Christmas worldwide

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The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, and/or the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkindl or Grandfather Frost. The sending of Christmas cards, the exchange of Christmastime greetings, observance of fasting and/or special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas time is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.

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Africa

Nigeria

Religion in Nigeria is about equally divided between Christianity (prevalent in the south) and Islam (prevalent in the north), resulting in occasional outbreaks of religious conflict. The Islamic sect Boko Haram has attacked Christian churches with bombings on Christmas 2011.

Christmas Day is a public holiday in Nigeria which is marked by the emptying of towns and cities as Nigerians that have been successful returning to their ancestral villages to be with family and to bless those less fortunate.[1][2] As the towns and cities empty, people jam the West African markets to buy and transport live chickens, goats and cows that will be needed for the Christmas meals.[3]

On Christmas Eve, traditional meals are prepared according to the traditions of each region. Rather than having sweets and cakes, Nigerians as a whole tend to prepare various meats in large quantities.[3] In the south, a dish called Jollof rice is served with stews of various meats along with boiled beans and fried plantains; in the north, a tuwo, a rice pudding served with various meat stews, is preferred.[3] An alternative in both regions (but more favored in the south) is a pepper soup with fish, goat, or beef which may also be served with Fufu (pounded yam).[3] Served with this food are an array of mainly alcoholic drinks such as the traditional palm wine or various local and imported beers and wines; children and women may be served locally made soft-drink equivalents instead.[3]

Gift giving in Nigeria often involves money and the flow of gifts from the more fortunate to the less so.[4] After the "successful" visitors have come from their towns, cities, and even overseas, they are given time to settle in. Afterwards, local relatives begin approaching them asking for assistance of some kind, whether financial or not.[4] Financial donations and elaborately wrapped gifts may be given out at lavish parties, weddings, and ceremonies; sometimes the money is scattered in the air to be grabbed by the others or stuck on to the sweaty foreheads of those dancing.[4]

Asia

South Asia

Bangladesh

Christmas Day is a national holiday in Bangladesh. Bengali Christians celebrate the day as the Borodin, or Great Day, and greet family and friends by saying Shubho Borodin, or Greetings of the Great Day. The secular celebration of Christmas is also popular with the urban middle class in the country.

Republic of India

Being a British colony until 1947, many British traditions stayed on in India.[5] Christmas is a state holiday in India, although Christianity in India is a minority with only 2.3%[6] of the population. Sincere devotees attend the church services. In many of the schools that are run by the Christian missionaries, the children actively participate in the programmes. Also in many non-religious schools, there is tradition of christmas celebration.

Christmas is also known as bada din (the big day). Commercialisation and open markets are however bringing more secular Christmas celebration to the public sphere, even though it is not widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Days before the festival, markets take a colourful look as they are decorated with traditional Christmas trees, stars, images of Santa, balloons and festoons. Gift marketers too create many goods for Christmas and support them by launching advertising campaigns through newspapers, radio and television.

Pakistan

Christmas ceremony in Karachi, Pakistan

In Pakistan, Christmas is celebrated by Pakistani Christians and is often locally referred to as the "Big Day" or "Great Day". While December 25 is a public holiday in Pakistan, it is not officially designated as Christmas, but rather as the birthday of Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

Christianity in Pakistan constitutes the second largest religious minority community in Pakistan after Hindus. The total number of Christians is approximately 2,800,000 in 2008, or 1.6% of the population. Of these, approximately half are Roman Catholic and half Protestant. Christians celebrate Christmas by going from house to house singing carols, and in return the family offers something to the choir. Mostly the money collected from such carols is used for charity works or is given to the church. Their homes are decorated with local Christmas handicrafts while artificial stars signifying the Star of Bethlehem are hung on rooftops. Christmas celebrations are also popular with the urban middle class in the country with hotels, cafes, restaurants and theme parks hosting festivities and special events.[7]

East Asia

China (People's Republic)

In the People's Republic of China, December 25 is not a legal holiday. However, it is still designated as a public holiday in China's special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, both former colonies of Western powers with (nominal) Christian cultural heritage.

In the mainland, the small percentage of Chinese citizens who consider themselves Christians unofficially, and usually privately, observe Christmas.[8] Many other individuals celebrate Christmas-like festivities even though they do not consider themselves Christians. Many customs, including sending cards, exchanging gifts, and hanging stockings are very similar to Western celebrations.[8] Commercial Christmas decorations, signs, and other symbolic items have become increasingly prevalent during the month of December in large urban centres of mainland China, reflecting a cultural interest in this Western phenomenon, and, sometimes, retail marketing campaigns as well.

In Hong Kong, where Christmas is a public holiday and a major retail period,[9] many buildings facing Victoria Harbour will be decked out in Christmas lights. Christmas trees are found in major malls and other public buildings,[10] and in some homes as well, despite the small living area. Catholics in Hong Kong can attend Christmas Mass.[11]

Republic of China (Taiwan)

Christmas tree on the Taipei 101 building in Taipei.

In Taiwan, Christmas is not officially celebrated or legally recognized. However, coincidentally, 25 December is the date of the signing of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 1947, officially the Constitution Day (zh:行憲紀念日). Hence there was already an official holiday on that date designated in 1963 by the Executive Yuan,[12] which is largely, though unofficially, treated as if it were Christmas. In order to avoid having too many legal holidays when phasing in the two-days-off-per-week plan, the Constitution Day is no longer a full legal holiday with a day off since 2011.

Japan

Encouraged by commerce, the secular celebration of Christmas is popular in Japan, though Christmas is not a national holiday. Gifts are sometimes exchanged.[13] Christmas parties are held around Christmas Day; Japanese Christmas cake is often a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries. Christmas lights decorate cities, and Christmas trees adorn living areas and malls.[13] Christmas Eve has become a holiday for couples to spend time together[13] and exchange gifts. A successful advertising campaign in the 1970s made eating at KFC around Christmas a national custom. Its chicken meals are so popular during the season that stores take reservations months in advance.[14]

Christmas lights in Tokyo

The first recorded Christmas in Japan was a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. Some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held before this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan. Christianity was banned throughout Japan in 1612. However, a small enclave of Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians") continued to practice underground over the next 250 years.

Christianity in Japan along with Christmas reemerged in the Meiji period. Influenced by America, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread, but its proximity to the New Year's celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all celebrations, especially American, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with an expanding economy, and influenced by American TV, Christmas became popular. Many songs and TV series present Christmas as romantic, for example "Last Christmas" by Exile.

The birthday of the current emperor, Akihito, on December 23 is a national holiday. Businesses soon close for the New Year's holidays, reopening after January 3.

South Korea

The new Cheonggyecheon river in Seoul, South Korea at Christmas time

In South Korea Christmas carries different meaning for individuals. Some people treat Christmas in South Korea as another passing phase of life, whereas some people take it as a time of sharing moments of enjoyment with family and friends. To a few people, in South Korea Christmas means to do sacrifices and charity works.

Of the total Korean population roughly half adheres to no religion, a quarter to Buddhism and quarter to Christianity. Therefore, the religious aspect of Christmas is celebrated by the Christian population.

During Christmas in South Korea, most of the Christian people exchange gifts among themselves. Mostly money is given as a token of gift also other articles are exchanged like jewelry, flowers, books, shoes, bags, and attires. Houses are decorated with lanterns, lights, and colorful paper arts. Christmas trees are found from the windows and also on the pavements of Christian houses.

Lots of entertainments are arranged for Children during Christmas in South Korea, of which the most popular is the Santa Claus. In the country, several Santa Clauses can be found roaming in costumes offering chocolates and cakes to children passing by.

During Christmas Nights various restaurants offer special cuisines, and dance floors are made in red carpets and flowers to make the environment special. Christian people in South Korea make cakes, meat loafs, rice and other traditional culinary at home and have feasts with family and friends.

Southeast Asia

Indonesia

Christmas in Indonesia is a popular festival and a national holiday, despite Christianity in Indonesia only accounting for 8% of the population. While Christians revere Jesus as the Son of God, Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet of God. Christmas is also popular among the animist and Hindu populations in Indonesia.

In 2000, the feast was overshadowed by the Christmas Eve 2000 Indonesia bombings.

Malaysia

Although Christmas is a public holiday in Malaysia, much of the public celebration is commercial in nature and has no overt religious overtones. Occasionally, Christian activist groups do buy newspaper advertorials on Christmas or Easter but this is largely only allowed in English newspapers and permission is not given every year. The advertorials themselves are usually indirect statements. There has been controversy over whether or not the national government has exerted pressure on Malaysian Christians not to use Christian religious symbols and hymns that specifically mention Jesus Christ.[15]

Philippines

Parols are an iconic display in the Philippines during its long Christmas season
The University of Santo Tomas – UST Main Building illuminating the nights of December 2007

Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia (the other one being South Korea), is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and is widely celebrated. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September 1. The season is traditionally ushered in by the nine-day dawn Masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) in the traditional Spanish. These Masses are more popularly known in Tagalog as the Simbang Gabi. Usually, aside from the already legal holidays which are Rizal Day (December 30) and New Year's Eve (December 31), other days in close proximity such as Christmas Eve (December 24), Niños Inocentes (December 28), and the Epiphany (traditionally, January 6 but now on the first Sunday of January) are also declared non-working days.

As in many East Asian countries, secular Christmas displays are common both in business establishments and in public, including lights, Christmas trees, depictions of Santa Claus (despite the tropical climate), and Christmas greetings in English and various Philippine languages and dialects. Occasionally such displays are left in place even in summer for example the parol representing the "Star of Bethlehem" which led the Three Kings to the newborn Baby Jesus.

In the capital Manila, Christmas Day is the start of the annual Metro Manila Film Festival during which locally produced films are featured in the city's theatres. The festival actually starts the day before with an annual float parade.

For Filipinos, Christmas Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Pasko ; Spanish: Víspera del Día de Navidad) on December 24 is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and immediately after, the much-anticipated Noche Buena – the traditional Christmas Eve feast. Family members dine together around 12 midnight on traditional Nochebuena fare, which may include: queso de bola (English: "ball of cheese"; this is actually edam cheese), tsokolate (a hot chocolate drink), and jamón (Christmas ham), lechón, roast chicken or turkey, pasta, relleno (stuffed bangus or chicken), pan de sal, and various desserts including cakes and the ubiquitous fruit salad. Some would also open presents at this time.

On December 31, New Year's Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Bagong Taon ; Spanish: Víspera del Año Nuevo), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the campaign against firecrackers, many Filipinos still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are also supposed to drive away bad spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight in the belief that they will grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in good luck.

Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes in Spanish or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany (Spanish: Fiesta de Epifanía). The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on January 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, in the belief that the Three Kings will leave gifts like candy or money inside. But the celebrations do not end there, they on on January 11 or the second Sunday of January in honor of the Lord Jesus's baptism in the Jordan. The final salvo of these celebrations is marked by the feast of the Black Nazarene every January 9 in Manila, but can also, due to the celebrations in honor of the Santo Niño in the third and fourth Sundays of January in some places, can even extend till the final weeks of that month.

