Our latest news & views
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas is far more than a religious event. Celebrated around the world, people of all faiths and beliefs have embraced Christmas traditions. Here’s our 12 countries of Christmas.
Germany is responsible for the origin of Christmas trees, as devout Christians began the tradition in the Middle Ages. Typically, the tree is brought into the house on Christmas Eve and is secretly decorated by the mother of the family for the young children. Germans also exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas Day.
Christmas Eve is the most important day over the festive period in Poland, as this is when the main festive meal is consumed. Traditionally, families do not eat until the first star has appeared in the sky, then 12 different dishes are served. Catholics say the dishes represent Jesus’s 12 disciples, and some believe consuming them will provide you with good luck for the next 12 months.
Rather unusually, Russia celebrates Christmas on January 7th, with only some Catholics choosing to mark the occasion on December 25th. This is because the Russian Orthodox church uses a different, older calendar – known as Julian – for religious celebrations. New Year’s Eve tends to be a more important time of year, as this is when Grandfather Frost gives presents to the children.
Christmas is not celebrated as a religious holiday in Japan, and is instead seen as a time to spread happiness. A lot of the traditions have been taken from the West, as Christmas is a new concept to the Japanese. Fried chicken is the most popular meal to eat on Christmas Day, so restaurants like KFC take orders in advance.
Much like in many other European countries, gifts are opened on Christmas Eve in Norway. Presents are not only delivered by Julenissen (Santa Claus), but also his small gnomes, known as ‘nisse’. Norway is known for gifting a huge Christmas tree to the UK every year, which is placed in Trafalgar Square. It is a ‘thank you’ present for the UK’s help during World War II.
The Norwegian Elf: Nisse, a charming and shy creature from Scandinavian folklore…no bigger than a horse’s head.
Christmas isn’t a big deal in China as it is not a Christian country, but in recent years the big cities have started to celebrate some aspects of it. Uniquely, some people choose to give apples on Christmas Eve, which is called Ping’an Ye (peaceful evening) in China. The Mandarin word for apple sounds like the word for peace, hence the creation of this tradition.
Traditionally, the Spanish eat their main festive meal on Christmas Eve, before midnight mass (La Misa Del Gallo). It usually consists of turkey stuffed with truffles, but in north-west Spain seafood is a more popular choice. After mass, people hold torches and play instruments through the streets in celebration.
Brazil was under Portuguese rule for many years, so naturally most of Brazil’s Christmas traditions come from Portugal. People go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and this is often followed by huge firework displays in towns and cities. Children sometimes leave a sock near a window for Papai Noel, who will replace it with a gift!
In Brazil Christmas is celebrated in true Latin-American syle – with fireworks.
There are more than 25 million Christians living in India, though they only account for about 2.3 per cent of the population! Christian communities in large cities such as Mumbai celebrate Christmas in several different ways. Traditional Christmas trees, for example, are usually replaced with mango or banana trees, whilst churches are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for midnight mass.
The northern part of Finland, known as Lapland, is where Father Christmas lives, according to the Finnish. This means he can visit the children personally on Christmas Day to give them their gifts – if he can’t, he leaves the presents under the tree. Christmas Eve is the most important day of the holidays, as it’s when the tree is brought and decorated. In the evening, families go to visit the graves of their loved ones.
Christmas in Iceland, known as Yule, has links to the winter solstice celebrations, which came before the Christian ones. The celebrations begin on Yule Eve at 6pm (traditionally, new days began at 6pm rather than midnight in Iceland). However, the main meal is enjoyed on Yule Day, with the starring dish usually a leg of roast lamb, which is shared with your extended family.
Christianity is a lot more common in South Korea than China or Japan, so the holiday is well-known. Cities like the capital, Seoul, get involved by putting on a fantastic light display, and some people will also put decorations, such as Christmas trees, up in their homes. Santa Kullosu (Santa Grandfather) can wear red or blue, and giving gifts, particularly money, is a popular tradition.