“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Almost all of us have heard this Christmas song before. Written by Edward Pola and George Wyle back in 1963, the song represents Christmas traditions in the United States. We are all familiar with American Christmas carols, and most of us will know when the tree lighting ceremonies are scheduled in our home towns. However, with Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year, what is going on at this time in other parts of the world? How is this very special day celebrated in other countries? Here are a few traditions you might not have heard about. Keep them in mind for the next time you travel – you could even experience some of these very special customs first-hand!
In Russia, Christmas is primarily a religious holiday. Like in other Eastern Orthodox countries, it is celebrated on January 7th. On Christmas Eve, meaning January 6th, inhabitants attend several long services, including the Royal Hours and Vespers combined with the Divine Liturgy.
After that, families come together in their homes for a traditional Christmas Dinner (the Holy Supper). This consists of a total of twelve dishes, one in honor of each of the Twelve Apostles. Particularly religious families go back to church for the All Night Vigil.
On Christmas morning, the Divine Liturgy of the Nativity is celebrated. Christmas Day is also when the presents are given to the children by Babushka, a traditional Russian Christmas figure. Interesting fact: the word ”Babushka” is translated to English as a grand-mother.
Christmas is also celebrated as a religious event in Venezuela. Unofficially, the festivities start after the “Feria de la Chinita” during the second half of November. This festival dates back to the cult of the Virgin Mary of Chiquinquirá, when various religious activities, processions, and music in the typical “Gaita style” to honor “”LaChinita” the nickname of this version.
The custom attend one of nine carol services is observed by most Venezuelans. During these “patinatas” or night festivals, firecrackers explode and bells ring to call worshippers from bed in the predawn hours.
Instead of “Papá Noél” (Santa Claus), presents are brought by “El Niño Jesus” (Baby Jesus). Children are educated to write request letters to Baby Jesus.
Switzerland is particularly rich in Christmas traditions, as it essentially preserves the customs of different cultures: German, French, and Italian. As such, presents may arrive on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day, brought by the Christkindl, St. Nicholas or Father Christmas. It all depends which region you are in. Carols, too, are sung in four different languages. Before that, however, comes the Klausjagen festival, literally meaning the “hunting” of St. Nicholas. At dusk on December 6th, a procession of men wearing gigantic illuminated lanterns in the shape of a Bishop’s mitre on their heads can be seen in most Swiss towns.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
If you are not too keen on all the holiday celebrations, head to Papua New Guinea. For many villagers in the more remote areas, Christmas goes by as just another day. In the more commercialized areas, Christmas is celebrated in a way similar to Australia.
In Australia, a traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows s/he will enjoy good luck. Another treat is Mince Pies.
The Ethiopian Christmas, known as “Ganna,” is celebrated on January 7th. The celebration takes place in ancient churches carved from solid volcanic rock and also in modern churches that are designed in three concentric circles. Men and boys sit separately from girls and women. The choir, in turn, sings from the outside circle.
On Christmas morning, the people open presents and then they play native African outdoor sports to celebrate. Usually the wealthy share a medium sized feast with the poor and a large feast with their family and friends, including dishes such as Doro wat, a typicalstew or curry which may be prepared with chicken, beef, lamb, a variety of vegetables, and spice mixtures, or Injera, a yeast-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture.