We all love our festive traditions. Christmas – originally a Christian celebration – is now celebrated by many around the world, regardless of their religion. We discover how eight countries enjoy the holiday season as we prepare for ours.
Christmas – known as Jól – is typically celebrated on Christmas Eve in Iceland. The Jólasveinar (Icelandic Yule Lads) begin to appear 13 days before Christmas, with a different Lad leaving a small present for children each night. Decoration of the Christmas tree takes place on 23 December, and many shops stay open until midnight for last minute shoppers to buy their presents.
Officially starting at 6pm on Christmas Eve, Christmas begins with a meal with close family. After dinner, gifts are exchanged, and it is traditional to give books as a present, with the day ending by snuggling up and reading; 25 December is for relaxing, eating leftovers and spending time with loved ones.
A relatively new celebration in Japan, Christmas is not considered a religious holiday. It is seen as a time to spread happiness and joy, with Christmas Eve being considered a romantic holiday for couples, similar to Valentine’s Day in the UK.
Traditionally, fried chicken is eaten on Christmas Day, with many getting their meal from KFC. People also eat sponge cake decorated with strawberries and cream as part of the festive feast. Though it is becoming more customary to celebrate Christmas in Japan, many businesses treat it as a normal working day.
Rumoured to be home to the first ever Christmas tree, Latvia has its fair share of traditions, too. The first documented use of an evergreen tree was in the Riga town square in 1510, despite many believing the tradition originated in Germany.
Ziemassvētku vecītis (Christmas Old Man) leaves presents under the tree for children during the evening of Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, and children often recite a poem or sing a song before they can open gifts. Christmas dinner consists of cooked peas with pork sauce, pies, cabbage, sausage and gingerbread.
As a predominantly Muslim country, Christmas is not widely celebrated in Kazakhstan, and 25 December is treated as a normal working day by many. However, New Year is the biggest celebration in the Kazakhstani calendar, and many celebrate it in a similar way to our Christmas celebrations: New Year trees are decorated, Ayaz Ata (Father Frost) delivers New Year presents to children, and may be depicted in a blue or silver suit instead of red.
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He is accompanied by Kar Kiz (Snow Maiden), his granddaughter, who helps him deliver presents to good children. People eat plov (beef, rice and carrots cooked in oil and cumin), salads, fruit, nuts and baursak (similar to doughnuts) for their New Year feast.
As a largely Catholic country, Christmas is a major celebration in Peru. “Different regions, such as the coast, the mountains and the jungle have different traditions,” explains Rosa Elena Gamarra, of Peru. “In the coast, at the start of December, we decorate the Christmas tree with lights and ornaments. The traditional Catholic homes display advent wreaths.”
La Noche Buena (Good Night) is celebrated on 24 December, and is the main day of celebrations. Many houses display the nativity scene, with one lucky family member being chosen to lay the Niño Manuelito (baby Jesus) into the manger.
The Christmas meal includes turkey, tamales, salads, apple sauce and panettone bread. “After dinner we exchange gifts,” adds Elena. “At midnight, adults will toast with champagne – children with hot chocolate – and families go outside to watch fi rework displays.”
Christmas in Kenya is a family affair. People travel to be with family on Christmas Eve, decorating their houses with balloons, ribbons, paper decorations, flowers and leaves, with some using a Cyprus tree as a Christmas tree. In cities, despite the warm weather, some shops may decorate with fake snow. Many attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, where carols, songs, poems and dances are performed.
After church, families return home and the party starts – sometimes lasting until morning. People eat nyama choma, Swahili for ‘grilled meat’, usually barbecued goat, sheep or beef, with rice and chapati on the side. Sometimes, people make their own beer in preparation for the feast, and different tribes have their own traditional dishes.
Australian Christmases are probably the polar opposite of our Scottish Christmas. At the start of the summer holidays you will find people celebrating Christmas Day, and December is often the hottest part of the Australian year. Instead of snuggling up in front of the fire with a hot chocolate, Australians can be found on the beach, and many eat seafood, salad or cold meat on Christmas Day, but some eat roast turkey, too.
Houses are decorated with bunches of “Christmas bush” trees and every city has its own Carols by Candlelight event, where celebrity performers will sing carols on Christmas Eve for the whole city. On Boxing Day, it’s traditional to head out to the beach for a family barbecue, or watch the Boxing Day Test cricket match, instead of hitting the sales.
Even Scotland has a history of traditions that some may not have known about. Believe it or not, Christmas was effectively banned in Scotland for almost 400 years, and Christmas Day wasn’t a public holiday in Scotland until 1958; Boxing Day wasn’t introduced until 1974.
Up until recently, the biggest festive celebration in Scotland was Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve. People would ‘first foot’, visiting homes of friends and family, bringing lumps of coal to fuel the fire and bring good wishes for a cosy home and a good year ahead.
Nowadays, Christmas traditions include leaving mince pies out for Santa (carrots for the reindeer too, of course), leaving stockings for Santa to fill with presents, and a turkey dinner with Christmas crackers.
However you’re celebrating this year, we wish you a Merry Christmas!