Christmas, although originally a Christian festival, is now celebrated in around 160 countries worldwide. Whilst each country, region and people have their own individual traditions, there is always a common element of sharing the celebration with family and friends.
Christmas in the UK
For many English speakers, Christmas is a significant holiday with lots of food, drink and gifts. Many English-speaking countries have very similar celebrations but with their own twists. For some people, Christmas is a religious time of year that involves attending advent services, carol concerts and midnight mass, while for others, more emphasis is placed on relaxation and spending time with friends and family.
In the UK Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December, with a countdown from 1st December using an advent calendar (particularly enjoyed by children). In the UK advent calendars tend to be filled with small chocolates, but the economy has seen a rise in other advent calendars in recent years, including toys, drinks and beauty products.
On Christmas Day, families tend to unite for a big roast dinner, including roasted meat (traditionally turkey), potatoes, vegetables and most importantly, Yorkshire puddings. The traditional dessert is Christmas pudding – a dense, sticky cake-like dessert that has alcohol poured over it and lit on fire. Many households celebrate the start of the meal with Christmas crackers which, when pulled, reveal a small toy, joke and a Christmas hat – although these have seen a decline in use due to environmental concerns.
Christmas in Spain
Christmas, or Navidad as it is known in Spanish-speaking countries, is a Catholic festival with a big focus on family and food. The vast majority of people go to Misa del Gallo (‘Rooster’s Mass’), which begins at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Many Spanish people also play the lottery just before Christmas – a tradition started in 1812. The event has become known as El Gordo (‘The Fat One’) due to the huge prize fund that is created each year and drawn on 22nd December, with many communities buying one ticket with the intention of splitting the prize. In 2012, the town of Sodeto purchased the winning ticket and shared the €950 million prize equally!
Whilst competitions and religious events are important in Spain, Santa Claus is not. Instead, Spanish children receive presents from the Three Kings on Epiphany – the 6th January – called Los Reyes Magos. There is usually a large parade and whole towns are involved in celebrating the arrival of the three kings.
Another unusual tradition found in the Catalan region is Caga Tió or ‘pooping log’. Caga Tió is an anthropomorphised wooden log which children feed each night and cover with a blanket. On Christmas day, the children sing a song to the log asking it to gift them sweets and hit the log with a stick to help aid its ‘digestion’. They then lift the blanket and find sweets underneath!
Christmas in France
France has some traditions that are similar to both the UK and Spain but also celebrates Noël in its own unique ways.
As in the UK, children believe in Papa Noël (Father Christmas) and write him letters asking for specific gifts. Children will receive postcards in response from Papa Noël – a tradition that was made into law in 1962.
The French also celebrate with a large family dinner – Le Réveillon de Noë – although this is traditionally served on the 24th December (Christmas Eve). Recipes vary, with many including stuffed turkey, potatoes and vegetables but also foie gras, oysters and 13 desserts – with each dessert representing Jesus and each of his disciples.
Many Noël traditions are designed to bring luck for the coming year. French households may hang mistletoe on a door, with the idea that a kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve under the mistletoe will bring luck and prosperity for the new year. Like in Spain, the arrival of the Three Kings is celebrated on the 6th January (called ‘La fête des Rois‘ in French) where it is tradition to celebrate with a flaky pastry almond cake called Galette des Rois. Inside the cake is a hidden charm – usually a ceramic baby or crown – which crowns its receiver as King or Queen for the day.
Christmas is not a traditional celebration for many Asian and Arabic-speaking countries, but there are many who celebrate with Western residents. Some global activities include:
- United Arab Emirates: Decorating with trees and Santa figurines
- Venezuela: Rollerskating to church on Christmas Eve
- Peru: Eating panettone and hot chocolate, known as chocolatadas
- Italy: Leaving out shoes for Befana to fill with gifts on the 5th January
- China: Gifting apples to symbolise peace
- Japan: Eating KFC on Christmas Day