Christmas trees are decorated and stockings are hung on the
fireplace for Santa Claus to fill with gifts. Christmas is
celebrated on December 25th, with certain of the French Canadian
communities preferring December 24th. Many families celebrate on
Christmas Eve with presents, family feasts, and midnight Mass.
Cards and gifts are exchanged with friends and relatives. Nativity
scenes, once an annual appearance is even small town public squares
have now been moved in certain communities to church grounds. In
addition to the typically Catholic, and Protestant themed
celebrations, there are also massive public celebrations of the
Christmas season with non-religious themes. Additionally, in both
the US and Canada, the people are known for massive outreaches to
the poor and homeless during this Christmas celebration period.
The Christians in China light their homes with beautiful paper
lanterns during Advent. Santa is called Dun Che Lao Ren. The
children are encouraged to hang stockings like their counterparts
in the US. Many of the traditions for celebration among the
Christian communities in China were imported by the missionaries
that delivered the message of Advent.
The children in Belgium are always excited by the approaching
Christmas season, and they celebrate the primary gift giving early,
December 6th. Saint Nicholas, riding a horse, and carrying great
bags of gifts, somehow makes the entire journey in one evening, and
after gift giving and celebration, the theme of Christmas switches
to the Holy celebration of the Christ Child.
The Czechs celebrate Christmas by feasting, and gift giving. They
also traditionally set a place at the table for the Christ Child.
In as much as possible, the extended family celebrates Christmas
The Danes celebrate the tradition of Saint Nicholas with Santa,
known as Julemanden. He arrives as in the US, in a sleigh pulled by
reindeer gifts for children of all ages. An additional tradition
among the Danish children concerns Santa's helpers, the Elves. They
are encouraged to believe that they may live in the attic of their
homes, and actually leave milk and rice pudding for the helpers, to
make sure they send the word to Santa.
England exported several customs to the United States that we now
take for granted in our Christmas Celebrations. Prince Albert
imported from Germany the tradition of bringing in a fir tree and
decorating it with ornaments and fruits during Queen Victoria's
reign. It quickly spread throughout England, as if the "royals" are
doing it, it must be good.
Other imported features of the English Tradition include the
making of Christmas lists, the giving of boxed gifts the day after
Christmas to visitors, the hanging of stockings by the fireplace,
and the general appearance of Santa with bright red robes. One
tradition that even many in England now ignore is waiting until
late in the day on Christmas to actually open gifts.
Few countries have more caroling groups then the English. The
week of Christmas, and particularly the weekend before the actual
Christmas day seems to pull every person with the slightest ability
to carry a tune into the public square and on walk about singing
troops singing the traditional Christmas melodies.
The French celebrate Christmas throughout the month of December,
with many families actually beginning the gift giving on December
6th, having additional gifts on December 25th, and often opening
other gifts on New Years Day, particularly for adults.
Many households have a type of Christmas Eve watch time, and
actually celebrate Christmas day right after the stroke of midnight
with a meal and celebratory cakes. When the children go to bed,
they place their shoes rather than their socks by the fireplace for
the receipt of special gifts, and rise early to celebrate Christmas
on Christmas day.
Especially among Parisians, the manger scene figurines are
dressed in modern French fashion provincial clothing. The
preparation and selling of this years manger scene costumes is a
big retailing event every year in France.
The Italians are well known for celebrating Christmas throughout
the month of December, by do not actually have the significant
exchanging of gifts until the traditional day of the arrival of the
Wise Men (January 6th) for the first Christmas family. Italy claims
the first nativity scene was actually demonstrated in Italy by
Saint Francis as an object lesson for children and today, in nearly
every town and village they have regular award as a result of
contests the "best nativity scene." Because of this type of focus,
it is said that there are more animals in public squares in Italy
during Advent, then perhaps in the rest of the world combined.
Only a small percentage of the Indian households celebrate the
Christmas faith, and yet decorating for the season seems to
permeate even non Christian households in every village. Houses are
typically decorated in greenery, mango leaves, strings of light and
the "Star of Bethlehem" is hung inside the home. Small personalized
gifts are the norm and are exchanged even in non Christian homes.
