Christmas traditions vary widely for many different people in nations and cultures that span the globe, and they don’t always involve the hanging of stockings and erecting Christmas trees like stereotypical North Americans.
To give citizens a taste of some of the more obscure traditions that surround Christmas for holiday revelers, the Times took to some of the more obscure corners of the Internet to dredge up some traditions that aren’t likely to feature prominently while many locals gather around the mantle ensconced in the warmth of hearth and home.
In Ethiopia and Eritrea, many people fast for 40 days, known as the fast of the prophets. In South Africa, despite Christmas occurring at the height of the Southern Hemisphere summer, wintery motifs common to the Northern Hemisphere are still popular.
In Hong Kong, where Christmas is a public holiday, many buildings facing Victoria Harbour are decked out in Christmas lights. In Japan, a successful advertising campaign in the 1970s made eating at KFC around Christmas a national custom. Its chicken meals are so popular during the season that stores take reservations months in advance. Not surprisingly, Christmas is totally banned in totalitarian North Korea, and South Koreans living near the DMZ are not allowed to use an outdoor Christmas tree or decorations.
Reflecting the British colonial tradition, Christmas is a state holiday in India although Christianity is a minority with only 2.3 per cent of the population. Christmas is totally banned in Brunei, and although 20 percent of the population are non-Muslims, anyone caught will face up to five years in jail. In the Philippines, the country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September 1.
In Armenia, the Soviet Union had a great impact on Santa Claus, where he now goes by the more secular name of “Grandfather Winter.” In Lebanon, families come together and butcher a sheep for a Christmas Eve feast, in honor of the birth of The Shepherd Jesus Christ.
The unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7, Día de las Velitas, or “Day of the Candles.” At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8. In the Bahamas, Junkanoo festivals are held from Christmas Day morning until sunrise on December 27 featuring parading bands in colorful costumes, singing, dancing, and decorations.
In countries of Central Europe the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve, a fasting day; in some places children are told they’ll see a “golden pig” if they hold fast until after dinner. In Germany, gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (translation, “Christmas man”), who resembles St. Nicholas, or by Christkindl, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. In Iceland, children will leave their shoes by the window so that mythical “Yule Lads” can leave small gifts in their shoes. The Yule Lads are the sons of two trolls living in the Icelandic mountains and are each known for a different kind of mischief.
In Australia, some songwriters and authors have depicted Santa in “Australian”-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and riding in a ute pulled by kangaroos. In New Zealand, the Phutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), which produces large crimson flowers in December, is often used as a symbol for Christmas in New Zealand, and subsequently the phutukawa has become known as the “New Zealand Christmas tree.”
While only a sampling of the myriad of cultural traditions that surround Christmas celebrations around the world, it is illustrative that the vast majority of celebrants from outside North America don’t always feature bearded men climbing down chimneys in search of milk and cookies, or the traditional-style tree adorned with a multitude of ornaments.
But however you celebrate the holidays, be sure to do it surrounded by family or friends, and in the spirit of fellowship that is one of the many virtuous messages this season extols. We’ll finish with the words of Tiny Tim, that iconic Christmas character from the imagination of Charles Dickens, who penned A Christmas Carol back in 1843:
“A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”