Christmas Traditions

In December, the holidays are in full bloom all over the world.  From November on, lights, trees, and decorations start appearing throughout neighborhoods and houses.  In the USA, radios start playing carols as early as mid-November and even in October, stores are selling Christmas decorations.  Whether celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, or just a time for family, many people all over the world spend December with family and friends, enjoying the traditions of the seasons.  All of the world, people celebrate the Christmas season differently, and in honor of the holiday spirit, we’ve decided to pull together to traditions of six countries to share with you guys.


Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, Christmas comes during the summer rather than the winter.  This means that, while the majority of the traditions are derived from Irish and English roots, holiday celebrations tend to have a warmer twist.  For example, while in the Northern hemisphere, it’s usually a bit too cold to celebrate outside, but in Australia, it’s traditional to celebrate the holidays with a “barbie” or grill.  Camping and days at the pool are also popular traditions.  Bondi beach is especially popular, up to forty thousand people visit on Christmas day alone.

Food and decorations are always an important part of the holiday tradition and in Australia it’s no different.  While in the Northern Hemisphere, a warm meal is traditional, but since it’s summer, Australians normally have a cold meal for Christmas dinner.  Many plants also bloom during Christmas time and are referred to as “Christmas plants”.  These include Christmas bells, Christmas bushes, and Christmas orchids, which are all used in decorations.  

Caroling is also popular, and in 1937, radio announcer Norman Banks started a Melbourne tradition.  Taking place yearly on Christmas Eve, Carols by Candlelight take place all over the country, from huge gathering that appear on tv, to small neighborhood events.  During these events, tradition Christmas music is mixed with not only more upbeat songs, but carols that are uniquely Australian are popular as well, such as The Three Drovers by John Wheeler.


While Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese, there are far more cultures entwining there than that. In Brazil, there are a vast number of different cultural groups. There are people from Italy, Germany, Spain, Africa, and Portugal to name a few places. Not to mention the people who are native to the country. As of such, there are many variations on Christmas celebrations in the country among those that celebrate Christmas.

In Brazil, Santa is called Papai Noel and Bel Velhinho, the latter of which means “Good Old Man”. Often children will leave their socks out by their windows on the night before Christmas, because Papai Noel will exchange presents for any socks that he finds. In addition, there is a tradition of the “amigo secreto”, or secret friend. It’s basically like Secret Santa in the US, but the anonymous gifts are usually given throughout most of December rather than just once. On Christmas, people will reveal who their secret friend was.

In addition, Christmas plays called “Os Pastores” (The Shepherds) are extremely popular in Brazil. Nativity Scene are very common at churches, many of which are Catholic since 64% of the population are self-declared Catholics. The most popular Christmas song in Brazil is “Noite Feliz”, which is the Portuguese version of “Silent Night”.


Most of the population of Ethiopia are members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This church still uses the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian like most of the West does. Because of this, Christmas for them actually falls on January 7th for those of us who use the Gregorian calendar. In Ethiopia, Christmas is actually called Ganna, Genna, or Ledet. Most people don’t eat anything on Christmas Eve and dress in white, wearing a toga-like garment called a shamma, on Ganna. It actually was believed that one of the Wise Men was from Ethiopia.

On Ganna, most people go to church. Everyone is given a candle and walks around the church three times. After they’re done, they go back into the church to attend the service. During the service, males and females are kept separated.

Around Ganna, males play a game that is also called Ganna. It’s a game similar to hockey and is played with curved sticks and balls. According to legend, when the shepherds heard about the birth of Christ they were so happy and excited that they played Ganna. Males continue to play this game during the afternoon on Ganna, and the games are presided over by the village elders.


Since Christmas only started being celebrated in Japan in the last couple decades, it’s not generally seen as a religious holiday.  Many traditions come from American culture, such as Christmas cards and presents, but this doesn’t mean that the celebration is small.  The Japanese have embraced the Christmas holiday, and while it isn’t religious for them, it’s a celebration of happiness and traditional decorations appear all over the community.  Christmas Eve is actually similar to Valentine’s Day in America and Britain and couples spend the evening together exchanging presents and looking at the lights together.  While Santa Claus does appear in decorations, the Japanese also have Hoteiosho, a Buddhist god of good fortune, who also brings gifts.

