In Poland, Christmas is celebrated for three days. During these three days, people do not do any work. Therefore Poles will do the housework and preparation before the first star in the sky on Christmas Eve. This star resembles the Star of Bethlehem and signals the beginning of Polish Wilgia. People in Poland believe how they spend Christmas Eve will determine how the New year goes, so they try to have a fabulous time! In Poland, just like many other countries, Christmas trees are also a vital part of the holiday season! However, Poles have a distinctive tradition of putting food on their trees! They add apples, candy, nuts (in wrappers), and cookies to represent a good harvest. Before eating, each member of a Polish family will open Christmas wafers known as opłatek together and say happy wishes for the new year. Then the family prays and begins their meal. Most Polish tables will include Christmas Eve carp, Jewish-style carp, herring, pierogi, and poppy seed cake. After dinner, according to a survey from Polish National Radio, 80% of Polish families will sing Christmas carols at the dinner table after the meal. As the clock strikes midnight in Poland, the family will head out for midnight mass.
Like in Poland, Christmas in Germany is a three-day celebration, with the most critical day being Christmas Eve, even though the official holidays in Germany are December 25 and 26 (first and second Christmas Day). However, the Christmas season in Germany begins much sooner than December 24th because most German homes put up an advent wreath. The candles represent the four Sundays in December. Each Sunday, a candle is lit, so by Christmas day, all four are glowing. During the advent season, Germans also enjoy Christmas cookies, gingerbread, and traditional German sweet cake. As if that weren’t delicious enough, a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Germany usually consists of potato salad, sausage, duck, or goose. After dinner on Christmas Eve, gifts are typically brought by Christkind (child of Christ). However, Santa Clause exists in Germany, but he is called Christmas Man by the German children. On December 6th, Germany celebrates Nikolaustag as well. Nikolaus comes to visit the children of Germany, so on the evening of December 5th, children shine up their shoes and place them outside their room doors with a wish list. Then while they are sleeping, Nikolaus brings the items and puts them in their shoes. However, Naughty German children beware because Knecht Ruprecht also visits and will punish children who have misbehaved during the year. 73% of German homes put up their own Christmas tree, so no matter who brings the gifts on Christmas, they are sure to see a tree shining bright. These trees are traditionally trimmed with wooden ornaments and natural candles. However, more recently, people have used white lights and colorful decorations. These trees will stay up in Germany until January 6th, the day of the three wise men.
The English enjoy putting up Christmas trees every year, even though this tradition started in Germany. Prince Albert brought it to England after his marriage to Queen Victoria. People in England believe that if you do not take your Christmas tree down after 12 days, you will have bad luck in the new year. English homes are also often decorated with holly, ivy, and of course, mistletoe! No matter how the house is decorated, Father Christmas is sure to pay a visit to every child who has been good this year. In England, on Christmas Eve, he comes down the Chimney to fill children’s stockings. While in the home, Father Christmas is famous for enjoying mince pies and something alcoholic. Mulled wine is heated with herbs like cinnamon. Father Christmas’ origins can be traced back to the 5th and 6th centuries. It was said he promised a mild winter in exchange for kindness. This story developed into the Father Christmas who is known today because some mixed it with the tale of Santa Clause. On Christmas day, after the children have finished opening their gifts from Father Christmas, it is time for food.
The biggest meal in England is typically eaten around lunchtime with leftovers for dinner. The guests will pull apart Christmas crackers before enjoying a meal of roast turkey with vegetables (especially Brussel sprouts). Yorkshire pudding with Christmas cake is common for dessert. At 3 pm the reigning monarch reads a message on television. This tradition started with George V and is now an annual occurrence. Then later in the evening, the family will drink tea and snack on mince pies and sausage rolls. On December 26th, England also celebrates boxing day. This day started with people bringing boxes of gifts and food to charity and has developed into people giving gifts to each of their friends, family, and neighbors.
In Ireland, you can find the windows glowing with candles, these were originally a way for homes to inform travelers they were welcome to come in and stay for Christmas, but now they are solely decorations. The children of Ireland leave out mince pies and some Guinness for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Some even leave out carrots for his reindeer. While this may sound comparable to the Christmas traditions we know in America, if you were to enjoy the holiday season in Ireland, you may observe a Wren Boy Procession. This remarkable tradition involves groups of children dressing up in old clothes on December 26th. They dance from door to door, most often raising money for charity. Luckily, they have stopped carrying around dead Wrens! After the procession, they come home to enjoy leftovers from Christmas dinner, such as potato gratin. This is similar to scalloped potatoes.
