Christmas Around the World

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Christmas Around the World


Christmas around the world from World Book


A description of the Christmas traditions of five different countries and the history behind them.


Kauffman, Caroline A.






A history of traditions dating back to Jesus Christ's Birth.


Caroline A. Kauffman





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In 1917, succeeding the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks banned Christmas in Russia for more than seven decades and has resulted in countless impacts on the Christmas tradition in Russian Orthodox Churches. During this time, the traditions that used to once belong to Christmas transferred to traditions that would be held on New Year’s Day. It was not until 1991 that the ban was released and Christmas could be celebrated as well as it being declared as a national holiday. Further it was not until very recently that it began to become popular again. Russian leaders, such as Vladimir Putin, have aided in the restoration of the holiday with their ongoing participation in televised Christmas liturgies. However, even with the support from leaders, during the time that Christians had to practice in secret, many of the people gave up their religious devotion and became atheists therefore making the reestablishment process even more difficult due to lost ties to the faith. These secular Russians also believe New Years to be a more important holiday still. After the Russian government banned Christmas, they decided to change their calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as used by most countries. In protest to the Bolsheviks interference with the Orthodox Church, the church decided to remain with the old traditions and rules, including the use of the Julian calendar for religious celebrations and holidays. The Julian calendar, however, is thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar; therefore, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th.
Preceding Christmas day, religious peoples participate in forty days of lent which consists of prayer and fasting. This time ends on the evening of January 6th (Christmas Eve) when the first star of the night appears in the sky, as a symbol of Jesus’ birth. Once the star has been spotted, the celebrations begin, which means a feast! That evening, there is a twelve course “Holy Supper” that is served that represents the twelve apostles of Jesus. Christmas Eve also marks an old Slavic holiday in which young women would summon an image of their future husbands on a mirror; recently, fortune telling has become a popular event originating from this old time tradition.
Christmas day consists of church services, which is said to be “the most beautiful and important services of the year.” They are televised as well for those who live far from the nearest church. Families exchange gifts among themselves and friends and have a traditional goose and suckling pig dinner! Christmas trees and unified happiness among the nation are very commonly found in this holiday season.

Works Cited
"College Crunch." College Crunch RSS. N.p., 29 Nov. 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
"Orthodox Christmas Day in Russia." Orthodox Christmas Day in Russia. Timeanddate.c, 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
"Russian Christmas: WHay Do Rusians Celebrate Christmas on Janaury 7?" Russian Christmas: Why Do Rusians Celebrate Christmas on Janaury 7? St. Petersburg at Your Fingertips, 2002. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.

Spain – Feliz Navidad!
My first opinion of Christmas traditions in Spain is that the Spanish have a very stinky sense of humor. All I can say is to read further to learn the in depth peculiarity of their traditions!
