Christmas traditions around the world
The British Christmas is a hodge-podge of home-grown traditions –from your Santa hat right down to the socks from your Nan. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Christmas is celebrated all over the world, often in wonderfully different ways to our own. We’ve travelled all over the world (online, not literally) to find some of the countries with the most unique festive celebrations. Don’t forget your thermals!
Given the fantastic spectacle that was the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony, you might imagine that Christmas in China would be a widespread and lavish affair. However, the holiday season isn’t that widely celebrated so Christmas decorations are limited to some of the major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. In China, Father Christmas is known locally as Shen Dan Lao Ren ("Old Christmas Man").
More recently, Christmas in China has included giving each other apples. Some shops will have the fruit readily wrapped to swap on Christmas Eve. The reason behind this tradition? The word for Christmas Eve in Chinese ("Ping An Ye") is very similar to the word for apple ("Ping Guo").
Well it wouldn’t be a Sheilas’ Wheels Christmas without Australia!
The main difference between British and Australian Christmas is the temperature: December lands in the middle of the Australian summer so there’s no shortage of festive beach barbecues. For decorations, pine trees are swapped out for a native Australian bush referred to as the “Christmas Bush”. It has small white flowers that gradually turn red over the course of a month, resulting in a very festive colour palette.
Father Christmas still plays a big part in Australian yuletide celebrations. When he gets to Oz, he gives his reindeer a break and employs some local kangaroos. They even have a Christmas song about it, referring to the kangaroos as “Six White Boomers”.
For winter travellers, Germany is famous for its traditional Christmas markets. Berlin hosts some of the most famous in the region, with 60 different markets scattered around the city. However, markets like these are just a small part of what makes Christmas for Germans.
The big day is December 24th when Father Christmas – known as "Der Weihnachtsmann" – visits houses to give out presents. St Nicholas’ Day is on December 6th and German children will leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors and in the living room. This is so St Nicholas ("Der Nikolaus") can fill the shoes with sweets and chocolates. However if you’ve been bad, his companion Krampus will give you nothing but a birch.
Since Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, people are normally still working on December 25th. December 24th is still a day of festivity on the island, however people in Japan celebrate Christmas Eve more like the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Couples will spend the day having romantic meals and exchanging gifts with each other.
The biggest difference with Christmas in Japan is the menu. The most popular food of the festive season is fried chicken, with fast food chicken restaurants full to bursting. Some people even book their food orders far in advance. For those with a sweet tooth, Japan’s “Christmas cake” is a sponge with whipped cream and strawberries. So you might be out of luck if you’re a fruit-cake fan!
Iceland is very traditional when it comes to their Christmas celebrations. Celebrations start at 6:00pm sharp on December 24th, when Icelandic families open their presents with their evening meal. December 25th consists of large family get-togethers where the food of choice is roasted leg of lamb, “Leaf-bread” which is thin sheets of bread cut into intricate patterns, and Ptarmigan – a sea-bird.
Since a lot of the Icelandic Christmas traditions are tied to celebration of the Winter Solstice, a lot of magical things are believed to happen this time of year. For instance, on New Year’s Eve/Day, it’s said that cows have the ability to talk, and seals take on the form of people.