An unusual Christmas ritual in the Catalonia region of Spain is the pooping log (Caga Tió). Children dress up a log with wooden legs, a face, blankets, and hats, then feed it with bread and other food. Then on Christmas day, they hit the log with a stick and sing a song asking it to poop out turrón and sweets for them. This tradition may seem unfamiliar to you, but there are many other traditions in Spain very similar to the ones that many families in America celebrate. In Spain, elaborate Beléns can be seen everywhere, from shops to private homes. These are similar to nativity scenes, but they are much more substantial. Instead of just the characters in the barn, the Beléns, which is the Spanish word for Bethlehem, exhibit entire buildings, shops, and rivers in addition to the manger and barn. Most Spaniards will attend midnight mass or La Misa Del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster) to celebrate Christmas. The main Christmas meal in Spain is immediately before or right after midnight mass, depending on the family. You may expect the children to rush home from midnight mass, hoping to get presents in the morning; however, in Spain, it’s not Santa Claus who brings children gifts. Instead, it is the three kings. The three kings do not come on Christmas eve; they come on the eve of January 5th and parade through the community with animals, helpers, and candy for children. As children return home, they leave their shoes for the three kings to fill with presents. On January 6th, after the children have gotten the gifts out of their shoes, the family will eat Roscón de Reyes, which is essentially a sweet bread ring topped with almonds and fruit. Sometimes it is even filled with whipped cream! Some families in Spain hide a figure of sorts in the cake, and whoever finds it must buy the Roscón next year!
In Mexico, the celebration of Christmas starts on December 3rd with a nine-day celebration of Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe. You can view sights of the Virgin Mary throughout Mexico, but Mexico City’s Basilica takes the cake. Starting December 16th, one boy and girl are chosen to play Mary and Joseph. They march through their communities in Las Posadas, lasting until Christmas Eve day. Many families put up Nativity scenes called Nascimentos starting on December 16th and add more characters to the stage as time goes on, with baby Jesus being added on Christmas Eve and the three kings being added on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, most families attend midnight mass and then have dinner together. Poinsettias and fireworks can often be seen coming home from midnight mass this time of year. When Christmas day rolls around, families are greeted at the dinner table by foods such as tamales, bacalao, buñuelos, pozole ponche navideño Ensalada de Noche Buena. The Christmas celebration in Mexico doesn’t end quite yet, though. On December 28th, Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Innocent Saints to remember the children King Herod had murdered while attempting to find baby Jesus. On the Day of the Innocent Saints, people play tricks on each other to illustrate the trickery of the innocent. At the end of this day, people take Jesus figurines to a church to receive a blessing, then go home to enjoy Rosca de Reyes and a feast encompassing classic Mexican dishes such as tamales.
On December seventh, Columbia kicks off the Christmas season by celebrating El Día de las Velitas, or Day of the Little Candles. On this day, businesses and private homes alike light candles to introduce the holiday. Many fireworks will be displayed on the Day of the Little Candles. Starting on December 16th and lasting nine days, the novenas are dedicated times during the day where people pray, sing, and read from the bible to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. When Christmas day finally arrives, and families gather for dinner, buñuelos can be seen at many tables. Buñuelos come from Jewish and Arabian cultures but are often eaten on Christmas day in Colombia. Turkey and lechona served with natilla and tamales are also commonly found on tables in Colombia. Colombians, just like the people of Mexico, also celebrate The Day of the Innocent Saints. On New Year's Eve, the last holiday of the season in Colombia, one grape per stroke of the clock is eaten at midnight. A wish is said with each grape, and the wishes are supposed to come true in the year to come.
In some countries, snow glistens on the ground giving its citizens a magical white Christmas. While you won’t see snow in Argentina, due to the warm climate, you can find Argentinian Christmas trees dressed up with not only ornaments but flowers and cotton balls as well! Since most people in Argentina will never have a white Christmas, cotton balls are as close as they will get. On Christmas eve, Argentinians, like people from many other countries, attend Christmas Eve Service, but before that, Argentina has a unique tradition called The Lighting Of Globos. Globos are small paper balloons that fly. Families will release them into the air, and they will light up the sky on Christmas eve. On Christmas, Argentinian tables feature dishes such as pork, turkey, steak, veal, or goat, mince pies, stuffed tomatoes, salads, mini sandwiches, pan dulce (bread pudding), panetone (sweetbread), fruit salads, chocolate covered raisins, ice cream, cakes, sugar-coated nuts, mantecol, and turron. Sometimes the oldest member of the family will give a toast before the meal begins. In Argentina, the Three kings day is also celebrated. Children in Argentina leave their shoes outside their house to be filled with special treats.