December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Spain and is the day that decoration of the homes and the towns begin! Most towns and families in Spain set up a nativity scene, and some go as far as to completely model Bethlehem. This nativity scene is representative of what you may see in most Christian churches around Christmas – Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus in a manger, the Three Wise Men, and maybe a few animals. However, there is something odd about the Spanish nativity scenes; if you look close enough, you will find a caganer, or a figurine of a man defecating. Hidden behind a bush or in an alley way there is a man with his pants around his anes pooping (because placing him in front of the scene would be a lack of respect! While there is no official story for how this 300 year old tradition developed, the reasoning for the caganer is similar to the myth that if a bird poops on you, you shall have good luck for a year. It is said that the people of Catalunya see poop “as a sign of good luck as it fertilizes the earth and ensures a good harvest for the coming year.” The caganer has become a necessary part of the nativity scene; according to Joan Lliteras, a caganer connoisseur, there is a legend that if you do not have a caganer in your nativity scene, then the following year you will have bad fortune. While this tradition is derived from Catalunya, it is also seen throughout Spain and in Portugal and Italy as well. Recently, caganers of famous people such as the Queen of England or President Obama have been found. This tradition also exists as a game for the children, every morning in the Christmas season they wake up and hunt for the caganer.
Another tradition of the Spanish that may be viewed as barbaric is that of the “Caga Tio” or the “poo log.” This is literally a log that the family decorates together, creating a face and legs and wrapping its behind in a blanket and crowning it the traditional Catalan Barretina. Throughout the Christmas season, the children tend to the Caga Tio by feeding it; tradition says that the more it is fed, the more presents it will excrete on Christmas Eve. However, the poo log needs encouragement to “drop its load” so after dinner the children beat the log with sticks until the blanket falls off and goodies from the inside fall out. As the beating occurs they sing a song that translates to:
“Sh*t log,
Sh*t turron, hazelnuts and cottage cheese.
If you don’t sh*t well,
I’ll hit you with a stick.
Sh*t Log”
When the blanket falls off, the children find small goodies in the log that is similar to what Santa Clause leaves in the stockings in most American homes.
On Christmas Eve, the people of Spain have the most extravagant meal of the year consisting of multiple courses starting with Carn d’Olla (soup), with a main course of meat, and dessert is provided by the droppings of the Caga Tio. Even the poorest of families save so that they may too purchase a lavish meal. Following dinner, the religious people go to The Mass of the Rooster – named this because it is said that there was a rooster that crowed on the night that Jesus was born – at midnight. The people have an event filled night, following the service, they walk through the streets with torches, going door to door singing Christmas carols with instruments that the children made while they collect small treats (much like American Halloween!), many people visit friends as well and bring them gifts.
A new tradition has recently begun in Spain on Christmas Day. When the children wake in the morning they receive small gifts from Santa Clause, but the big gifts come from the three kings on January 6th. This is the day of the Epiphany, or the day that Jesus was manifested to the Gentiles as Christ. On January 5th is The Festival of the Three Magic Kings, which is a large parade in Barcelona where men dress as the three kings as told in the Bible. The three kings were the ones who traveled far and wide, following a star that laid over Bethlehem that night, to witness the coming of Jesus Christ. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus just as they now bring gifts to the children of Spain. On January 5th, the children leave shoes by their window and hope to receive the things that they asked the kings for in their letters that they previously wrote, instead of receiving a lump of coal. After finding their gifts in the morning, the family has a lunch together with El Roscon de Reyes for desert. This is a round cake with a king and a bean baked inside. Whoever has the king in their cake is said to have good luck for a year, but whoever has the bean has to pay for dinner that night! The Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and of all the fun traditions.

