I have lots of family and friends who live around the world and, personally, I find it rather interesting and exciting to see how different countries celebrate Christmas. Here in the UK, we’re all pretty familiar with the opening of presents before stuffing a lovely Christmas dinner in the shape of a Sunday roast, telling a few jokes from crackers and flopping out in front of the TV for Christmas specials, but what do other countries do to celebrate this festive time of year? I spoke to some friends and family to find out what they do for their Christmas traditions.
My friend, Line, was kind enough to tell me about her Christmas traditions…
“In Denmark, we open gifts on the 24th December. We eat things like duck and roast pork. After dinner, we have a lot of candy and walk around the Christmas tree and sing both English and Danish songs. We play a game and win gifts. We eat play a game where we eat Risalamande (a Danish dessert traditionally served at Christmas) and inside there is an almond. Whoever finds the almond nut wins a small gift.
We also have Christmas calendars like in the UK to open from the 1st to 24th and a calendar candle, too.”
Fellow blogger, John, talks about Christmas in Germany…
“Christmas is a magical time in Germany, the best bit is that we get to do it twice. The first Christmas happens on 6th December on St Nikolaus. Children leave their newly cleaned shoes at their front door in the hope that St Nikolaus will fill them with chocolate and sweets. At 2pm across Germany on 24th December, Germany falls silent and stays that way until the 27th. On Christmas Eve families come together to decorate their Christmas Tree and exchange presents. On Christmas Day most families eat Goose rather than the Turkey that is eaten in many countries. I love it that everything is closed for Christmas, everyone has the chance for a proper rest and spend time with their families.”
My friend, Rachael, talks about traditions that originate from Poland…
“Poland is a largely Catholic country, so our traditions reflect that most notably in how we don’t eat meat for Christmas dinner! We have fish instead, and we have presents and a sit down dinner celebration on Christmas Eve. The food is pretty interesting; the tradition is called ‘Wigilia’ and only starts when the first star appears – we won’t eat beforehand. The tradition is to fast, and then feast- and it is a feast – 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. Before food, there’s a kind of toast that we do using the same ‘bread’ used for communion in church. It’s normally a figure of Jesus in our family, it’s a big celebration so we do go all out on the decorations and attention to the small details. We break the bread and take a small piece and toast to what we’re thankful for before passing the piece of bread we broke to the next person. We never eat the piece we break, we eat the piece we’re given. We reflect on forgiveness of hurts we caused and suffered throughout the year. It’s called ‘Opłatek’ in Polish (op-wa-tek) and it represents the last supper, so once the toast is done we toast together with wine.
The focus is on family, as well as religious traditions. Dinner can last up to two hours, there’s no real rush about it as we like to revel in the occasion. We normally take lots of photos together and we dress up. After that, it’s pretty standard in that we watch movies together and drink. Christmas Day is then reserved for visiting family and close friends. It’s super family orientated, the emphasis isn’t so much on gifts and more on how lucky we are to be surrounded by family.”
Blogger, Anca, explains why Christmas is so important in Romania…
“Christmas is a very important celebration in Romania as most people are Orthodox Christians and there are a lot of interesting traditions associated with Christmas. On 6th December St. Nicholas is celebrated, everybody has to clean their shoes and leave them near the window so they can receive gifts, usually sweets. The Christmas tree is made on Christmas Eve and carols are sung when the tree is made. Traditionally, children will visit friends, family and neighbours and will sing carols, in return they will get apples, walnuts and sweets. On Christmas Day the whole family gets together, they open presents and they eat traditional foods like stuffed cabbage leaves and a loaf made with enriched dough with cocoa, raisins and walnuts called cozonac.”
My buddy, Adam, talks about his Christmas traditions, which are pretty different to what we’re used to in the UK…
“The morning is always fun because Christmas presents! Then round 1 is lunch with my dad’s side of the family. We normally have pasta, then main course roast chicken, roast potatoes, veggies the works. Then dessert. So much food lol! Then it quiets down a bit. And then for dinner is my mum’s side of the family. Even more food then you could ever imagine! Somebody dresses up as Santa and we play Jingle Bells and Santa hands out the other presents to everybody. Then 26th December is Boxing Day which is the equivalent to America’s ‘Black Friday’!”
