Celebrations across the world

Christmas is one of the grandest religious festivals and a widely-spread holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world.…

Celebrations across the world

Christmas tree in New York City (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Christmas is one of the grandest religious festivals and a widely-spread holiday celebrated by millions of people around the world. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols are sung and stories are told about Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar. However, Christmas traditions vary from country to country.

Iceland: The Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and marks the official start of the Christmas season in Iceland. It’s when things start getting magical, with lights shining through the winter darkness, concerts and events, and everyone getting into the Christmas spirit. Christmas trees in Iceland are made of wood and decorated with juniper branches and candles. The tradition is to decorate them just a day or two before Christmas. They then stay up for the 13 days of Christmas before they are taken down along with all other decorations. One of the best traditions, particularly for Icelandic kiddies, is putting shoe in the window. This starts 13 days before Christmas, when the Icelandic Yule Lads, who live in the mountains, start coming to town, one per night, bringing presents. Before they go to sleep, kids take one of their best shoes and leave near an open window to get filled by chocolates. Leaf bread, wafer-thin wheat breads are traditionally cut with intricate decorative patterns and are then deep-fried. During Advent, families and friends often get together to make leaf-bread. Food and cooking are a major part of Icelandic Christmas celebrations. For most people, the Christmas meal is the most special meal of the year. Popular fare at Christmas includes rjúpa, or ptarmigan, a member of the grouse family that feeds on ling, berries and herbs, and hamborgarhryggur, glazed rack of ham, traditionally a Danish meal.

Russia: Christmas in Russia is celebrated on 7 January, which is primarily a religious event. On Christmas Eve (6 January), there are several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy. The family on Christmas Eve savours ‘Holy Supper’ which consists of 12 dishes, one to honour each of the twelve Apostles. Principal dishes on the Christmas table include a variety of pork (roasted pig), stuffed pig’s head, roasted meat chunks, jelly (kholodets), and aspic. Christmas dinner also includes goose with apples, sour cream hare, venison, lamb, whole fish, etc. Finely sliced meat and pork are cooked in pots with semi-traditional porridge. Pies were indispensable dishes for Christmas, as well as other holidays, and included both closed and open style pirogi (pirozhki, vatrushkas, coulibiacs, kurnik, boats, saechki, shangi), kalachi, cooked casseroles, and blini.


Delectable sweet dishes of berries, fruit, candy, cakes, angel wings, biscuits, honey are served on the Christmas table. Beverages include drinking broths (kompot and sweet soups, sbiten), kissel, and Chinese tea.

China: In this country, 25 December is designated as a public holiday in special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Customs like trimming and lighting the Christmas tree, sending cards and gifts, and holding parties are widely popular in major cities. The prosperous commercial streets and shopping malls are well decorated and the festival music can be heard everywhere. The most popular Christmas songs in China include “Jingle Bells”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night”. Chinese companies doing business with foreigners hold some activities and give Christmas presents to their employees. Young kids go to exciting places with their families, friends or lovers. City centres, tourist areas, downtown streets are beautifully decorated and crowded with people.

Japan: Christmas in Japan is quite different from the Christmas celebrated in most countries. Christmas parties are held around the Day; Japanese Christmas cake, a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries, is often consumed.

Christmas lights decorate cities, and Christmas trees adorn living areas and malls. Presents are exchanged between people as well as close friends. The presents often include teddy bears, flowers, scarves, rings and other jewellery.

Christmas cards are also given to close friends. For the elderly couples, many hotels host dinner shows featuring major singers, actors, and actresses. They also have turkey for dinner, Christmas trees, evergreens and mistletoe (a leathery-leaved parasitic plant which grows on apple, oak, and other broadleaf trees and bears white glutinous berries in winter) in their stores and homes and even Hoeiosho, the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus, who is a Buddhist monk who bears gifts for the children.

Africa: On Christmas Day in this country carols are sung from Ghana to South Africa. Meats are roasted and gifts are exchanged between close ones and family visits are made.

A new set of clothes to be worn to the church service while singing Christmas carols. A few people in rural parts of Africa fail to afford frivolous gifts or toys. In that case gifts are exchanged in poorer communities that usually come in the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods. Celebrating Christmas dinner with friends and family tops the list after attending church. In East Africa, goats are purchased at the local market for roasting on Christmas day. In South Africa, families typically barbecue (or braai, as it is known locally), or salute their colonial British heritage with a traditional Christmas dinner complete with paper hats, mince pies and turkey or gammon.

In Ghana, Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu and okra soup; and in Liberia rice, beef and biscuits are the orders of the day. Decorating shop fronts, mango trees, churches, and homes is common throughout African Christian communities. One will find fake snow decorating store fronts in Nairobi, palm trees laden with candles in Ghana, or oil palms loaded with bells in Liberia.

Brazil: Christmas in Brazil is unique in its own way. Brazilians celebrate Christmas in summer. In the small cities in the entire country, as well as in the largest cities, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Brasília, Manaus, Belém, Natal and Belo Horizonte, the celebrations resemble in many ways the traditions in 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.

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 while fireworks fill the skies. Families gather around meals, music, and singing.