When you think about Christmas, probably first into your mind pops up the imagination how you celebrate it in your country. Christmas is celebrated everywhere, and it is different in every culture. In Poland they have old interesting traditions, in South Africa the family together made donation to make the day even more special, and in Spain it feels like the partying never stops. Christmas is soon here, and it’s bringing all of us together again.
Häid Jõule! – ESTONIA
Estonia is not a religious country, which means Christmas is more a family tradition. Simply put: families get together to eat good food. Christmas is celebrated in Estonia from 24th till 26th of December. Usually in the beginning of December Estonians start decorating their houses with lights and other kind of Christmassy decorations. Some days before Christmas Eve, which is on 24th, family brings inside a Christmas tree and decorates it all together.
Every year there is a big Christmas tree on Town Hall Square, this is definitely the most famous Christmas tree in Estonia. It is surrounded by sweet Christmas market, where people can buy for example: mulled wine (glögg), gingerbreads, traditional Christmas food and handmade woolen clothes and socks. 24th December is the most important day, at least for children. On this day family spends the day together cooking food, making last decorations, going out. Depending on a family, some people play board games, sing Christmas carols or dance and just have fun together. In the evening people enjoy a delicious dinner and share presents together. Sometimes there is even a Santa Claus coming to visit, most of the times it is one of the family members playing the Santa Claus. Like said before, good food is a big part of Estonian Christmas. Usually, the table is full of meat, sauerkraut, pickled pumpkin, jellied meat, black bread, potatoes, of course and lingonberry jam together with blood sausages. For sweets the most famous food is gingerbreads that are also baked together with children and for healthier part tangerines. After dinner, families usually go out for a walk or enjoy together a good concert in a church. All kind of charities are also common during Christmas time.
Feliz Navidad! – PERU
There is very little left for the most anticipated celebration of the year. Already the streets and squares are adorned with colored lights, little angels, garlands, pixies and the ever-present Papa Noel- as Santa Claus is called in Peru; there is joy, hope and emotions throughout the country. Christmas is the largest family party and requires some weeks of preparation.
All the houses are decorated with snow and an artificial pine. It is quite a ceremony to place the colored balls and all the ornaments that our mothers keep in a box every year waiting for the end of November to dust off and re-arrange in the tree. There is always a “Nacimiento” (figures of the holy family and animals in Bethlehem), but it does not have the main figure, which is the Baby Jesus, until December 24 at 12 pm. At that time, the smallest member of the family is responsible for accommodating him in the manger. The women of the family prepare the Christmas dinner consisting of roasted turkey, rice and applesauce. We will also share hot chocolate and panettone (bread with nuts, a fusion of Italian panettone with Peruvian flavours). The whole family meets and at 12 p.m. When the 12 chimes sound, we can dine together. It is tradition to open the gifts after the toast with apple cider or sparkling wine that can also be with “pisco”. The most excited are always the children who take to the streets to show their new toys and to light up the sky with fireworks. Nobody sleeps until 3 or 4 in the morning. On December 25, a turkey sandwich is usually eaten and the chocolate is heated. Families often go to mass and then visit their relatives. There is no shortage of children’s choirs singing traditional Christmas carols.
Wesołych Świąt! – POLAND
Poland is large catholic country so Christmas play important role in our life. It’s not only religious thing but also great opportunity to meet with family and friends since we have 3 free days in that period. We start celebration on 24th December with Wigilia, in other words Christmas Eve Supper. That day many people fasting all day until first star will show up on the sky. It’s just the symbol now but anyway it’s a lot of fun for kids to stare at the window and search for stars.
Before family start supper it’s time to share with everyone Christmas wafer. Everyone should break wafer with all the guests and saying wishes for the upcoming year. Sometimes we keep wafer and give to the animals at midnight because it’s kind of belief that they might talk by night. Well I keep giving the wafer to my two dogs, maybe one day they will tell me what they really think about me. After this official part, we can finally start eating. On this day we don’t eat meat but you can find other 12 dishes. They are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months. That’s why everyone should try some of each dish. You will find similar food in every Polish family that day; starting from barszcz (beetroot soup), dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, fishes (carp, herrings), salads, poppy seed roll or gingerbreads.
On Christmas table we also keep free place for unexpected guest. We say that no one should be alone or hungry at this day so random guests are more than welcome. Under the table cloth we put straw in memory of Jesus who was born in stable shed. We sing carols which are different in each of region of Poland. Of course after everyone is satiating with food it’s time to unpack gifts from Santa Claus. Christmas Eve is finished by going to church for Midnight Mass. When it comes to decoration of houses, in Polish home you can find few mistletoes (especially near door and entrance to the rooms). Be careful, if two people stand under mistletoes they need to kiss.
