This time of year is surrounded by tradition and, even here in the UK, the way in which we spend Christmas can vary drastically from family to family. Other countries also interpret the holiday and the religious significance very differently to us. Some even have different versions of Father Christmas delivering their Christmas present.
Christmas in Japan is encouraged by commerce. Although it is not a public holiday, many celebrate it by exchanging gifts and having parties around the big day. They also cook their own Christmas cake, which is a white sponge covered in cream and decorated with strawberries.
Christmas Eve is traditionally for couples to spend time together and give one another presents.
In central and south Mexico children receive gifts on Christmas Eve and January 6th when they celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. This is when it was believed the three wise men travelled to give gifts to the baby Jesus. Santa Claus brings the gifts but the wise men also fill the children’s shoes with sweets, fruit and nuts.
The celebrations often begin on December 6th, which is Nikolaustag. Children leave their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with chocolates, oranges and nuts if they’ve been good. If they haven’t, their names will be in a book of sins and their shoes will be filled with twigs.
Children don’t have any part in decorating the Christmas tree. The parents will keep a room locked while they deck the tree and table. This usually takes place on Christmas Eve and a bell is rung when the children are allowed to enter. Most of the celebrations happen on the 24th with children being allowed to stay up as late as they like and open their presents.
It is said that an angel-like figure called Christkind delivers baskets of toys. There’s also the Weihnachtsmann, who looks like Santa Claus and brings presents on Christmas Day.
As in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th in Russia. It’s mainly a religious event with many long services and then a Holy Supper on January 6th. The food consists of 12 dishes, one to represent each of the apostles. Particularly devout families will then return to church for the all night vigil and then go again on Christmas morning.
Although January 7th is now a national holiday in Russia, most prefer to focus on the New Year celebrations. During Soviet times religious activity was discouraged by the atheist state so to keep many of the Christmas traditions they were tied in with New Year. Trees are decorated, families get together and gifts are brought by Grandfather Frost.
Being a predominantly Christian country, Christmas is widely celebrated in the Philippines. It is said to have the longest holiday season, with carols being heard as early as September 1st. Despite the tropical climate there are often displays of lights and trees and Santa Claus makes his appearances.
On December 24th Filipinos will go to midnight mass then home to the long awaited Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve feast. Families will dine on traditional foods, such as Edam cheese, ham, roast chicken or turkey, hot chocolate and various puddings.
The traditional Christmas meal in Poland is Wigilia, which means vigil. To be invited to one of these feasts by a family is considered a high honour. Before eating guests exchange holiday greetings with each other by sharing some Opłatki, a Christmas wafer that has been blessed by a bishop and stamped with a religious scene such as the nativity. Herring plays a large part in the meal and borscht, ravioli, potato salad and vegetables often accompany it.
The traditions in America are very similar to those here in the UK, but with their own distinct style. On Christmas Eve stockings are left out ready to be filled overnight when Santa Claus visits. Cookies are left for Santa and some oats or a carrot for his reindeer.
The big meal consists of roast turkey, roasted vegetables, potatoes and cranberry sauce. There’s also egg nog and sweet pastries sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.
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