Christmas Traditions Around the World
Posted: 16 December 2016
This Christmas, you probably already have plans of how you will be celebrating the joy of the yuletide season. You may also have wondered how Christmas is celebrated in the destinations you have visited on your yearly travels across the globe. For instance, did you know that in Austria children must avoid the Christmas devil, Krampus, who is said to beat naughty children with branches?
On a more pleasant note, in Canada, the postal service recognises the address of Santa Claus, opening any letters sent his way and returning them with a reply, while children in Italy are told of a friendly witch called Befana who delivers sweets and toys on the 5th January. Read on to discover more Christmas traditions across the world...
The ‘Aloha State’ has been the festive hideaway of choice for the Obama family for years, offering a tropical escape to shelter from the stresses of Washington, with days spent catching surf and sun rays from the golden shores.
Before Protestant missionaries arrived in Hawaii, and officially introduced it to Christmas in the year 1820, the islands had their own, four-month, New Year celebration in honour of the Earth called ‘Makahiki’. Inhabitants of the island would take a break from work to make offerings to their gods and enjoy themselves with feasts and dances.
The Makahiki season was eventually Christianised into Christmas, but Hawaiian traditions and the unique island way of life could not be dampened! While the biggest celebration is ‘Honolulu Lights’, where a fifty-foot Norfolk pine tree is lit up for a spectacular display, you will also see palm trees decked in decorations, elves wearing aloha shirts and hear carols accompanied by ukele melodies - you may even spot Santa, known as ‘Kanakaloka’, swapping his reindeer and sleigh for an outrigger canoe pulled by dolphins!
Christougena, which means ‘Christmas’ in Greece, takes a mischievous note with the legend of the kallikántzari – these harmless, yet troublesome hobgoblins are said to surface from the centre of the Earth for the twelve days of Christmas, wreaking havoc as they go by devouring food from the kitchen, overturning furniture and delivering the odd fright! The story advises people of Greece ensure they always have a fire going to ward off these naughty spirits, while on the islands, incense can be burnt at the front door to keep them at bay.
There is no rest for Santa in the ‘City that Never Sleeps’! Christmas in New York is one of the most magical sights of the year, and the timeless traditions of this festive metropolis are irresistibly infectious, with spectacular sights and activities occurring throughout the holiday period. Father Christmas makes his grand arrival in November, riding his sleigh behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and there are non-stop yuletide delights taking place throughout the next month!
With merriment throughout the city, prepare to be dazzled by the lights of the Empire State Building, illuminated in red and green, and the towering spectacle of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. For more than seventy years the tree has brightened up the base of the Rockefeller Centre and has grown immensely since the Depression-era, when workers adorned a much smaller, twenty-foot, tree with garlands of fruit and tin cans – the tallest to date stood at an impressive one-hundred feet in 1999!
Other festive sights include the Radio City Christmas Spectacular show, one of the United States’ most cherished shows that debuted back in 1933, the fabulously bedecked shop window displays of 5th Avenue and the shimmering light displays of the residents of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.
The Caribbean is a favourite place for many looking for a seasonal escape, where chilly mornings can be swapped for sunny skies. Barbados pulls out all the stops for visitors coming over for Christmas, with gala dinners held in many five-star hotels and even sandcastle-building competitions! The local people of the island follow religious traditions and attend carol services at churches in their Sunday best, while the capital, Bridgetown, is lit up with a fantastic display of lights. Meanwhile, Father Christmas can often be seen arriving to greet children on a jet-ski, and despite the glorious weather, you can still hear songs about winter wonderlands playing on the radio!
Falling in the middle of summer, New Zealand’s Christmas celebrations bring plenty of sunny weather to the festive holidays. Shop windows may be laced with wintery scenes, but outside, Kiwi Christmas is all about beaches, barbecues and embracing the sun.
You can find easily recognisable traditions during the yuletide holidays, similar to those back home in the UK, though you might notice the nation’s favourite sweet, pineapple chunks, being left out for Santa Claus! New Zealand also has its own unique Christmas tree, the Pōhutukawa, which is identified by its bright red flowers that appear on the front of many Christmas cards. The Pōhutukawa tree holds an important place in Maori mythology, with legends accounting the fall of a young warrior who died avenging his father’s death, and the crimson-coloured flowers are said to represent his blood.
While Mexico has a great love for a good fiesta, Christmas is a very religious affair. Catholicism arrived in the country with Spanish invaders, and many pre-Hispanic deities were incorporated into the country’s new faith – one of the most important icons is that of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Mexican incarnation of the Virgin Mary, often adorned with flowers and stars.
Christmas traditions start in Mexico from December 16th, with processions called ‘Posadas’ taking place to represent Joseph and Mary’s search for somewhere to stay for the birth of Jesus, as the outside of houses are decorated with paper lanterns. Children celebrate with a game of piñata – often with seven peaks representing the seven deadly sins – and are rewarded with a feast of sweets when they succeed in breaking open the papier-mâché exterior with a stick! Mexico is also the native home of the festive flower, poinsettia, with the colour red said to symbolise purity for the Aztecs.
Christmas in South Africa is another summer event, and while many traditions have been inherited from the UK, the inhabitants of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ are not shy of putting their own twist on celebrations! Christmas mornings may begin with a church service and opening of presents, though later, family and friends might gather on the beach for a ‘Bring-and-Braii’ feast – everyone brings their own meat, vegetables, rice and potatoes to barbecue under the beautiful sunshine to celebrate being together.
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