Christmas is a time of presents, anticipation, excitement and goodwill virtually anywhere in the world. In different parts of the world, however, the specific traditions used to celebrate Christmas can vary widely.
Here in America, a typical tradition at Christmas time is to leave a tray of cookies and a cup of milk out for jolly old Santa Claus. Santa makes his list of the boys and girls that have been either naughty or nice, and comes to their home on the night before Christmas. Santa will leave the good children a gift made by the elves at the North Pole, and he will leave the naughty children nothing but coal in their Christmas stockings.
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During Christmas time in Caracas, Venezuela, from December 16 to December 24, the streets are closed for the roller skating mass. Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like: a mass of people roller skating together through town. Frustrating for those trying to make their way through traffic around the streets that are closed for the holiday tradition? Perhaps, but this is a very well-known tradition in the area, and many people love to participate in it each year.
In Australia, Christmas is hot like a summer day in the U.S. In Australia, the Christmas dinner is much like the American Thanksgiving dinner. The Australian Christmas dinner typically consists of turkey, ham, pork, plum pudding, and mince pies. Australian tradition is to have Christmas dinner on a beach in the middle of the day. Perhaps the most important part of Christmas in Australia is the “Carols by Candlelight.” This event takes place on Christmas Eve, with thousands of people gathering to light candles and sing their favorite Christmas carols.
In France, Christmas time is all about the light show. Imagine that – the nation that is home to Paris, the “City of Lights,” steals the show during the most lights-focused time of the year. Examples can be found all over the country during the Christmas season; for example, during the Fête des Lumières from December 5 to December 8, Lyon features over 70 light shows that are simply breathtaking.
Christmas in Brazil is the most celebrated holiday in the country, since about 90 percent of the population of Brazil consider themselves to be Christians. Christmas is a big deal in Brazil! Because Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, it is summertime during the holiday season; temperatures can reach well above one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. December 24 is the day that begins the official Christmas celebrations. It starts with Christmas cooking, which traditionally includes codfish and turkey with beer or juice as a beverage. Because pine trees are rarely found in Brazil, households that have a Christmas party will often feature a fake tree with Christmas lights and decorations. There can be several families at each gathering, with over seventy people attending one Christmas party. The night often starts with Bingo, then comes the singing and eventually a “Secret Santa” exchange. Just before midnight, all the lights in the house are shut off (with the exception of the Christmas tree lights, of course) and the children lie in bed and await the arrival of Santa Claus.
At Christmas time in Japan, people are getting ready to order buckets and buckets of fried chicken. Rather than celebrating Christmas with a ham or turkey, as is traditional in many other parts of the world, Japanese families usually celebrate the holiday by eating loads of fried chicken. Although only about one percent of the Japanese population follows the Christian religion, ads have made it a tradition anyway to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken during Christmas. After filling up on fried chicken, it is also traditional to enjoy a heaping plate of cake for dessert.
Perhaps one of the most unique ways to celebrate the Christmas season is found in Italy. In Italy, on January 5, children await the arrival of a magical figure to bring them candy and other goodies. But it is not Santa Claus they are waiting for; no, these children are waiting for a witch named La Befana. She is portrayed as coming down the chimneys of various homes and delivering gifts, all while holding a broomstick. Instead of leaving milk and cookies for jolly old Saint Nick, Italian children leave wine and crackers for this mystic witch. However, in Norway, it is said that you must hide all of the brooms in your house or the witches will steal them and ride them off into the night. Perhaps they are headed to Italy.
In Finland, the Christmas celebrations primarily extend from December 24 to December 26. Fir trees are set up in each household on Christmas Eve. Much like during Christmas in America, people in Finland bake gingerbread cookies and other yummy treats. Finnish Christmas dinner begins on the night of Christmas Eve, at the spotting of the first star in the sky – usually between five and seven o’clock.
In Mexico, Christmas is known as La Posada. It is a tradition to carry a picture of Joseph and Mary from house to house in the search of “shelter” before the birth of Jesus Christ himself. In Mexico, Santa Claus is not usually used to symbolize Christmas like he does in America. Instead, the people of Mexico choose to use the striking red flower called the poinsettia as a symbol of the season – a tradition that has begun to catch on in other parts of the world as well.
In Germany, the Christmas celebration begins on December 6 and continues non-stop until after Christmas Day. On December 6, the baking and decorating begins. It all starts with the spiced cookies and cakes, then comes the home-made cards and gifts. One of the more well-known Christmas traditions – and one that originated here in Germany – is the creation of beautiful gingerbread houses. Christbaumgeback is the name of a German dough that can be shaped like clay before it is baked and used to decorate the Christmas tree. Although gingerbread and gingerbread houses are certainly a part of Christmas celebrations elsewhere in the world, none can match those created in Germany.