The holiday spirit is one and the same, but how do celebrations differ between nations?
From advent wreaths to oversized red stockings, mince pies and carols – few occasions celebrated around the world are as festive and colourful as Christmas.
Revelries differ from one country and culture to another yet they carry the same joyful spirit as we gather friends and family to celebrate the occasion.
Here’s how people around the world spend Christmas in their own special way.
Curiously, the mountainous nation marks Christmas on 6th January, a practice that dates back to pre-Gregorian calendar days. In preparation for the big day, locals usually fast for days before enjoying a light Christmas Eve dinner with the family and perhaps a bigger meal on Christmas Day itself. As for Santa Claus, known in Armenia as Gaghant Baba, he braves firecrackers on the way to leave presents for kids on New Year’s Eve, arriving later than usual as Christmas Day is a more religious occasion.
Advent calendars are big in Denmark. Traditionally a wreath with four candles marks every Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas Eve, or Juleaften, on 24th December. What’s on the table? A typical family meal consists of roast meat paired with potatoes, gravy, red cabbage and rice pudding. The meal is concluded with family members gathering around the Christmas tree to sing festive hymns while holding hands and dancing in circles.
Yuletide celebrations start four Sundays before 25th December. On the exact occasion, the church bells ring at 6pm to signal the official festivities where friends and families eat a customary meal of smoked lamb, ptarmigan (grouse) and turkey. As a nod to folklore, children leave their shoes by the window 13 days before Christmas for the mischievous Yule Lads, which over time became a local version of Santa Claus, for them to leave small presents.
Christmas is a big occasion in Ireland and it’s common for residents to crowd the pubs on 24th December for a customary drink. People leave mince pies and a bottle of brew for Santa Claus, and a carrot for Rudolph as tradition. As for Christmas dinner, the table is usually adorned with turkey plus a selection of vegetables and desserts like pudding, cake and mince pies.
Christmas may arrive in summer in South Africa but wintery motifs are still common. With the sun shining and flowers in bloom, it’s a good time of year for camping and barbecues. Many people go carol singing on Christmas Eve and leave stockings out for Santa Claus to fill. The traditional meal may include roast meat like turkey or duck, mince pies and a traditional dessert called malva pudding.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is synonymous with Christmas in The Land of the Rising Sun – no joke. In what has become a nationwide tradition thanks to a hugely successful 1974 marketing campaign, the popular American fast-food chain is at its busiest during the festive season. Other than that, the occasion is usually celebrated with parties, exchanging gifts and devouring Japanese Christmas cake – white sponge brimming with cream and topped with strawberries.
Christmas in Nigeria is a time for gathering with family and many people will travel from the city to their village to visit older relatives. Christmas meals vary depending on the region but a meal may include turkey, sheep or chicken as well as vegetable salad, jollof rice and stew. One favourite dish is pepper soup with fish, goat or beef served with pounded yam. For gifts, cash is often given, with some, in the spirit of fun, tossing it high up in the air for guests to jump and grab.
Although the Yuletide countdown begins in September, the real build-up happens on 16th December to mark the start of the nine-day dawn masses known as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo. Churchgoers strive to complete the series of 4am masses in the belief that their wishes will be granted. On Christmas Eve on 24th December, the family gathers to share popular Noche Buena staples of queso de bola (edam cheese), hot chocolate, roast chicken, spaghetti and fruit salad.
On Christmas Eve, the Grand Market takes over the streets of Jamaica selling everything from clothing and toys to sweets and food. In the evening, people party all night long; houses are decorated with lights and street food vendors sell traditional foods like jerk chicken and sugarcane. For Christmas dinner, staples often include saltfish, fried plantains, boiled bananas, breadfruit, stewed oxtail, goat curry and gungo peas. For dessert, people often indulge in Jamaican-style fruit cake.
Each town mounts its own big Christmas tree on the main square adorned with candies, candles and even breadcrumbs for birds to feed on. Christmas markets, or Christkindlmark, are also common from late November, selling products like Christmas decorations, gingerbread, and drinks. Homes light up their own Christmas tree decorations on 24th December and families celebrate by singing carols. When it comes to dining, Austrians love chocolate, and the season is perfect for serving various kinds. At dinner time, you might find fried carp, roast goose or turkey.
Decorated banana or mango trees often serve as a substitute for traditional Christmas trees. Some also place clay lamps on roofs as a symbol of light. In states like Goa, Western traditions are incorporated such as singing carols, attending church mass and hanging paper lanterns. Favourite dishes include roast chicken or turkey and sweets like neureos, small fried pastries stuffed with dry fruit and coconut.
Santa, or at least the local version named Mikulas, comes early for children, visiting homes on 5th December. Family and friends later gather on 24th December to open presents and share a meal, traditionally made up of fish soup, rice and chicken or turkey as well as gingerbread cookies. The evening is also the moment to open presents and sing Christmas hymns.
The season is widely celebrated in the States and most homes are adorned with Christmas decorations, with some neighbourhoods even making it mandatory to do so. Carol singing is a popular tradition and many schools will host a play or pageant. As Santa Claus is much beloved throughout the country, kids love leaving a glass of milk and cookies for the jolly fella to eat during his visit. Speaking of food, Christmas dinner usually includes stuffed turkey, roast beef, roast vegetables, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin or apple pie for dessert.
Christmas trees and lights are common decorations at homes and in public places. Aside from hanging stockings for presents, children also leave mince pies for Santa Claus to keep him full for his long journey. The much-anticipated Christmas meal usually takes place during lunchtime or early afternoon and includes roast turkey with vegetables like peas and carrots plus cranberry sauce. Of course, don’t forget the Christmas pudding, mince pies and chocolates.
Unlike in most parts of the globe, Christmas season here falls during the summer. Still, the spirit of the occasion is well and truly alive with decorations such as wreaths, Christmas trees and lights or a Christmas Bush –a native tree with small green leaves and flowers. The celebratory meal may feature roast turkey, plum pudding and mince pies as well as barbecue classics like grilled seafood.