In the end some modern “tradition”, in my many Polish families popular film to watch during Christmas is “Home alone”. One year it wasn’t going to be shown but after many complains it was put back on TV. Next days of Christmas we eat and drink and simply enjoying time with family.
Geseënde Kersfees! – SOUTH AFRICA
There’s something magical about the Christmas season, when you see the decorations everywhere and the lights it brings back memories of previous Christmas times. In South Africa we celebrate the Catholic Christmas, on 25 December. We would put the tree up and decorate it, put presents underneath and on the day we sit together with family and open the presents in the morning when we all awake. I remember one time in Cape Town, we had our family over and we started opening presents in the morning, and I was so surprised at the gifts that were given, because it was all stuff we needed. Nothing fancy or too expensive. We all got something that we could make use of, and it shows the saying is true, “It’s the thought that counts”. Everybody really did some thinking and research as to what to give the next person, which was really special. To make the day even more special, we put some money together and put it in a Christmas card. Then we took a drive down the road to the traffic light, where there was a man who was crippled and waiting at the side of the road everyday asking for change. We gave him the gift and he was so happy. My stepdad wanted to take pictures and put it on Facebook but we thought rather not, because sometimes good deeds don’t have to be shown to everyone. For me Christmas is about bringing people together and unity. I hope this year will fulfill that once more.
Cреќен Божиќ! – MACEDONIA
Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in Macedonia. On Christmas, many, if not all families gather together and celebrate Christmas as a symbol of Christ’s birth. As the majority of the population in Macedonia is Orthodox Christian, we celebrate Christmas on 7th of January. 7th of January resembles a day for love, peace and harmony in the family. Christmas celebration starts 40 days prior, with fasting. The people who fast, are not allowed to eat anything that contains animal substances, or food made with any kind of oil. A day before Christmas, on the 6th of January, children go out in the morning and do trick or treat to the surrounding houses. The children resemble the little angels that came to every door to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. The people from the houses usually give them walnuts, chestnuts, apples, oranges, and some coins. After that, they go home and compare who got the fullest bag. On the night of 6th of January, every neighborhood gathers and lights a bonfire. It is known that this tradition is pagan, but somehow it is still celebrated, after many centuries. On the night of 6th of January, every family gathers to have dinner that doesn’t contain any kind of oil, meat, or any other animal product, which marks the end of the fasting period, but there is the most important part of the dinner, the bread with the coin. You might wonder why, but it’s because the bread is split in a couple of pieces, and whoever got the piece with the coin will have luck for the rest of the year (at least that is how it is believed). The next day begins the real Christmas celebration, with fatty food, a lot of meat, and special Christmas specialties: Sarma, Zelnik, Pork and many products with oil and milk. But Christmas is not all about eating, and celebration, it is also a sign for love, peace, harmony, and prosperity for everyone.
Hyvää Joulua! – FINLAND
In Finland Christmas is not so religious event, it’s all about family and being together. Couple days before Christmas we put some warm Christmas lights to the house, decorate the Christmas tree and clean up the house really proper way. At the beginning of the Christmas Eve morning 24.12 we wake up for the smell of salty rice porridge, served with cinnamon and sugar, and in side there is soft and tasty Christmas bread. In to the rice porridge we put one almond, and who ever get it will have a good luck. When the stomachs all full enough and warmed up by the warm porridge, we open up the TV and watch all together Christmas Peace Declaration, as a family. There is one traditional cartoon, old fashioned hand draw “Snowman” that comes every year and it’s almost an obligation to watch it. If you know anything about Finland, you will understand that the Sauna belongs strongly to Christmas. We go to Sauna before or after the breakfast, scrub away all the dirt and relax in the heat.
Christmas food, my favorite food day in the year, starts already the evening before when you will put your big pork ass in the oven for 8 hours. It’s ready in the morning, and the smell is something that you experience only once in a year. Pork is served cold, so you will have time to let it chill before dinner. Besides that, our Christmas table contains rosolli salade (salt cumber, beetroot and boiled carrot) served with pink wiped cream, potatos, casseroles made of potato, rutabaga and carrot, different cold fish: smoked whitefish and herring. Red wine or beer goes nicely with this dinner, and the best thing is that there is always so much food that you can enjoy it for days. After the dinner we relax with hot mulled wine (glögi) and gingerbread’s.