Singapore

Christmas is a public holiday in Singapore that is widely celebrated.[16] The Christmas season is also a popular period for shopping malls and business to conduct year-end sales, and will offer discounts and promotions that tie in with the festivities. The famous Singaporean shopping belt Orchard Road, as well as the Marina Bay area will feature lights and other decorations from early November till early January. The Christmas light-up and decorated shopping malls along Orchard Road often attract numerous visitors, locals and tourists alike. Other than the light-up, other activities such as caroling, concerts and parades can also be experienced in Orchard Road. In addition, companies in Singapore usually arrange gift exchange programs on the last working day before Christmas.

Southwest Asia

Israel and the Palestinian territories

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah falls at approximately the same time, but it has not undergone the same osmosis of Christmas-like practices (such as exchange of gifts) that the holiday has in the United States and Europe. Most Israeli Arabs are Muslim, and thus do not celebrate Christmas either, but there is a minority of Christian Israeli Arabs who do celebrate Christmas. Given the diversity of denominations among Christian Israeli Arabs, some celebrate with the Western Churches on the Gregorian 25 December, and others with the Eastern Churches on the Gregorian 7 January (Julian 25 December).

The pattern of Christmas observance among the Palestinians residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Palestinian territories is similar to that of Israeli Arabs across the Green Line.

Although Christianity is a minority in Israel, Christmas is important in both areas due to the region's significance as the place where Jesus lived, and as a destination for Christian pilgrims around the world, especially during Christmas time. Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, lies in the West Bank, with the Church of the Nativity being a prominent symbol of the city for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as a site of pilgrimage for thousands annually. Nazareth, Jesus' hometown and another pilgrimage site, is a mixed Jewish/Israeli Arab city lying in northern Israel. Finally, Jerusalem contains the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; although it is overall the largest centre of Christian pilgrimage, its associations with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus tend to focus pilgrimage towards Eastertide rather than Christmas. Christian pilgrimage makes up a significant proportion of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank, and accounts for a substantial proportion of tourism in Israel.

Lebanon

Christmas tree in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon

Christmas Day is a national holiday in Lebanon. For Lebanese Christians it is one of the most important holidays of the year; many Lebanese Muslims celebrate Christmas as well, often with Christian friends and neighbors. A poll has shown that some two thirds of the Lebanese people celebrate Christmas, while less than half of the population is Christian. Marketing and commercialization are bringing a more secular celebration of Christmas to the Lebanese public; many families of Lebanese Muslims also decorate their homes with Christmas trees during the holiday season.

Christmas lights fill the roads and streets of many Lebanese towns. Homes are also decorated, with many Christian families setting up a Christmas tree, and a creche, or Nativity Scene, with miniature figures of the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, in addition to the shepherds and the three Kings of Orient. Churches in Lebanon are open for midnight mass and hymns, while Christmas dinner and visits are common among family and friends. Lebanese Christmas food is a blend of Western and local Middle Eastern flare. It is normal to have traditional Lebanese dishes alongside a turkey as well, for example. Various alcoholic beverages are served, wine being the most common. Christmas concerts are popular, as are carols, whether local or Western; Christmas carols and hymns are played and sung constantly throughout the month of December, and continue to be heard well into the new year, particularly because of the Armenian Christmas, which is celebrated on January 6. Lebanese fashion designer Elie Saab, who is an international celebrity, donates a giant Christmas tree, 25 meters tall, every year, for public display in Downtown Beirut. Christmas greetings are often given in French or English.

Americas

Christmas is observed widely on December 25. Governments recognizing the holiday include those of: the United States, where it is a federal holiday for federal employees and a legal holiday in the respective States; Canada, where it is a nationwide statutory holiday; Mexico, where it is a statutory holiday; and several others.

United States and Canada

U.S. Army Servicemembers celebrating Christmas Eve while stationed abroad at Victory Base Complex, Iraq, Dec. 24, 2008. Photo by Spc. Eric J. Glassey.
Christmas at Rockefeller Center, located in New York City.
Boxing Day at the Toronto Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada.

Christmas is a widely celebrated festive holiday in the United States and Canada, irrespective of religion. The Christmas holiday season begins in the end of November and ends in the beginning of January.

The Christmas traditions are most similar to those in England, but the traditions their own distinct style. The interior and exterior of houses are decorated during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. Christmas tree farms in the United States and Canada provide families with trees for their homes, many opting for arificial ones, but some for real ones. The Christmas tree usually stands centrally in the home, decorated with ornaments, tinsel and lights, with an angel or a star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem at the top.

Christmas Eve is popularly described as "the night before Christmas" in the poem actually titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas". Better known as Santa Claus, he is said to visit homes while children are sleeping during the night before Christmas morning. The fireplaces has been replaced in many homes with an electric fireplaces, but the yule log has remained a tradition. Christmas stockings are hung on the mantelpiece for Santa Claus to fill with little gifts ("stocking stuffers"). It is tradition throughout the United States and Canada, for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of Christmas cookies for Santa Claus nearby.[17]

Presents the family will exchange are wrapped and placed near the tree, including presents to be given to pets.[18] Friends exchange wrapped presents and tell each other, "Do not open before Christmas!" Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and occasionally guests from out of town are entertained in the home or else visited. Wrapped presents are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, other families choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved; for example, adults might open their presents on Christmas Eve and minor children on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. Others follow the tradition of opening family-exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve night, followed by opening of the presents Santa brought on Christmas morning. Children are normally allowed to play with their new toys and games afterwards.

The traditional Christmas dinner usually features either roasted turkey with stuffing (sometimes called dressing), ham, or roast beef and Yorkshire puddings. Potatoes, squash, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce are served along with tonics and sherries. Mince pies, plum pudding and Christmas cake are served in Canada as Christmas desserts. A variety of sweet pastry and egg nog sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg are served in the United States. Certain dishes such as casseroles and desserts are prepared with a family recipe (usually kept a secret). Fruits, nuts, cheeses and chocolates are enjoyed as snacks.[19][20][21]

Other traditions include a special church service on the Sunday before Christmas and Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Candlelight services are held earlier in the evening for families with children. A re-enactment of the Nativity of Jesus called a Nativity play is another tradition.

Christmas in Ottawa, Canada

Christmas-related tourist attractions, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and elaborate animated department store windows in New York City are heavily visited by tourists from all over the world. Christmas music can be heard in the background. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one whose annual carol singing is well-recognized; another example is the Boys choir heard singing Christmas Time Is Here,[22] a song featured in the animated television special "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Christmas symphony and choral presentation such as Handel's Messiah and performances of The Nutcracker ballet are attended. Local radio stations may temporarily switch format to play exclusively Christmas music, some going to an all-Christmas format as early as mid-October.[23] A few television stations broadcast a Yule Log without interruption for several hours. News broadcasts and talk shows feature Christmas-themed segments, emphasizing fellowship and goodwill among neighbors. Of particular note is the observance of Christmas for military families of soldiers and sailors serving abroad, on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

In the east-central Canadian province of Quebec and other French-speaking areas of North America, Christmas traditions include réveillon, Père Noël ("Father Christmas") and the bûche de Noël (Yule log), among many others. Christmas crackers are another tradition throughout Canada. The observation of Boxing Day (which coincides with the Christian Feast of St. Stephen) on the day following Christmas Day, December 26, is a tradition practiced in Canada, as it is in the other Commonwealth Realms, although not in the United States. The Royal Christmas Message from Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada is televised nationwide in Canada, the occasion being an observance which unites Canadians with citizens of the other Commonwealth Realms worldwide.

Latin America

El Salvador

In El Salvador kids celebrate Christmas by playing with firecrackers, fountains, such as the small volcancitos ("little volcanos") and sparklers, estrellitas ("little stars"). Older kids and young adults display bigger fireworks or Roman Candles. Families also have parties in which they dance and eat. Traditional Salvadoran Christmas dishes are sauteed turkey sandwiches in a baguette with lettuce and radishes, Salvadoran Tamales, and sweet bread for dessert. Drinks include hot chocolate, pineapple juice, Salvadoran horchata, Cherry Salvadoran horchata, and coffee. At 12:00 a.m. on December 25 everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and opens their presents.

Brazil

The São Paulo's Christmas Tree and water fountains at Ibirapuera Park.

Christmas Day on December 25 is a national holiday in Brazil. In the small cities in the entire country, as well as in the largest cities, like São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Brasília, Manaus, Belém, Natal and Belo Horizonte, the celebrations resemble in many ways the traditions in Europe and North America, with the Christmas tree, the exchanging of gifts and Christmas cards, the decoration of houses and buildings with electric lights and the nativity scene. Despite the warm tropical summer weather, some incongruences such as decorations with themes of winter and snow are not uncommon. In some cities like Curitiba, there are decoration contests, when judges go to houses to look at the decorations, inside or outside of the house, and decide the most beautiful house. Christmas Eve is the most important day. At midnight on December 24 the churches celebrate the "Missa do Galo" (the rooster's mass).

Colombia

Medellín River during Christmas 2004, in Medellín, Colombia.

Christmas is a public holiday in Colombia and is primarily a religious celebration. Presents are brought by El Niño Jesus / Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) instead of Papá Noél (Santa Claus), whose gift giving role has been downplayed some by the Church. However, Santa Claus is still an important Christmas figure, as Santa decorations are common, and Santa can be seen posing for pictures at shopping malls.

While Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November, the unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7, Día de las Velitas, or "Day of the Candles." At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8. In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual "tunnels of light." Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event. Activities such as musical events and firework displays are planned by cities and held during this time. Individually launched fireworks were a common item during the Christmas season in Colombia, often going on at any time of the day in many cities. However, a recent ban has decreased the individual use of fireworks, and now only cities or towns are able to hold firework displays.

December 16 is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Catholic Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a "pesebre" (manger scene), sing religious Christmas carols called villancicos accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. Novenas serve as beautiful religious gatherings as well as learning environments for young children since kids have a central and active role in the celebration of the Novenas (they read prayers, sing, and play instruments guided by their family). From December 16 to 18, games called "aguinaldos" are played after having made a "pinky promise" deciding the prize for the winner and the punishment for the loser. The games include "Hablar y no contestar" (Give but don't receive), "Pajita en boca" (Straw in the mouth), "Tres pies" (Three feet), "Beso robado" (Stolen kisses), and "Si y al no" (Yes or no). Churches offer dawn and nightly masses during the nine days of the novena, culminating with the Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) on Christmas Eve at midnight.

Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Families gather around meals, music, and singing. Because Christmas Eve is the most important day, little occurs on December 25. Families join Christmas Day mass although it is not nearly as festive as Christmas Eve.

The "Dia de los Santos Inocentes", or the Day of the Innocents, falls in the Christmas season, on December 28. The day commemorates the innocent infants (called the innocent ones) who were said to have been killed by King Herod in fear of the power of the newborn baby, Jesus. 6 January, the day of the Revelation of the Magi (Epiphany), is called "Reyes Magos" (from The Three Magi), used to be a day of gift giving, but is celebrated less now since gifts are given mostly around Christmas Eve today. Some families still give presents, and it is also the day when godparents give Christmas presents.

