Ah, Christmas! Lights are being strung, trees are being decorated, cookies are being burned, and around the world, people are starting to countdown the days to the Christmas holidays. But wait – how DO other people from other parts of the world celebrate the holiday season?
Well, as it turns out, Christmas traditions can vary quite a bit from country to country. Let’s take a look at the unique and surprising Christmas traditions found around the world!
“DAS CHRISTKIND” IS COMING TO TOWN!
In Germany, the most important day of the Christmas holidays is without a doubt Christmas Eve, or Heiligabend in German.
Unlike in much of the English-speaking world, Germans unwrap their presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.
Traditionally, there is no fat man in a red suit sliding down your chimney. Instead, Baby Jesus himself (German: das Christkind) squeezes himself through the keyhole in your door bearing gifts.
GERMAN ADVENT CALENDARS ARE “YUGE”!
German Adventskalender take the tradition of Advent calendars one step further than most other cultures.
Many German Advent Calendars are homemade and quite large, boasting special gifts in small pouches for each day of December leading up to Christmas.
These gifts range from chocolate to books to small toys.
LIVE AND LET LEBKUCHEN!
In the period leading up to Christmas, or in German “die Vorweihnachtszeit”, throughout Germany you will find Christmas markets opening their doors.
These can be minuscule markets in the most remote villages to world-renowned Weihnachtsmärkte in cities such as Nuremberg, Dresden, and Berlin.
When visiting a German Christmas market, be sure to try the local Lebkuchen (a pastry akin to gingerbread) and Stollen (fruit cake). As opposed to the widely feared American version, German fruitcake is actually quite tasty!
Oh, and don’t forget the Glühwein. Prost!
IF YOU WANT CHRISTMAS, THEN WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR.
Russia, like many countries in Eastern Europe, celebrates Orthodox Christmas, which takes place on January 7th.
So, if you’re planning on being in Russia around the end of December, be prepared to drown your sorrow in lots of Vodka because:
THE 25th OF DECEMBER IN RUSSIA IS JUST A REGULAR DAY
If you’re a student or working in Russia and are hoping to get the 25th of December off, you’re out of luck. Some universities even hold exams during this week.
The upside is that if you really love Christmas, just head on over to Russia after celebrating at home and you can have Christmas twice in a year! (You hear that, Timmy Turner??)
Don’t get too overly excited for the 7th of January, though, because:
THE REAL PARTY IS ON NEW YEAR’S
Even more important than Christmas in Russia, is New Year’s, or Новый год.
In fact, in Russia you won’t find Christmas trees, but rather “New Year’s trees” (in Russian: новогодние ёлки/novogodnie yolki).
People don’t give Christmas presents, but rather New Year’s presents. The decorations in cities that most people would generally associate with Christmas are seen as New Year’s decorations by Russians.
YOU’LL “LOG” CHRISTMAS HERE!
Ok, sorry for that slightly painful pun, but as it turns out, yule logs actually play a big role in French Christmas.
In French, yule logs are called “bûches de Noël”, and are the quintessential dessert for Christmas Eve dinner in many Francophone parts of the world. Other common dishes are foie gras and salmon.
Do you often suffer from post-Christmas-blues? Fear not- in France, the festivities are not done after the 25th, since…
FRENCH PEOPLE ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT THE EPIPHANY
On the 6th of January, French families come together once again to visit with one another and eat “galette des rois” or “King’s Cake”.
This is a kind of tart that people in France, Switzerland, Belgium and French-speaking Canada associate with the last day of Christmas.
THE EASIEST WAY TO BECOME KING
A beloved tradition is to bake a small figurine made of porcelain or plastic called a “fève” (literally “broad bean”) into the galette.
When the family slice the galette, the youngest person there has to go under the table and call out names one by one to announce who’s turn it is to receive a slice.
If you happen to find the fève in your slice, you get the honor of being crowned “king” (or queen) for the day.
As “roi/reine de la journée”, you get to wear a special paper crown and choose your king or queen that will rule with you (what a perfect excuse to call up your crush!).
RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL
St. Nicholas, known as Mikuláš to Czechs, shows up on the 5th of December, a whole day earlier than in other European countries, such as Germany or the Netherlands.
Don’t expect him to show up at your doorstep alone, however. He’s usually accompanied by a few “angels“ and “devils” (generally played by parents and/or the uncle everyone dislikes) and will ask you to recite a Christmas poem for him.
If you do so and you’ve been good, you’ll get a basket of sweets and fruit. If you’ve been naughty, one of the devils will hand you coal. Just like in English-speaking countries, this is mostly more of a threat than a reality, luckily!
SHOE-TING FOR THE STARS
One more very unique, yet dying, Czech Christmas tradition, is házení botou, or the “tossing of shoes“.
For centuries, young girls have tossed a shoe over their shoulder, and if the shoe faces the door, it means they will soon move out and should prepare for marriage.
If the shoe faces inwards, the girl is out of luck—at least for another year. My Czech friends, however, say that almost no one does this anymore, except in small remote villages.
AN APPLE A DAY- MEANS IT’S NEW YEARS?
Only about 2% of Chinese people are Christians and in the countryside, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what 圣诞节 （”shèng dàn jié” Mandarin for Christmas) is.
Nonetheless, in larger cities, where American and Western cultural influence has become more prominent, lights, trees, and other decorations are set up in honor of the holiday.
A tradition of gifting apples on the day before Christmas is becoming more widespread in the cities, especially among students, as the first character of the word apple, “píng guǒ” (苹果), is pronounced the same as that of “píng ān yè” (平安夜), the Chinese name for Christmas Eve (literally translated as peaceful night).
But honestly, let’s face it: In China…
…NEW YEAR’S IS WAY MORE LIT
If you want to experience a real celebration in China, then come during 春节 “chūn jié”, or Chinese New Year’s.
New Year’s is the largest holiday of the year and takes place around the end of January or beginning of February.
It is also known as the largest human migration in the world, where hundreds of millions of Chinese make their way home for a two-week celebration with their families.
FOOD, FESTIVITIES, AND FAMILIA
Christmas, or Navidad, is for many Colombians their favorite time of year. Like most of Latin America, Christmas in Colombia involves a lot of three things: family, lots of great food, and music.
¡ES UN CHICO!
One of the most traditional customs leading up to Christmas in Colombía is the “Noche de las velitas”, or “night of candles”, which takes place on December 7th. This celebrates the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
On the night of the 7th, “faroles” (paper lamps) and candles are illuminated throughout the streets, shopping centers, and homes of Colombian cities and towns.
These paper lamps mark the beginning of Christmas time for most Colombians.
NOVELAS Y POSADAS
Starting on the 16th December, many Colombians begin saying Novenas. These are a series of prayers lasting nine days leading up to Christmas Eve.
Posadas, meaning “inns” in Spanish, is another tradition common throughout Latin America. People walk around their neighborhood singing Christmas carols, which symbolize Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay.
The celebrations culminate in midnight mass and spending Christmas day with the family.
TO SUM IT ALL UP…
No matter how and if you’ll be celebrating Christmas this holiday season, we wish you all:
Happy Holidays, Frohe Weihnachten, С Рождеством, veselé Vánoce, 圣诞节快乐, Feliz Navidad, and a very Merry Christmas from Memrise!
Jack Fordon has a passion for languages and travel. He has lived in six different countries (and counting), and the amount of languages he speaks fluctuates between ten and twelve-ish, depending on how many beers he’s had. Currently, he is a student of Slavic Students and Mandarin Chinese at the University of Heidelberg in Germany but has spent the last year on exchange in the Czech Republic and St. Petersburg, Russia.
When he’s not learning languages and/or traveling, you can find him volunteering for local environmental groups, out in nature, in the movies, or playing one of four songs on the piano. Check out his new Youtube channel and follow him on Facebook at „Jack’s Language Adventures“ and Instagram at @fordonjack!