Christmas Traditions Around the World
Every family has their own Christmas traditions: celebrating and feasting on Christmas Eve, walking down the hallway on Christmas morning to see what Santa has left and even visiting Christmas Town to see the most lights anywhere in the USA. Given our European theming, we wanted to learn how other countries share in the holiday spirit. We found some of the more interesting ways that others spread Christmas cheer and learned that most have inspired our own traditions here in America. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle up with loved ones as you take a tour of Christmas traditions on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. After all, if Santa can do it in one night, so can you.
England - Happy Christmas
Christmas Lights - A celebrity is asked to “turn on” the lights in most villages or cities in the UK. Oxford Street has the most well-known light display in London.
England’s Milk and Cookies - Instead of milk and cookies, kids set out mince pies and brandy as a special snack for Father Christmas while delivering toys and presents. Custom has changed slightly to a non-alcoholic beverage, as it is best that Father Christmas doesn’t drink and drive his sleigh.
Letters to Father Christmas - Instead of mailing letters of Christmas wishes to the North Pole, kids put their letters in the fireplace and hope that the smoke will find its way to Father Christmas. This will reveal all of their Christmas hopes without spending a dime on postage.
Scotland - Nollaig Chridheil
Christmas Celebration - Up until 1958, celebrating Christmas in Scotland was not allowed for almost 400 years. Due to the ban, the celebration remains a small gathering today, as the Presbyterian Church still does not encourage it.
Burning the Differences - In order to clear the air and mend hostile relationships between friends and/ or family, a rowan tree is burned on Christmas Eve. The fire must continue to burn into the morning or the family will have bad luck for the next year.
Village Christmas Trees - A large tree is decorated in the town center. Each day leading up to Christmas, one of the bulbs is smashed until only a few remain near the top of the tree on Christmas Eve. This countdown to Christmas is carried into households in the form of an advent calendar.
Ireland - Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Candles in the Window - A candle burns throughout the night in the largest window sill of many homes to offer a guiding light for Mary and Joseph along
St. Stephen’s Day - Big football matches and horse races are traditionally played on St. Stephen’s Day (the day after Christmas). Many parties are hosted on this day to celebrate.
Women’s Christmas - Historically, on January 6 (also known as the Feast of Epiphany), many towns gave the women the day off as the men did household chores. While this tradition has died out, many Irish women still get together, gossip, drink tea and celebrate life on the Sunday nearest to Epiphany.
France - Joyeux Noël
Nativity Scenes - Unlike what you typically see in America, these scenes include everyday people and occupations. Some examples are a policeman or a doctor, not just traditional biblical figures.
The Yule Log - Instead of the digital Yule Log you might be familiar with, cherry wood is carried into homes, sprinkled with red wine and burned on Christmas Eve. Some even leave the Yule Log burning throughout the night to light the way for Mary and baby Jesus.
Shoes with Small Toys - Children place their shoes on the hearth in hopes that Père Noël will fill them with small toys. Over time, this became what we all know as hanging stockings on the mantle.
New France (Canada) - many different languages
Mummering - In smaller towns and villages, people dress up in costumes and ask their neighbors if they are taking mummers. Just like carolers, they sing, dance and celebrate before moving on to the next house. The best part is that each house has to guess who the mummers are. If they get it wrong, they have to join in the fun and go from house to house. This is commonly celebrated during the 12 days of Christmas, from December 26 – January 6, and is popular among adults.
Christmas Light-Up Contest - Labrador City is known for snow, and lots of it. They use this to their advantage and create ice sculptures in their front yards. Each house is covered in lights and a contest is held to choose the winner with the best light display. We think 8 million lights would win this competition any year.
Réveillon - After midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, a large celebration is held, lasting until the early morning hours. People enjoy a feast with pigs feet stew and meat pies. Père Noel visits during Mass in order for the celebration to last into Christmas day.
Santa’s Home - Because the North Pole is so close to Canada, many children say Santa Claus is Canadian.
Germany - Frohe Weihnachten
Advent - Several types of Advent celebrations have come from German traditions, including calendars with small trinkets or candies and the wreath with four candles used in churches. Another form of celebration involves making a wreath with Fir branches and adding 24 decorated boxes with little presents inside.
Christmas Markets - Located throughout Germany in both large and small villages, these popular markets sell foods and decorations such as glass ornaments and glühwein (very similar to our own Mistletoe Marketplace at Christmas Town). To people’s disbelief, the glass ornament Christmas Pickle is not an actual tradition from Germany and most have never heard of it.
Christmas Trees - A very important piece of German tradition. These are brought into the house on Christmas Eve and mothers of younger children secretly decorate the tree before they exchange gifts that evening.
Italy - Buon Natale
Nativity Scenes - Similar to French traditions, the Nativity crib scene is one of the more popular traditions (which started in Naples, Italy), incorporating everyday people and objects instead of just traditional biblical figures. These are displayed in the shape of a pyramid, decorated with colorful paper and candles. On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus is added to the crib. The largest Nativity is in Naples and has over 600 objects.
Christmas Meal - Most families prepare a seafood meal on Christmas Eve to celebrate the festive season. It is typical that meat (and sometimes even dairy) is not part of the dinner. An Italian Christmas cake (referred to as Panettone) is served for dessert with a cup of hot cocoa.
Epiphany - More presents are given on Epiphany night than on Christmas Eve. Befana brings presents to the kids and fills their stockings instead of Babbo Natale (better known to us as Santa Claus).