Christmas Around The World
Christmas and traditions go together like holly and ivy, Santa and Rudolph, and turkey and stuffing. It’s part of what makes Christmas so wonderfully enjoyable and ultimately the most longed for holiday of them all.
by Lisamarie Lamb
Year after year, we get to do the same things, from decorating the tree with the ancient baubles that have been around for decades, to deciding what time we have dinner and whether or not we watch the Queen’s speech.
However, Christmas in other countries is different to that in the UK. Whilst we’re tucking into turkey or goose, what are other people eating? As we hang a holly-based wreath on our front door, who is using paper lanterns to make things colourful? Here, we look at Christmas traditions from around the world.
The ever-traditional Yule log may hail from Scandinavia, but this is no chocolatey treat. In fact, the original Yule log was just a log used at Yuletide to keep the house warm. At the beginning of the season, the master of the house would cut down a tree, after which there would be a ceremony and feasting as it was brought into the house. The end that had been closest to the ground was placed into the hearth (with the rest of the tree sticking out into the room), and a fire was lit. Gradually, the entire tree would be fed to the flames, keeping the fire alight throughout the season. If timed right, this was the only firewood that was required over Christmas.
Now, with the advent of central heating and fewer open fires, the tradition has died out somewhat, but the chocolate version still remains a major part of the Scandinavian celebrations. Only once it is brought into the house, can the Christmas period begin.
In Germany, there is a certain magic around Christmas, especially for the young. The Christmas tree – which originated in Germany – is kept a secret until Christmas Eve, when it is unveiled, fully decorated and with all of the gifts beneath, to the delight of the children. Once the tree is presented, there is feasting and carolling, and then the gifts are opened. On Christmas Day itself it’s really all about seeing friends and family, eating a lot (the legend goes that if you don’t fill yourself up at Christmas then you will be haunted by demons through the night!), and attending church or carol concerts.
Christianity is not the main religion in China, but Christmas is still celebrated by some. The decorations in China don’t tend to be of a religious bent or even particularly Christmassy, but instead the Chinese often festoon their homes with beautiful paper lanterns in an array of different colours. While they do hang muslin stockings out and await a visit from the Christmas Old Man, the main winter feast takes place at the end of January, which is when the presents and feasting happens. In order to be able to celebrate with their ancestors (which is very important in Chinese culture), portraits and photographs of deceased relatives are placed around the house.
In Spain, Christmas is a very religious festival, so there is a lot to celebrate. The first day of Christmas tends to start on 8th December, which is the Feat of the Immaculate Conception, when Mary is celebrated. The ceremony starts outside of Seville Cathedral, where a group of costumed boys perform a dance known as ‘los seises’. The next big feast day is Christmas Eve, when the family joins together to enjoy food, drink, and games. On 28th December, it is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. On this day, the children light bonfires and the adults tidy up the towns and villages so that by the time the new year comes around, everywhere is clean and fresh. You may wonder what has happened to the Christmas presents…well, everyone has to wait until the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January to open them.
Christmas in Russia is celebrated on 7th January, and that’s because in Russia the old Julian calendar is used for religious holidays (although some Catholics in Russia may still choose to have their own small celebration on 25th). Traditionally, you are not allowed to start feasting on Christmas Eve until the first star has appeared in the sky; until then it is a fast day. Once the star has risen, however, the eating can begin, and often the first thing to be tasted is sochivo, a porridge made with oats, berries, and honey. Meanwhile, the main food at the Christmas meal is sauerkraut (a cabbage dish), as many Russians choose not to eat meat or fish during the Christmas period. After the meal, it’s time for church, and often this service doesn’t finish until around 4am.
Again, Ded Moroz (Father Frost) doesn’t bring any gifts during this period – he waits until the new year.
It seems only right that Christmas in Bethlehem should be mentioned here. After all, this is where it all began 2,000 years ago. Every year there is a huge parade through the town, with thousands of people taking part, and many more coming to watch from all over the world. A group of horses lead the parade, and behind them is a single black horse, upon which a rider sits carrying a cross. Everyone else follows on behind until they reach the Church of the Nativity. Once inside the church, they place the cross in the grotto on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born.