As I began this article, I wanted to find out the different ways Christmas is celebrated all over the world. Yet, as I delved deeper into my research, I found that the Christmas traditions that are celebrated all over the world are remarkably similar. There are four fundamental attributes, each county celebrates with special foods, celebrations, decorations, and various presents of some kind or another.
Of course, depending on the climate, things often change. For instance in Australia, where their Christmas is celebrated during their summer, their Santa Clause wears shorts and trades in his reindeer for kangaroos. The dinner consists of cold food such as fish and crackers. In the Falkland Islands, where 3,000 people and 150,000 sheep live, lamb is their food of choice because turkey is very expensive to fly from the United Kingdom. In Venezuela, they have ‘hallacas’ which is a combination of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins, and olives rolled up in plantain leaves and steamed. This is reminiscent of the tamales that are such a mainstay for Mexican families during the holiday. In Croatia, the meal on Christmas Day is often turkey, goose or duck with a side dish of ‘sarma’ (cabbage rolls filled with minced pork meat). They also top off the meal with ‘Krafne’ filled with jam, jelly, marmalade or chocolate.
Celebrations are also a constant in each country with plays, nativity scenes, and caroling a large part of this holiday. In the Dominican Republic of Congo, full musical evenings with multiple choirs and nativity plays last long into the evening and early morning. In Brazil nativity scenes called ‘Os Pastores’ (the Shepherds) are available for everyone to enjoy. In Romania ‘dubasi’ or bands of 50-60 unmarried men sing through the streets, the same happens in Greece where the young men carry wooden boats and receive gifts. Going to Mass for church services is also the norm as in Portugal where the “Missa do Galo” or mass of the rooster is celebrated. In South Africa, where it is a hot time of year, people walk through the streets singing carols by candlelight. What a beautiful sight that must be!
As far as decorations, some countries take the time to spruce up their homes like painting it as people do in Trinidad and Tobago. Trees of various shapes and forms are the norm as well with spider web decorations in the Ukraine part of bringing good luck into the homes. In Greece basil is kept in a bowl of water in the middle of the table and used to sprinkle holy water throughout the house to ward away evil spirits. Nativity scenes or creche are often used as decoration as in Malta where the nativity cribs called ‘presepju’ are decorated with ‘pasturi’ or shepherds and angels. Also, seeds such as wheat, grain, and canary seed ‘gulbiena’ are grown to decorate the bed of the baby Jesus.
What I found most fascinating is how presents are looked at and used throughout the world. In most countries like Zimbabwe, new clothes are given as presents every year. In Zambia, presents for the less fortunate are brought to the church. In New Zealand, where the weather is warm this time of year, ‘jandals’ or flip flops are a favorite gift. Speaking of shoes, in some countries the shoes are dusted off and left out to be filled with sweets and presents this is also true of socks. Not only are presents left under the tree, but are places in shoes as in Romania and Portugal and are often delivered by the baby Jesus as in Slovakia.
I find it incredible that no matter where you are, sharing happy moments with family and friends is an integral part of this time of year. I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas and holiday season. Take care! And if you would like to learn more, check out this great website: www.whychristmas.com.