We all wait for it, get excited about it, are at our best versions of ourselves because of it … It’s the most wonderful time of the year for many reasons: the jolly mood, the family time, the decorations, the chocolate overload, the music, the movies, the food, the booze, the traditions!!!
You all know what I am talking about: Christmas! A lot of countries all over the World share Christmas celebration similarities which includes the tree, the lighting and Santa Claus. Yet a lot of them still are unique with their own traditions.
Let’s find out what they are in Lebanon, Palestine, Japan, Netherlands, France, UK, Germany, Finland, Chile, USA, Canada and Australia.
While most people think that Lebanon is a Muslim country ***not true*** more than 40% of its residents celebrate Christmas. While it has in some sense been stripped of some of its theological roots with the adoption of more Western traditions, like the Christmas tree, Father Christmas (Baba Noel) and the Christmas Markets, many of its unique traditions are still practiced, lending to a balanced festive experience of old world and new.
- Christmas is celebrated twice in Lebanon: first on 25th of December and then as a holiday on 6th of January for the Armenian Lebanese community who celebrate Christmas on the the same date as Epiphany.
- While the whole World emphasize more on the Christmas tree, the Lebanese build huge manger scenes in their homes called a Nativity Crib: it is actually more popular than a Christmas Tree.
- It’s often decorated with sprouted seeds such as chickpeas, broad-beans, lentils, oats and wheat that have been grown on damp cotton wool in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
- The crib scene becomes a focus for the prayer of people in the house.
- Catholic traditions such as going to a midnight mass service are also celebrated in Lebanon.
2- Palestine Territories
Christmas is very important in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank as it contains Bethlehem, the town in which Jesus was born.
- Only about 20% of Palestinians are Christian, but many Muslim Palestinians are also proud that Jesus was born in a Palestinian Territory!
- On Christmas Eve there is a parade through the town. This is very important to the Christian part of the population. There are bagpipe bands in the parade, which you might not expect, a tradition left over from when the British army occupied the area between 1920 and 1948.
- People also dress up as Santa Claus and give out sweets. The streets and main squares are decorated with lights.
- Perhaps the most famous part of Christmas in Bethlehem is the church service of the Mass of the Nativity. It is held on Christmas Eve afternoon/evening/midnight in the Church of the Nativity. The Church is built over the place where it’s traditionally thought that Jesus was born. There’s a small door into the Church called the door of humility. The church was built, by the romans, about 500 years after Jesus was born. The most holy part of the church is the Grotto of the Nativity, which is under the main altar. A silver star marks the place where Jesus was meant to have been born.
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“The hopes & fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” In the grotto of the Church of the Nativity, at the spot where Mary is said to have laid Jesus in the manger. I was last here in 2006, & my experiences could not have been more different. 11 years ago, I experienced the basilica as sheer sensory overload: the crowds felt too overwhelming, the competing souvenir shops too kitschy. Intellectually, I didn’t know what to think about the disputed historicity of any such holy sights. . This time, the world felt very different from the little town of Bethlehem. This year, all the tourists are staying away. This time I wasn’t overwhelmed by all the activity or surrounding religious kitsch. This time, my eyes flooded when I descended the steps into the grotto. . Look, I have no idea if this is the actual historical site of the manger. And in what is sure to be a disappointment to some, I could care less. I don’t believe that any evidence demands any particular verdict, I was not won over by “the case for Christ,” I don’t know about the historicity of much of anything. . I believe in the story of the Church. That’s what’s different between then & now, for me. I heard a story from witnesses I found trustworthy. I believed them, so I believe in him. I believe in his birth, & life, & resurrection, as a matter of faith. . Because I believe in the Church’s story, I believe in the pilgrims that have come here desperate to find the real estate where the glory touched the ground. I believe in the unkempt assortment of oddball pilgrims who came here chasing down some dream, hopeful, cynical & wild-eyed; sometimes only curious. I believe in them, so I believe in the pilgrimages they made. . Inside that grotto, hundreds of thousands of people-young & old, rich & poor, disabled-have crawled into that little space full of dreams & disappointments, looking for God. Is that not enough to consecrate any space, to make any ground holy? Would the Christ child have to poop on this exact spot, for the Holy Spirit to be there? Doubting, dreaming, hoping, seething-misfits come over & over again. Has Christ been here, in the midst of so much human fragility & chaos? Obviously.
Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. It’s still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan. However several customs came to Japan from the USA such as sending and receiving Christmas Cards and Presents.
- In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration which is in fact what the holidays are all about.
- Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations: young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant . However, booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it’s so popular!
- Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and people can place orders at their local fast food restaurant in advance! There was an advertising campaign by KFC in the 1974 called ‘Kentucky for Christmas which was very successful and made KFC popular for Christmas.
For most children in The Netherlands, the most important day during December is 5th December, when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings them their presents!
St. Nicholas’ Day is on the 6th December, but in The Netherlands, the major celebrations are held on the 5th December, St. Nicholas’ Eve. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas.
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- It all starts on the second Saturday of November (the first Saturday after 11th November) when Sinterklaas travels to a city or town in The Netherlands. Dutch tradition says that St. Nicholas lives in Madrid and each year he chooses a different harbour to arrive in the Netherlands, so as many children as possible get a chance to see him.
- Sinterklaas travels with his helpers called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (‘Black Peters’). When Sinterklaas and the Black Peters come ashore from the steam boat, all of the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse.
- Children are told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave!
- The evening of December 5th is called St. Nicholas’ Eve ‘Sinterklaasavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ (present evening). The children will receive their presents during the evening. There might be a knock at the door and you might find a sack full of presents.
- On Christmas Eve night, Dutch Children believe that Santa Claus, (who is also call ‘Christmas man’ / ‘Kerstman’ to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas!) comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!
One of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe is held in Strasbourg, in North Eastern France.
- In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them. During December some towns and cities, such as Marseilles, have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.
- Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
- Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In Eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands.
- The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service.
- Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.
- The Epiphany, called Fête des Rois in French, is also celebrated in France on January 6th. A flat Almond cake is eaten called ‘Galette des Rois’. The cake has a toy crown inside and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents!
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This week, we’re counting down to the big day of course 🎅🎁! Diving into Christmassy England like it’s a box of Quality Street . First up, is Castle Howard in Yorkshire – what a tree, what a hat! It sits pretty in the frescoed great hall, with its scalloped archways and ornate skylight. Once home to the Earl of Sandwich, of sandwich 🍞 fame, this splendid stately is two hours from London. Book a fireside tea ☕ and let the eating commence! So lovely @handluggageonly #christmascountdown #mondaymotivation #visitengland . . . .
- Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in England.
- Most villages, towns and cities are decorated with Christmas lights over Christmas. Often a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are in Oxford Street in London. Every year they get bigger and better. Thousands of people go to watch the big ‘switch on’ around the beginning of November.
- Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children’s beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them.
- Children write letters to Father Christmas/Santa listing their requests, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas/Santa reads the smoke.
Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments.
- A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that are used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it.
- Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the late Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas Eve. In some parts of Germany, during the evening, the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs.
- Sometimes wooden frames, covered with colored plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside.
- Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.
Finnish people believe that Santa Claus or Father Christmas lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi (or Lapland), north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. There is a big tourist theme park called “The Santa Claus Village” in the north of Finland.
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Santa is on His Way event in Santa Claus Village on 23rd Dec 2017 at 19.00 (UTC +2). Also Facebook live on www.facebook.com/VisitRovaniemi.fi. #santaisonhisway #event #SantaClaus #SantaClausVillage #ArcticCircle #Christmas #Rovaniemi #RovaniemiChristmas #Rovaniemiwinter #Lapland #laplanfinland #finnishlapland #onlyinlapland #visitfinland #visitfinlandjp #thisisfinlandofficial
- It means that Santa doesn’t have far to travel on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to people in Finland! If he doesn’t get a chance to deliver the presents personally, he will often leave them under the Christmas Tree.
- Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.
