Travel With Me - Christmas Around The World
Written by Lucka
Have you ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated around the world? Well, you’ve clicked on the right article, because I will give you a tour around some pretty culturally-vivid destinations with interesting customs and traditions. Plus, there is a chance that you will learn how they celebrate this holiday in your favorite country! (Or at least learn how to say 'Merry Christmas' in five different languages.)
Christmas in Japan serves for commercial purposes rather than as a religious holiday. Traditions have been adopted from the USA, such as the giving and receiving of gifts, decorating public places with lights and decorations, etc. Needless to say, most Japanese people would rather set off to Tokyo Disneyland than celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
In terms of Japanese sweets, the traditional Christmas dessert is served in the form of a sponge cake, decorated with strawberries and whipped cream (it even has its own iPhone emoji!). However, if you expected the Japanese to enjoy huge sushi dinners on Christmas Eve, I must disappoint you. The whole family gathers in one of the popular fast-food chains instead, mostly KFC. In fact, the demand for their chicken is so high, that you must reserve a table at least 2 months in advance!
'C рождеством!' - 'S Rozhdestvom!'
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. If you’re asking ‘why?’, it’s because the Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar for religious festivities (for comparison, we use the Gregorian calendar). Accordingly, their concept of this holiday is probably the most religious of all European countries. Unlike most nations, it's not customary for Russians to give each other presents for Christmas nor decorate a Christmas tree. Instead, many people attend celebratory church services, make confessions and receive communion.
The day before Christmas is called “Sochelnik”, and it is named after the Russian dessert “Sochivo”, this being a wheat porridge topped with honey. Speaking of Sochelnik, there is a tradition to make 12 meatless dishes for this day, among which should be kutia, a porridge made of wheat, millet, rice or other grains with the addition of poppy seeds, nuts, and other toppings. All twelve dishes must be sampled, but never eaten completely, in order to ensure the prosperity of the family. However, this doesn't apply to traditional pork dishes that ought to be served at the festive dinner, especially aspic, homemade sausages, and ragout.
Photo: Russia Beyond
'Sheng Dan Kuai Le!'
Although the majority of Chinese people don't celebrate Christmas, there are still many who enjoy this time of year to the fullest. The largest cities are always full of Christmas trees and vivid decorations, and those who want to take part in this holiday wait for 'Shen Dan Lao Ren', the Chinese version of Santa Claus.
When it comes to Christmas Eve, people give their friends and family apples wrapped in coloured paper. This tradition originates from the similarity between the two Mandarin words 'Ping An Ye' (Christmas eve) and 'Ping Guo' (Apple). They also like to sing carols and those who are Christian go to the church for Midnight Mass every year.
Photo: That's Beijing
During Italian Christmas, there is probably nothing you will see more than Nativity scenes. They can be found literally everywhere - from churches and monasteries to public places and especially homes. Many Italian families possess one of these. Moreover, according to one tradition, children are expected to go carol singing and play songs on shepherd's pipes, while wearing shepherd sandals and hats.
In terms of magical creatures, have you ever heard of La Befana? If you have, you surely know that La Befana is unlike any other present-givers. She is an old and ugly witch, who comes on Epiphany Eve - a Christian holiday celebrated on January 6th - and brings gifts, fruits, and candies for the nice kids. Similarly to the Czech Republic, the naughty ones receive coal and garlic OR get kidnapped. (Lesson learned: be good and do good!)
But what about food? Well, spaghetti forgetti! Also, there is usually no meat on the table when it comes to Christmas Eve. Instead, they have a light seafood meal - the types of fish being served depend on the region - and they head straight to the church for Midnight Mass. Then, they may have a slice of Panettone, a very popular fruit sponge cake.
Filipinos are definitely one of the most excited nations in terms of Christmas. If you visit any local shops, you can hear Christmas carols playing as early as September! Celebrations officially start on 16th December - when many people attend the first masses - and continue until Epiphany day (again, January 6th). It is important to mention that about 80% of Filipinos are Catholic. In fact, it is the only Asian country with so many Christians. Accordingly, that's what makes this holiday so popular in the Philippines.
Their Christmas customs are a mix of Western and native Philippine culture. Hence, Filipinos have a Santa Claus, decorated Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and much more! But in spite of being bombarded by Western customs, there is one special, entirely Filipino tradition. This includes having a Christmas lantern, which is called 'paról'. It is star-shaped and is supposed to represent the star of Bethlehem. Some people make them out of bamboo strips and coloured paper, but they can also be bought at Christmas markets.
Like the majority of Christians, Filipinos also attend Midnight Mass, followed by a great midnight feast, called 'Noche Buena'. This event is celebrated with family, friends, and often also with neighbours. When it comes to food, the typical Filipino dishes, compared to Italian Christmas dinner, include a lot more meat, for example, lechon (roasted pig), and ham. To balance it out, fruit salad, rice cakes or steamed rice is served as well, along with some other sweets.
Bonus: Catalan 'Christmas Poo'
Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain, which consists of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona and is known for one very special tradition. Every year, 'Caganers' - pooping figurines of peasants - are placed in the Nativity scene. A lot of people have them in their houses as well. They serve as a symbol of luck and fertility, and many families move them from room to room to 'fertilize' the land. There is also a children's game linked to this when they have to find the hidden Caganer.
However, it doesn't end there! Catalonian children go further. They look after their 'tió' - a log propped up on sticks (yes, literally a piece of wood), which has a painted face, a barretina hat, and a blanket. If the children take good care of their tió (keep it warm, feed it, etc.), it 'poops out' gifts or sweets on Christmas Day. But of course, that can happen only under one condition, they have to beat it with sticks and sing a traditional ditty.
Let me know if you are interested in any other countries and/or you would like a part two. I'm open to suggestions! Have the Merriest Christmas!
Combs, Sydney. “How Christmas is celebrated around the world.” Nationalgeographic.com ,
Kids-world-travel-guide.com. “Christmas traditions.”
RussianPod101.com “How to Say 'Merry Christmas' in Russian.”
WhyChristmas.com. “Find out how Christmas Traditions and how Christmas is celebrated in lots of different countries and cultures around the world!”
Catalan News. “Why do Catalan Christmas traditions involve poo?”
Helena Daily English, “Christmas Around the World: Britain, Russia, USA, Canada, Sweden, China, Japan.” Youtube.com,
Russian Holidays - Christmas - Рождество Христово.” Youtube.com,