We love Christmas with all the trimmings in the UK – and many millions of people around the world feel the same. It’s just that the trimmings – and the traditions that make Christmas special – can vary radically from place to place.
The Christmas tree is one tradition that has travelled well (it all began in 16th-century Germany, but these days there are Christmas trees everywhere from malls in Tokyo to private homes in Rio de Janeiro). But the mince pies, the mistletoe and the rest aren’t that international. Here’s just a taster of what to expect at Christmas around the globe:
Christmas is celebrated in Mexico with even more gusto than we muster in the UK, if you can imagine that. Christmas there is more a season than a day, stretching from early December to early January (with a related celebration on February 2 finally putting a lid on it all).
And while modern Mexicans have adapted some US and German Christmas traditions, their celebrations are still a strongly unique blend of pre-Hispanic and Spanish traditions. Expect processions and parties (known as Las Posadas), piñatas and pastorelas – a kind of nativity play that focuses on the shepherds’ role in the Christmas story.
There are even regional variations within Mexico, including La Noche de los Rabanos (the Night of the Radishes), when on December 23 a competition in Oaxaca sees the main plaza lined with delicate little figurines carved out of radishes.
Christmas falls in Australia’s summer holidays. And although December temperatures Down Under can soar to 40°C and above, Australia still embraces the wintry imagery of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas – reindeers, snowflakes and all. Despite sweltering weather, some families still sit down to a hot lunch on December 25, featuring roast turkey and plum pudding. On the other hand, there are plenty of others who’ve adapted their Christmas traditions to the climate. Christmas lunch in Australia is just as likely to be a barbeque or a seafood feast. And you’ll find a lot of Aussies celebrating on the beach.
As Italy is just a hop, skip and a jump away, it’s no surprise that Italians share many of their Christmas traditions with other Western Europeans. But when Italian children lay out wine and food before going to bed, it’s not because they expect Santa Claus. They wait for La Befana instead – an old lady who rides a broomstick to distribute presents on the night of January 5.
In predominantly Catholic Venezuela, the religious observation of Christmas is all-important. Local churches are the focus of most festivities, and whole neighbourhoods join in processions, patinatas (night festivals) and the parranda (where singers and musicians go from house to house, like carol singers). It’s a community affair – especially in Caracas, where the busy city streets are closed to traffic before 8am over Christmas, so everyone can rollerskate together to Misa de Aguinaldo (early-morning Mass).
Are there any strange or unusual Christmas traditions where you’re from? We’d love to hear about it!