- On Christmas Eve, or the day before, Christmas trees are bought from the local market or square. The seller expects you to bargain with them on the price.
- Because it gets dark very early in most parts of Finland around Christmas (about 3.00pm) it’s now traditional to go to the cemeteries and visit the graves of family members. Some cemeteries are enormous and police are on duty to manage the traffic and everyone must walk the last few yards to the grave. Candles in hanging lanterns are left around the grave. The whole cemetery is alight with glowing lanterns shining in the snow – a winter wonderland.
- Other people like a sauna on Christmas Eve
- After the meal, Joulupukki (Santa) might visit the house! When he comes in with his sack he asks if any children are living there. They reply very loudly! Next then asks if they have been good all through the year. When they are given their presents the whole family gathers to watch the fun of opening. After opening some presents, it’s time to go to bed – but some people like to stay up all night to see Christmas Day arrive.
Christmas in Chile is very warm as it’s in the middle of summer! However, it shares many of the same Christmas customs as the USA.
- People like to decorate their houses with Christmas Trees and lights. Having Christmas lights is a fairly recent development with more people being able to afford them. Sometimes neighbors compete to see who can have the best and most lights!
- Nativity Scenes are also an important decoration. They have little clay figures in them.
- Many Catholics in Chile celebrate Advent and also go to special church services for nine days before Christmas. These services are known as a Novena.
- Christmas Eve is the most important day over Christmas. Families and friends gather together for a big meal in the evening, eaten about 9pm or 10pm. Many people like to have ‘asado’ (barbecue) and chicken, turkey and pork. The Chilean Christmas Cake is ‘Pan de Pascua’ which is quite like Panettone.
- A popular Christmas drink is ‘Cola de Mono’ (or monkey’s tail) which is made from coffee, milk, liqueur, cinnamon and sugar.
- After the meal, some people like to go to a church service.
- At midnight everyone opens their presents! Children sometimes go round each others houses with their new toys – even in the middle of the night!
The United States of America is often called the ‘melting pot’, as it has a mixed bag of traditions from countries across the world. Many customs are similar to ones in the UK, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland and Mexico.
- The story of Santa Claus originated in the United States in 1860’s. This name was based on the Dutch word, St. Nicholas. Santa Claus did not become famous until the novelist, Washington Irving, wrote about him in 1809. Santa Claus was made popular in his reddish suit, reindeer, pipe and sleigh.
- The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origins favour turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagne!
- Some Americans use pop-corn threaded on string to help decorate their Christmas Tree!
- Many Americans, especially Christians will go to Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Many churches have special Christmas Carol services and events where the story of Christmas is told.
- People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowman and Reindeer.
- Some cookies and glass of milk are often left out as a snack for Santa on Christmas Eve!
Like the USA, Canada is a very large country and people of many different cultural backgrounds live there. Because of this, there are lots of different Christmas traditions in Canada. Many of the traditions and celebrations come from French, English, Irish, Scottish, German, Norwegian, Ukrainian and native/first nation influences.
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The world-renowned @toxmasmkt in the Distillery Historic District is back and open until December 23rd! Get in the holiday spirit and enjoy one of the city's largest real Christmas trees 🎄, unique and locally handcrafted goodies 🎁, and classic Canadian and European food and drinks ☕🍭. Admission is free during the week until 5:00pm on Fridays. If you want to avoid the lines be sure to purchase your tickets online! 📷: Taken last year by @arjsun 📍: @seetorontonow, @ontariotravel #ExploreCanada . Le marché de renommée mondiale @toxmasmkt est de retour dans le quartier historique de la Distillerie et sera ouvert jusqu’au 23 décembre! Mettez-vous dans l’ambiance des Fêtes et venez admirer l’un des plus gros sapins naturels de la ville 🎄, acheter des cadeaux uniques et faits à la main par des artisans locaux 🎁 et vous régaler de plats et de boissons typiques des cuisines canadienne et européenne ☕🍭. L’entrée est gratuite en semaine jusqu’à 17 h le vendredi. Pour éviter les files, achetez vos billets en ligne! 📷 : Photo prise l’an dernier par @arjsun 📍 : @SeeTorontoNow @ontariotravel #SeeTorontoNow #DiscoverON
- Many Canadians open their gifts on Christmas Eve. Some only open their stocking on Christmas Eve. Others choose one gift to open, then save the rest until Christmas Day.
