The Christmas tree is the most popular insignia of Christmas around the world. You will find at least a token Christmas tree in every home in which Christmas is celebrated, and you will find grand, brilliantly-lit Christmas trees in community centers and offices and shops during the Christmas season.
That said, a Christmas tree is not the only symbol of Christmas. Christmas is defined by a combination of practices in merry-making and eating and entertaining and sharing. While there could be a common thread in these practices, the traditions also vary substantially from country to country.
Christmas Celebration in Different Countries
People celebrating Christmas in different parts of the world are culturally varied and these cultural differences influence their Christmas celebrations. Some of the varying modes of celebrations are explained below:
The Christmas tree is set up comparatively early, by the end of November itself, in Argentina. Cotton balls, which are symbolic of snow, are extensively used by Argentineans to decorate their Christmas trees. Homes are decorated more colorfully, with bright lights and multicolored wreaths. Christmas holidays typically start on December 8th in Argentina because it is believed that that was the day when Virgin Mary was told she was going to be the mother of Jesus. Unlike in colder climates where snow is an inseparable part of Christmas so that outdoor meals are unthinkable, in the warmer Argentina people enjoy al fresco meals on Christmas day. Other interesting features of Christmas celebration in Argentina are dazzling fireworks and the sight of beautiful lanterns floating across the sky.
In the cold Holland, where Santa Claus is known as Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas, making snowmen and ice skating are parts of Christmas festivities. Christmas merriment starts on the last Saturday of November, when Sinterklaas is supposed to reach the country. Gifts are exchanged on December 5th, which is St. Nicholas’ Eve. On that day, children leave their shoes on the windowsill or near the fireplace, hoping Sinterklaas to fill them with gifts. Sinterklaas comes to the town wearing a bishop’s robes and riding a white horse, together with his assistant Black Peter. He is received by the Mayor or other important officials of the town, and is taken through the streets in a grand parade. Children are told that it is the good children who get gifts from Sinterklaas while the mischievous children will be given some sort of punishment. There is a second celebration on December 26th, and this day is called Second Christmas Day.
An interesting custom that demarcates Christmas celebrations in Denmark is the finding of the whole almond that is hidden in the dessert made of rice and almond. This rice-almond pudding is served after the main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve after 6:00 PM, following the church service that takes place around 4:00 PM. The person who gets the whole almond is entitled to a special Christmas gift. After the meal, children dance round the decorated Christmas tree and then open their gifts. The Santa Claus-equivalent of Denmark is called Julemanden and his home is believed to be in Greenland.
Egyptian Christians are predominantly Coptic Christians. For them Christmas falls on January 7th, but they have a prolonged period known as Advent starting from November 25th and continuing up to January 6th. They fast during this period with dietary restrictions that include the shunning of even milk and milk products. Their Santa Claus is called Baba Noel and children wait for him to bring them gifts.
We have discussed the Christmas celebrations of just four countries. There are hundreds of countries and cultures in the world and many of them are bound to have more interesting ways of observing Christmas. If you know about any, please let us know.