As Christmas beckons the dawn of the season of festivities, it’s inevitable that the whole world is already resounding with the impending X- masy spirits in the air. There’s the cheer of hope, there’s sparkle of happiness, there’s the glitter and shimmer of the bright decorations and the twinkling lights, there’s the chime of the bells and the melody of the songs, there’s also the lure of the treats and the allure of the gifts! Indeed, Christmas is pure magic- in its aura, in its vibe, in its ambiance and in the feels. As the world gears up to celebrate yet another Christmas replete in its spirit of yuletide and goodwill, here’s looking at Christmas traditions all around the world that go way beyond December 25th-
While we would be content with discovering and discussing countries that celebrate Christmas unto the New Year but here’s a land for which X mas frenzy lasts for almost half of the entire year! It is the Philippines which holds the record of celebrating the longest Christmas- or any other festival for that matter. From as early as September, the whole counts gets in the festive mood as Christmas decorations start getting up and around this archipelagic country.
And it isn’t just the decorations, even Christmas parties are as happening an affair since September itself which continue onto the next year, precisely till January 9. Spanning the first Sunday of January when Epiphany or the Feast of Kings is celebrated, Christmas in the Phillipines is an elaborate, extravagant affair. So much so that the months from September to December are known distinctly as the Ber months. Even the lead up to the event is as grand, with nine masses known as the Simbang Gabi marking the onset of Christmas.
The most important Christmas decoration that dominates the proceedings in the country are five pointed stars made from colorful papers and bamboo sticks and are known as parols. Christmas eve is characterised by a huge family meal called the Noche Buena, that is no doubt a phenomenon worth unfolding given that all Filipino people receive a full month’s salary as bonus on year end in celebration of Christmas season!
Another country that begins its Christmas celebrations well in advance and extend the warmth and merriment as late as January 13th is Sweden. In fact, Christmas is celebrated in the country on December 24th, the day which most of the world anticipates as Christmas eve.
Kickstarting from December 1, Christmas vibes take centerstage in this pretty European country that gleams and shines in all its magnificent beauty and snow especially during Christmas days. The celebrations get into high gear on 13th December, the shortest day of the year, which is celebrated as St. Luca’s Day in continuance of a 400 year old tradition. Another very indulged on tradition during Christmas in Sweden is the julbord, a special buffet that lets you feast on the best of everything Swedish. Even Santa Claus has a parallel existence in the country- Sweden sees a gnome like creature known as the Jultomten as the one who would bring gifts for them on Christmas.
The celebrations continue unabated all throughout December and even during and into the New Year. Festivities finally come to an end on January 13, which is the St. Knut’s Day in Sweden. Known locally as Julgransplundring, this is the day when the Christmas tree is finally pulled down and stripped of all its celebrations until the next Christmas beckons again in the same year in December!
Russia has a Christmas and New Year legacy that is unique compared to the rest of the world. While it is on December 25th that the entire globe gets resplendent with singing the carols and going shimmery with the lights and the gifts, this particular date and day in Russia remain particularly dampened. While there still would be some celebrations here, but the best and most extravagant of festivities are reserved for quite some time later.
In fact Christmas in Russia would be an occasion that overlaps with the New Year festivities. January 1 is a greater holiday for the Russians than Christmas Day which traditionally falls on the 7th of January. Interestingly, Russians often call their Christmas tress as New Year trees and even gifts are distributed on the 1st of January every year by the Russian Santa Claus Grandfather Frost which is a tradition we exclusively identify with X mas celebrations. The vibes of the dawn of both Christmas and New Year are so pronounced on the first day of January in Russia that we would be at a loss to exactly name it one or the other!
However the traditional Russian Christmas is only celebrated almost a week later on January 7. The orthodox celebrations are marked by fasting or at most a meal that cuts out the meats and eggs and all other non veg delicacies. A simple meal of bread dipped in honey and garlic often characterises dinner on the second Christmas Eve in the country. However it isn’t just Christmas that has a dual occurrence in Russia, even a second New Year is celebrated annually on the 14th of January when the Julian calendar ushers in a fresh year.
Spain’s extension of Christmas celebrations way ahead into the New Year is another instance of how the spirit of the festival is a bigger phenomenon than we would expect it to be. Beginning with Inmaculada on December 8 which marks the official start of the celebrations, Christmas festivities continue well through the month and come to a halt only on the 6th of January.
Christmas in Spain is preceded by numerous other such events that are religiously and culturally significant. Be it St Lucia’s Day or the Christmas lottery, December sees the European country come to life in all its leisure and lure. Exclusive decorations like the Caganer and the Tio de Nadal stand out prominently among the array of traditional Christmas adornments that come to characterise the country at this time of the year.
On the 25th of December which is Christmas Day, Santa Claus also visits Spain along with all other parts of the world to leave presents which however are not opened till the 6th of January. It is only on the final day of the celebrations when the Three Wise Men come to visit the people that the gifts are opened, marking Epiphany and the official wrap up of the festivities. It is customary for little children to leave food and water for the men and their camels in return of gifts.
While the final day is preceded by another interesting tradition on the 5th of January when a special cake called the El Roscon de Reyes is eaten, there is yet another day when a different tradition is celebrated in a different time. December 28th is the day when the Spaniards celebrate their own version of the April Fool’s Day also called the Day of the Innocent Saints. It is only after almost a month of extensive celebrations that Spain halts all the ringing festive bells.
