Christmas Traditions Around the World

Santa Claus and his reindeer, yuletide caroling, the mistletoe and Christmas cookies are some of the holiday traditions familiar to Americans. But what about other countries? Let’s take a look at how some other parts of the world celebrate the season.

Mexico

The weather is warm and mild in most of Mexico during the Christmas season, which allows families to shop for gifts, ornaments, and good things to eat at outdoor markets. Christmas Day is a time for church and family. After church services, Christmas dinner begins with oxtail soup that includes beans and hot chili, followed by roasted turkey and a special salad of fresh fruits and vegetables.

A fun Mexican Christmas tradition is that of the “posada” processions, which are performed by children. “Posada” means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish; the processions re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. In each posada, children are given candles to walk around with from home to home. They stop at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home while asking for a room in the house. At first they are told there is no room, but eventually they are welcomed inside. When the children go into the house, they say prayers of thanks and have a party with food, games and fireworks.

The poinsettia is popular in Mexico, where it is indigenous and is known as “la flor de Nochebuena,” or Christmas Eve flower. It was first associated with Christmas in 16th century Mexico, through the legend of an impoverished girl named Pepita who had no gift to bring to Christmas Eve services, so she gathered weeds from the roadside and placed them at the nativity scene. Miraculously, the weeds burst into red blossoms and became poinsettias. The shape of poinsettias is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.

How to say Merry Christmas in Mexico: “Feliz Navidad”

Brazil

Since Christmas falls in the summertime, you won’t see any snowmen in Brazil! Traditional decorations are made with fresh flowers, and huge Christmas “trees” of electric lights can be seen against the night skies in major cities. To take advantage of the nice weather, many people start the Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve with fireworks and a big churrasco (barbecue).

The traditional Christmas dinner includes ham, turkey, pork, rice and an assortment of fresh and dried fruits.

Papai Noel is the gift-bringer, and legend has it that he dresses a little more casual by the time he makes it to Brazil — it’s summer, after all! The children set out their shoes for Papai Noel before they go to bed, and then on Christmas morning the children find their shoes full of gifts.

How to say Merry Christmas in Brazil: “Feliz Natal!”

Germany

A few traditions celebrated throughout the world were actually started in Germany. For instance, the Advent calendar was started by German Lutherans back in the 19th century. They were used as a way to help children count down to Christmas. Another tradition to start in Germany was that of the Christmas tree or “Tannenbaum.” The Tannenbaum is usually put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, though some families choose to put it up sooner during the Advent season. Decorations may include tinsel, glass balls, straw ornaments and lit candles (instead of the more modern electric ones).

The Christmas meal in Germany traditionally includes goose, carp and cheese fondue. On Christmas Eve, a simpler meal is served that typically includes sausages with potato salad, casseroles and soups.

December 6th is a big day for German children as it marks St. Nicholas Day. On the evening of the 5th, children place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with toys and other treats. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will come true. On the other hand, if they’ve been bad they’ll receive a stick which symbolizes punishment for their bad behavior.

How to say Merry Christmas in Germany: “Frohe Weihnachten”

Italy

One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is with a nativity scene or “presepe.” This tradition was started by St. Francis of Assisi back in 1223. Almost every church has a presepe; they are also often found outdoors in a piazza or other public areas.

Italy’s culinary flair is especially evident during the holiday season. Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. In many parts of Italy (especially the south) a large feast of fish is served which takes advantage of regional delicacies such as octopus, eels, squid and cuttlefish. The Christmas day meal often includes a meat with some kind of pasta. Dessert is often Italian Christmas cake called “panettone,” which is like a dry fruity sponge cake.

Children in Italy have to wait until Epiphany, January 6, to open their presents. According to tradition, the presents are delivered by an ugly (but caring) witch called Befana who rides on a broomstick. Legend has it the Befana was too busy to ride along with the Three Kings the night of Jesus’s birth, so now she flies around searching for the little baby while leaving other children toys and candy.

How to say Merry Christmas in Italy: “Buon Natale”

Got a holiday tradition unique to your culture? Share below in the comment section.

– Al Montone