Festive Holiday Traditions From Around The World

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

Christmas is a time of family, a time where people get together to eat, drink and spend time with one another. Every country has its own holiday traditions that celebrate Christmas in a different, unique way. Traditions that vary from hiding a broom to leaving out cookies for Santa, to going to midnight mass.  It’s interesting to see how countries all over the world spend their festive season.

Holiday Traditions in Europe and Australia

Australia

Just like us, Australia celebrates Christmas day with lunch outside and cooking their Christmas meal on the ‘barbie’ (braai). Again, like us, they refer to Santa as Father Christmas. Australians have a tradition of “Carols by Candlelight”, which takes place across Australia, groups of people gather and sing Christmas songs, holding candles. The biggest celebrations are in Sydney and Melbourne with it even being televised.

Australians usually serve Prawns on Christmas. They will also have oysters, a roast, cold meats and don’t forget about the pavlova.

Sweden

They have a long tradition since 1966 to be exact, of putting up a 13-metre-tall Yule Goat in the centre of Gävle’s Castle Square at the start of the Advent. It has a large metal structure on the inside and is covered with straw. But with the start of this tradition another tradition was born; burning it down. It’s been the target for vandals for the past fifty years and has only survived throughout the Christmas and New Year period about 12 times, which is kind of crazy if you think about it.

When it comes to traditional Christmas food, the Swedish like to eat ‘risgrynsgröt’ which is a rice porridge that is topped with raspberry jam (‘hallonsylt’) and/or sprinkled with cinnamon. It is traditionally eaten on Christmas eve after people have exchanged their gifts

Norway

During Christmas eve, the Norwegians have a tradition of hiding their brooms. It dates back centuries to when people believed that evil spirits and witches came out on Christmas looking for brooms to steal to ride on. It’s a tradition that is odd but that still lives on, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.

During the Christmas season, many different types of biscuits and cakes are eaten but one of the most traditional things to eat on Christmas is a bread called ‘Julekake’. This special bread has candied peel, raisins and cardamom in it.

UK

Similar to a lot of countries around the world, a lot of towns, villages, and cities are decorated with Christmas lights over the festive season. However, in the UK, there is a tradition of celebrating the ‘turning on’ of the lights, and often in the UK a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are on Oxford Street in London with them getting bigger and better every year. On Christmas Eve, children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them.

Christmas is more celebrated on actual Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve. A big lunch is served to celebrate the occasion and usually consists of roast turkey, roast vegetables, peas, carrots, sausages, and stuffing. All of this is usually served with bread and cranberry sauce. For dessert, it is common in the UK to be served trifle, Christmas Pudding, mince pies and lots of chocolate.

North and South American Holiday Traditions

United States

Americans love to go over the top for Christmas. Whether it’s how big their Christmas tree is or how many lights they’ve put up, Christmas seems to be one of the most important holidays for them. Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on a string to help decorate their Christmas tree, also making gingerbread houses is a popular tradition to make and eat at Christmas. Another tradition they have is baking cookies on Christmas eve for Santa. They leave out a plate of cookies as well as a glass of milk on the 24th, so when Santa comes he has a snack before he jets off to the other houses.

A traditional Christmas dinner in the US consists of turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Sometimes there will be lasagne but it’s almost more traditional to have turkey. Can’t forget about Eggnog, a traditional Christmas drink in the US.

Peru

holiday traditionsIn most Latino countries, Christmas is actually celebrated on the eve, not on actual Christmas Day. In Peru, this is the same, and the Christmas Eve celebrations are called ‘Noche Buena’, which means ‘the good night’. Because it is a predominantly Catholic country, many people will go to a special church service called the Misa de Gallo (Rooster Mass) which normally starts around 10 pm on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner is usually eaten at midnight after mass and the presents are often opened around the same time as dinner is eaten. In some regions of the country, there are parades on Christmas Day.

There are many traditional, delicious meals that are eaten during Christmas time but the most traditional one is drinking hot chocolate and eating some ‘panetón’ which is an Italian Christamas sweet bread. A Peruvian Christmas dinner wouldn’t be complete without some roast turkey, chicken or pork and tamales.

Mexico

Like Peru, Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country making nativity scenes, known as the ‘nacimiento’, very popular in Mexico. They are usually very large and can take up a lot of the living room; some of the figures are even life-sized. The figures are often made of clay and are traditionally passed down through families. The baby Jesus is normally added to the scene during the evening of Christmas Eve, saving the best for last I guess.

During Christmas, it’s traditional to eat a special cake called ‘Rosca de Reyes’ (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. Typically, a small baby Jesus figurine is hidden inside the cake and whoever finds the baby Jesus, is ‘Godparent’ of Jesus for that year.

Christmas Traditions in Asia

Philippines

Filipinos love Christmas, they try to celebrate as long as possible even starting the celebrations as early as September. One popular tradition they observe is The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu). This festival is held every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the city of San Fernando, the supposed “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” Eleven barangays (villages) take part in the festival, all competing to see who has built the most elaborate lantern.

Most households in the Philippines will have a big spread for the whole family, they will serve ‘lechon’ (roasted pig), ‘bibingka’ (baked rice cake), ‘puto bumbong’ purple rice cake steamed in bamboo tubes. Many people will stay awake all night into Christmas Day, if you can’t already tell, Christmas is a big deal to Filipinos.

Japan

holiday traditionsChristmas is not a national holiday in Japan believe it or not! However, it is customary to celebrate it but they do so differently than us. Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day, more specifically, KFC is eaten on Christmas Day. The reason for this is because of a Marketing strategy that KFC launched in the ‘70s that advertised ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ (Kentucky for Christmas!) which was very obviously very successful and made KFC a popular holiday tradition.

Apart from a few small traditions, such as light displays and gift-giving, Christmas is not really celebrated in the country and is still relatively a novelty. They do have a Christmas cake though – a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.

Holiday Traditions in Africa

Namibia

Heavily influenced by the Germans, Namibians have their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Following the Christmas Eve meal, it’s common for people to go to a Midnight Mass service. In Northern parts of Namibia, where they speak Oshiwambo, they believe Christmas is more about sharing. So like us, they often have Christmas braais that they share among the community, friends and family. Because of the German influence, they traditionally eat German-style Christmas cookies, made from marzipan and gingerbread.

Nigeria

Nigerians love to party apparently! So much so, that many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve. It’s tradition to go to mass on Christmas morning in Nigeria, they go after they have eaten well to give thanks to God. One thing that is notable is that it is not unusual for the church choir to visit the church congregation in their homes to sing Christmas carols to them.

A traditional Nigerian Christmas feast will consist of goat, beef, sheep, chicken or ram. They also take pride in their sides and serve jollof rice, stew, pounded yam, fried rice and vegetable salads.

South Africa

holiday traditionsHaving been part of the Commonwealth at one stage, South Africa has been quite influenced by several UK Christmas holiday traditions: Carols by Candlelight services in the lead up to Christmas and on Christmas Eve, decorating the Christmas tree with the family, pulling Christmas crackers, as well as going to church on Christmas morning.

In terms of food, gammon is a big part of local celebrations, with other roasts like spit-roasted lamb, turkey and duck also featuring. Christmas sweet treats include mince pies, trifle, traditional Christmas pudding lit up with brandy (also UK legacies) with local classics like malva pudding thrown in as well. For dessert, Malva pudding is served as well as trifle. Because of the weather, you will probably find that a lot of South Africans braai something special over Christmas time, for those at the coast, seafood braais and spreads are also popular.

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