Guatemala

Christmas in Guatemala is very specific. They dress up in whats called a Purtina. Its a fancy hat they put on and dance in a line. Guatemalans speak Spanish so they sing Spanish songs along with it. So they sing and dance and have a little fiesta with it.[24]

Mexico

Niño de las Suertes.

Christmas is a statutory holiday in Mexico and workers can have the day off with pay. Mexico's Christmas traditions are based on Mexico's form of Roman Catholicism and popular culture traditions also called Las Posadas.

Christmas is filled with over 30 traditions found only within Mexican Christmas. Over nine days, groups of townspeople go from door to door in a fashion of when the parents of the unborn baby Jesus Christ looked for shelter to pass the night when they arrived at Bethlehem, and are periodically called inside homes to participate in the breaking of a candy-filled piñata.

Mexican Christmas festivities start on December 12, with the feast of La Guadalupana (Virgin of Guadalupe), and end on January 6, with the Epiphany. Since the 1990s, Mexican society has embraced a new concept linking several celebrations around Christmas season into what is known as the Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon. At midnight on Christmas, many families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nacimientos (Nativity scenes), as the symbolic representation of Christmas as a whole. In the center and south of Mexico, children receive gifts on Christmas Eve and on 6 January, they celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, when, according to tradition, the Three Wise Men (3 Wizard Kings) brought gifts to Bethlehem for Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is who brings the children their gifts, but traditionally the Three Wise Men will fill the children's shoes with candies, oranges, tangerines, nuts, and sugar cane, and sometimes money or gold. For the Three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus Gold for his future.

Religious themes predominate in Christmas celebrations in South America. The secular customs and gift-giving in these countries are an admixture of traditions handed down from European and Native American forebears, plus the increasing influence of American culture.

Venezuela

Different moments of Paradura del Niño, folklorical manifestation of Venezuela, celebrated on February 2.

In Venezuela, Christmas is celebrated as a religious occasion. As in Colombia, the presents are brought by “El Niño Jesus” (Baby Jesus) instead of “Papá Noél” (Santa Claus), that still has an important role during this season.

The unofficial start of the Christmas festivities is after the celebrations of "Feria de la Chinita", second half of November. The origin of this festival is the cult to Virgin Mary of Chiquinquirá, when various religious activities, processions, and music in the typical "Gaita style" to honor "La Chinita" (nickname of this Virgin). This event takes place in the Zulia Region, specifically in Maracaibo (the regional capital). After this, other cities join in the festivities and many activities take place including musical events and firework displays.

In many cities, small rural towns and neighborhoods get together for the "patinatas" night festivals where children go and play with skateboards, roller blades and bicycles. This events are usually sponsored by the local church, where neighbors organize themselves and sell typical Christmas food, hot chocolate, hallaca, cookies, etc. Also still in some neighborhoods there is the "Parranda" where people go from one house to house with music and Christmas songs. The singers stops at neighbors' houses to get some food and drinks. Also in the Venezuelan Andes there is the same tradition of this kind of event but they carry an image of "baby Jesus" and this is called "Paradura del Niño." Children write request letters to Baby Jesus. The presents are sent by Baby Jesus at midnight, and most people have a party, which goes on until sunrise.

Europe

Central Europe

In countries of Central Europe (for this purpose, roughly defined as the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and possibly other places) the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve (December 24). The day is usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they'll see a golden pig if they hold fast until after dinner. When the evening comes preparation of Christmas Dinner starts. Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, for example, in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, the prevailing meal is fried carp with potato salad and fish (or cabbage) soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms (a modest dish), and elsewhere the dinner is exceptionally rich, with up to 12 dishes. This in fact reveals that when Christmas comes around all the kids get presents from neighbours and house guest. Even the house pet got a little something to gnaw on.

After the dinner comes the time for gifts. Tradition varies with region, commonly gifts are attributed to Christkind: German (Little Jesus) or their real originators (e.g. parents). Children usually find their gifts under the Christmas Tree, with name stickers. An interesting example of complicated history of the region is the "fight" between Christmas beings. During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") in the place of Christkind. Little Jesus won. Now Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production. Many people, Christians as well as people with just a Christian background, go to Roman Catholic midnight mass celebration.

Other common attributes of Christmas in Germany and Central Europe include Christmas trees, mistletoe, Christmas garlands, and Bethlehem cribs.

In many areas of Central Europe, St. Nicholas (Hungarian: Mikulás, Czech: Mikuláš, Slovak: Mikuláš), or Santa Claus, does not come for Christmas. He visits families earlier, on the dawn of St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and for the well-behaved children he has presents and candy-bags to put into their well polished shoes that were set in the windows the previous evening. Although he neither parks his sleigh on rooftops nor climbs chimneys, his visits are usually accompanied by a diabolic-looking servant named Krampusz (in Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia: Krampus, in Czech and Slovak regions he is simply "čert", i.e. devil, without any name) who gives golden coloured birches for so called badly behaved children. Actually all children get both gifts and golden birches (Hungarian: virgács) in their shoes, no matter how they behaved themselves.[25]

Czech Republic and Slovakia

Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic - Christmastime.

Christmas Eve (24 December) is celebrated as Štědrý den, which means "Generous Day", when the gifts are given in the evening. The 25 and 26 December are Public holidays in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, but Vánoce (Christmas), is most commonly associated with the 24th.

According to tradition, gifts are brought by Ježíšek, or "baby Jesus". Fish soup and breaded roasted carp with special homemade potato salad are a traditional dish for the dinner. The gifts are surreptitiously placed under the Christmas tree (usually a spruce or pine), usually just before or during dinner. Children have to wait for the ringing of a Christmas bell (one of the decorations on the Christmas tree) - the sign that Ježíšek (little Jesus) has just passed by - to run for the presents. That happens at the end of their Christmas dinner. There is a rich tradition of hard baked Christmas sweets (Cukroví).

Other Czech and Slovak Christmas traditions involve predictions for the future. Apples are always cut crosswise: if a perfect star appears in the core, the next year will be successful, distorted star means a bad year or illness, while a cross may suggest death. Girls throw shoes over their shoulders - if the toe points to the door, the girl will get married soon. Another tradition requires pouring some molten lead into water and guessing a message from its shapes.

Czechs are one of the most irreligious nations on Earth, and as such religious traditions are not widely adhered to, and Christmas practices take many idiosyncratic forms based on familial traditions. Christmas is not associated with Christianity to the extent it is elsewhere, and is widely observed by non-Christian groups, such as the Vietnamese and Jews.

German-speaking Europe

Christmas market in front of the town hall in Vienna, Austria

In some German-speaking communities, particularly in Catholic regions of western and southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, South Tyrol and Liechtenstein, as well as in other Catholic regions of Central Europe, the Christkind (literally "Christ child") brings the presents on the evening of December 24 (Holy Evening or Heiliger Abend).[26] The Christkind is invisible; thus he is never seen by anyone. However, he rings a bell just before he leaves in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.

It is a tradition to lavishly decorate a Christmas tree in the days directly before Christmas or on the morning of Christmas Eve. On late Christmas Eve, after the bell rings, the tree is shown to the children and presents are exchanged.

In Protestant churches, there is a service in the late afternoon intended to immediately precede the Christmas Eve meal and the exchanging of gifts. This service, called Christvesper, consists most often of scriptural readings, the Christmas Gospel from Luke 2, a Krippenspiel (nativity play), favourite Christmas carols and festive music for organ and choirs. In some regions the tradition of Quempas singing is still popular. Some Lutheran churches also celebrate a candlelight service at midnight besides the Christmas Vespers in the afternoon or early evening.

Many Catholic churches also have a first Mass of Christmas, called Christmette, on "Heiliger Abend" about 4 p.m. for the children and parents to attend before the families return home for their meal. The crib is a very important part of the celebrations in Catholic areas especially Bavaria.

Germany

Old Bavarian Crib found in St Mang Basilica Füssen Bavaria
Christmas tree in Berlin, Germany

In Germany Christmas traditions vary by region. On Saint Nicholas' Day, the 6th of December, Saint Nicholas puts goodies in children's shoes. Sometimes St. Nicholas visits children in kindergartens, schools or at public events. They have to recite a short poem or sing a song in order to get sweets or a small gift. "Knecht Ruprecht" (the servant Ruprecht – dressed in dark clothes with devil-like traits (usually noted as a long, bright red tongue) and with a stick or a small whip in the hand) sometimes accompanies St. Nicholas. His duty is to punish those children who haven't behaved during the year. Usually he doesn't have much to do. He merely stands near St. Nicholas as a warning to be good and polite. This festival is for the most part a children's festival.

The actual Christmas gift-giving (German: "Bescherung") usually takes place on Christmas Eve. This tradition first began with the Reformation, since Martin Luther was of the opinion that one should put the emphasis on Christ's birth and not on a saint's day and do away with the connotation that gifts have to be earned by good behaviour. The gifts should be seen as a symbol for the gift of God's grace in Christ.[27] In the meanwhile this tradition is also common in predominantly Catholic regions.

Gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (translation, "Christmas man"), who resembles either St. Nicholas or the American Santa Claus, or by Christkindl, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus.[26] After the gifts are opened the children often stay up as late as they like, often till the early hours of the morning.

The Christmas Tree is first put up and decorated on the morning of the 24th. The gifts are then placed under the tree. Often after Christmas Vespers in the church and an evening meal the father usually goes into the room where the tree is standing, lights the candles and rings a little bell. Then the children are allowed to go into the candlelit room. In many families it is still a custom to sing Christmas songs around the tree before opening up the presents. Some families, especially Catholic families, attend a midnight church service after the evening meal and gift-giving.

The culinary feast either takes place at supper on Christmas Eve or on the first day of Christmas. Traditions vary from region to region; carp is eaten in many parts of the country.[28] Potato salad with frankfurter or wiener sausages is popular in some families. Another simple meal which some families favour, especially in regions where Christmas Eve still has the character of a fast day, is vegetable or pea soup. In some regions, especially in Schleswig-Holstein where Danish influence is noticeable, a roasted duck or goose filled with plums, apples and raisins is family tradition. In other regions, especially in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, many families prefer kale with boiled potatoes, special sausages and ham. Many families have developed new traditions for themselves and eat such meals as meat fondue or raclette. In almost all families in all parts of Germany you find a wide variety of Christmas cookies baked according to recipes typical for the family and the region.

Hungary

Christmas decorations in Budapest, Hungary

In Hungary, celebrations begin with Christmas tree decoration and gift packaging during daytime on 24 December, then comes a family dinner with traditional Christmas meals. In some parts of Hungary, a traditional supper called fish soup halászlé is served at Christmas Eve meal, although it is also consumed at other times of the year. The day is otherwise a fast-day. In the evening (Christmas Eve, in Hungarian: Szenteste) the Angel or the Little (Baby) Jesus (Hungarian: Kisjézus or Jézuska) delivers the presents. This is the most intimate moment of Christmas, featuring warmly lit Christmas tree and candles, soft Christmas music, family singing of Christmas or religious songs and gift pack openings.There is also a popular folk custom during December and especially on Christmas Eve, in which children or adults present the birth of Jesus. The custom is called 'playing Bethlehem' (Hungarian: Betlehemezés), and it is an acting performance, where the 'actors' are wearing costumes, and telling stories about the three kings, the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and of course the birth of the Holy Child. A Christmas crib and a church are used as the scene. The actors go from house to house, and they receive gifts for their performance.

