Christmas in Australia is extremely unique in a variety of ways. For one, the holiday falls in the summer, so Christmas traditions on 25 December often include barbeques or celebrations by the beach with fresh seafood, displaying Christmas lights and even gifting Santa with an ice-cold beer. Odds are, these traditions are very different to the ones in your country of origin, which may make you wonder: how do people celebrate Christmas around the world? Well, now you don’t have to wonder! We have compiled a list of some of the most unique international Christmas celebrations.
In Vietnamese culture, Christmas Eve is actually held in higher regard than Christmas Day. In Ho Chi Minh City, pedestrian numbers swell to the point that car travel is prohibited on Christmas Eve. Within Catholic parishes, worshippers build large nativity scenes and paintings as decor for the season. Food also plays a key role in the celebrations. Due to the legacy of French presence in the Southeast Asian nation, popular Christmas meals and traditions among Vietnamese Christians are quite similar to French counterparts. For instance, the Christmas feast is called a reveillon and bûche de Noël is a log-shaped chocolate cake eaten as dessert.
Much like other Orthodox Christian cultures, Ethiopia celebrates Christmas on 7 January. The celebration begins with a fast that takes place for 43 days prior to Christmas, where followers consume exclusively vegan meals and zero alcohol for the duration. Twelve days after Christmas Day, Ethiopians begin a three-day celebration called Timkat, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus. During Timkat, children and youth put on identifying crowns and robes that denote the church they belong to, while adults wear a traditional Netela scarf during the procession. The priests lead the service in the procession, wearing red and white robes while carrying embroidered fringe umbrellas. During the services and beyond, people play traditional musical instruments to celebrate the joy of the holiday.
Venezuelans hold Midnight Mass in high regard, with the practice being particularly popular in the days preceding Christmas. During these nights, the musical character of the nation comes to life, with traditional Gaita tunes ringing throughout the streets. The favoured main dish to have during the season is hallacas, a meal consisting of beef, pork, chicken, capers, raisins and olives wrapped in maize leaves and boiled. Venezuelans also take pre-Christmas decor very seriously; in fact, many choose to follow in the Christmas tradition of painting their houses a fortnight or two before the day itself.
Bulgaria is the only country in Eastern Europe that celebrates Christmas on 25 December instead of 7 January, as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church follows the Gregorian calendar instead of the Julian calendar. As part of Bulgarian Christmas tradition, the Christmas Day meal features an odd number of dishes. Similarly, there should be an odd number of people sitting around the table. The meal itself is vegetarian, consisting of foods like bean soups, cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, as well as dried fruits and nuts of various kinds. You might also find unique regional pastries like banitsa, which is a pastry filled with yogurt and cheese.
As a tropical island, Madagascar is warm year round – and Christmastime is no exception! However, that hasn’t stopped the locals from taking part in the traditions of more temperate regions, including decorating with holly wreaths and fake snow. The Malagasy eat Christmas dinner together in large groups and dress in their finest attire. Additionally, lychees are a staple Christmas snack, so much so that the streets get covered in lychee skins.
In Japan, Christmas never held much of its religious character, but the Japanese have put their own unique spin on the holiday season. In many ways, Christmas Day in Japan resembles Valentine’s Day: romantic love among couples is the centrepiece of the holiday, along with spreading merriment. Regardless, Christmas remains a big deal on the island nation, with a lot of emphasis placed on musical performances. 10,000 choir singers gather in a concert hall in Osaka to sing “Ode to Joy,” the final chorus from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony every year in December. With regards to food, KFC is very popular during Christmas in Japan, after an advertising campaign by KFC in 1974 called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ was well-received by the Japanese public. Yet another tale of marketing gone exceedingly right!
Finland is far enough north that they can conceivably say that Santa Claus lives in their nation. In fact, the country houses an amusement park known as Santa Claus Village. When it comes to Finland’s Christmas traditions, nearly everyone makes an effort to stay close to home for the holiday – even fishermen aim to get their boats back in the harbour by 21 December. Once home, Finns clean their homes in preparation for Christmas Eve. On this day, some people choose to visit the graves of family members and leave candles, in an effort to share at least part of the day with their deceased loved ones. Since the majority of activities are done on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is much quieter and more reflective, with most people choosing to spend the entire day at home with family.
Now that you know how different cultures celebrate Christmas around the world, you can incorporate some of these activities into your own celebrations. You can also check out various other ways to get involved in your community during the festive season. After Christmas Day, there is Boxing Day to look forward to, which features lots of retail sales, and then the New Year. Here’s to a merry holiday season and a happy 2021!