Kristy talks about her experiences with Christmas growing up in Florida…
“I grew up in a two storey house, and every Christmas all the kids would sleep in the same room. We’d usually wake up around 2am and open the present at the end of our bed (always PJs), We’d put the PJs on and go back to sleep. We were never able to come downstairs until everyone was up, so like normal kids, we’d be super loud screaming at the top of our lungs at 7am. Then we take our traditional kids-sitting-on-the-stairs-photo. We’d go downstairs and my dad is the official ‘Gift Giver’ he would give everyone one present and their stocking. Once those were open we would eat breakfast, normally we have a brown sugar tea ring that is burnt (only one year my dad didn’t burn it). After breakfast, my dad aka ‘Gift Giver’ will go around person by person and give a gift.we all will watch that person open their gift. It made the present opening longer and more special because you get to see everyone’s reactions instead of the Christmas being done in twenty minutes.
Christmas as a mom is different for our family because we have a blended family. My stepson is at our house overnight Christmas Eve every other year. On the years that we get him overnight, his mother gets him at 1pm Christmas day. Vice versa for her years. So, at our house we get up very early, do presents quickly, let them play with some, eat breakfast and then go to his first set of grandparents house, open gifts there, go to the second set of grandparents and open their gifts until it’s 1pm and his mom picks him up. It’s more houses to go to but fun nonetheless, especially with the kids getting older and more understanding of Santa. It’s more about the families which I love. We do also go drive around either on Christmas Eve or the day before to look at Christmas lights with the kids. They love it, my husband gets more ideas for our house and it’s a really fun experience.”
Canadian blogger, Ashley, discusses what Christmas traditions are for her…
“Collectively, Canada has a wide range of people who have an abundant of nationalities, different religious beliefs, and ethnic groups. This means that I can’t generalize the ‘Canadian Christmas tradition’ because in all honesty it’s different to each Canadian citizen. Instead I’ll give you a glimpse into what my family’s holiday traditions are.
Each year we decorate a Christmas tree. This is probably my favourite part of the holidays because we play Christmas music and my sister and I dance around; basically looking like fools! Nonetheless it’s a really fun tradition. Other than decorating the tree we generally decorate the inside of the house by setting out figurines, christmas lights, and bobbles. After decorating we spend the rest of our time eating good food, watching holiday films (Love Actually being one of my favourites), and overall spending time with family.
When Christmas Eve approaches, I put on a new pair of Christmas pyjamas, which I buy every year, and drink either tea, or hot chocolate. My family all gathers around in our living room and we just enjoy each others company with the fire going. Before we all head off to bed, it’s a tradition to open at least one gift! When I was younger, my mum actually always made us open up a new pair of pyjamas so…Guess I know where that comes from! Then we all say goodnight and prepare for what awaits us in the morning.
Christmas morning is THE best. You always wake up to the smell of a good breakfast or at least the smell of coffee depending on when we wake. My family and I waste no time tearing and ripping into our presents but we also do rounds. Like first round we each open one present then we do the next round where we all open another present and so on. By the end we all reflect and are quite content. The rest of the day is spent with my Mum, Dad, Sister, Cousin, Aunt, and Uncle celebrating with food (again) and good company.
It’s easy to say my holidays are quite laid back and depend mostly on food, family, music, and movies but I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Chloe, a fellow blogger, tells the tale about what Christmas is like in the Caribbean region of Barbados…
“Barbados is a small island located in the Caribbean region and is also known as the Gem of the Caribbean Sea. I’m really excited to share with you all what Christmas is like in my country.
Like everywhere in the world, Christmas time in Barbados is really busy but festive. One of the stand out aspects for many children in Barbados is looking at the Christmas lights. So it’s not uncommon for people to head into the capital to see it brightly lit. Roundabouts are also beautifully decorated to fit the holiday’s theme. In the home, Christmas cleaning is a big part of the holiday. This is usually a whole day activity of changing curtains, polishing ornaments and more. I can’t say it’s something I enjoyed doing as a child but it had to be down.