In yet another European country, Christmas and New Year celebrations tend to overlap after beginning early and ending late. Poland sees the Christmas eve as the start of the New Year even as Christmas celebrations are kicked on as early as 6th December itself. In fact the celebrations get serious from the first day itself as little children receive gifts and treats from St Nicholas on this day widely known as the St. Nichols Day.
Christmas Eve is as significant a day that begins with the ceremonial breaking of a special wafer called the oplatek before feasting on the fish special menu that however does not allow for any other meats to take place. Known as the Wigilia, the feast needs to have twelve dishes, each representative of one of the 12 apostles. It is also only on Christmas Eve that the Christmas tree is decorated by the Poles with candies and ornaments, setting the tone for the festivities to follow in the coming days.
The observance of Christmas on two dates is not a phenomenon unique to Russia. Even Belarus conforms to this tradition many of the New Year traditions of the country serve as celebrations typical of Christmas elsewhere in the world. Even the New Year’s tree is a Christmas Tree that serves as a significant marker for both occasions even as folks indulge in gifting and feasting as per their following of traditions and customs.
Belarus sees their New Year and Christmas celebrations categorically emerge as a 13 day festival called the Kaliady. Festivities take centrestage on both the 25th of December as well as the 1st of January even as the orthodox celebration of Christmas on the 7th of January sees also separate rituals and frenzy. Overall, Christmas and New Year in Belarus is marked by grand celebrations like in many other parts of the world.
When it comes to beating the Phillipines in their celebration of Christmas, there’s no such superpower worthy of the accolade. But at a close second stands the United Kingdoms which makes all haste to usher in Christmas as early as in November. Dawned by the celebration of the Guy Fawkes night or Bonfire Night on the 5th of November, Christmas vibes descend all over the country as they prep up for a season of merriment and happiness.
Christmas Eve traditions in England are also a tad different. While Santa Claus, commonly referred to as Father Christmas do come with presents for all, children are seen welcoming the beloved old man with mince pies and his reindeer with carrots instead of the customary offering of cookies and milk. Even the custom of unwrapping presents are somewhat different at least for the royals. Royalty demands that the gifts are unwrapped on Christmas Eve itself while common folks do away with the wrapping only on Christmas Day. Festivities continue well past the 25th and into the New Year when the trees are finally put down on the 5th of January, the official closure of the celebrations.
Ireland’s Christmas celebrations also span from the early December days to almost a week into the New Year. December 8th marks the official start of the grand celebrations, that remains steeped in their own unique traditions and customs. Like ushering in of Santa and his reindeer with some meat pie and a glass of Guinness rather than some milk and cookies and evoking the power of the mistletoe to bring in good luck by just hanging them rather than kissing under them, Christmas in Ireland is a different experience altogether.
Even the culmination of the Christmas celebrations are a matter diversified in Island. It’s still January 6th when the festivities dawn to an official closure but the day is celebrated here in a manner that is quite unique as compared to the rest of the world. The 6th of January is referred to as Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas, a day when the manfolk take over all the chores of the household as women go out to celebrate. It is also customary to take down all Christmas decorations on this day, if you don’t want badluck to make its way into your life.
Christmas in Costa Rica is a cut apart from the contemporary, at least in the weather if not in the celebrations. December is summertime in Costa Rica which means that the American country gets to partake of X mas festivities when the weather is sunny and the days are bright and warm. No wonder, Costa Ricans take to the beach to celebrate the occasion, the festivities associated with which commence sometime in the second week of December and continue till the 6th of the New Year.
Christmas trees in Costa Rica are also a diversion from the conventional- fragrant cypress trees or coffee shrubs are elaborately decorated to bring in the Christmas vibes. Even Santa Claus does not find much place of prominence in the Costa Rican Christmas affairs; it is Baby Jesus or Nino Dios who rather brings young children their Christmas presents.
Customary Christmas meals in Costa Rica are characterised by tamales as well as eggnog and rum punch and also classic Costa Rican desserts like tres leches cakes. Relished after the Misa de Gallo or the Mass of the rooster, the Christmas dinner kickstarts the celebrations on Christmas Eve locally referred to as Noche Bueno. A couple of weeks of celebrations follow till the 6th of January when the three wise men are said to have met Baby Jesus.
Like other European countries, Italy also plays host to a Christmas that begins from the 8th of December itself. The week preceding Christmas is called the novena and is marked by elaborate caroling. As Christmas Eve rings in seven days later on the 24th of December, it is customary for Italians to shun meat and dairy and instead seek recourse in a lighter meal before they set off to church for the Midnight Mass. It’s similarly tradition enough that Italians seek warmth in a cup of hot chocolate and a slice of the classic Italian Panetonne cake after their midnight detour to the church.
Italian kids also wake up to gifts on Christmas morning brought to them by Father Christmas Babbo Natale but otherwise exchange of gifts is a more prominent custom only once the New Year sets in. Christmas Day is followed by the national holiday of Santo Stefano when families get together and relish the lavish left over Christmas meal of the previous night along with sweets.
Even the closure of celebration in Italy on the 6th of January has another legacy associated with it. There’s an Epiphany eve meal on the following day of which la befana or the good witch who is believed to have followed the wise men brings gifts for the children.Gifts are sometimes even presented to young children on December 13 by a blind Saint Lucia while some Italians exchange pleasantaries after Christmas lunch itself.