- Canadians like to decorate their houses with Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations. There’s often Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace, ready for Santa!
- The main Christmas meal is often roast turkey with vegetables and ‘all the trimmings’ like mashed potatoes and vegetables. Traditional favorite Christmas desserts include Christmas/plum puddings and mincemeat tarts.
- Canadian children also believe in Santa Claus. Canadians are especially proud to say that their country is the home of Santa Claus. (Although I’m sure the people in Finland would disagree!)
The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Santa parades in the world! It started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto. Children along the route followed Santa and marched along with him. It’s been taking place for over 100 years and now is a huge event with over 25 animated floats and 2000 people taking part! It’s broadcast on TV around the world.
- Christmas Day isn’t celebrated on the 25th December but on 7th January (like in Ethiopia and by some Orthodox Christians in Russia and Serbia).
- The Coptic month leading to Christmas is called Kiahk. People sing special praise songs on Saturday nights before the Sunday Service.
- For the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), from 25th November to 6th January, Coptic Orthodox Christians have a special fast where they basically eat a vegan diet. They don’t eat anything containing products that come from animals (including chicken, beef, milk and eggs). This is called ‘The Holy Nativity Fast’. But if people are too weak or ill to fast properly they can be excused.
- On Coptic Christmas Eve (6th January), Coptic Christians go to church for a special liturgy or Service. Many people meet up with their friends and families in the churches from 9.00pm onwards. The services are normally finished shortly after midnight, but some go onto 4.00am!
- When the Christmas service ends people go home to eat the big Christmas meal. All the foods contain meat, eggs and butter – all the yummy things they didn’t during the Advent fast.
- Even though not many in Egypt are Christians, a lot of people in the country like to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. Christmas is becoming very commercial and most major supermarkets sell Christmas trees, Christmas food and decorations. Hotels, parks and streets are decorated for Christmas.
In Australia, Christmas comes in the towards the beginning of the summer holidays! Children have their summer holidays from mid December to early February, so some people might even be camping at Christmas.
- Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and sometimes go out Christmas carol singing on Christmas Eve. People also decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas Trees and Christmas lights.
- Neighbors sometimes have little competitions to see who has got the best light display. The neighbors often visit each other to look at the light displays at night. Sometimes the displays are put out as early as December 1st.
- Australians also decorate their houses with bunches of ‘Christmas Bush’, a native Australian tree with small green leaves and cream colored flowers. In summer the flowers turn a deep shiny red over a period of weeks (generally by the week of Christmas in Sydney).
- In each State capital city there is a large Carols by Candlelight service. These carol services, held in different cities, are broadcast on TV across Australia.
- There are also huge Christmas pageants in each state capital city, that are also broadcast across the country. Most towns and cities have festivals and parades. In some places, there is a fireworks display at the local park.
- When he gets to Australia, Santa gives the reindeer a rest and uses kangaroos or ‘six white boomers’ (a popular Australian Christmas song!). He also changes his clothes for less ‘hot’ ones!
- Most people now have a cold Christmas dinner, or a barbecue with seafood such as prawns and lobsters along with the ‘traditional english’ food. On Christmas Eve, fish-markets are often full of people queuing to buy their fresh seafood for Christmas day.
Wherever you are, whatever your traditions are, we hope you have a wonderful Christmas time. As for us we will be mixing both Lebanese and Dutch traditions into our celebrations. We will be celebrating with both our families this year since my Mom and Brother are coming over to The Netherlands.
For now, Erwin and I wish you love, joy, health, happiness, peace and all the positivity which comes with it. Promise me one thing though: don’t forget about the most important part of Christmas celebrations: our lord Jesus and the Nativity stories.
So happy birthday Jesus and Merry Christmas to you all!!!