The main thing is to gather together as a family and spend all day together. I always wait for that because we don’t do I like that very often. In the evenings we enjoy each other companies, play some board game and just chill. Some gifts are shared, and after kids are in the age that there is no need for Santa Claus, the youngest member of the family usually shares the gifts. Some close relatives might come by to exchange the gifts and spend time together, and we share our Christmas chocolates with everybody. Next day is the first Christmas day, 25.12. that is official holiday and people continues spend time with family, taking walks out side, and play in the snow, if there is. The magic in the Christmas is all the good time in your family in a house you cleaned together, with food you prepared together.
Feliz Navidad! – SPAIN
Christmas in Spain is one of the most important dates of the year. Before day 24 families and businesses prepare what we call “the birth” which is a representation of the Portal of Bethlehem and the birth of baby Jesus.
It begins on December 24 and does not end until January 6. Families gather in houses with lots of food and drink. The party starts on the 24th in the afternoon. Instead of working we meet in bars with our friends, the discos are open from 16:00. At dinner time the families usually meet at the grandmothers house and have a very large dinner. When the dinner finishes traditionally the families attended the mass “ElGallo” at 00:00. Today most families don’t go to church but stay at home eating nougat, sugared almonds, marzipan, polvorones and other traditional sweets. On the 25th around 12 o’clock in the morning we meet for wine and snacks and at 3:00 p.m. we go to the houses with the family to celebrate Christmas with more food and drink. We usually spend the afternoon with the family and at night we return to our homes. The next celebration is 31 in the afternoon. It’s the day of “San Silvestre” and all cities have a popular race. After the race we take some wines with friends and then we go home to dinner. At 00:00 the 12 chimes broadcast from the clock of “Sol” in Madrid that indicate the change of year sound in all the houses. With each bell we must take one grape (twelve in total). If you don’t take the 12 grapes with the 12 chimes you will have bad luck all year. When we finish we offer cider or champagne and you should put some gold inside the cup, usually a ring to have good luck during the year. December 31 is usually one of the biggest parties of the year. The nightclubs and bars are full all night and people celebrate the arrival of the year in style. On January 1 we get up late and go to the bar to have the aperitif. Around 3:00 p.m. we meet again with the family to enjoy a copious meal all together and spend the afternoon with the family. On January 5 the “Tree wise men” arrive in Spain. The wise men Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar are 3 kings who come from the Orient to give gifts to all the children who have behaved well. They make their magestuous appearance in the afternoon in the cavalcades that are celebrated in all the cities of Spain. After going to see the cavalcades, the families gather for dinner and after that the young people go out to the bars and discos. The night of 5 is called “Night of kings” and is one of the biggest parties in the cities. The children clean their shoes and leave them under the Christmas tree with milk and food for the camels that transport the “Three wise men” from so far away. In the morning everyone will open the gifts. If the children have behaved badly the wise men instead of gifts bring them coal. On January 6 he eats with the whole family and Christmas is sadly dismissed.
Ana Fernández Hernández
Vrolijk Kerstfeest! Belgium
In Belgium Christmas isn’t a religious holiday like it used to be. We still have a Christmas services in Churches. In some villages they are still held at midnight so baby Jesus can be laid down in his crib. Nowadays we celebrate Christmas mostly with our family, we make a big meal and give each other presents. Mostly we write the names on papers and put them in a bowl weeks before we celebrate, like a secret Santa only on the day we reveal who we bought for and give the present ourselves. In Belgium most people put up a Christmas tree and close to the tree also a Nativity scene.
Around Christmas villages also built real life Nativity scenes, they use real animals and life size dolls. In my hometown we even have a route around the village where we walk around all the scenes. Mostly we also have winter fairs/ winter markets, some of them are just for the day but in the big city’s like Antwerp, Hasselt, Brugge, Brussels,… they are longer so they last for over a month. During the Christmas period there are also pop-up ice skating rinks where people can go ice skating. Also every village is decorated with Christmas lights and trees. A thing that is typically for Belgium is that we (the adulds) drink Jenever or glühwein during the fairs or the walkaround. We have Jenever in different flavors like apple, chocolate, vanilla but also cuberdon and banana. At the winter markets we have booths with only Jenever and hot chocolate. Those are very cozy and most family’s go at least once during the period to such a market.
A specific tradition that is still held in part of Belgium is the singing for the three kings. On January 6th kids go out the door and sing at each house for money or sweets, during their caroling they are dressed up like the three kings for the east. In the region I live we also do new year’s singing (nieuwjarekezoeke) on the last day of the year so December 31st we go around the village and also sing from door to door for money and sweets. Mostly the little kids do this till the age off 12. They start in the center of the village and sing till noon in the afternoon they go to the outside off the village and sing at the farmer’s houses. A special thing about this tradition is that in the evening the youth from 16 and older sometimes dresses up and go singing in the evening this to gather some extra money for their new years drinks or sometimes even for charity.