Poland

Polish Opłatki (Christmas Wafer) in a basket.

In the largely Roman Catholic Poland, Christmas Eve begins with a day of fasting and then a night of feasting. The traditional Christmas meal is known as Wigilia ("Vigil"), and being invited to attend a Wigilia dinner with a family is considered a high honour. Before eating, everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other by sharing a piece of Christmas wafer (Opłatki), usually blessed by the presiding Bishop, and stamped with a religious image, such as the nativity scene. A traditional Christmas meal in Poland includes herring and borscht (beetroot soup) with uszka (ravioli). Herring provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland; herring fillets, herring in aspic etc. Dishes are usually fish, cabbage, forest mushroom (like boletus) and poppyseed based, with herring being very important. The most common dishes are fish soup, with potato salad, pierogi, gołąbki filled with kasza, pickled herring and fruit kompot.[29]

The feast begins with the appearance of the first star, and is followed by the exchange of gifts. Later, people attend Midnight Mass to solemnly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The following day is often spent visiting friends.

The giftbearer varies. In some regions it is Święty Mikołaj (Saint Nicholas), in others Święty Mikołaj gives his gifts on 6 December and the giftbringer of the Christmas Eve is Gwiazdor ("star man"), Aniołek ("little angel") or Dzieciątko ("baby Jesus").

Eastern Europe

Since the 1880s, the Christmas customs of Eastern Europe and Eastern Slavic countries have included a similar character known as Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). According to legend, he travels in a magical sanki — a decorated sleigh drawn by reindeer (or three white horses). With his young, blond assistant Snegurochka (the "Snow Maiden", said to be his granddaughter) at his side, he visits homes and gives gifts to good children (not true for former Yugoslavian countries). He only delivers presents to children while they are asleep, and unlike Santa, he does not travel down chimneys, coming instead to the front door of children's homes. It is traditional for children to leave food for Ded Moroz.

This Ded Moroz (in Russia, Ded Moroz) is not identified nor in any way associated with Saint Nicholas of Myra (feast day, December 6), who is very widely revered in Eastern Europe for his clerical and charitable works as a bishop. In all likelihood, Ded Moroz is actually in Slavic tradition like Santa Claus, any connection to the original saint having long since disappeared.

In Serbia and Macedonia Christmas is celebrated on January 7. This is a result of their Eastern Orthodox churches marking Christmas Day based on the Julian calendar, which is now 13 days behind the internationally used Gregorian calendar.

Russia

Newyear decorations in Nizhny Novgorod.

As in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, and due to the 13-day difference between the newer Gregorian, and older Julian Calendars, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Unlike its Western counterparts, Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On Christmas Eve (6 January), there are several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy. The family will then return home for the traditional Chrismas Eve "Holy Supper", which consists of 12 dishes, one to honor each of the Twelve Apostles. Devout families will then return to church for the "всеночная" All Night Vigil. Then again, on Christmas Morning, for the "заутренняя" Divine Liturgy of the Nativity. The tradition of celebrating Christmas has been revived since 1992, after decades of suppression by the Communist government. Christmas is now a national holiday in Russia, as part of the ten-day holiday at the start of every new year. While Christmas is increasingly important, many Russians continue to focus on the New Year's celebration.

During the Soviet period, religious celebrations were discouraged by the officially atheist state. However, a number of Russian Christmas traditions were kept alive by shifting them to the secular New Year celebration. These include the decoration of a tree, or "yolka" (spruce, or sometimes pine), festive decorations and family gatherings, the visit by gift-giving "Dyed Moroz" (Дед Мороз "Grandfather Frost") and his granddaughter, "Snegurochka" (Снегурочка "The Snowmaiden"). Many of these were brought to Russia by Peter the Great after his Western travels in the late 17th century.[citation needed]

Armenia

Armenians celebrate Christmas (surb tsnunt, Սուրբ Ծնունդ) on January 6 as a public holiday in Armenia. It also coincides with the Epiphany. Traditionally, Armenians fast during the week leading up to Christmas. Devout Armenians may even refrain from food for the three days leading up to the Christmas Eve, in order to receive the Eucharist on a "pure" stomach. Christmas Eve is particularly rich in traditions. Families gather for the Christmas Eve dinner (khetum, Խթում), which generally consists of: rice, fish, nevik (նուիկ, a vegetable dish of green chard and chick peas), and yogurt/wheat soup (tanabur, թանապուր). Dessert includes dried fruits and nuts, including rojik, which consists of whole shelled walnuts threaded on a string and encased in grape jelly, bastukh (a paper-like confection of grape jelly, cornstarch, and flour), etc. This lighter menu is designed to ease the stomach off the week-long fast and prepare it for the rather more substantial Christmas Day dinner. Children take presents of fruits, nuts, and other candies to older relatives.

It is frequently asked as to why Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 with the rest of the world. Obviously, the exact date of Christ's birth has not been historically established—it is neither recorded in the Gospels. However, historically, all Christian churches celebrated Christ's birth on January 6 until the fourth century. According to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6 to December 25 in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun which was celebrated on December 25. At the time Christians used to continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine and subdue this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25 as the official date of Christmas and January 6 as the feast of Epiphany. However, Armenia was not affected by this change for the simple fact that there were no such pagan practices in Armenia, on that date, and the fact that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church. Thus, remaining faithful to the traditions of their forefathers, Armenians have continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6 until today.[30]

In addition to the Christmas tree (tonatsar, Տօնածառ), Armenians (particularly in the Middle East) also erect the Nativity scene. Christmas in the Armenian tradition is a purely religious affair. Santa Claus does not visit the nice Armenian children on Christmas, but rather on New Year's Eve. The idea of Santa Claus existed before the Soviet Union and he was named kaghand papik (Կաղանդ Պապիկ), but the Soviet Union had a great impact even on Santa Claus. Now he goes by the more secular name of Grandfather Winter (dzmerr papik, Ձմեռ Պապիկ).

Georgia

Children at the Alilo march in the streets of Tbilisi

On calendars in Georgia, Christmas (Georgian: შობა, shoba) is celebrated on 7 January (25 December on the Julian calendar). It is traditional in Georgia to go on Alilo (a modified pronunciation of Alleluia), a mass walk in the streets, dressed in special clothing to celebrate and congratulate each other. Most members of the Alilo march are children and they are given sweets by the adults. The Alilo carols vary across the provinces of Georgia. In most songs these words are used: "ოცდახუთსა დეკემბერსა, ქრისტე იშვა ბეთლემსაო'" (otsdakhutsa dekembersa qriste ishva betlemsao) – "on 25th December Christ was born in Bethlehem". A local variant of the Christmas tree, called Chichilaki, is made of soft wooden material with curled branches. Sometimes it is hazelnut branch which is carved into a Tree of Life-like shape and decorated with fruits and sweets. The Western custom of a Christmas tree (nadzvis khe) is also popular and has been imported through Russia. The Georgian equivalent of "Santa Claus" is known as tovlis papa (or tovlis babua in western Georgian dialects), literally meaning a "Grandfather snow", and is traditionally portrayed with long white beard, dressed in national costume "chokha" and wearing a fur cloak "nabadi".

Ukraine

Twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper, Ukraine.

Sviata Vecheria or "Holy Supper" is the central tradition of the Christmas Eve celebrations in Ukrainian homes and takes place in most parts of the country on 6 January. In Western Ukraine, especially in Carpathian Ruthenia, due to historical multi-culturism, Christmas can be observed twice—on 25 December and 7 January, often irrespective of whether the family belongs to Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the (Roman) Catholic Church, one of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches, or one of the Protestant denominations.

When the children see the first star in the eastern evening sky, which symbolizes the trek of the Three Wise Men, the Sviata Vechera may begin. In farming communities the head of the household now brings in a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the importance of the ancient and rich wheat crops of Ukraine, the staff of life through the centuries. Didukh means literally "grandfather spirit" so it symbolizes the family's ancestors. In city homes a few stalks of golden wheat in a vase are often used to decorate the table. The dinner table sometimes has a few wisps of hay on the embroidered table cloth as a reminder of the manger in Bethlehem. A prayer is said and the father says the traditional Christmas greeting, "Chrystos rodyvsya!" which is translated to "Christ is born!", which is answered by the family with "Slavite Yoho!" which means "Let us glorify him!". In some families the Old Slavic form "Сhrystos rozhdayetsya!" is used. At the end of the Sviata Vechera the family often sings Ukrainian Christmas Carols. In many communities the old Ukrainian tradition of caroling is carried on by groups of young people and members of organizations and churches calling at homes and collecting donations.

Traditionally, Christmas Day opens for Ukrainian families with attendance at Church. Ukrainian Churches offer services starting before midnight on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning. Christmas supper, without Lenten restrictions, does not have as many traditions connected with it as Sviata Vechera. The old tradition in Ukraine of giving gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day, December 19, has generally been replaced by the Christmas date. In Ukraine, at Christmas Eve when everyone is at the table, angels bring presents which they leave near the Christmas tree.

Northern Europe

In much of Northern Europe Christmas is celebrated on December 24 and is referred to as Jul (see Yule), while December 25 is a relaxed day for visiting relatives.

Denmark

Traditional Danish Christmas dinner.

Danes celebrate on December 24, which is referred to as Juleaften (literally "Yule evening"). An evening meal with the family consists of either roast pork, roast duck or roast goose and eaten with potatoes, plenty of gravy, and red cabbage or finely chopped kale boiled in butter. For dessert rice pudding is traditionally served - composed largely of whipped cream and accompanied by lashings of black cherry sauce. The rice pudding also contains chopped peeled almonds, and a single whole peeled almond. Whoever finds the whole almond will have good luck for the coming year, and the lucky finder is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gathers around the Christmas tree and sings Christmas songs while holding hands and dancing in circles, and may even tour the house, still holding hands and singing. When the singing is complete, traditions vary. In some traditions, the family will select one child to hand out the presents. All children take turns handing out presents in other traditions. Alternatively Father Christmas, the Julemanden, will appear at the door in full costume with a large sack of presents over his shoulder. He will then distribute the presents, with the assistance of any children present, to their recipients. He should be offered suitable drink to keep him warm and cheerful on his onward journey, but do not expect loquacity - utterances are normally limited to loud and hearty laughs. Meanwhile the presents are opened and this is followed by more snacks, candy, chips and, sometimes, a traditional Christmas drink called Gløgg.

The Danish are somewhat famous for their Julefrokost, literally meaning "Christmas lunch", which includes various traditional Danish dishes, potentially accompanied by beer and Snaps. These Julefrokoster are popular and held within families, as well as by companies and other social groups. They would traditionally have taken place leading up to Christmas, but due to time constraints and stress during the Christmas month they are nowadays commonly held during November and January as well. The family Julefrokoster however are normally held between Juleaften and New Year's Eve.

Another more recent Danish tradition is the concept of television Julekalendere, special Christmas-themed, advent calendar-type television programmes with a daily episode shown on each of the first 24 days of December, thus culminating on Juleaften. Several television stations produce their own, most, but not all of which are targeted at child viewers. Some of the television advent calendars become extremely popular and go on to be reprised in subsequent years.

In Denmark, Santa Claus is known as Julemanden (literally "the Yule Man") and is said to arrive in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, with presents for the children. He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves known as julenisser (or simply nisser), who are traditionally believed to live in attics, barns or similar places. In some traditions, to maintain the favour and protection of these nisser, children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding or other treats for them and are delighted to find the food gone on Christmas morning.

Estonia

In the weeks preceding Christmas or jõulud, children place a slipper in their windows and receive a piece of candy or some other sweets from visiting elves (päkapikud). Estonians celebrate Christmas on December 24, which is referred to as jõululaupäev ("Christmas Saturday")[clarification needed] and is by act of Parliament a public holiday in Estonia. Each year on this day, the President of Estonia declares the Christmas Peace and attends a Christmas service. The tradition was initiated by the order of Queen Christina of Sweden in the 17th century. Estonian children are visited by jõuluvana ("Old Man Christmas") on Christmas Eve and must sing songs or recite Christmas poems before receiving their gifts.

The evening meal typically includes pork with sauerkraut or Estonian sauerkraut (mulgikapsad), baked potatoes, white and blood sausage, potato salad with red beet, and pāté. For dessert, Estonians eat gingerbread (piparkoogid) and marzipan. The most highly regarded drinks during this time have been beer and mulled wine or glögi and hõõgvein ("glowing wine"). Estonians leave the leftover food from Christmas dinner on the table overnight, in hopes that the spirits of family, friends, and loved ones will visit and also have something to eat. It is also customary to visit graveyards and leave candles for the deceased.

25 December or jõulupüha is a relaxed day for visiting relatives.

Finland

Christmas tree in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Christmas is an extensively prepared celebration centering on the family and home, although it has a religious dimension also. The Christmas season starts from December or even in late November, when shops began advertising potential Christmas gifts. Christmas decorations and songs become more prominent as Christmas nears, and children count days to Christmas with Advent calendars. Schools and some other places have the day before Christmas Eve (aatonaatto) as a holiday, but at the latest on the Christmas Eve (jouluaatto), shops close early. Christmas Day (joulupäivä) is celebrated on December 25 and the following day (Tapaninpäivä, "St. Stephen's Day") are mandatory public holidays in Finland. Schools continue holidays up to the New Year.

The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland from the Middle Ages every year, except in 1939 due to the Winter War. It is a custom in many towns and cities. The most famous one of these declarations is on the Old Great Square of Turku, the former capital of Finland, at noon on Christmas Eve. It is broadcast on Finnish radio (since 1935) and television, and nowadays also in some foreign countries. The declaration ceremony begins with the hymn Jumala ompi linnamme (Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) and continues with the Declaration of Christmas Peace read from a parchment roll:

"Tomorrow, God willing, is the most gracious feast of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, and therefore a general Christmas peace is hereby declared, and all persons are directed to observe this holiday with due reverence and otherwise quietly and peacefully to conduct themselves, for whosoever breaks this peace and disturbs the Christmas holiday by any unlawful or improper conduct shall be liable, under aggravating circumstances, to whatever penalty is prescribed by law and decree for each particular offence or misdemeanour. Finally, all citizens are wished a joyous Christmas holiday."

The Ceremony ends with trumpets playing the Finnish national anthem Maamme and Porilaisten marssi, with the crowd usually singing when the band plays Maamme. Recently, there is also a declaration of Christmas peace for forest animals in many cities and municipalities, so there is no hunting during Christmas.

It is traditional in Finland to bring candles to the graves of loved ones
on Christmas Eve and All Saints Day.

Finnish people clean their homes well before Christmas and prepare special treats for the festive season. A sheaf of grain, nuts and seeds are tied on a pole, which is placed in the garden for the birds to feed on. Spruce trees are cut or bought from a market and taken to homes on or a few days before Christmas Eve and are decorated. Candles are lit on the Christmas tree, which is traditionally decorated using apples and other fruit, candies, paper flags, cotton and tinsel. Actual candles are no longer used, being replaced by incandescent lamps. A star symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem is placed at the top of the tree. Just before the Christmas festivities begin, people usually take a Christmas sauna. The tradition is very old; unlike on normal days, when one would go to the sauna in the evening, on Christmas Eve it is done before sunset. This tradition is based on a pre-20th century belief that the spirits of the dead return and have a sauna at the usual sauna hours.

Afterwards, they dress up in clean clothes for the Christmas dinner or joulupöytä, which is usually served between 5pm and 7pm, or traditionally with the appearance of the first star in the sky. The most traditional dish of the Finnish Christmas dinner is probably Christmas Ham, roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham, but some may prefer alternatives like turkey. Many kinds of casseroles are also popular. Other traditional Christmas dishes include boiled codfish (soaked beforehand in a lye solution for a week to soften it) served snowy white and fluffy, pickled herring and vegetables. Prune jam pastries, plum or mixed fruit soup, rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar and cold milk, and sweets like chocolate are popular desserts. Christmas gifts are usually exchanged after Christmas Eve dinner. Children do not hang up stockings in Finland but Joulupukki visits the household, maybe with a tonttu to help him distribute the presents.

Christmas Day services begin early at six in the morning and people visit families and reunions are arranged on this day.

Iceland

Yule Lads in Akureyri, Iceland.

Christmas or Yule (Jól in Icelandic) is a thirteen-day celebration in Iceland, starting on the night of December 24, at 6:00 PM. Church bells ring at that time and people either sit down for holiday dinner at home or with their family. After that they open gifts and spend the evening together. In Iceland people over the Yule holidays most often eat hamborgarhryggur and rjúpa.

13 days before December 24 the Yule lads start arriving into the towns to give children that have behaved well small gifts in a shoe that has been placed by the window.

Each home typically setup a jóla tree indoors in the living room and decorate it on December 23. Presents are put underneath the tree.

Norway

The major day of celebration in Norway, as in most of Northern Europe, is December 24. Although it is legally a regular workday until 16:00,[31] most stores close early. Church bells toll in the Christmas festival between 17:00 and 18:00, and many people attend the church service thereafter. In some families the Christmas story from Luke 2 will be read from the old family Bible. The main Christmas meal is served in the evening. Common main dishes include pork rib, "pinnekjøtt" (pieces of lamb rib steamed over birch branches), and in some western areas burned sheep's head. Many people also eat "lutefisk" or fresh, poached cod. Rice porridge is also popular (but most commonly served the day after rather than for the main Christmas dinner), an almond is often hidden in the porridge, and the person who finds it wins a treat or small gift. In some parts of Norway it is common to place porridge outside (in a barn, outhouse or even in the forest) to please "Nissen". In many families, where the parents grew up with different traditions, two different main dishes are served to please everyone. If children are present (and they have behaved well the last year), "Julenissen" (Santa Claus) pays a visit, otherwise gifts are stored under the Christmas tree. Also there tradition

For a lot of Norwegians, especially families, television is an important part of the earlier hours of Christmas Eve. Many Norwegians do not feel the Christmas spirit until they have watched the Czech-German fairy tale Three Nuts for Cinderella (Norwegian title: Tre nøtter til Askepott), the Disney Christmas cavalcade From All of Us to All of You[citation needed] or the Norwegian fairytale movie Reisen til Julestjernen ("The Nutcracker"). Attending one of the many stage productions of Putti Plutti Pott and Santa's Beard is also a very popular tradition.

December 25 is a very quiet and relaxed day. Church services are well attended. The old tradition of a very early morning service before breakfast has been replaced in most areas by a service in the later morning. Afterward many families get together for a large festive meal.

December 26 is also a day of many festivities. Cinemas, night clubs and bars are full, and there are lots of private gatherings and parties, where all kinds of traditional Christmas cookies and sweets are enjoyed. Fatty, tasty dinners are also part of it. The time between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve is called romjul. During this time children in some parts of Norway dress up as "nisser" and go "Julebukk" – "Christmas goat" – in their neighbourhoods and sing Christmas carols to receive treats, much the same way as in the American Halloween. January 6 (13th day of Christmas) is the official end of Christmas.

Sweden

Christmas lights
Julbock, a giant Christmas goat at the Gävle town market, Sweden
Christmas tree in Stockholm, Sweden

Swedish Christmas celebrations begin with the first of Advent. Saint Lucy's Day (locally known as Luciadagen) which is the first major Christmas celebration before Christmas itself. Electric candles and glowing stars are placed in almost every window in December month in Sweden. Although December 25 (juldagen) is a Swedish public holiday, December 24 is the day when Santa Clause Jultomte (or simply Tomte) brings the presents. Although not a public holiday, Christmas Eve is a de facto holiday in the sense that most workplaces are closed, and those who work, for instance in shops or care homes, get extra wages as a compensation. (See also: Public holidays in Sweden for further explanation of this concept.)

The Jultomte was originally a small invisible Christmas house gnome or dwarf from the Nordic mythology, who watched over the house and its inhabitants. An old superstition still calls for feeding the Tomte on Christmas Eve with a small bowl of porridge. If a bowl of porridge is not laid out for him somewhere in or outside the house, he will bring bad luck to everyone in the house the next year. The modern "Tomten", nowadays is a version of Santa Claus in red cloth and white beard, except that he doesn't enter the house through the chimney, but knocks on the door and asks "finns det några snälla barn här?" ("are there any nice children here?")

Christmas is, as everywhere else, an occasion celebrated with food. Almost all Swedish families celebrate on 24 December with a Christmas table, called Christmas smörgåsbord (julbord), a display of several Christmas food items. Almost all julbord has Christmas ham, (julskinka) accompanied by other Christmas dishes, such as small meatballs, pickled herring, spareribs, small hot dogs, lutfisk, pork sausage, salmon, Janssons frestelse (potato casserole with anchovy), and rice pudding. The Christmas julbord is served with julmust and beverage like mulled wine, Christmas beer or snaps. A Scandinavian speciality is the glögg (mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins), which is served hot in small cups. The different dishes of the julbord may vary throughout Sweden, from South to North. Businesses traditionally invite their employees to a julbord dinner or lunch the weeks before Christmas, and people go out privately to restaurants which also customarily offer julbord during December.

Examples of candies and treats associated with Christmas are marzipan, toffee, knäck (quite similar to butterscotch), nuts and fruits: figs, chocolate, dates and oranges decorated with cloves.

Television also plays a big role, many families watch the Disney Christmas special Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (From All of Us to All of You), Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton (animated short), or a re-run of the Svensson, Svensson episode God Jul! (Merry Christmas) on the TV channel SVT1.[32]

After the julbord on December 24, the presents are distributed, either by Jultomten or a family member, and usually from a sack or from under the Christmas tree where they have been lying all day or for several days. Many Swedes still adhere to the tradition that each present should have a rhyme written on the wrapping paper, to hint at the contents without revealing them.[33] In older days a yule goat was an alternative to Jultomten, nowadays it is used as an ornament, ranging from sizes of 10 cm to huge constructions like the giant straw Christmas Gävle goat, famous for frequently being vandalised or burnt down. If one has two families to celebrate Christmas with, it is common that one of the families move their celebrations to Christmas Day or the day before Christmas Eve (commonly referred to as little Christmas Eve).

After December 24, the Christmas celebrations have more or less come to an end. Some people attend the julottan, an early morning church service on December 25. This particular service was the main service of Christmas historically—nowadays, the Midnight Mass has become increasingly popular. Others attend a simpler service called Christmas Prayer in the afternoon of Christmas Eve; however, many Swedes do not attend church at all during Christmas as the country is very secular. Even so, most families do set up a Julkrubba (Christmas Crib). On January 13 (locally known as knutdagen or tjugondag knut, English = twentiethday Christmas), 20 days after Christmas, the Christmas celebrations come to an end and all Christmas decorations are removed.

Southeastern Europe (Balkans)

Albania

Christmas (Krishtlindjet) on 25 December is a public holiday in Albania, a nation with significant Muslim and Christian populations, and is celebrated by both Orthodox and Catholic Albanians. However, even some non-Christian Albanians celebrate them. The Albanian wish is "Gëzuar Krishtlindjet!".

People go to church at midnight on 24 December, or during 25 December. The Christmas atmosphere is felt not only in the capital city, Tirana, but also in many other cities, for example in: Korça, Shkodra, Lezha, Durrës, Berat etc. The rituals and traditions are very similar to those practiced by the other European Christian nations.

Romania and Moldova

Christmas (Romanian: Crăciun) in Romania falls on December 25 and is generally considered the second most important religious Romanian holiday after Easter. In Moldova, although Christmas is celebrated on 25 December like in Romania, 7 January is also recognized as an official holiday in Moldova. Celebrations begin with the decoration of the Christmas tree during daytime on 24 December, and in the evening (Christmas Eve, in Romanian: Ajunul Crăciunului) Moş Crăciun (Father Christmas) delivers the presents.

The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities. On the first day of Christmas, many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages, holding a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible. Romanian tradition has the smallest children going from house to house, singing carols and reciting poems and legends during the whole Christmas season. The leader of the group carries with him a star made of wood, covered with metal foil and decorated with bells and coloured ribbons. An image of the Nativity is painted on the star's centre, and this piece of handiwork is attached to the end of a broom or other long stick.

Romanian food served during the holidays is a hearty multi-coursed meal, most of which consists of pork (organs, muscle, and fat). This is mainly a symbolic gesture for St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Serbia and Serb areas

The Serbs celebrate Christmas for three consecutive days, beginning with Christmas Day. The Serbian Orthodox Church uses the traditional Julian calendar, per which Christmas Day (25 December) falls on 7 January. This day is called the first day of Christmas, and the following two are accordingly called the second, and the third day of Christmas. During this festive time, one is to greet another person with “Christ is Born,” which should be responded to with “Truly He is Born.” The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić (Cyrillic: Божић, pronounced [boʒitɕ]), which means the young or little God.

This holiday surpasses all the others celebrated by Serbs, with respect to the diversity of applied folk customs and rituals. These may vary from region to region, some of them having modern versions adapted to the contemporary way of living. The ideal environment to carry them out fully is the traditional multi-generation country household.

In the morning of Christmas Eve a young, straight oak tree is selected and felled by the head of the household. A log is cut from it and is referred to as the badnjak. In the evening, the badnjak is ceremoniously put on the domestic fire that burns on the house’s fireplace called ognjište, whose hearth is without a vertical surround. The burning of the badnjak is accompanied by prayers to God so that the coming year may bring much happiness, love, luck, riches, and food. Since most houses today have no ognjište on which to burn a badnjak, it is symbolically represented by several leaved oak twigs. For the convenience of people who live in towns and cities, they can be bought at marketplaces or received in churches.

The dinner on this day is festive, copious and diverse in foods, although it is prepared in accordance with the rules of fasting. Groups of young people go from house to house of their village or neighbourhood, congratulating each other, singing, and making performances; this continues through the next three days. The Serbs also take a bundle of straw into the house and spread it over the floor, and then put walnuts on it. Before the table is served for the Christmas Eve dinner, it is strewn with a thin layer of straw and covered with a white cloth. The head of household makes the Sign of the Cross, lights a candle, and censes the whole house. The family members sit down at the table, but before tucking in they all rise and a man or boy among them says a prayer, or they together sing the Troparion of the Nativity. After the dinner young people visit their friends, a group of whom may gather at the house of one of them. Christmas and other songs are sung, while the elderly narrate stories from the olden times.

On Christmas Day, the celebration is announced at dawn by church bells and by shooting. A big importance is given to the first visit a family receives that day. People expect that it will summon prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year; this visit is often pre-arranged. Christmas dinner is the most celebratory meal a family has during a year. A special, festive loaf of bread is baked for this occasion. The main course is roast pork of a pig which they cook whole by rotating it impaled on a wooden spit close to an open fire. It is not a part of Serbian traditions to exchange gifts during Christmas. Gift-giving is, nevertheless, connected with the celebrations, being traditionally done on the three consecutive Sundays that immediately precede it. Children, women, and men, respectively, are the set gift-givers on these three days.

Since the early 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organized public celebrations on Christmas Eve. The course of these celebrations can be typically divided into three parts: the preparation, the ritual, and the festivity. The preparation consists of going and cutting down the tree to be used as the badnjak, taking it to the church yard, and preparing drink and food for the assembled parishioners. The ritual includes Vespers, placing the badnjak on the open fire built in the church yard, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals. In some parishes they build the fire on which to burn the badnjak not in the church yard but at some other suitable location in their town or village. The festivity consists of getting together around the fire and socializing. Each particular celebration, however, has its own specificities which reflect traditions of the local community, and other local factors.

Southern Europe

Bulgaria

TZUM department store at Christmastime, Sofia, Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, Christmas (Bulgarian: Коледа, Koleda or more formally Рождество Христово, Rozhdestvo Hristovo, "Nativity of Jesus") is celebrated on 25 December and is preceded by Christmas Eve (Бъдни вечер, Badni vecher). Traditionally, Christmas Eve would be the climax of the Nativity Fast, and thus only an odd number of lenten dishes are presented on that evening. On that day, a Bulgarian budnik is set alight. On Christmas, however, meat dishes are already allowed and are typically served.

Among the Bulgarian Christmas traditions is koleduvane, which involves boy carolers (коледари, koledari) visiting the neighbouring houses starting at midnight on Christmas Eve, wishing health, wealth and happiness a. Another custom is the baking of a traditional round loaf (пита, pita). The pita is broken into pieces by the head of the family and a piece is given to each family member, a valuable possession, and a piece for God. A coin is hidden inside the pita and whoever gets the coin, he or she will have the luck, health and prosperity in the coming year.

As in other countries, a Christmas tree is typically set up and the entire house is decorated. The local name of Santa Claus is Dyado Koleda (Дядо Коледа, "Grandfather Christmas"), with Dyado Mraz (Дядо Мраз, "Grandfather Frost") being a similar Russian-imported character lacking the Christian connotations and thus popular during the Communist rule. However, it has been largely forgotten after 1989, when Dyado Koleda again returned as the more popular figure.

Croatia and Slovenia

Croatian wheat grass, planted on St. Lucy's, used for Christmas candles

In Croatia and Slovenia, Christmas (Croatian: Božić, Slovene: Božič) is celebrated mainly as a religious holiday. The festivities begin on Saint Nicholas's Day on December 6 (in Slovenia) or St. Lucy's on December 13 depending on what region (in Croatia). St. Lucy or St. Nicholas brings children presents, and St. Nicholas is said to be accompanied by Krampus who steals away the presents of bad children. In Croatia on St. Lucy's, families will plant wheat seeds in a bowl of shallow water, which will grow several inches by Christmas and are then tied together with a red, blue and white ribbon called trobojnica'.

On Christmas Eve (Croatian: Badnjak, Slovene: Sveti večer (holy eve)), three candles representing the Trinity are lit and placed in the middle of the wheat, the glow symbolizes the soul of each person. On this day, the tree is decorated, the home is decked with greenery and the women already beginning to prepare the Christmas meal. They also bake special types of bread: one is round inscribed with a cross on top known as the cesnica, another is made with honey, nuts and dried fruit called the Christmas Eve Bread (Croatian: Badnji Kruh, Slovene: Božični kruh). In many villages, straw (which symbolizes Christ's birth in the manger) is spread around the floors of the home for the Christmas Eve dinner. As is customary with Catholic people, meat is not consumed in Croatia, while in Slovenia is. Instead of meat in Croatia and with other food in Slovenia, salad and fish is served, many choosing to eat the Dalmatian specialty bakalar, dried cod fish. The family then sprinkle holy water on their Yule log (badnjak) which they light and watch. In villages, the badnjak is freshly cut that very morning by the father of the household while reciting traditional prayers. At the end of the meal, a piece of the cesnica is cut and dipped in wine and used to sprinkle on the candles to estinguish them, while reciting the Trinitarian formula ("In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen").

Many families will go to a midnight mass on Christmas Eve and often another on Christmas Day. It is common for Christmas presents to be placed under the tree, to suggest that the Angel or the Baby Jesus (Mali Isus) leaves them there while others are attending midnight mass. Presents are opened after the mass. Christmas is a day of celebrating with family; a large feast is prepared and traditional foods such as stuffed cabbage, turkey, pot roast, pita and smoked meat are served, along with various desserts such as fritule, potica (especially in Slovenia), strudel, and cookies.

Slovenes are also visited by another one of their trije dobri možje (three good guys), who bring presents in December: Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus and Dedek Mraz ("Grandfather Frost"). Families mostly celebrate New Year's Eve at home with extended family members, friends, and sometimes neighbours. Women prepare cabbage sarma, which they will eat on January 1 to symbolize good fortune, and steak tartare, which they eat on New Year's Eve on toast with butter. At midnight, people go outdoors to watch fireworks, while Dedek Mraz leaves presents under the tree. Epiphany on January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season.

Macedonia

In the Macedonian calendar, as in many other Orthodox countries, the Macedonian Orthodox Church marks Christmas Day on January 7. On Christmas Eve (January 6), a coin is concealed in a bread loaf and the host breaks a piece of the loaf at the dinner table for each member of the household: it is believed that the one who gets the piece of bread with the coin will be fortunate in the forthcoming year. The dinner is according to the rules of fasting: fish, baked beans, sauerkraut, walnuts and red wine are common. The dessert may consist of apples and dried fruits: plums, dates, figs. The table is usually not cleared after the dinner and until the next morning, to leave some food for the holly spirits – a custom which probably comes from pagan pre-Christian times.

