How the world celebrates Christmas 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY PHENSRI RUTLEDGE
  • Photo by Phensri Rutledge

In most Christian countries, Christmas is the most special time of the year. Though the most important ingredients of Christmas across the world are the same—festive cheer, family time and delicious food—each country has its own special way of celebrating this magical festival

On the night of Dec. 5, children clean and polish their shoes and leave them outside the door before going to sleep. Next morning, they find them filled with nuts, candy, and small gifts from St. Nicholas. He also makes an appearance in shopping malls.

The Advent calendar is an important countdown to Christmas for German children. Every day for four weeks preceding Christmas, a window in the advent calendar is opened to reveal a poem, parts of a story, candy or a small gift.

Advent wreaths were started by German Lutherans in the 16th century, and today the wreath is still an icon of Christmas in Germany. The wreath consists of four candles in a bed of pine cones, berries, dried flowers and Christmas ornaments. So too are Christmas angels. They are put up on Christmas trees and all around the house at Christmas time.

Christmas season in Germany is not complete without mugs of steaming hot Glühwein which is sold in ceramic mugs in all Christmas markets. Lebkuche is another special German Christmas treat. These baked delights resemble gingerbread and contain honey, spices and nuts, and can be soft or hard, sweet, or spicy, and with or without icing.

While they may share some seasonal customs, Scandinavian countries have individual beliefs and their own unique ways of celebrating the holidays.

Christmas Eve is the main event in Norway. For many, it includes church services and last-minute shopping for gifts. At 5 p.m., the churches ring their Christmas bells. Most people have a dinner of pork ribs or lutefisk (a cod dish) at home, so restaurants are usually closed. Christmas Eve dessert usually includes gingerbread or a hot rice pudding, and mulled wine. Then Christmas gifts are opened after dinner.

The Swedish Christmas begins with Saint Lucia Day on Dec. 13 then Christmas trees are set up usually a couple of days before Christmas and decorated with red and white flowers.

On Christmas Eve, many Swedes attend church services. They return home to a traditional family dinner including a buffet dinner with ham, pork, or fish, and a variety of sweets. After the festive Christmas Eve dinner, someone dresses up and hands out gifts.

Children help decorate their family Christmas trees in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday in Denmark, which formally begins on Dec. 23. The celebration kicks off with a meal that includes a traditional cinnamon rice pudding called grod.

On Christmas Eve, Danes have a Christmas dinner usually consisting of duck or goose, red cabbage, and caramelized potatoes. The traditional dessert is a light rice pudding with whipped cream and chopped almonds.

On Christmas morning, Danish cupcakes are traditionally served. For Christmas Day lunch, cold cuts and different types of fish usually make up the meal. On Christmas night, families gather around the Christmas tree, exchange presents, and sing carols.

Filipinos like to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible! The playing of Christmas carols in shops can start in September! The formal Christmas celebrations start on Dec. 16 when many people go to the first of nine early morning masses.

Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of western and native Filipino traditions. Filipinos have Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Christmas carols from western countries! They also have their own Christmas traditions such as the "parol" which is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it.

During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, which is a big, open house celebration with family, friends and neighbours dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

When Australians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, it is during summer vacation. Pre-Christmas, many people attend Carols by Candlelight where they come together at night to light candles and sing Christmas carols outside.

Christmas festivities begin in late November, when schools and church groups present Nativity plays. Shopping centres play carols throughout the month of December.

On Christmas Eve, families may attend church together. Most children expect Father Christmas to leave gifts. After opening presents on Christmas morning, the family sits down to breakfast together. For some families, attending a Christmas Day church service is traditional.

Christmas Day is when families and close friends gather together. The highlight of the day is the midday dinner. Some families enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey or ham and rich plum pudding doused in brandy and set aflame before it is brought to the table.

Because the weather is hot, other families head for the backyard BBQ to grill their Christmas dinner in the sunshine. Many families even go to the beach or to the countryside and enjoy a picnic of cold turkey or ham and a salad.

Most Catholics will go to a Midnight Mass service. After the mass there are often extravagant firework displays and in big towns and cities there are grandiose Christmas Tree shaped displays of electric lights.

For those not going to church, the Christmas Eve meal is normally served around 10 p.m. Exactly at midnight, people greet each other, make a toast wishing everyone a Happy Christmas and after that they will exchange presents. The lunch on Christmas Day is also special and after that some people go to relatives and friends houses to visit while others will go back to church.

Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, and although there are a few resident Christians, much of the holiday revelry is purely secular. There is no holiday for Christmas but the commercial appeal of Christmas is just too much for Bangkok's big shopping malls to resist. They get in on the holiday action with sales, Christmas lights, and decorated trees.

Many of the city's major hotels have gala dinners and special buffets for Christmas and most of the stand-alone restaurants serving Western food also have celebration meals.

Christmas is not seen as a religious celebration as there aren't many Christians in Japan and it is not a national holiday. Most businesses will treat the Christmas Day as a "normal" working day.

Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day that couples spend together and exchange presents. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant. The Japanese have a Christmas cake, but it's not a rich fruit cake, but a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.

The Japanese New Year is more like a traditional Western Christmas. New year is the period where families get together, have a special meal, pray and send greetings cards.

Happy Christmas to all.

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