Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas Traditions Around the World

German settles migrated to Canada from the United States in the 1700’s. They brought with them many of the things associated with Christmas we cherish today: Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies–and Christmas trees. When Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, put Ship a Tree a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1848, the Christmas tree became a tradition throughout England, the United States and Canada.

In most Mexican homes the principal holiday adornment is el Nacimiento (Nativity scene). However, a decorated Christmas tree may be incorporated in the Nacimiento or set Ship a Tree elsewhere in the home. The typical arbolito (little tree) is often an artificial one, a bare branch cut from a copal tree (Bursera microphylla) or some type of shrub collected from the countryside.

The Norway Spruce is the traditional species used to decorate homes in Britain. The Norway Spruce was a native species in the British Isles before the last Ice Age and was reintroduced there before the 1500’s.

Christmas trees are imported, as no trees live this far north. They are decorated with candles and bright ornaments.

The Christmas tree has joined the “Nacimiento” (Nativity scene) as a popular ornament because of the large German population in Guatemala. Gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning for the children. Parents and adults do not exchange gifts until New Year’s Day.

The earliest account of a Christmas tree in a Finnish home is from the year 1829, when a Helsinki nobleman, Barön Klinckowstrom, had eight of them indoors. Within the next hundred years the Christmas tree tradition spread from the west and the south to all parts of Finland. The first outdoor Christmas tree decorated with electric lights stood in the market square in the town of Pietarsaari in 1905. The city of Helsinki has erected a Christms tree in the Senate Square since 1930. Since 1954, Helsinki has donated a Christmas tree to the Belgian capital, Brussels. Source: Christmas With Virtual Finland

Although Christmas falls during the summer in Brazil, sometimes pine trees are decorated with little pieces of cotton that represent falling snow.

Christmas trees are brought in anytime in December and decorated with colored lights, tinsel, and baubles. Some people favor the angel on top of the tree, others the star. The house is decorated with garlands, candles, holly and ivy. Wreaths and mistletoe are hung on the door.

Most people buy Christmas trees well before Christmas Eve, but it’s not uncommon to take the tree inside and decorate it just a few days before. Evergreen trees are decorated with stars, sunbursts and snowflakes made from straw. Other decorations include colorful wooden animals and straw centerpieces.

Nowadays Norwegians often take a trip to the woods to select a Christmas tree, a trip that their grandfathers probably did not make. The Christmas tree was not introduced into Norway from Germany until the latter half of the nineteenth century, to the country districts it came even later. When Christmas Eve arrives, there is the decorating of the tree, usually done by the parents behind the closed doors of the living room, while the children wait with excitement outside. Then follows a Norwegian ritual known as “circling the Christmas tree.” Everyone joins hands to form a ring around the tree and they then walk around it singing carols. Afterwards, gifts are distributed.

Celebrated on December 25th by Catholics and on January 7th by Orthodox Christians, Christmas is the most popular holiday in the Ukraine. During the Christmas season, which also includes New Year’s Day, people decorate fir trees and have parties.

A popular Christmas custom is Catalonia, a lucky strike game. A tree trunk is filled with goodies and children hit at the trunk trying to knock out the hazel nuts, almonds, toffee and other treats.

In Italy, the presepio (manger or crib) represents in miniature the Holy Family in the stable and is the center of Christmas for families. Guests kneel before it and musicians sing before it . The presepio figures are usually hand-carved and very detailed in features and dress. The scene is often set out in the shape of a triangle. It provides the base of a pyramid-like structure called the ceppo. This is a wooden frame arranged to make a pyramid several feet high. Several tiers of thin shelves are sShip a Treeported by this frame. It is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pine cones and miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides. A star or small doll is hung at the apex of the triangular sides. The shelves above the manger scene have small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. The ceppo is in the old Tree of Light tradition which became the Christmas tree in other countries. Some houses even have a ceppo for each child in the family.

Many Christmas traditions practiced around the world today started in Germany. It has been long thought that Martin Luther began the tradition of bringing a fir tree into the home. According to one legend, late one evening Martin Luther was walking home through the woods and noticed how beautifully the stars shined through the trees. He wanted to share the beauty with his wife so he cut down a fir tree and took it home. Once inside he placed small lighted candles on the branches and said that it would be a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky. Hence, the Christmas tree.

Another legend says that in the early sixteenth century, people in Germany combined two customs that had been practiced in different countries around the globe. The Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) represented the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. The Christmas Light, a small pyramid-like frame, usually decorated with glass balls and tinsel and with a candle on top, was a symbol of the birth of Christ as the Light of the World. Changing the tree’s apples to tinsel balls and cookies; and combining this new tree with the Light placed on top, the Germans created the tree that many of us know now.

Today, the Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree) is traditionally decorated in secret with lights, tinsel and ornaments by the mother and is lit and revealed on Christmas Eve with cookies, nuts and gifts under its branches.

South Africa
Christmas is a summer holiday in South Africa. Although Christmas trees are not common, windows are often draped with sparkling cotton, wool, and tinsel.

Saudi Arabia
Christian Americans, Europeans, Indians, Filipinos and others living in Saudi Arabia have to celebrate Christmas privately in their own homes. Christmas lights are generally not tolerated. Most families place their Christmas trees somewhere inconspicuous.

Fresh pine trees are too expensive for many Filipinos, so handmade trees in an array of colors and sizes are often used. Star lanterns or parol, appear everywhere in December. They are made from bamboo sticks, covered with brightly colored rice paper or cellophane and usually feature a tassel on each point. There is usually one in every window, each representing the Star of Bethlehem.

Of the small percentage of Chinese who do celebrate Christmas, most erect artificial trees decorated with spangles and paper chains, flowers and lanterns. Christmas trees are called “trees of light.”

For most of the Japanese who celebrate Christmas, it’s purely a secular holiday devoted to the love of their children. Christmas trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns and wind chimes. Miniature candles are also put among the tree branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan. Japanese children have exchanged thousands of folded paper “birds of peace” with young people all over the world as a pledge that war must not happen again.

Adapted from History Channel website at