Leading up to the Christmas season in Brazil, plays called Los Pastores are performed, similar to in Mexico. However, in the Brazilian version, a gypsy woman tries to steal baby Jesus, and the shepherds who visit him are women, not men. When Christmas eve day arrives, unfortunately for families in Brazil, the crime rate is so high that it is not safe to hold midnight mass, so mass is held in the afternoon. After mass, families gather for a midnight dinner called Ceia. Then children leave their socks by windows for Papai Noel (Father Noel) or sometimes Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man) to fill with gifts and treats. The following day many people will head to the beach on Christmas day to enjoy the ocean and the warm sand. When they return from the beach for a meal, you can count on finding pork, turkey, salads, fruits, rice cooked with raisins, and ice cream on the tables of Brazilians across the country.
Christmas is extra special in Russia because, for years under the Soviet Union, religion was prohibited, and those who were brave enough to celebrate Christmas had to do so in secret. Before Christmas, many Russians refrain from eating meat and dairy products for forty days until the first star appears on Christmas eve representing the star of Bethlehem. Because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th instead of December 25th. However, children are brought gifts on December 31st by Grandfather Frost and his snow maiden granddaughter Snegurichka, who hike and ski through Russia. Unlike Santa Clause, they do not come at night. Instead, they stop at holiday parties to socialize and give out their presents. At the tables of these holidays, you’ll often find twelve different dishes representing the twelve original disciples of Jesus. These dishes are often pickled gherkins, mushrooms, sauerkraut, pickled apples, meat, mushroom and vegetable-filled pies, roast pork, goose, pirog ( a small dough cake with sweet filling), pelmeni(Siberian dumplings), fruit pies, or Kozulya (Russian Christmas cookies).
Christmas is a significant time of the year in the Philippines. Since Christianity was brought to the Philippines by missionaries from Spain and Portugal, many Philippines have related traditions to those in Europe. For example, most Filipino families have a Christmas tree, and Santa Claus visits good children on Christmas eve. However, they also have developed their traditions for the Christmas season. One example is the Parol. A Parol is a Christmas ornament made of Japanese paper and cellophane on the end of a bamboo pole that lights up and represents the star of Bethlehem. On December 16th, early morning masses called 'Misa de Gallo' or 'Simbang Gabi' in Filipino begin. This is the first of nine pre-dawn ceremonies, the last one being on Christmas Day. After midnight mass on Christmas eve, families and friends return to their homes for a special Noche Buena celebration. The Noche Buena feast often includes Lechon, ham, fruit salad, rice cakes, and steamed rice. The festival doesn’t stop there, though, and the Christmas season ends on the three kings' day.
Lots of Africans enjoy going caroling on Christmas Eve. When they return, the children put up stockings for Santa Clause, better known in Africa as Sinterklaas or Kersvader. On Christmas morning, the children wake to stuffed stockings and gifts under what is usually a fir Christmas tree if they have one. Many families attend Christmas morning services at local churches. Because of the warm weather in South Africa, many Africans will have a barbeque for Christmas dinner. Some will go camping over the holidays. The most common dishes around the table are turkey, duck, roast beef or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, Christmas pudding, Malva pudding, and mince pies. Before the meal begins, many families will pull open Christmas crackers. Like in England, boxing day is a public holiday in South Africa where loved ones exchange gifts.
The windows in Australia, just like Ireland, glow with candles on Christmas eve to welcome Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. After the youngest child lights the candle, the festivities begin. Australians gather outside to sing carols by candlelight tradition. As the evening grows late, some families attend Christmas eve service, while others attend midnight mass. No matter their affiliation, families return to their homes decorated with ferns, palm leaves, flowers, and Christmas trees. When the children wake up in the morning, some have received gifts from Father Christmas, while others have received their presents from Santa Clause. After breakfast and presents, many families attend a Christmas morning service then return to organize a meal. For the Australians who prefer an inside dinner, you can find turkey, ham, and plum pudding on the menu; however, due to the warm climate down under, many families in Australia have a barbeque or Christmas picnic. The day after Christmas, Australians celebrate boxing day by giving small gifts to their loved ones and those who have helped them throughout the year, such as the mailman. In Australia, the holiday festivities end on January sixth as the three kings' day concludes the holiday season.
No matter how or where you spend Christmas this holiday season, the small things like gifts and food don’t matter. What’s important is spending time with your friends and family, now more than ever. Happy Holidays!