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Christmas Traditions Around the World

by Richard Stupart Dec 5, 2010

Widely celebrated around the world, Christmas has become an annual part of many different cultures. Depending where you find yourself on the 25th of December (or in some places another date altogether), it may take on a unique local flavor.

Colosseum Christmas, Italy

In Italy, Christmas decorations may traditionally be put up on the 8th of December, a national holiday. Depending on the region, Christmas gifts might be given on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas Day. Decorations are taken down on the 6th of January and in some areas, female puppets called falò are burned on a pyre to signal, along with the end of Christmas, the end of the old year and beginning of the new. 

Pig roast, Philippines

While pig roasts occur year round, in some countries they are the main holiday dish at Christmas. In the Philippines, the pig may be stuffed with spices and roasted on a bamboo spit over hot coals. In Puerto Rico, the unfortunate holiday swine is prepared with a wet seasoning, adobo mojado, that contains crushed garlic, black pepper, salt, olive oil, and wine vinegar.

Shoes by the fireplace, France

Unlike the tradition of hanging socks by the fireplace, many French children will put shoes out for Papa Noël (Father Christmas) to put presents into.

January Christmas, Ethiopia

Christmas is widely and seriously observed in Ethiopia by its Orthodox Christian majority. As the country follows a calendar based on traditional Coptic calendars (which denote the current year as 2003 like the Julian calendar), Ethiopians will celebrate Christmas on January 7th.

Christmas in Brazil

Brazilian Christmas follows similar traditions to Northern Europe and America. Some cities, such as Curitaba, will have decoration contests where judges will inspect interior and exterior decorations of competing houses to proclaim the most beautiful.

Scary Ruprecht, Germany

In some parts of Germany, St. Nicholas will come and visit children on St. Nicholas’ Day, giving out sweets. Sometimes he will be accompanied by his servant Ruprecht, dressed in dark clothes and occasionally with a devil’s tongue. Ruprecht carries a stick or a whip to, in theory, punish naughty children. Nowadays, he mostly hangs around looking scary and reminding German kids to behave ahead of Christmas.

Santa on a horse, India

In India, Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are often replaced by a horse and cart. Although Christians only make up about 3% of the country’s population, Christianity has a long history in India, allegedly founded by the Apostle Thomas himself.

Christmas pudding, British Isles

Christmas pudding is a boiled pudding with its origins in England and Ireland, later becoming popular in many other countries. Unlike many other puddings or cakes, Christmas pudding is boiled, rather than baked, and often for hours. Many Christmas pudding chefs would bake coins or other trinkets into the dessert, for those finding them to keep. Learn to make your own here

Julian Christmas, Russia

  1. Christmas in Russia is actually celebrated on the 7th of January like it is in Ethiopia. The Russian Orthodox Church still operates according to the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar of the rest of the world. As a result, Christmas gets bumped back almost a fortnight until after the New Year.

Carols by Candlelight, Australia

While Christmas traditions in Australia are very similar to the UK and many other Commonwealth countries, it is less well known that the country is responsible for starting the tradition of Carols by Candlelight. The practice began in 1938 after Norman Banks, a radio announcer with Melbourne station 3KZ saw a woman singing Away in a Manger by candlelight and had the idea to organise a large candle-lit singalong.

Stollen, Germany

11.Made in Germany, Stollen (or Christstollen) is a fruitcake with spices including cardamom and cinnamon, sprinkled with icing sugar and encrusted with raisins, walnuts, almonds and, if you are lucky, a core of marzipan. Make your own with a recipe here.

Salvation Army ringers, US

12.Salvation Army bell ringers in the US collect money for charity during the Christmas season.

Carp dinner, Czech Republic

One of the first to begin celebrations, the Czech Republic begins Christmas on 24 December, though the 25th is a public holiday too. For a change, carp is a popular dish for Christmas dinner in this part of the world.

Pan de Jamon, Venezuela

Traditionally made for Christmas in Venezuela, Pan de Jamon is a sweet dough bread containing raisins, ham, and pimento-stuffed olives. Its origins can be traced back to a bakery in Caracas in 1905, which first baked the bread as a way of using up leftover ham from Christmas dinner. Make your own with this recipe.

Secular Christmas, Japan

Christmas in Japan is both popular and secular. Christmas is not a national holiday in the country, though gift giving is popular. Japan’s first Christmas was held way back in 1552 by Jesuit priests in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The Yule Goat, Scandanavia

In Scandinavia, the Julbock or ‘Yule Goat’ is the traditional bringer of gifts at Christmas time. Large versions of the goat are frequently put up in towns and villages over the festive season, while in older traditions, smaller-sized versions of the animal made of straw or wood would be snuck into people’s houses as a prank. Houses finding goats in them had to pass them on by pranking others.

Bolo Rei, Portugal

Quite literally a king among fruitcakes, the Bolo Rei is usually eaten around Christmas in Portugal. The Bolo is round with a hole in the middle and is covered with crystallized and dried fruit. Sometimes a small prize, such as a toy, may be baked into the cake as well.

Christmas ornaments, Germany

The glass-blown Christmas bauble decorations now used on trees all over the world have their origins in the German town of Lauscha, where artisans first began making them in 1847. Having since grown into a worldwide phenomenon, the Christmas decoration industry ranks second to gifts in seasonal sales of thousands of different designs.

Christmas lights, Germany

The practice of using small candles to light up a Christmas tree dates back as far as 17th-century Germany. Candles were pinned to the tree using wax or pins until the use of candle holders around 1890 significantly reduced the likelihood of burning down your tree (and house). Now electrified and widely popular, untangling Christmas lights has become a sub-tradition the world over. 

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