Malta

Christmas (or Il-Milied, as it's known in Maltese) in Malta is mainly a religious affair since most of the population is Christian. However over the years, the island has adopted other popular Christmas customs and traditions such as the Christmas tree and Father Christmas. A public holiday in Malta, Christmas Day is celebrated on December 25 and is a time to spend with family. Christmas lunch usually consists of turkey served with potatoes and vegetables (reflecting the fact it's a former British colony). A local Christmas specialty is the "Qaghaq ta' l-Ghasel" or Honey Rings. These Maltese Christmas sweets are eaten as a dessert during the Christmas season but can also be purchased all year round. Christmas cribs (Nativity scenes) are a popular Christmas tradition.

Greece and Cyprus

Christmas tree at Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
Christmas decorations in Milan, Italy.
Panettone in Italy

The festive period lasts from 30 November to 6 January (Epiphany) on the Greek calendar. Most families set up Christmas trees and shops have decorations and lights. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree and are opened on 1 January. In Greek tradition, Basil’s (of Caesarea) name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and give presents on 1 January (when Basil's memory is celebrated), unlike other European traditions, where this person is Saint Nicholas and comes every Christmas. Carol singing is another tradition on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The Christmas meal usually includes lamb or pork and desserts such as kourabies (κουραμπιές) and melomakarona (μελομακάρονα).

Italy

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Italian: Festa dell'Immacolata Concezione) on December 8 is a national holiday in Italy. Christmas decorations, including the presepe (nativity scene), as well as the Christmas tree, are put up on this day.

Saint Lucy's Day (Italian: Giorno di Santa Lucia) is celebrated as a Catholic holiday in Sicily and Northern regions of Italy on the supposed Shortest day of the year which is December 13.[34] Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the city of Syracuse better known as Santa Lucia as she is called in the traditional Neapolitan song. Evening candlelight processions called the parade of light are conducted and are followed by the Feast of St. Lucy. Sicilians pay tribute to a miracle performed by St Lucy during a famine in 1582. At that time, she brought a flotilla of grain-bearing ships to starving Sicily, whose citizens cooked and ate the wheat without taking time to grind it into flour. Thus, on St. Lucy's Day, Sicilians do not eat anything made with wheat flour. Instead they eat cooked wheat called cuccia.

Christmas is celebrated in Italy[35] in a similar fashion to other Western European countries, with a strong emphasis given to the Christian meaning of the holiday and its celebration by the Catholic Church, also reinforced by the still widespread tradition of setting up the presepe, a tradition initiated by Saint Francis of Assisi. It is quite common to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and practice the custom not to eat any meat. The dinner traditionally consists of seafood, with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, followed by typical Italian Christmas sweets, such as pandoro, panettone, torrone, panforte, struffoli, caggionetti, Monte Bianco or others, depending on the regional cuisine.[36] Christmas on the 25th is celebrated with a family lunch, consisting of different types of meat dishes, cheese and local sweets.

The ancient Christmas festival called Ndocciata is celebrated on Christmas Eve in Molise with a parade of torches leading up to the "Bonfire of Brotherhood".[37]

Traditions regarding the exchanging of gifts vary from region to region, as this might take place either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Presents for children are left underneath the Christmas tree either by Santa Claus (called Babbo Natale) or, according to older traditions, by Baby Jesus himself. In some regions children receive gifts earlier (at St. Lucy's Day) or later (on Epiphany).

December 26, (St. Stephen's Day, in Italian Giorno di Santo Stefano), is also a public holiday in Italy. Festivities extend to the end of the year and then to the Epiphany.

On the 6 January (Epiphany, in Italian Epifania) decorations are usually taken down, and in some areas female puppets are burned on a pire (called "falò"), to symbolize, along with the end of the Christmas period, the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one.[38] While gifts are now given at Christmas by an American style Santa Claus as well, Italy holds fast to its tradition of native gift-givers. On the eve of the 6th, la Befana, the good Epiphany witch, is thought to ride the night skies on broomstick, bringing good children gifts and sweets, and bad ones charcoal or bags of ashes.[39] In other areas it is the Three Wise Men who bring gifts, especially oranges symbolizing gold, and chocolate symbolizing their kisses to good children. In some municipalities, most famously in Milan, the custom of the "Corteo dei Re Magi" (Three Kings Procession) is elaboratedly celabrated with a parade welcoming the Wise Men, and the passing out of sweets.[40] In other places, such as Treviso the day is celebrated with bonfires, the sparks of which are said to predict the future of the new year.[38]

Portugal

Christmas, an official holiday in Portugal, is widely celebrated and is associated with family gathering. People who have moved to the main cities, like Lisbon or Porto, or even those who have emigrated to other countries, still travel to their home towns and villages to spend Christmas Eve with their families. After the Missa do galo (Rooster's Mass) that celebrates the birth of Christ, families gather around the Consoada, the late supper held on Christmas Eve. The traditional dish is bacalhau com todos (dried codfish boiled with vegetables), although, in northern Portugal, the bacalhau is often replaced by octopus. The Christmas dinner usually ends with fatias douradas (golden slices), filhoses and sonhos (dreams), all deserts based on fried flour or fried bread. Another traditional cake is the king cake served on Epiphany. Nowadays, Santa Claus or Pai Natal is most popular among children but, nevertheless, in some regions, people still believe that is the Menino Jesus (Baby Jesus) that brings presents to children.

Spain

Avinguda Portal de l'Àngel, at Christmas time, Barcelona, Spain

Christmas and St Stephen's Day are officially recognized holidays in Spain. In most of Spain, the Christmas period, referred to as "Navidad", lasts from Christmas Eve on the 24th of December to Epiphany on the 6 January. Many homes and most churches display a Nativity scene, others a Christmas tree. In Catalonia, the Tió de Nadal (a log with a cloth for hiding presents under) is part of the celebration. The pesebre (nativity scene) is present in many homes, schools and stores. A particular and unique figure, called caganer is displayed in the scene. On the 26th, Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) is celebrated with a family gathering.

A large family dinner is celebrated on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) and can last until 6 o'clock in the morning. There is a wide variety of typical foods one might find on plates across Spain on this particular night, and each region has its own distinct specialities. It is particularly common, however, to start the meal with a seafood dish such as prawns or salmon, followed by a bowl of hot, homemade soup. The main meal will commonly consist of roast lamb, or seafood, such as cod or shellfish. For dessert, there is quite a spread of delicacies, among them are turrón, a dessert made of honey, egg and almonds that is Arabic in origin. Special dishes and desserts include Mariscos y Pescado (shellfish and fish), marzipan, Pavo Trufado de Navidad (turkey with truffles), and polvorones (shortbread made of almonds, flour and sugar).

Even though there is still the traditional Misa del Gallo at midnight, few Spaniards continue to follow the old custom of attending.

Children usually receive one or two presents on Christmas Day (December 25), brought by "Papá Noel" (Father Noel), which is a non-traditional imitation of the American Santa Claus. On 31 December (Nochevieja) there is also a large family feast. Some young people go out in "cotillón", a very big feast in bars and pubs and the drink and dance until 1 January morning, when they have churros with chocolate for breakfast. On 5 January a huge parade (La Cabalgata or cavalcade) welcomes the Three Kings to the city. Children put their shoes in the window on 5 January in the hope that the Three Wise Men will deliver them presents.[41]

Western Europe

Basque Country

The Basque people, who live in Northern Spain and Southern France, have their own traditions at Christmas. The Three Wise Men are popular in the South and Père Noël in the North, but there is also another character which is well known in both sides of the Pyrenees, called Olentzero. Olentzero was a pagan coal worker who went to adore Jesus in Bethlehem. Nowadays, it is said that he brings presents to all good people at Christmas Eve.

France

Christmas decorations along the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France

Christmas in France (Noël on the French calendar)[42] is celebrated mainly in a religious manner, though secular ways of celebrating the occasion also exist, such as Christmas fairs, decorations and carols. Children do not hang Christmas stockings but put their shoes by the fireplace or under the Christmas tree so Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) can give them gifts (a practice also among French-speaking Switzerland). Families also attend midnight mass and decorate their homes with Nativity Scenes depicting the birth of Jesus. Additional Santons (little saints) may be added in the nativity scenes.

In France and in other French-speaking areas (see French Canada), a long family dinner, called a réveillon, is held on Christmas Eve.[43] The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (meaning "waking"), because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond. Réveillon is generally of an exceptional or luxurious nature. Appetizers may include lobster, oysters, escargots or foie gras, etc. One traditional dish is turkey with chestnuts. Réveillons in Quebec will often include some variety of tourtière. Dessert may consist of a bûche de Noël. In Provence, the tradition of the 13 desserts is followed, almost invariably including: pompe à l'huile (a flavoured bread), dates, etc. Quality wine is usually consumed at such dinners, often with champagne or similar sparkling wines as a conclusion. Christmas carols may also be sung.

Ireland

Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration on the calendar in Ireland and lasts from 24 December to 6 January, although many may view 8 December as being the start of the season; the schools are closed on that day, making it a traditional Christmas shopping time.

Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve, or often a few days beforehand. Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day are public holidays, and many people do not return to work until after New Year's Day. Irish people spend more and more money each year on celebrating Christmas. In 2006, the total amount spent in Ireland to celebrate Christmas was €16 billion,[44] which averages at approximately €4,000 for every single person in the country.

It is extremely popular on Christmas Eve to go for "the Christmas drink" in the local pub, where regular punters are usually offered a Christmas drink. Many neighbours and friends attend each other's houses for Christmas drinks and parties on the days leading up to and after Christmas Day. Although religious devotion in Ireland today is considerably less than it used to be, there are huge attendances at religious services for Christmas Day, with Midnight Mass a popular choice. Most families arrange for their deceased relatives to be prayed for at these Masses as it is a time of remembering the dead in Ireland. It is traditional to decorate graves at Christmas with a wreath made of holly and ivy. Even in the most undevout of homes in Ireland the traditional crib takes centre stage along with the Christmas tree as part of the family's decorations. Some people light candles to signify symbolic hospitality for Mary and Joseph. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus's parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem.[45] Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve or often a few days beforehand. It is traditional to leave a mince pie and a bottle or a glass of Guinness for Santa Claus along with a carrot for Rudolph on Christmas Eve.

Santa Claus, often known in Ireland simply as Santy or Daidí na Nollag in Irish, brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and a variety of potatoes, as potatoes still act as a staple food in Ireland despite the popularisation of staples such as rice and pasta. Dessert is a very rich selection of Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter.

Christmas celebrations in Ireland finish with the celebration of Little Christmas also known as Oíche Nollaig na mBan in Irish on 6 January. This festival, which coincides with Epiphany, is also known as Women's Christmas in Cork & Kerry.