Overall, Christmas for many Bajans is about close friends and family. So it’s no surprise that there’s tons of house parties leading up to the holiday. On Christmas morning, some Bajans can be seen heading off to church. While others are making their way to Queen’s Park located in our capital of Bridgetown. Queen’s Park is awesome to see, even just in pictures. People go above and beyond to dress in their finest outfits. There they mingle with friends and family, but you can also watch a lovely performance by the police band and other artists. Afterwards, they return home to have lunch with family members.
For me the highlight of Christmas is the food. The three staples for many Bajan families are Jug Jug (influenced by the Scottish haggis), the great cake and the baked ham. My favourite of the three is definitely the great cake, which is also called rum cake or black (fruit) cake. Great cake is made using dried fruits (raisins, currants, and prunes), cinnamon, clove and the main ingredient: alcohol (rum, port wine or falernum). I love it, to me it’s not Christmas if I haven’t had a slice of the cake. It’s not unusual for children to eat the cake despite its alcoholic ingredient. For me, when I think of moist cakes, this quickly comes to mind. I really recommend that you try it this Christmas season.”
My friend, Zurielle, told me all about the traditions for Christmas in the Philippines…
“In the Philippines, we celebrate our Christmas season through by getting together, family and friends all in one place (much like a reunion) and we eat our traditional Christmas meal which includes the most important food, Lechon Baboy ( Roasted Pork ). The best way to eat this would be using our hands, and we have our traditional hanging rice also called us “puso”, pairing up these two taste incredibly good. We also have this game called “exchanging gifts” where we draw names of each other and buy gifts for the person that we think they might enjoy, with a minimum but affordable price given. Once we give the gifts to each other we sing a song called “Manito/Manita”, Manito referring to the male and Manita for the female.
Another tradition would be, singing karaoke during the night with our old folks, we also have fireworks lighting up the night sky during the 24th of December, just as the clock strikes 12am. In some barangays (towns) here in the Philippines, they celebrate the Christmas season by throwing fiestas in their own barangays, for everyone living within it. They gather and bring food to the middle of the street and share their food with one another and the best part is that they grow closer with one another. They usually put up banderitas all over town, from roof to roof ( these are triangular shaped plastic papers faced down, hanged using a rope.).”
My cousin, Paul, lives out in Thailand, so it was interesting to hear from him about traditions there…
“The Thais themselves don’t celebrate Christmas as the majority are Buddhist. For me, it’s crazy because my bar, Islander, does Christmas dinner and it’s our busiest day by far as there are a lot of people who live here that aren’t originally from Thailand. We traditionally serve a British Christmas dinner with Brussel sprouts, the lot! Schools, colleges and offices will still be open on Christmas Day, but the kids will dress up in vibrant colours and most schools try to make the day a special event for the children by arranging activities, games and gifts from Santa as well as Christmas carols being sung.”
Irish blogger, Catherine, shares what Christmas is like in her family…
“Christmas starts with the tree going up on December 16th, the first of many December birthdays in our house. Christmas Eve is a hive of activity in the kitchen with the turkey thawing out, the ham steeping to un-salt it and vegetables and copious amounts of potatoes being peeled and washed.
Christmas Day starts with presents from Father Christmas. Breakfast follows before we open presents from mum and dad. Mum (and us when we were younger) then go to 10 or 11am Mass while dad starts cooking the ham and the turkey, a military operation. Only after everyone is back from Mass can we start opening presents from anyone else. It’s a rule my mum has stuck to, even now when most of us are in our 30’s. Dinner is at 2 or 2.30 depending on the size of the turkey. None dares enter the kitchen unless we hear swearing coming from our retired-chef dad. It’s best to stay out of his way, really.
After dinner the chef relaxes with plenty of wine or whiskey while everyone else helps wash the dishes and put them away. 5pm sees other family visiting with one poor designated driver on the dry. The evening is spent drinking lots and watching Christmas TV and if you are hungry there is always plenty left over for a turkey and stuffing sandwich with mayonnaise. Somehow it always tastes so good later on Christmas night!”
Even though I’m from the UK as are most of my readers, for the benefit of my international readers, fellow blogger, Lisa, has shared with me her Christmas traditions…
What do you do for Christmas – does your country have traditions or do you have your own? Comment below, I’d love to hear more!
MORE FROM BLOGMAS…
- Day One: The Christmas Tag
- Day Two: 5 Gifts That Keep on Giving
- Day Three: A Gift Guide for Bloggers