Mexicans celebrate Christmas, Navidad for a full nine days leading
up to Christmas or Holy Eve. Costumes are the norm, and either in
the public squares, or from house to house, families enjoy the
theatre of knocking on the door, being turned away as the "Inn is
full", and then moving the party to either the back yard, or the
public square. Music is played throughout the celebrations, great
regional dishes are served, and the children are given sticks to
strike the Pinata, a paper mache creation, often in the shape of a
nativity animal, filled with candy, is made of paper mache and
filled with all kinds of goodies. On the ninth night they celebrate
the Joseph and Mary were welcomed by God, Angels, and shepherds
into the Stable, enjoy a great feast, and when completed, the
entire family of all ages moves the celebration to the church to
celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.
The traditions of celebration in the Netherlands are a combination
of traditions that even address their geography. They celebrate the
tradition of Saint Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas, and determined
that he originally visited Sweden by boat, setting out on December
6th, the traditional day reserved in the church calendar, from
Spain. Once onshore, he immediately mounts a horse, and makes his
gift deliveries of candies, nuts, and small hard bread treats to
the waiting shoes of children. Old Sinterklaas is a very tricky
person, able to appear, whenever he is "accidentally witnessed in
the act, as the father or grandfather of the child. Very tricky
Poland has a rich tradition of reserving space on the village and
city squares for carnival like stalls or booths, called Joselki.
The booths are decorated in the themes of Christmas, are celebrated
from Christmas Day to New Years day. Families and businesses make
special efforts to make their booth the favorite, featuring one of
the many scenes from the biblical Christmas story. Small gifts,
candy, and Christmas Cards are distributed from the booths to the
passer-bys, and normally caroling troops move from booth to booth
on Christmas Eve, after which the entire village makes their way to
the Church to celebrate late evening Mass.
The citizens of Spain, largely Catholic, have traditionally
celebrated all the great themes of Christmas but the gift giving
tradition assumes that Wise men on horseback actually give the
gifts to the children in some type of annual reenactment of the
first Christmas gift giving. Special care is made to provide food
for the horses and treats for the wise men.. They typically
celebrate Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, with their families and
friends with a meal. Nearly every family will have a Nativity
scene, and some are incredibly elaborate. Families move from home
to home to see their neighbor's nativity scene
The Swedes have created a number of unique perspectives around the
Christmas celebration, not the least of which is referring to their
version of Santa, Tomte, as a type of actually unattractive, and
some children would say scary gnome, who only appears from out of a
barn, or from under a building to deliver gifts. No reindeer here.
Instead, the rather diminutive sleigh is drawn by a magic goat, and
the gifts, only for the very good children are left sometimes well
hidden throughout the house. The packages are typically wrapped in
several layers of paper to make the opening of the gift more of an
The eldest daughter has the privilege of serving the entire
family a special treat on Saint Lucia's Day, December 13th. She
dresses for the part with traditional white robe like dress,
special jewelry for headdress, and wakes the family to a very
traditional celebratory breakfast of fresh baked buns, and cookies.
Later in the same day, the traditional dinner of fish is topped off
with Christmas rice pudding.
The celebration of Christmas in Russia changed dramatically after
the Revolution of 1917. Many are not aware that the many traditions
of celebrating Christmas observed pre-1917 that were church based
were actually made illegal. Long Christmas parades with costume,
the star of Bethlehem on poles, and meals celebrated together
before attending Christmas Mass after visiting the Nativity scenes
in the public squares were all banned.
A different gift giver personality was created, and Saint
Nicholas was replaced with Grandfather Frost.
The Russian communities now seem, in a more relaxed post USSR
atmosphere to have a mixed theme celebration during the Christmas
New Years season. The celebration with decorated tree takes place
typically on New Years, and special children's parties are
sponsored by parents, grandparents, and even some churches. Gifts,
when delivered come from Grandfather Frost, and his helper, the
The Swiss celebrate Christmas as a holy extended celebration, with
the spirit of gift giving directed by a character called
Christkind, who is a spiritualized present day incarnation of the
original Christ Child. Though the gift giving, which all children
look forward to, is certainly helped by his assistant Saint
Nicholas's spirit in the form of a brightly dressed helper, the
Swiss have been careful to maintain the central figure of the
holiday celebration is Christ. Plays, and music fill town squares,
and the usually quiet, and somewhat reserved Swiss people get into
the spirit of the holiday with living nativity scenes, street side
theatre, and general good will flowing from walk by samplings of
Christmas fruits, cakes, and cookies.