Works Cited
"12 Christmas Traditions From Around The World." Today I Found Out. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
"Christmas in Spain on Whychristmas?com." Christmas in Spain. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
"Cultural Christmas Traditions In Barcelona." , Spain. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
"What Is a Caganer and Why Is It Part of a Catalan Christmas? |" NewsFeed What Is a Caganer and Why Is It Part of a Catalan Christmas Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Sweden – God Jul!
December 13th marks the beginning of Christmas in Sweden! Called St. Lucia’s Day in honor of a young Christian girl that was killed in the year 304 for her faith.. This day is the day of the Winter Solstice according to the old Julian calendar, meaning that it used to be the longest day of the year; simultaneously, it is the Pagan Festival of Lights! This day turned into a day in honor of St. Lucia by the stories that Monks told of her and how she used to walk through the streets with a candle on her head so that she could use both of her hands to secretly bring food in the middle of the night to persecuted Christians who were living secretly under the streets of Rome. This particular day was chosen in honor of her by both the light she had on top of her head and her smuggling food were respectively representative of the Festival of Lights and because the day was so long, the animals in the morning would need to be brought more food than normal because the night was so long! St. Lucia Day is now celebrated by the people of Swededn by selecting a girl to play the role of her in schools, villages, and towns…there is even a national St. Lucia that is chosen each year! The girl that is chosen as the national Lucia visits hospitals and elderly homes, sings songs, and hands out pepparkakor (little ginger snap bisquits). By December 13th, all of the food was supposed to be ready for the Christmas season and it is meant to be the first day of the Christmas fast.
The people of Sweden have extremely high expectations for Christmas and do not like it if the holiday does not go as it should. Some things that they expect are blue skies and sunshine with snow covering the ground, good health for all of their family members and friends, an inviting and decorated home, well behaved children, a delicious meal with a particularly tasty ham, and a multitude of gifts. The Christmas tree should be full and decorated to the traditions of the family, but it should be nothing less than perfect because it is the symbol of Christmas. A corky tradition that the Swedish have is their liking of straw. Much of the home and tree is typically decorated by straw, but every home also has a straw goat that guards the tree! While the history of the tradition has been lost in the years, it remains a vital part of the Christmas celebration. The point of the straw is to remind the people of the true meaning of Christmas, because Jesus was born in a manger. The city of Gavle has a tradition that originated in 1966 where every year a massive straw goat is built at the start of advent. But another tradition has originated from this very one; the burning of the goat. Every year vandals try to burn the goat down before Christmas day; dressing up as Santa Clause and elves, they are able to pass by the guards and ignite the goat! This has been a rather successful tradition, as since it began, the goat has only survived through ten Christmases.
Christmas Eve is celebrated with the main meal, julbord, usually eaten at lunch time. The meal is a large buffet with a variety of different dishes. Around three in the afternoon the people of Sweden all gather in their homes to watch the Disney special “From All of Us to All of You” of Donald Duck just as many American’s will watch Charlie Brown Christmas or other Christmas movies. Then, everyone waits around until Jultomten (Santa), a jolly ole man with a large tummy and a red coat, comes to knock on the door and throw all of the gifts into the house! On Christmas morning, and early morning church service called julotta is attended succeeded by everyone racing home – whoever is the first person home will produce the first crop of the year!
Twelve days after Christmas is the day that is represented as when the Three Wise Men showed up in Bethlehem. This day has formed the tradition of the “star boys” who go around the town carrying a star above their head in return for schnapps which is an alcoholic drink. Later, on January 13th, the end of Christmas arrives and all of the decorations are taken down and the leftover sweets are thrown away.
Works Cited
"12 Christmas Traditions From Around The World." Today I Found Out. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Christmas in Sweden on Whychristmas?com." Christmas in Sweden. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Eje Berglund on Sweden's Gävle Goat and Why People Keep Burning It Down." Daily Intelligencer. N.p., 13 Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Lucia." Sweden Sverig. Swedish Institute, 1 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Radinika. "Globen Lucia Stockholm 2011." YouTube. YouTube, 11 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Norway – Gledelig Jul!
Christmas in Norway begins at the end of November when the cities begin to decorate their major centers with trees and lights and all the traditional Christmas makings! All of the holiday shopping and festivities continue until December 23rd when the real celebrations begin. December 23rd is a day for families to spend doing their own little traditions such as decorating the house or making a gingerbread house, this day is known as the “Little Christmas Eve”. The next day is the ‘real’ Christmas Eve where the people of Norway are bustling around in the morning looking for last minute gifts until the bells of the cities ring at 5:00pm when work stops and everyone heads home to get dressed up night for the evening festivities. In the homes, families gather to decorate the tree with homemade ornaments and white lights to represent the “white Christmas” that they have every year. After dinner, dessert of rice porridge is served, and if you’re really lucky you might just get an almond in your portion which grants you good luck for a year! Gifts are then exchanged between friends and family and some are even brought by Santa Claus. After dinner and presents, the children dress up as characters from the Christmas Story and go from house to house in the neighborhood singing Christmas carols in hopes for little Christmas treats!
One of the strangest traditions that the Norwegians have dates back to the seventeenth century from the Witch Trials of Vardo, the largest trial in Norwegian history. Between 1662 and 1663, thirty people were tried for sorcery and making pacts with the devil and twenty of them were executed. The relevance to Christmas? Many children and adults admitted to drinking and dancing wine with the devil on Christmas so now the people wish to ward off all bad spirits on Christmas to assure that they too will not be captivated by the devils evil powers. So every Christmas season, all brooms are hidden so that the witches that emerge on Christmas cannot steal them and ride them above the cities. After gifts are opened on Christmas Eve, the men go outside and fire their shotguns to keep the witches from coming to their homes.
Many of the Norwegian Christmas traditions that are in place today are a mixture of Christian, Pagan, and Jewish customs that are added to every year. Jul was the old celebration of the winter where the people celebrated the harvest that they just had and looked forward to the spring; lots of beer was consumed as a part of this holiday. But around the year 1000AD, Christianity was brought to the area and Christmas replaced this holiday. Each year Norway gives the United Kingdom a massive Christmas tree as a continuous reminder and thank you for the help that they provided them during WWII. And on Christmas day, the religious citizen go to church and visit with neighbors, celebrating the birth of Jesus. The celebrations continue until New Years Day with many outings and meals as a way to enjoy time off from work and school!

