With Christmas fast approaching, let’s take a look at 10 different Christmas traditions from countries and cultures around the world!
Italy In Italy, Christmas celebrations officially kick off on the 8th of December, with a celebratory day called the ‘Feast Of Immaculate Conception’ (known locally as ‘L’Immacolata’). This day is a public holiday in Italy and is widely believed to be the day that Mary , the mother of Jesus, was graced by God to lead a life free of sin.
Poland The day of Saint Nicholas on the 6th of December is the unofficial beginning of the festive season in Poland. The 24th of December is known as Wigilia (derives from the Latin word ‘vigil’) in Poland, when families gather together at the table for a Christmas Eve supper. Traditionally, before gathering at the table to eat, people will wait until the first star appears in the sky. This symbolizes the star that showed the 3 kings the way to the barn in Bethlehem. If you are lucky enough to visit Poland for Christmas you had better have a big appetite – a traditional Christmas Eve dinner will consist of around 12 dishes!
Colombia From the 16th December for 9 consecutive days, leading up to Christmas, many Colombians take part in ‘Novenas’. A joyful celebration, at every Novena there is no shortage of food, with traditional treats Bunelos and Natilla being the main delicacies. Families will take it in turns to host the celebrations each night. Don’t be surprised if you hear music roaring out of the window – Colombians combine prayers and songs to take part in this colorful feast!
Romania On December the 6th, Romanians celebrate Saint Nicholas (or “Sfantul Nicolae” in Romanian) a very popular character among children as they will receive small gifts on this day. Saint Nicholas is also the spiritual patron of Greece, Russia and of many other cities in Eastern Europe. According to the Romanian tradition, St. Nicholas comes with gifts on the night of December the 5th. He places the gifts in everyone’s polished boots, except for those who have been naughty – they receive a whip or a stick instead, as punishment – so behave!
Germany Did you know the first appearance of the indoor Christmas tree was recorded in 1605 in Strasburg, Germany? Christmas ornaments looked very different from the sparkly baubles we are used to now – decorations hung on the tree of that time were roses cut from paper, apples, wafers , gilt and even tinsel! We can thank Germany for one of the most famous and long-standing Christmas traditions of all time!
Philippines December the 16th marks the beginning of Simbang Gabi, an important day in the lead up to Christmas. Similar to Colombia, for the next 9 consecutive days before Christmas, Filipinos will wake up extremely early to attend mass at church. Filipinos strongly believe that if one completes all nine morning masses, their wishes will all come true! They also attend church for the final mass on Christmas Eve , named ‘Misa del Gallo’. This religious tradition was brought by the Spanish evangelizers through Mexico to the Philippines!
France In France, Christmas is called Noel. This derives from the French phrase ‘les bonnes nouvelles’ meaning ‘the good news’ in English. In the south of France, the French burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve right up until New year’s day! This is an ancient tradition in which farmers would use part of the log to ensure good luck for the next years harvest.
Israel The worldwide tradition we know today as Midnight Mass originated in Israel. In the late 4th century, a Christian pilgrim named Egeria joined a group of Christians in a vigil in Bethlehem on the night of January the 5th (which is Christmas Eve in eastern tradition). The tradition reached the western world in the year 430. Today, Midnight Mass is a tradition widely celebrated across the world during the festive period.
United Kingdom In the mid-18th century, a London sweet maker named Tom Smith took inspiration from the French ‘bon bon’ sweets on a visit to Paris and created the Christmas Cracker! When they were originally made, paper hats were crafted by hand and soon became so popular that writers were commissioned to compose snappy lines and jokes to insert inside the crackers. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas in the UK without these on the table!
Croatia Preparations for Christmas in Croatia begin on the 25th November, which falls on St Catherine’s day (Sveta Kata in Croatian). There is an interesting Croatian proverb saying that ‘Sveta Kata zatvara vrata’ (“St. Kate closes the door”) which refers to the custom that forbids weddings or other similar large celebrations during Christmas time!
Wherever you may be in the world and however you choose to celebrate, PAB wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.