December is a festive time of year all over the world. Each year, as people prepare for the holidays and the beginning of the New Year, old traditions and legends resurface while new ones are created. While there are a number of shared, familiar Christmas traditions observed across the globe, many countries have their own ways of making the festive season unique and completely their own.
So, let’s take a look… Here are some fun Christmas and holiday traditions- new and old- from around the world!
Every holiday season, the Netherlands celebrates the arrival of Sinterklaas, the Dutch equivalent of Saint Nicholas, and his helper, “Zwarte Pieten,” or Black Pete. The duo is believed to sail to the Netherlands from Spain every year. The bulk of Dutch Christmas celebrations take place on the 5th and 6th of December, St Nicholas Day. On the 5th, children set their shoes out at night, filled with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas’ horses. If they have been good, on the 6th the children’s shoes will be filled with goodies! On St Nicholas Day, Sinterklaas and Black Pete hand out gifts to the Dutch children. Be warned, though- if you’ve been naughty, rumor has it Black Pete will put children in his sack and bring them back to Spain!
Christmas festivities officially begin in Spain on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Christmas tradition in Spain celebrates the story of the Three Kings, who deliver presents to all the children on January 6th, el Día de Reyes. There is typically a parade on January 5th, and on the eve of the visit from the Three Kings, children leave out their shoes to be filled with gifts. The tradition stems from the visit of the kings after baby Jesus was born. While Christmas celebrations mainly focus on religious elements, some cities like to add a bit of humor to the holiday cheer. The region of Catalonia has a rather, err, humorous tradition in the caganer. The caganer is a small figurine of a defecating man with his trousers around his ankles! Placed among a nativity scene, it is seen as a sign of good luck, as it fertilizes the earth! The Spanish also enjoy some fun on December 28th, the Feast of Los Santos Innocentes, which is basically April Fools Day!
Christmas traditions down under are very similar to those in North America and England, with Christmas lights and the story of Santa Claus, with one little difference- the weather! Aussies and their Kiwi neighbors celebrate Christmas in the middle of summer. While many of their traditions are similar to other countries throughout the world, the hot weather means Christmas is frequently celebrated outdoors! It’s very common to go to the beach, hold a barbeque or just spend the day outside on Christmas, rather than bundling up and enjoying a white Christmas! I wonder if Santa swaps over his reindeer for kangaroos once he hits Sydney?
In this predominantly Catholic country, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th. The holiday festivities officially begin on December 16th and from this day mass services, Misas de Aguinaldo, are held every morning until the 24th. Bells and firecrackers are sounded in the early hours to call people to mass. In the capital, Caracas, it has become tradition to roller-skate to church to attend these holiday masses! Streets are closed to traffic in the early mornings to make way for those on roller blades! And while children receive presents during the holidays, they are believed to come from baby Jesus, rather than Santa Claus. Not only does he deliver gifts on December 25, but if children leave a piece of straw out on the night of January 5th, the Three Wise Men will leave toys and candies in place of the straw. It is believed the wise men are searching for baby Jesus, and stop and leave gifts in any home that resembles a stable!
Canada and the United States share many Christmas traditions, such as having Christmas trees and hanging stockings, except for one teeny tiny detail- Santa lives in Canada! Recently, the location of Santa’s workshop was revealed to be in Canada! You can even send a letter to Santa at “Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, HO HO HO” and receive a letter back from one of his elves! So while Canada may share many of its holiday traditions, it will always be the country that houses the big man in red himself!
In Scotland New Years, or Hogmanay, is considered just as festive, if not more so, than Christmas. The celebration of Christmas was banned in Scotland for roughly 400 years, from the 17th century to the 1950s, due to the Protestant Reformation. The holiday was perceived as a Popish and Catholic tradition. Although Christmas is once again celebrated in Scotland, during its 400-year hiatus, Hogmanay became the main celebration at the end of the year. Ancient Hogmanay traditions include cleaning the house before midnight on December 31st, in an attempt to see the old year out and make room for the New Year. It was also important to clear any family debt before the New Year, as it was considered unlucky. As the clock strikes midnight, friends and family gather for a large celebration, and everyone sings Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns. In Edinburgh, there is a large celebration people travel from all over the world to experience, punctuated by a large fireworks display at midnight. Although not as common today, “first footing” is a custom that follows the New Year. To ensure good luck, the “first foot” over the door into a house should be a dark male, for good luck. It is common for the “first footer” to bring gifts, such as whisky, shortbread and a black bun, which are popular gifts today. But to put it simply, the Scottish have one big party to ring in the New Year!
In Japan, Christmas is considered less of a religious celebration, as a small percentage of the population is Christian. Christmas is, however, still a time of year to spread happiness and love in Japan. In recent years, there has been one meal in particular that is associated with Christmas: fried chicken! Restaurants such as KFC are packed on Christmas, and patrons may even need to make a reservation!