CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
Well, here we are again! It’s that time of year and everyone is extra busy! Every family celebrates in their own unique way and every country has centuries old traditions that are enjoyed year in, year out.
Here are a few Christmas traditions from around the world – a glimpse into what everyone is up to whilst here in the UK we tuck into roast turkey with all the trimmings!
Quite familiar and similar celebratory traditions as the UK, but of course it is the start of their summer so they have adapted accordingly! Christmas Day then is usually spent on the beach with family and lunch is taken al fresco in the back yard. Christmas food centres around seafood, although they do cook turkey and ham, but will serve it cold.
Children believe in Santa Claus and presents are left under the tree on Christmas Eve. Instead of reindeer, one popular Australian song states that six white boomers (large kangaroos!) pull Santa’s sleigh!
On Christmas Eve, there is also an annual tradition of Carols by Candlelight. This was popularised in Melbourne in 1938 and crowds gather in parks and outdoor venues to listen to carols. The largest of the carols by candlelight events in Melbourne is broadcast throughout Australia.
Though the majority of Indians are Hindu, millions of people still celebrate Christmas in India (called Bada Din, meaning Big Day). The Christian population in India is relatively small – only 2.3% of the nation is Christian. However, as the population of the country is over 1 billion, there are approximately 25 million Christians in India.
A special tradition is attending Midnight Mass with family and friends. Churches are decorated with poinsettia flowers and candles, especially for this important service. Afterwards, there is a feast of different delicacies (often biryanis, a dish made with rice and meat), and gifts are exchanged.
Some families display small clay oil-burning lamps (to show Jesus is the light of the world) and decorate their homes with banana or mango leaves. Mango leaves are an important tradition because the mango tree is considered sacred, and its leaves are used to decorate on special occasions.
Many people start preparing for Christmas in India as early as a month ahead by cleaning their homes in preparation for guests. They also make a traditional cake, or a sweet rice pudding called kheer to be shared with family and friends.
In recent years, the celebration of Christmas has been adopted by the non-Christian communities of India, and more secular traditions have become more common, including the exchanging of presents and Santa Claus. In India, Santa delivers presents to children from a horse-drawn cart. Because many different languages are spoken in India, he’s known as ‘Christmas Baba’ in Hindi, or ‘Baba Christmas’ in Urdu (Father Christmas), ‘Christmas Taathaa’ in Tamil and ‘Christmas Thatha’ in Telugu (Christmas Old Man), ‘Natal Bua’ in Marathi (Christmas Elder Man), and ‘Christmas Papa’ in Kerala.
In Denmark most people go to a church service on Christmas Eve at about 4pm to hear the Christmas sermon. It is an old tradition to give animals a treat on Christmas Eve too, so some people go for a walk in the park or woods and take food to feed the birds and animals.
The main festive meal is dinner on Christmas Eve, traditionally served between 6 and 8pm. Popular foods are roast duck, goose or pork and this is served with boiled and sweet potatoes, red cabbage, beetroot and cranberry jam/sauce.
For pudding, most families have a ‘ris á la mande’ (a special kind of rice pudding, made of milk, rice, vanilla, almonds and whipped cream). All but one of the almonds are chopped into pieces. The person who finds the whole almond gets a present called a Mandelgave (almond present). Traditionally the little present was a marzipan pig now it is usually sweets or a little toy.
After the meal the lights on the Christmas Tree are lit, people might sing carols around the tree, then it is time for people to open their presents.
On Christmas day itself, people meet with their family and have a big lunch together with Danish open sandwiches on rye-bread.
Father Christmas (‘Pai Natal’) is believed to bring presents to children on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. The presents are left under the Christmas tree or in shoes left by the fireplace. However, some people say that the presents are brought by the Baby Jesus rather than Father Christmas.
Like in Spain, the traditional Christmas meal in Portugal, called ‘Consoada’, is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve and consists of codfish with green vegetables and boiled potatoes. This is normally followed by shellfish, wild meats or other expensive foods.
After the meal, people go to church for the ‘Missa do Galo’ or ‘Mass of the Rooster’ service. During the service an image of baby Jesus is brought out, and everyone queues up to kiss it. It is then put in the nativity scene (the presépio). After the service people return home to open their presents.
Before leaving for the service, parents will secretly put the baby Jesus in the nativity scene in their houses and put gifts under the Christmas tree so that Jesus will ‘miraculously’ be in his manger by the time the family returns home. Children run to check the nativity scene as soon as they enter the house as no baby Jesus means no presents!
However you are celebrating, enjoy the festivities!