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Christmas Traditions from around the world

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Christmas traditions around the world are as varied as the countries that practice them.  While most people are familiar with traditions in the United States, do you know where those traditions come from? What about less common traditions celebrated in single areas or by specific groups of individuals. Join us today as we explore Christmas traditions from around the world.  

nativity scene

One of the most iconic images associated with Christmas throughout the world is the Nativity scene. Mary and Joseph gather in the manger alongside newborn Jesus, wise men, angels, and animals as depicted in the Gospel of Luke. The birth of Jesus is the center of the Christmas story, appearing as a crucial element no matter where in the world you celebrate. The creation of the Nativity scene first appeared in Italy, following a request from the man who would later become known as Saint Francis of Assisi. After asking permission from Pope Honorious III, Francis invited villagers to witness mass over a straw manger and live animals. From this first scene sprang artistic depictions, live nativities and dioramas. 

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In some countries, like France, customs vary according to the region. In some areas of France, children put their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve in hopes that Pere Noel will visit and leave them treats. He travels with Le Pere Fouettard (Father Spanker) who spanks the naughty children. The children in northern France receive their gifts on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day instead of the 25th as traditionally celebrated in the United States.

In Mexico, communities come together to form into two groups for nine days before Christmas to symbolize Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. This celebration is called Las Posadas. One group are pilgrims and the others are inn keepers. The pilgrims go house to house begging for shelter, but the inn keepers turn them away, until at last, they find a house with the Nativity. They are joyously welcomed in. They pray and then everyone eats. Children play games and try to break open a pinata full of candy and toys.

Early morning mass is observed in Venezuela from December 16th to the 24th. Before bedtime, children tie strings around their big toe and hang the other end out of the window.  Passerby headed to mass in the morning watch for strings as they journey, pulling the ones they find to wake up the children. 

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In Brazil, children must serve their parents breakfast in bed before they can search for their presents. Similar to the American traditions surrounding Easter, Papa Noel fills their shoes with treats and other gifts are hidden around in the house

Christians in Iraq celebrate Christmas Eve outside. Everyone holds lighted candles while a child reads the story of Christ’s birth. Those celebrating then light a huge bonfire of thorn bushes and sing while it burns. If all of the thorn bushes burn up, it means they will have good luck in the coming year. When the fire is out, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish. On Christmas Day, another bonfire is lit outside the church where a bishop carries out the Christ Child and shares blessings with those in attendance.

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Christmas in Australia is celebrated during during summer vacation. They decorate with tinsel, lights, and greenery. Most Christmas trees are artificial, but some decorate gum tree branches. Many people start their Christmas with midnight Mass and due to the heat, most families celebrate Christmas with cookouts or picnics. Picnics on the beach and surfing is very popular. 

Christmas in Japan is not a religious holiday. It is a time for lovers to exchange gifts after decorating with evergreens and lights. Children receive gifts from Hotel-osho or Santa Claus. Hotel-osho is a Buddhist god or priest. Christians living in Japan typically do not celebrate on Christmas. Instead, Christmas day is spent doing good deeds, like visiting hospitals or volunteering.

The people of Poland observe a very strict fast that starts on Christmas Eve and ends with a large feast on Christmas Day. The feast cannot begin until the first star appears in the night sky. To start the meal, participants share a rice wafer that has been blessed by the local priest. Twelve courses are served, one for each of the twelve disciples. 


No matter where you are in the world or how you celebrate, the message of Christmas is one of love and spending time together. What traditions does your family celebrate throughout the season? 

WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out one mom’s tips on Teaching Children About December Holidays Different from Your Own.

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Christmas Traditions

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I am a father of three and my wife is a registered nurse specialized in children.

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