Christmas Traditions Around the World

Christmas is celebrated by billions of people around the world with the widest variety of traditions. Here are a few examples.

In Ethiopia on Christmas day after rising at dawn to attend church dressed in white, people engage in the tradition of an afternoon game called Gena, a type of hockey. According to legend, the shepherds who were tending their flocks on the night Jesus was born played this game.

In India, Christian traditions have survived since the time it was a British colony. Some are celebrated by non-Christian religions, including Badaa Din (Big Day) in the northern regions where people plant trees on this holiday.

Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but it’s secular observation encouraged by commerce has become very popular. In fact, during the 1970s in Japan a highly successful advertising campaign made eating Kentucky Fried Chicken during the Christmas season a national custom. It has become so popular that stores must take reservations months in advance.

Nigerians who have been successful leave the towns and cities to visit their ancestral villages, to be with their families and to bless those who are less fortunate, arriving with live chickens, goats and cows for Christmas meals.

Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated widely and is the home of the longest Christmas season, starting as early as September 1 and lasting until the Epiphany on January 6. Folk beliefs encourage children to jump at the stroke of midnight on New Years eve if they want to grow up tall, wearing clothes with circular designs that symbolize money, opening windows and doors on New Years day to let in good luck and eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck in the 12 months to follow.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia Christmas Eve is celebrated as Generous Day. Gifts are given that evening after a traditional dinner typically featuring fish soup and roasted carp with potato salad. Other traditions include apples being cut crosswise: if a star appears in the core the next year will be prosperous. Girls throw a shoe over their shoulder and when it lands if the toe points to the door, the girl will soon be married.

The highly Roman Catholic country of Poland celebrated Christmas Eve with a day of fasting ending with a night of feasting. The meal is known as The Vigil. After waiting for the first star to appear in the sky, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, the family sits down to a dinner that may include 12 dishes symbolizing the twelve apostles. Bits of hay are placed under the tablecloth to remind all that Christ was born in a manger. Some place money under the tablecloth for each guest, to wish for prosperity in the coming year.

Radio stations in Jamaica play Christmas carols, typically reggae style, as early as October. People paint their homes and hang new curtains for Christmas. Junkanoo (John Canoe), a traditional celebration influenced by African ancestors, includes street dancing, great parades with revelers dressed in colorful masquerade costumes and masks. The traditional Christmas breakfast is breadfruit, fried plantains, saltfish, boiled bananas and fruit juices, while Christmas dinner is curried goat, chicken, stewed oxtail, rice and rum fruitcake for desert.

I hope this helps you realize, that while Christmas may be celebrated in very unique ways among the world’s cultures, one thing is universal. It is a time of year when we all gather, celebrate and share good wishes.