Christmas is celebrated in most countries around the world. It is fun learning about how other countries celebrate holidays because not every country celebrates the same holidays we do. This may be because of religious reasons or country history. Here are a few different traditions of a few different countries.
In France, Christmas is called Noel. This comes from the French phrase "les bonnes nouvelles," which means "the good news" and refers to the gospel. The Christmas traditions vary from northern France to southern France. In southern France, some people burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year's Day. This is to ensure good luck for the next year's harvest. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. Nearly every home in France displays a Nativity scene or crèche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. The crèche is often peopled with little saints since France is a historically Catholic country.
The Christmas tree isn't very popular in France and the use of the Yule log has even faded. On Christmas Eve, they have a very late supper held after midnight mass called the Le reveillon. The meal varies according to region. In Alsace, goose is the main course, in Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts, and the Parisians feast upon oysters and pat de foie gras. French families used to have a Three Kings Cake with a bean hidden in it. Whoever found the bean in their slice was made King, or Queen, for the day.
This day, Christmas Eve, is also called the Twelfth Day. It is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which used to be one long holiday. Once dinner is over and the family has went to bed, they leave a fire burning and food and drink on the table in case the Virgin Mary calls in. In the north of France, children are given gifts on December 6th, which is St. Nicholas' Day, instead of Christmas Day. The adults give each other presents on New Year's Day.
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In Australia, Christmas is in the summer. Some parts of Australia reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Sydney, thousands of families prepare their Christmas dinner and take it to Bondi Beach for a picnic. Australians decorate Christmas bushes, plants with little red-flowered leaves that are native to Australia.
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Brazil is a former Portuguese colony. Like many other countries they have a nativity scene. They are set up in homes, churches, and stores in December. The people of Northern Brazil enjoy a version of the play Los Pastores or "The Shepherds." It is a play about shepherdess that attempts to kidnap the Christ Child. '
Papai Noel is the gift-bringer in Brazil. Papai Noel means Father Noel. This tradition was adopted from the Santa tradition of North America. Because it is hot in Brazil during Christmastime, Papai Noel wears silk clothing. Brazilians have a tradition that we call Secret Santa, but in Brazil it is called amigo secreto which means secret friend. The game is played like this, in the beginning of December the participants write their names on a paper and then names are drawn and throughout the month. There are exchanges of the correspondence among the participants and they use fake names so as not to reveal who they really are. On Christmas day everyone gathers and reveals themselves and exchanges gifts.
A Brazilian Christmas dinner usually includes turkey, ham, colored rice, vegetable and fruit dishes. The tradition of attending Midnight Mass has faded away over the generations. They are now generally celebrated Christmas Eve afternoon or Christmas Day afternoon. "Noite Feliz" or " Silent Night" is the song most associated with Christmas in Brazil.
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India is a Hindu country, therefore there is no official celebration of Christmas. Mango and banana trees can be decorated at this time of year around the country. Occasionally, houses will be decorated with mango leaves. In some parts of India, small clay oil burning lamps are used as decoration. Poinsettias are used for decoration as well.
In Germany, the preparations for Christmas begin long before December 1st. They begin baking cookies and cakes and making gifts and decorations. A common Christmas toy is a little doll of fruit. Children like to leave letter on their windowsill for the Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. The Germans love to make gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry is a Christbaumgeback which is white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations.
December 6th is Nikolaustag, St. Claus day. On this day, a boot or shoe is left outside the door in hopes of finding a present if you had been good or a rod if you had been bad. Some parts of Germany believe that the Christ Child sends a messenger on Christmas Eve and that he bears gifts. This angel is called the Christkind. There is also a figure called Weihnachtsmann or Christmas man that looks like Santa Claus and brings gifts. Germany is known for its fairy tales, so the Christkind that bears the gifts is also accompanied by a devilish companion.
Christmas trees can be seen all over. They lay out advent wreaths of Holly with four red candles in the center and they light one each Sunday and the last on Christmas Eve. In a few homes in Germany parents will keep a room locked up until Christmas Eve and the children get woken up at midnight and get to go to the room and see the tree all lit up. The little boys in Germany dress up as kings and carry a star around the village, singing carols.
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Christmas is a deeply religious holiday in Spain. The country's patron saint is the Virgin Mary, and the Christmas season begins on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. A dance is preformed every year in front of the great Gothic Cathedral in Seville. They celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve after Christmas Dinner. There is a special Christmas dance called the Jota and the words and music have been handed down for hundreds of years.
Most homes and cathedrals will have a manger. The three wise men are the gift bearers, and the tradition is that they arrive on January 6th, which is the date that they gave their gifts to Baby Jesus. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good Night" in Spain. This is when the family gathers and rejoice and feast around the Nativity scene.
In Spain, one might eat a turron at Christmastime which a almond candy. December 28 is the feast of Holy Innocents. This feast is when the young boys of the town or village will light bonfires and one acts as a mayor who orders townspeople to do civic duties and refusing to comply results in fines that used to pay for the celebration.
The children in Spain receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It is believed that they travel through the country side each year reenacting the journey to Bethlehem. The Spanish Christmas is Navidad, where people go to church, exchange presents and play on swing sets. Swinging at the solstice time evokes an ancient desire to encourage the sun to swing even higher in the sky.
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In Russia, St. Nicholas is popular. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. During the communist years the feast of St. Nicholas was suppressed, and he was turned into Grandfather Frost, and Christmas trees were banned. Although people have "New Years Trees."
Baboushchka was the gift giver in Russia before the revolution. The story is that she failed to give food and shelter to the tree wise men and that she still roams the country side searching for the Christ Child. She has now returned openly, post communist era. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless. The most important ingredient is a porridge called Kutya. It is made of grains, which symbolize hope and immortality, honey and poppy seeds, which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. This meal is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.
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Knowing the different traditions of each country can help you to appreciate it a little more and also make you think about the traditions in your own family. Does your family have any traditions?