Netherlands and Flanders

Christmas traditions in the Netherlands are almost the same as the ones in Dutch speaking parts of Belgium (Flanders). The Dutch recognize two days of Christmas as public holidays in the Netherlands, calling December 25 Eerste Kerstdag ("first Christmas day") and December 26 Tweede Kerstdag ("second Christmas day"). In families, it is customary to spend these days with either side of the family.

In the Catholic part of the country, it used to be common to attend Christmas Eve midnight mass; this custom is still upheld, but by fewer people every year. Christmas Eve is these days a rather normal evening without any special gatherings or meals. However, the gourmetten on Christmas Day is the most celebrated Christmas tradition. People (mostly a group of friends or family) grill meat, fish or omelettes on a big pan. Some parts of the country also bake Pannekoeken (pancakes) on it. The week before Christmas is important to the retail trade, because this is the biggest sales week in the country. Christmas songs are heard everywhere. People in the southern region of the Netherlands are known for their religious observance, and churches are always full on Christmas Day. The cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Eindhoven are the busiest cities in terms of entertainment on Christmas Day.

The Christmas season wraps up after the new year with Epiphany, or "Driekoningen", on January 6. Children dress up as the Three Wise Men and travel in groups of three carrying lanterns, re-enacting the Epiphany and singing traditional songs for their hosts. In return they are rewarded with cakes and sweets.

United Kingdom

Christmas Tree and carolers at Trafalgar Square in London, UK

In the United Kingdom the Christmas season starts at Advent, where holly wreaths are made with three purple, one pink and one white candle. However many shops sell Christmas decorations beforehand. It lasts until 6 January (Epiphany), as it is considered bad luck to have Christmas decorations up after this date.

On Christmas Eve, presents are supposedly delivered in stockings and under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas, who previously had been something like The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but has now become mainly conflated with Santa Claus. The two names are now used interchangeably and equally known to British people and some distinctive features still remain. Many families tell their children stories about Father Christmas and his reindeer. One tradition is to put out a plate of carrots for the reindeer and mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas to help him on his way.

Few families open their presents on Christmas Eve, the Royal family being a notable exception, and Queen Victoria as a child makes note of it in her diary for Christmas Eve 1832, the delighted 13-year-old princess wrote, "After dinner...we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room...There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees..".[46] Since the first commercial Christmas card was produced in London in 1843, cards are sent in the weeks leading up to Christmas, many of which contain the English festive greeting Merry Christmas.[47]

On Christmas Day, a public holiday in the United Kingdom, nearly the whole population has the day off to be with their family and friends, so they can gather round for a traditional Christmas dinner, which is usually a turkey, traditionally with cranberries, parsnips, and roast potatoes, quite like the Sunday roast, and traditionally followed by a Christmas pudding.[48][49] During the meal, Christmas crackers, containing toys, jokes and a paper hat are pulled.[50] Attendance at a Christmas Day church service is less popular than it used to be with fewer than 3 million now attending a Christmas Day Church of England service.[51] Watching the Queen's Speech on TV is a tradition that can be important in some households' Christmas Day, typically averaging 7 million viewers on TV[52] and is declining in popularity and 2 million listeners via radio.

Christmas lights on Regent Street, London, UK

The Celebration of Boxing Day on the day after Christmas Day is a tradition practiced in the UK. It is a bank holiday, and if it happens to fall on a weekend then a special Bank Holiday Monday will occur. Also, depending on the day of the week, it is often a day when football matches are played in the professional leagues and many people go to watch their team play.

Other traditions include carol singing, where many carols are sung by children on people's doorsteps and by professional choirs, and sending Christmas cards. In public, there are decorations and lights in most shops, especially in town centres, and even in Indian and Chinese restaurants. Churches and cathedrals across the country hold masses, with many people going to midnight mass or a service on Christmas morning. Even though church attendance has been falling over the decades some people who do not go to church often think it is still important to go at Christmas, so Church attendance increases. Most theatres have a tradition of putting on a Christmas pantomime for children. The pantomime stories are traditionally based on popular children's stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and Aladdin, rather than being directly concerned with Christmas as such, although there is sometimes a link. Television is widely watched: for many television channels,Christmas Day is the most important day of the year in terms of ratings.

Scotland

Christmas in Scotland was traditionally observed very quietly, because the Church of Scotland – a Presbyterian Church – for various reasons never placed much emphasis on the Christmas festival; although in Catholic areas people would attend Midnight Mass or early morning Mass before going to work. This tradition derives from the Church of Scotland's origins including St Columba's monastic tradition, under which every day is God's day and there is none more special than another. (Thus Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Scotland.) Christmas Day was commonly a normal working day in Scotland until the 1960s, and even into the 1970s in some areas. The New Year's Eve festivity, Hogmanay, is by far the largest celebration in Scotland. The gift-giving, public holidays and feasting associated with mid-winter were traditionally held between 11 December and 6 January. However, since the 1960s, with increased influences from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, Christmas and its related festivities are now nearly on a par with Hogmanay and "Ne'erday". The capital city of Edinburgh has a traditional German market from late November until Christmas Eve and on the first Sunday in Advent a nativity scene is blessed by the Cardinal Archbishop in the main square.

Oceania

Australia

In Australia, as with all of the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas occurs during the height of the summer season. Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 25–26) are recognized as national public holidays in Australia, and workers are therefore entitled to a day off with pay.

The Australian traditions and decorations are quite similar to those of the United Kingdom and North America, and similar wintry iconography is commonplace. This means a red fur-coated Santa Claus riding a sleigh, carols such as Jingle Bells, and various snow-covered Christmas scenes on Christmas cards and decorations appear in the middle of summer. As novelties, some Australian songwriters and authors have occasionally depicted Santa in "Australian"-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and flip-flops, and having his sleigh pulled by kangaroos, (e.g. Six White Boomers by Rolf Harris) but these depictions have not replaced mainstream iconography.

The traditional Christmas tree is central to Christmas decorations and strings of lights and tinsel are standard. Decorations appear in stores and on streets starting in November, and are commonplace by early December. Many homeowners decorate the exterior of their houses. Displays range from the modest to elaborate, sometimes with hundreds of lights and decorations depicting seasonal motifs such as Christmas trees, Santa Claus, reindeer, or nativity scenes. Particular regions have a tradition for elaborate displays, and attract a great amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic during the Christmas season.

Most workplaces conduct a "Christmas Party" some time during December, but rarely on Christmas Eve itself. As many people take their holidays between Christmas and New Year's Day, and many workplaces completely close for that period, these parties are effectively an end of year or break-up party and frequently feature little or no reference to Christmas itself. Often they will not even be named the "Christmas Party" but called the "end of year party" or a "break-up party".

The tradition of sending Christmas cards is widely practised in Australia. The price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter; senders are required to mark the envelope "card only" when using the lower priced stamps.

As Christmas falls in summer, the watching of television is not a strong part of Australian Christmas traditions, unlike in the United Kingdom, in which it is one of the most important days for television ratings. Television ratings in Australia are not taken during the summer and schedules are mostly filled with repeats of old programmes or previously cancelled shows. Some Australian-produced programs have a Christmas special, though often it will be shown early December and not on Christmas Day itself. Many television stations rerun old Christmas-themed films in the weeks leading up to and including Christmas Day, such as Miracle on 34th Street, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and various film versions of A Christmas Carol.

On Christmas Eve, the children are told, Santa Claus[53] visits houses placing presents for children under the Christmas tree or in stockings or sacks which are usually hung by a fireplace. In recent decades many new apartments and homes have been built without traditional combustion fireplaces, however with some innovation the tradition persists. Snacks and beverages (including liquor) may be left out for Santa to consume during his visit. The gifts are opened the next morning, on Christmas Day.

On December 25, extended families traditionally gather for a Christmas Day lunch similar to the traditional Christmas meal in England and America[54][55] that includes decorated hams, roast turkey, roast chicken, salads and roast vegetables, accompanied by Champagne, and followed by fruit mince pies, pavlova,[56] trifle, and plum pudding with brandy butter. Christmas crackers are a feature of the meal. Candy canes are a popular confectionery in Australia in the Christmas period. More recently, as appropriate to the sometimes hot weather on the day, lighter meals featuring fish and seafood may be served, along with barbecue lunches. However, the typical roast remains popular.

Two major sporting events traditionally commence on the day after Christmas Day in Australia: the Boxing Day Test cricket test match, and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

Regional traditions

A popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000 people. Begun in 1933, the pageant is staged in early November every year, usually on a Saturday morning, marking the start of the Christmas season. It comprises a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the arrival of Santa Claus. At the terminus of the pageant Santa proceeds to the Magic Cave in the David Jones department store where he can be visited by children. Smaller scale pageants are also held in regional centres.

Giant Christmas bulb sculpture in Melbourne, Australia

Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that started in Melbourne in 1938 and has since spread around Australia and the world. At the event people gather on Christmas Eve, usually outdoors, to sing carols by candlelight in a large-scale concert style event. The Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight which takes place at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on Christmas Eve, is televised nationwide and it has become a tradition for many Australians to watch the performance. Carols in the Domain takes place in Sydney the Saturday before Christmas.

Special events for international tourists away from their families are held on Bondi Beach in Sydney. These may involve a turkey barbecue and such humorous stunts as a fake Santa dressed in a Santa suit surfing in to appear to the crowd.

New Zealand

The Sky Tower illuminated in Christmas colours during the month of December.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both statutory holidays in New Zealand. While Boxing Day is a standard statutory holiday, Christmas Day is one of the three-and-a-half days of the year where all but the most essential businesses and services must close. Many of New Zealand's Christmas traditions are similar to those of Australia in that they are a mix of United Kingdom and North American traditions conducted in summer. New Zealand celebrates Christmas with mainly traditional northern hemisphere winter imagery, mixed with local imagery. The Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), which produces large crimson flowers in December, is an often used symbol for Christmas in New Zealand, and subsequently the pōhutukawa has become known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.[57]

Traditional Christmas pudding, can be doused in brandy and set a-light if desired.

Traditional winter-styled hot roast food is served for Christmas dinner and Christmas crackers are pulled before eating. Traditional Christmas desserts of Christmas pudding, trifle, Christmas cake and mince pies are consumed, along with the traditional New Zealand dessert of pavlova. House decoration is common, usually featuring strings of lights on domestic exteriors. Store chain The Warehouse hosts a competition to find the best-decorated house of the year.

Several Christmas themed parades are held in New Zealand. The most popular is Auckland's Santa Parade down Queen Street. This features numerous floats and marching bands and attracts large crowds every year. It is held late November to accommodate holidaymakers and is seen as the preamble to the later festivities. The Australian tradition of Carols by Candlelight is popular in New Zealand, especially in Auckland and Christchurch, where there is usually a large outdoor carol-singing gathering known as Christmas in the park.

As with Australia, the watching of television is not a strong part of New Zealand Christmas traditions. Some Christmas-specific programmes are usually shown, usually a mix of religious programmes and the Christmas specials of regular television series (often UK and US series). No advertising is allowed on New Zealand television or radio on Christmas Day, a rule that also applies on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The Queen's Christmas message is broadcast at around 7:00pm on Christmas evening.

See also

References

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Further reading

External links

Images