Christmas traditions around the world

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Saint Nikolas
Saint Nicholas is a popular Christmas figure in many countries
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The ways we celebrate may vary, but the theme of Christmas is universal

When most Americans think of Christmas, they probably think of the typical holiday icons here in this country.  A chubby guy in a red suit, colorful evergreen trees in the livingroom with presents under them.  A fancy dinner with turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes.

Many probably don't realize that christmas traditions vary around the world as much as cultures themselves do.  Here are some of the ways people in other countries celebrate Christmas.

South Africa

One of the things that will seem the strangest to us is that Christmas is a summertime holiday in South Africa.  They are south of the equator, so December is the hottest time of the year for Africans.

Christmas morning usually begins with carolers wandering around the village singing Christmas carols.  They wander through their village and gather in the church for a service.  Each person in the service brings a gift for Jesus and leaves it at the alter.

Just as in America, South Africans have a tree in the home with presents under it for the children, and just as in most homes in America, they have a feast with turkey or roast beef.  As with some European cultures, South Africans celebrate Boxing Day the day after Christmas as well.

Melbourne, Australia

Like Africa, Australia is on our planet's southern hemisphere, so it's very hot at Christmas time.  It's not uncommon for Christmas to be celebrated at the beach.  On Christmas eve, many thousands of people gather in Melbourne to sing carols while holding lit candles.  Many families either have their Christmas dinner at the beach or have a picnic.


In the city where Jesus was born a parade is held.  City and religious officials wind through the city streets and end up at the place where Jesus is believed to have been born.

The home of each Christian family is marked with a cross over the door and a nativity scene in the front yard.


In Germany Christmas is a weeks-long celebration.  As a boy, I remember the joy of the Christkindl mart where hundreds of vendors would gather and sell pfeffernusse, gingerbread houses and all sorts of Christmas gifts and decorations.  It was cold, so on many street corners vendors would be roasting chestnuts over open fires in large 55 gallon drums.  The smell was wonderful!

In Germany kids would put their boot out in front of the door on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day (He's called Santa Claus here in the U.S.) and if they were good, their boots would be filled with treats and small toys the next morning.  If they were bad, however, they got sticks.  Mostly kids got a couple of sticks mixed in with their treats.  Each child usually got an advent calendar.  Each day the child would be able to open up one more window on the Calendar counting down to Christmas Day.  Each window contained a small piece of chocolate.

In Germany Santa is thin, and doesn't always wear red, but is always in beautifully rich robes.  He still has the long white beard.


In China children call Santa "Christmas Old Man."  They hang stockings just as children here in America do, hoping Santa will fill them with treats and toys.

Their Christmas trees are not filled with plasic or glass ornaments, but with colorful paper origami figures.


In England children often hang stockings at the end of their beds rather than on a fireplace mantle.  In English tradition, the magic of the fireplace works in the opposite direction.  Whereas American children hope for Santa to come down the chimney, British kids write letters to Father Christmas and throw them into the fireplace to be carried up the chimney and float off to the north pole.

British children usually get crackers during the Christmas dinner.  In England, a cracker is not a dry piece of bread, but a wrapped item which, when pulled on both ends, emits a loud crack and a small novelty item.

Christmas is celebrated in hundreds of countries around the world and christmas traditions vary from place to place, but it's always a time for celebration, children and families, no matter where you are.

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