A Look at How Christmas is Celebrated Around the World
Merry Christmas everyone! As Christmas begins earlier and earlier each year, there’s a longer build-up before the 25th December so thank goodness we’ve finally made it… Wherever you are in the world did you enjoy Christmas Day yesterday? Were the presents you handpicked and lovingly placed under the tree adored by friends and family? Were your stockings full to burst with gifts from Father Christmas? Was the turkey and its many trimmings simply delicious? Did you start the day with the pop of a champagne bottle?
Despite many travels and adventures abroad, I’ve only spent two Christmases abroad, once in Houston aged about 12 and once on my Gap Year while working as a Chalet Girl in the Italian ski resort of Courmayeur. In Italy I finally had a Christmas with enough snow to make a serious snowman and to have decent snowball fights. Bu there’s nothing like a Christmas at home with family. Having only really experienced Christmas in the UK, US and Italy myself, I wanted to take a look at how it’s celebrated around the world. If you live outside the UK and have any interesting customs or traditions then do let me know!
Christmas in Spain
Spaniards are the experts in drawing out national holidays for as long as imaginably possible and their Christmas period lasts for a whole fortnight(!), from Christmas Eve (a far more important day than the 25th December) until the 6th January. On the 5th January there are big parades in the streets welcoming the Three Kings (los Reyes Magos in Spanish). On the evening of the 5th, Spanish children get a second dose of presents when they place their shoes in the window to allow the Three Kings to leave them presents overnight.
Christmas in France
In France, the children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve, so they can be filled with presents by Père Noël during the night. The Christmas tree will also have miraculously acquired additional decorations such as sweets, nuts and small toys during the night. Apparently in the south of France, they traditionally burn a log in the fireplace from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. And of course France is the where the buche de noel (chocolate yule log) was invented – and what a brilliant invention that was…
Christmas in Germany
Famous for its Christmas markets and wooden toys, like much of continental Europe Germany considers Christmas Eve to be the most important day of Christmas. Other important events in the lead up to Christmas are the four Sundays of Advent and the visit of St. Nicholas on the 5th December, when children put a shoe out on the evening of the 5th of December and see what was placed in it overnight!
Christmas in The United States
Over in the US they call Father Christmas ‘Santa Claus’ and they’re known worldwide for their extravagant Christmas light displays on houses – something which I personally really dislike. Having already enjoyed turkey just a few weeks earlier at Thanksgiving, many Americans may instead opt for duck or ham. As in the UK, presents are opened early on the morning of the 25th December and the typical American Christmas decoration is the candy cane.
Christmas in The United Arab Emirates
I know – it sounds odd to include an officially Islamic country on this list, but apparently the UAE still puts on quite the show for its expats at Christmas, even when temperatures are reaching about 25°C at this time of the year. Apparently the world’s most expensive Christmas tree was put up in a hotel in Abu Dhabi. Decorated with gold and gems, it cost $11 million!
Christmas in China
China is another red herring on this list, as Christianity is only practised by 2.4% of the population of China (that’s still 33 million people mind you). However in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, December 25th is a public holiday. Many Chinese enjoy the Western traditions all the same and send cards, exchange gifts and hang stockings.
I’m sure there are lots of other traditions around the world in South American countries, in Africa and other parts of the world. If you’ve celebrated Christmas somewhere unusual this year then I hope you enjoyed learning about the new traditions. Above all I hope everyone has had a chance to spend time with the people they love in their lives, and Merry Christmas from England!