Christmas is a time of giving, sharing and loving, when everyone puts aside their problems and spends time with their loved ones, spreading love all around them. However, Christmas has many faces, many different traditions and beliefs rooted in the culture of every country that celebrates it. The symbols and origins of this festive day range from the birth of Jesus Christ to the arrival of Santa Claus and the happening of the winter solstice, depending on the country’s history, beliefs and customs.
In every Christian country, Christmas (originating from the term “Christ’s Mass”) is celebrated as the day of Jesus Christ’s birth, but although the reason is the same, Christians celebrate this day in different ways: they attend church services, children re-enact the birth of Christ as depicted in the Holy Bible and sing carols. However they choose to celebrate it, people bear in mind that the day is dedicated to Jesus and His arrival on Earth as the Savior of mankind.
As it is said to have taken place in Bethlehem, this little town is the site of the Church of the Nativity which abounds with decorations and flags every Christmas. In the earlier times, everyone would gather at the church and on its roof to see the annual parade which led to an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. In order to depict the star that led the magi to Jesus, locals would put up a star in the village square.
But times have changed, and now, apart from the Christian traditions many peoples have the myth of Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or Grandfather Frost) who is said to bring presents to good children on Christmas Eve. He is generally depicted as a joyous white-bearded man dressed in red and white.
As I mentioned earlier, Christmas is a time of giving sharing and loving. Hence, all around the globe people gather together on Christmas Eve.
South and North American traditions
Canada usually has a snowy Christmas, so the children get dressed and play in the snow or ice-skate. On Christmas Eve, they prepare for Santa Claus’ arrival by leaving him milk, cookies and even a carrot for his reindeer. In USA they hang up stockings for St Nicholas to fill with gifts and candy.
In Mexico, children celebrate and have fun with adults by breaking star-shaped piñatas full of nuts, fruit and candy which everyone enjoys. Their neighbours from Guatemala feel the joy of Christmas by dancing all night, wearing “Puritinas” (hats), eating Guatemalan traditional food and lighting firecrackers at midnight. Brazilians however start celebrations near midnight with big family dinners and the “Missa do Galo” in churches. Argentinian people also start at midnight with festive celebrations in their homes where they exchange gifts and light fireworks.
Christmas or Halloween?
One of the funniest yet creepy Christmas legends is that from Iceland. There, people give each other warm clothing as presents because as the legend goes, there is a Christmas Cat who gobbles up anyone who isn’t dressed warmly. Greece also has an uncommon legend according to which troublesome creatures called “kallikantzari” come out from the center of the earth and hide in people’s houses in order to play tricks on them, eat their Christmas food or frighten them. In comparison, people from Ghana dress themselves in costumes and hand out sweets around the neighborhood. Who would have thought that Christmas can resemble with Halloween?
Summer Christmas and Winter Christmas
When it comes to Christmas weather, Australia places itself at the top of the list for the hottest. Due to the country’s positioning in the Southern Hemisphere, the Australian Christmas happens in full summer, so people replace sleigh bells and cocoa with prawn lunches and cricket games on the beach. New Zealand is also known for being in summer during Christmas; when people often gather round a barbecue and enjoy lamb meat and fresh fruit. At the opposite end of the list we find Philippines, who’s Christmas season happens to be the longest in the world – 4 months (from September to December). Hence, it is not uncommon to hear carols at the start of September.
Santa Claus around the world
Many other countries such as Kyrgyzstan, France or Russia keep the tradition of Santa Claus in the spotlight. People wait for him to bring presents to everyone, especially for the children. Although he has different names (Père Noël in France, Grandfather Frost in Russia and Kyrgyzstan), his legend stays the same: on Christmas Eve (and New Year’s Eve in Kyrgyzstan) Santa comes and leaves presents for the family to find the following day. Some people believe that Santa Claus is actually the Spirit of Christmas who rewards them for their kindness and fills their hearts with joy.
No matter the country we speak of, one thing is certain: Christmas is all about spreading joy all around you and spending quality time with your loved ones. In a world as busy as ours, holidays like this help us take a break from our daily routine and take a step back to reflect on the year that has passed. During this time, we acknowledge the importance of family and friends, and we make an effort to be close to them no matter what. It’s not the presents that matter; it’s the love with which we offer them.