Here in the US, Christmas is all about the jolly big guy in the red suit, along with the traditional religious meaning. But in other countries around the globe, the holiday is celebrated in unique ways, with interesting, time-honored traditions that take place alongside the expressions of faith. Here are just a few of interesting Christmas traditions from our global neighbors.
Argentina—On Christmas Eve in Argentina, everyone goes to church together before enjoying a big meal together. Customary foods include turkey, mince pies, pork, and Christmas bread and puddings. At midnight, fireworks go off and globos, or paper balloons, are lit from the inside and sent soaring into the sky. Homes are decorated with wreaths, lights, flowers, and trees, and the Nativity scene, or pesebre, is a big part of the holiday decor. In many homes, cotton balls are placed on various branches of the tree to mimic snow. At night on January 5, Argentinian children place their shoes outside, under the Christmas tree, or under their beds and wait for the Magi to fill them with gifts on January 6, or Three Kings Day.
France—In the US, Santa leaves gifts under the tree; in France, children place their shoes by the fireplace and Pere Noel (Father Christmas) fills them with presents. Instead of a tree, most homes display a Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, and the Magi—plus local figures from the town. Popular Christmas dishes include goose, turkey, oysters or ham, plus the buche de Nol, or Christmas log, a cake in the shape of a Yule log. The Christmas feast usually takes places on Christmas Eve, after midnight mass.
Sweden—Here, the holidays begin with Luciadagen, the ceremony of Saint Lucia. Each year, on Dec. 13, the youngest girl in the family dresses up in a white robe with a red sash, wearing a crown of evergreens with candles attached to it. Then she and her brothers (dressed in long white shirts and pointed hats and carrying a star wand) wake the parents and serve them coffee and Lucia buns. A few days before Christmas, the trees are decorated with apples, candles, Swedish flags, straw ornaments, and gnome figurines. Then, on Christmas Eve, the menu includes a variety of traditional foods like meatballs, pickled herring, sausage, salmon, Janssons frestlse (potato casserole with anchovy), glogg (mulled wine) and Risgryngrot (a rice porridge in which an almond is hidden—it’s said that whoever gets it in their bowl is going to be married in the next 12 months.) After dinner, someone dresses up as tomte, a Christmas gnome that is believed to live under the floorboards of the house, and hands out presents, usually with funny rhymes.
Ukraine—Some families celebrate the holidays beginning on Dec. 25, while others follow the Papal Calendar and celebrate on January 7, which is a holy day in the Orthodox Church. Before the holiday, people prepare by fasting (partially) for four weeks and cleaning their houses from top to bottom. On Christmas Eve, kids look for the first star in the sky—a tribute to the Three Wise Men. The celebration also includes a 12-course meal, followed by the singing of Kolyadky, or Ukranian carols and midnight church services. On Christmas morning, Father Frost delivers gifts to children.
- Every country celebrates Christmas in a unique way, but the spirit of the season is the same no matter where you go.
- In France, Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, leaves gifts in children’s shoes; Nativity scenes are the customary decoration.
- On Christmas Eve in the Ukraine, families attend church together and enjoy caroling, while children seek out the first star in the sky as a tribute to the Three Wise Men.
- A traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner includes rice porridge with a solitary almond; whoever receives the almond is said to be married in the next year.