Does your family celebrate the Christmas holidays with certain traditions? If you’re like the majority of families, whether you recognize the religious significance of Christmas or just enjoy the modern holiday, you get excited for the festivities every December 25. But in fact, people around the world celebrate Christmas much differently, even though the spirit remains the same. Here are some notable Christmas traditions from around the world:
Christians in China decorate their homes with elaborate paper lanterns that remain lit up for the big day. The Chinese name for Santa Claus is Dun Che Lao Ren.
Gifting in Italy doesn’t happen until January 6, the day believed to be when the Wise Men reached the baby Jesus. Instead of Santa, the Italians have La Befana, a woman who gives gifts to those who have been good and punishes bad children, based on the woman who refused to help the Wise Men with food and shelter.
Santa Claus is referred to as Julemanden and his elves are Juul Nisse, but in this tradition, they live in the attic of their homes, not the North Pole. Children leave rice pudding and saucers of milk for the elves instead of cookies.
Santa Claus is actually called Tomte, a gnome that emerges from under the floor of the house or barn, carrying a sack of presents for the kids. Tomte rides a sleigh, which is pulled by a goat, not reindeer.
In France, Santa is known as Pere Noel, or Father Christmas, and is always attended by Pre Fouettard, who keeps the naughty-and-nice list up to date. Pere Noel comes to deliver small gifts to the children on December 6 and then returns with more on Christmas day, but the adults wait until New Years Day to open their gifts.
Saint Nicholas delivers the presents to the boys and girls, but instead of a sleigh and reindeer, he rides a horse. It’s a tradition to leave hay, carrots, and water outside the house on December 6 for Saint Nic’s trusty steed.
In India they decorate their houses with lights on windowsills, a star hung outside, and strings of mango leaves. Thali, is a sweet traditional holiday dessert, presented as a gift to friends and neighbors.
Christmas is a massive celebration in this African country, with preparations and festivals for many weeks beforehand. December 24 is the day that everyone visits their ancestral birthplace. Huge feasts of goat, mangoes, cashew fruits and chicken stew are prepared, and a mango, guava, or cashew tree in the center of the courtyard is decorated with lights and paper ornaments.
Mexicans call Christmas, Navidad, and the celebration lasts for nine days with Las Pasadas. Mexicans have a tradition of dressing like Mary and Joseph and going door-to-door reenacting the nativity scene from the Bible when Joseph and Mary had to take refuge in the stable so that Jesus could be born. Then they celebrate with food, song, and a Pinata for the children. Finally, on the ninth night, they are told yes, there is room for Mary in the stable, and everyone heads to church to party some more!
Santa Claus is known as Sinterklaas and believed to have originally come from Sweden by boat after starting out on December 6th in Spain. Sinterklaas goes house to house, also on horseback, delivering gifts, and fills the children’s shoes instead of stockings that are put out with candy and nuts by Christmas morning.
The Japanese are not a particularly Christian nation, but celebrate a form of Christmas with the giving of gifts. But their Santa Claus-like figure is Hoteiosha, a priest that delivers the presents.
The Russians used to celebrate Christmas with great glee before the revolution of 1917, carrying sticks with stars on the end into the streets to represent the Stars of Bethlehem. After it became the Soviet Union, religion was banned so the traditions became dormant for many decades. Now, they’ve been reawakened with slight differences – Saint Nicholas is now known as Grandfather Frost and wears blue, not red, and they decorate a tree and celebrate on New Years Day.