Traditional food during Christmas time in Japan is Christmas cake, though it’s not a fruit cake like in America.  Rather it’s a sponge cake, usually decorated with whipped cream and strawberries.  Another traditional meal is fried chicken, and many families go out to eat at restaurants like KFC.  This can actually be a really formal event, with some locations serving champagne and having waiting lists to get in.

New Years is actually a much more important holiday in Japanese culture.  It’s a time for families to get together and celebrate.  The celebration lasts from December 31st to January 4th and includes traditional food, bell ringing, and postcards.  During this celebration, the house is cleaned in order to drive the bad luck out and bring the good luck in.  The bell ringing is done at Buddhist temples, where the bells are ceremoniously rung one hundred eight times in order to symbolize the one hundred eight human sins in Buddhist belief.  Traditional food includes buckwheat noodles, rice cakes, and sticky rice in the form of a dumpling.


In Lithuania, Christmas Eve is actually more important than Christmas itself. Kūčios is the name of a huge meal eaten on Christmas Eve that marks the end of Advent. Advent is a period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas and is used to remember the true meanings and origins of the holiday. Before the meal can be eaten, many preparations must take place. These preparations include cleaning. Even the men who work in their fields put down their normal tools and begin to clean. The belief behind this is that cleaning helped protect people from evil and disease in the following year. Some people fast (don’t eat) the entire day before the meal. Also, no meat is normally included in a Kūčios meal. A normal Kūčios meal may include fish, sweet pastries, beet soup, vegetable salad, baked potatoes, and sauerkraut. There are normally twelve dishes to represent Jesus’ followers, and the table is normally covered in a clean white tablecloth and decorated with twigs from a fir tree. In addition straw is often also used to remind the people attending of Jesus’ manger. The meal starts when the first stars can be seen at night. If it’s cloudy, the head of the household decides when eating should begin. After the eating finished, the family would begin to tell stories about old legends and miracles and would sometimes be visited by the Old Man of Christmas with presents. Once all the presents were opened, the children would go to bed. Sometimes the adults would then go to Midnight Mass.

Most of Lithuanian traditions come from the country’s rural beginnings. However, a few traditions arrived from Germany at the end of World War I, like the tradition of the Christmas tree. The Old Man of Christmas and the giving of gifts also was added to the country’s traditions at about this time. These new traditions slowly trickled from the cities to the more rural areas. The presents were only for children and the children had to earn the gifts by performing. They could sing a song, play an instrument, do a dance, or anything along those lines to earn their gifts. Straw christmas tree ornament are also very common on Lithuanian Christmas trees.


The Christmas season in Mexico starts early, the celebration going from December 12th to January 6th.  Las Posadas is the traditional name for the Christmas celebration which comes from the Spanish word for inn or lodging.  There are nine Posadas, representing the time Mary and Joseph were looking for lodgings, and during this time children are given a candle and proceed around the town with clay figures of Mary and Joseph.  They travel from house to house singing songs about the journey to find lodgings.  Along the way they’re told that there is no room at many different houses until they find one where they’re let in.  Once let in, the children stay for a party with food, games, and fireworks.  The house that lets them in changes each night, and on Christmas eve, once the house is found, a baby Jesus figure is added to the procession.  The town then goes with the children and puts the baby Jesus figure in the manger.  The entire village then goes to midnight mass, after which fireworks are lit for the start of Christmas.

During Posadas, houses are decorated with moss, evergreens, and farolitos.  Farolitos are small paper lanterns that families make each year.  Made out of brown paper bags, people cut intricate designs into them, then set them out along paths in order to light the way.  They’re also place in windowsills, on rooftops, and walls in order to illuminate the surroundings.  In the best room of the house, the family sets up the nacimiento, or the nativity scene, complete with the holy family, shepherds, and the three kings.  While the Christmas tree is popular, the nacimiento is still the most important part of the decorations.

Other traditions include the Pastorelas play, or the shepherds play.  This play tells the shepherd’s journey in order to find the baby Jesus, and is apparently quite funny.  The devil appears multiple times to try and stop them, but in the end they get to the manger, with the help of archangel Michael.  On January 6th, they celebrate the arrival of the three kings, or el Dia de los Reyes.  On this day, children are given candy by the three kings and people traditionally eat the Rosca de Reyes, or three kings’ cake.

~Victoria and Elyce


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