Works Cited
"12 Christmas Traditions From Around The World." Today I Found Out. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Bergengirl88. "Christmas in Norway." YouTube. YouTube, 06 Dec. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
"Christmas in Norway on Whychristmas?com." Christmas in Norway. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
"Christmas Traditions." Visit Oslo. Oslo Visitor Center, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
Gloger, Dana. "And You Thought Checking Your Christmas Tree Lights Was a Chore... Spectacular Tree for Trafalgar Square Will Use 600 Bulbs." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 03 Dec. 2012. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
"Happy Witches." Happy Witches - Android Apps on Google Play. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
"Norwegian Christmas Traditions | Norway Travel." Norway Travel. N.p., 30 Nov. 2009. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
"Vardø Witch Trials (Norway, 1662 - 1663) - Witchcraft." Vardø Witch Trials (Norway, 1662 - 1663) - Witchcraft. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.

Germany – Frohliche Weihnachten!

Many of the Christmas traditions that exist around the world today originated in Germany. Things such as the Advent calendar, the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, and event some Christmas Carols like Silent Night. Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season; starting four weeks before the Christmas Eve, a variety of calendars are placed around the house to mark the countdown of the arrival of the Christ Child. Some calendars are in the form of a wreath made of fir tree branches that have four candles around it. One is lit at the beginning of each week of Advent. A calendar that is more fun, especially for young children, is the one that contains little chocolates or sweets. Each day of advent the child opens a little box and receives a sweet to represent that day of Advent.
On December 5th, children leave shoes outside their door in hopes to receive candies and small toys from Nikolaustag when they wake the next morning. However, if the children were bad they may receive a birch as a sign that they deserve a spanking. The birch is received by Nikolaustag’s accompaniment, who is determined by the region of Germany you are in. In some places Krampus, a big horned monster, will bring the birch; in others Schwarzer, or black Peter, will come carrying a whip; lastly, Belsnickel, a man dressed in fur, may accompany Nikolaustag to disperse the punishment.
In 1550, the first Christmas tree was recorded in a German home. This tradition was said to have arrive shortly after the death of Martin Luther, but it is him who the idea came from. Martin Luther was a German religious reformer and the tree was supposed to by a symbol of everlasting life. This everlasting life was also introduced by the evergreens that St. Boniface brought to the Germanic tribes to Christianize them in the 8th century. In German homes today, if there are children in the family, the tree is decorated by the mother of the family. Another tree that is shown is the “Bride’s Tree”. This is a tree that couple who have just gotten married display in their homes. The tree has twelve different ornaments hung on it to ensure a prosperous life together. Each of the twelve ornaments and their meanings are listed below:
• An angel for God’s guidance
• A bird for joy
• A fish for Christ’s blessing
• A flower basket for good wishes
• A fruit basket for generosity
• A heart for true love
• A house for protection
• A pine cone for fruitfulness
• A rabbit for hope
• A rose for affection
• A Santa for goodwill
• A teapot for hospitality
Each year, it is popular for German workplaces to have a “Secret Santa” party to exchange gifts without knowing who they are from, as a symbol of giving in the season. Local homes will display wooden frames in the windows with candles in them to present a feeling of warmth. Hand blown glass ornaments are also a popular decoration. Christmas markets are also set up in many of the main cities or towns so that people may do their Christmas shopping for decorations and yummy festive foods!
Another annual tradition, is that the city of Nurnberg selects a girl to participate in the parade as the Christkindl. Literally, the Christkindl means “The Christ Child”, but the people of Germany like to think of it as a young girl with Christ like qualities. The girl that is chosen plays a role similar to that of the Swedish St. Lucia. She dresses in a long white dress with a gold crown and wings and normally has curly blonde hair. She has plentiful jobs to perform before Christmas day such as visiting hospitals, elderly homes, children’s nurseries, and giving television interviews and visiting other cities.
Christmas Eve is the main day for Christmas gift exchanges and is the day that children receive gifts from Santa Clause. During Advent, most children will send letters to Father Christmas telling him how they have been good this year and what they would like for Christmas. St. Nikolaus brings the gifts that bring smiles to the children’s faces! Christmas is celebrated on two separate days in Germany and depending on where you are, it is celebrated in different ways. The people go to church on Christmas day which is known as the “Erste Feiertag” and the second day of celebration is on December 26th and known as “Zweite Feiertag”.
To wrap up the Christmas Celebration, Sternsinger’s go around neighborhoods singing Christmas carols and collecting money for charities. This started as a Catholic tradition in particular but is seen by many now. The Sternsinger literally means star singers, and consists of three children dressed as The Three Wise Men, and one as the star of Bethlehem. After singing to the people in the home, they sign above the door. The sign is significant of the current year and the Three Kings’ initials and means “Christ Bless this House”. The Sternsinger’s sing from December 27th to January 6th and usually by the 6th (the day of the epiphany) the chalk that is used to write above the door, “20*C*M*B16”, usually has faded by this day. If you wash it off purposefully you are said to have bad fortune.

Works Cited
"12 Christmas Traditions From Around The World." Today I Found Out. N.p., 13 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
"Advent." The German Way & More. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
"Christmas in Germany on Whychristmas?com." Christmas in Germany. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
"Die Sternsinger Sind Wieder Unterwegs." Vienna Online Die Sternsinger Sind Wieder Unterwegs Kommentar. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
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Lochschauger. "Sternsinger 2012." YouTube. YouTube, 04 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
"Old World Christmas Glass Ornament - "The Bride's Tree Collection"" Old World Christmas Glass Ornament - "The Bride's Tree Collection" N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
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Kauffman, Caroline A. , “Christmas Around the World,” Religion @ Florida State University, accessed June 15, 2024,

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