is the center of Christmas decorations, and thanks to the large German community, a Christmas tree has been added as an ornament. As in other countries, gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning for the children, however, parents and adults do not exchange gifts until New Year’s Day.

Iceland

Click here for information

Ireland
Christmas trees are brought in anytime in December and decorated with colored lights, tinsel, and other ornaments. As in America, the most popular tree toppers are the angel or the star. The house is decorated with evergreen garlands, candles, holly and ivy. Wreaths and mistletoe are hung on the door.

Italy
In Italy, as iun many Latin speaking countries, the nativity scene (presepio) is the center of decoration for Christmas.  Guests kneel before it and musicians sing before it . The presepio figures are usually hand-carved and very detailed in features and dress. The scene is often set out in the shape of a triangle. It provides the base of a pyramid-like structure called the ceppo. This is a wooden frame arranged to make a pyramid several feet high. Several tiers of thin shelves are supported by this frame. It is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pine cones and miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides. A star or small doll is hung at the apex of the triangular sides. The shelves above the manger scene have small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. The ceppo is in the old Tree of Light tradition which became the Christmas tree in other countries. Some houses even have a ceppo for each child in the family. Italians say Buono Natale! or "Happy Birthday" for Christmas.

Foods: a traditional Christmas bread, called Pantenone, which is light in texture and has nuts and fruit in it is very popular.

Japan
Few Japanese celebrate Christmas and for those who do, it is generally not a religious holiday. Christmas trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns and wind chimes. Tiny candles are also put among the tree branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan. Japanese children have exchanged thousands of folded paper "birds of peace" with young people all over the world as a pledge of peace.

Mexico
Trees: A Christmas tree is less common and is an artificial one, or a very small tree, just a bare branch cut from a tree or even a shrub gathered from the wild. 

Other: A prominently displayed elaborate Nativity scene  (el Nacimiento) is the focus of Christmas decorations in Mexico. Outdoor lights, of bright colors and often large bulbs are common. Pinatas (paper mache’ dolls) are filled with candy and coins and hung from the ceiling where children then take turns hitting them until they break, releasing candies to the floor, where the children scramble to gather as much as they can.

As a side note, the name of the Poinsettia flower comes from the American minister, Joel R. Poinsett, who brought the plant from Mexico to America in 1828, where it caught on due to its coloring. After being sold in New York stores in the late 1800’s, by 1900, they caught on nationally.  For more information click here!

Norway
Trees: Norwegians often cut their own Christmas tree, as a part of a fairly recent tradition. The Christmas tree was popularized here in the 1950's and later. The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas eve by the parents, while the children wait in another room. Then follows a Norwegian ritual known as "circling the Christmas tree." Everyone joins hands to form a ring around the tree and they then walk around it singing carols. The gifts are distributed afterwards.

Norway also is claimed to be the birthplace of the Yule log. The ancient (pagan) Norse burned a huge log on Christmas for as long as it would burn (days in some cases) in celebration of the passing of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The word "Yule" comes from the Norse word hweol, which means "wheel". The Norse myths included that the Sunday was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth.

Phillipines
Handmade trees in an variety of colors and sizes are often used in place of expensive imported pine trees. Star lanterns or parol, appear everywhere in December. They are made from bamboo sticks, covered with brightly colored rice paper or cellophane and usually feature a tassel on each point. There is usually one in every window, each representing the Star of Bethlehem. 

Poland

Click here for information about Christmas in Poland

Saudi Arabia
Christians in Saudi Arabia must celebrate Christmas privately in their own homes. Christmas lights are generally not tolerated in this Islamic country. Most Christmas families place their Christmas trees somewhere inconspicuous to avoid persecution.

South Africa
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas falls in the summer holiday in South Africa. Christmas trees are rare, but windows are often decorated with sparkling cotton, wool, and tinsel.

Spain
Colored lights are popular outside decorations, and the Nativity scene is common inside. A popular Christmas tradition is the game Catalonia, in which a tree trunk is filled with goodies and children hit at the trunk trying to knock out the hazel nuts, almonds, toffee and other treats.

Sweden
Trees: Christmas trees are put up and taken down with the usual Swedish zeal for precision: they must be up on Christmas and stay up until 12 days AFTER Christmas! The trees are decorated with stars, sunbursts and snowflakes made from straw. Other decorations include colorful wooden animals and straw centerpieces.

The celebration of St. Lucia Day on December 13 is common is Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The holiday is the start of the Christmas season and probably stems from pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, as Lucia is derived from the Latin word for "light". On December 13th, the eldest daughter in each family rises early and dressed in a long, white gown with a red sash, and wearing a crown made of twigs with nine lighted candles, wakes each of her family members . The family then eats breakfast in a room lit with candles. The Christmas dinner often includes rice pudding for dessert, into which one almond is hidden.  The finder gets good luck! Bonfires in the evening are also traditional. Men, women, and children carry torches in a parade and everyone throws their torches onto a large pile of straw.

As in much of Scandinavia, children leave their shoes on the hearth of the fireplace or on the doorstep on Christmas Eve,  in hopes of finding them filled with money, or gifts the next morning.

Ukraine
Christmas is the most popular holiday in the Ukraine.  Oddly to westerners, it is only celebrated on December 25th by Catholics: Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 7th. , During the Christmas season, which extends through New Year’s Day, people decorate fir trees and have parties. Ukrainians also prepare a huge traditional meal. By custom, the family's youngest child watches through the window for the evening star to appear, and then the feast can begin.

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