CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
The countdown has begun! Only 24 more sleeps and Christmas day will be upon us.
For most people in the UK this day conjures up a warm feeling inside and thoughts of a cosy family gathering. Children and grown-ups get presents from Father Christmas, houses get decorated with pine trees and tinsel, while mince pies and chocolate fill the larders to the brim.
Christmas is celebrated in numerous countries around the world, but it is not all about roast turkeys and reindeers. In one country Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Father Spanker and the Christmas witch. In another children have to wait until 6th January to get their presents!
In the following post we explore how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world and what makes it different.
Christmas Eve is as important as the day itself, if not more. A long dinner which usually lasts after midnight called Le réveillon takes place on 24th December before Midnight Mass. There are no mince pies in sight. Instead, the French enjoy a variety of seafood and fish, typically followed by goose. As one might expect, champagne is the preferred drink at this time of the year.
Christmas gift giving is very much a children’s event. Kids get their presents on different days depending on what area of the country they live. The day of Saint-Nicholas, on 6th December is still celebrated in the north of France. In the rest of the country Père Noël brings gifts on 25th December.
Saint-Nicolas travels with a sidekick called Père Fouettard-Father Spanker- who is in charge of spanking those children who haven’t been good during the year!
In Colombia, Navidad is a mix of religious celebrations and partying. The festivities usually start on 7th December, Day of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception when people light hundreds of little candles. There is a lot of dancing and eating well into the night.
Every day from 16th until 24th December people gather to have La novena. This is when families get together to pray at night.
People’s houses are decorated with Christmas trees and el pesebre, a nativity scene, where the letter to Baby Jesus, el Niño Dios, is left by children. He, and not Father Christmas, traditionally delivers the young ones’ presents by the pesebre on 24th December, Nochebuena. In fact, as well as in France and other European countries, Christmas Eve is a lot more relevant than Christmas Day itself. If you are lucky enough to spend Nochebuena in Bogota, you could indulge in the typical Christmas Eve dinner of Ajiaco Bogotano, a hearty potato and chicken soup. For dessert, natillas, arepas and empanadas are a must have.
Aguardiente, rum, champagne or micheladas (beer with salt and lemon) are the preferred drinks among Colombians.
In Spain, being a profoundly Catholic country, Christmas is one of the most important festivities in the year. Aside from the plunging temperatures one of the first signs of Christmas in Spain is the Loteria de Navidad, a special Christmas lottery. Most people, regular players or not, play this lottery as a Christmas tradition.
As well as in other parts of Europe, Christmas Eve, la Nochebuena, is as important if not more than Christmas Day itself, dia de Navidad. Families gather together and have a big meal in the early evening. Traditionally, after the meal Christmas carols, villancicos, are sung well into the night. At midnight people go to Midnight Mass, Misa del Gallo (Rooster Mass). As in France, seafood and fish are the highlight on la cena de Nochebuena. For dessert, nuts and dried fruits are very popular and there is a whole range of special Christmas sweets such as different kinds of turrón (nougat), mazapán and polvorones. Instead of champagne, most Spaniards prefer drinking cava.
Traditionally, Christmas presents, usually only for children, are brought by The Three Wise Men, los Tres Reyes Magos, on 6th January, Epiphany. Some children also get small presents on Christmas Day brought by Baby Jesus.In the old days, kids who had been naughty throughout the year would get coal instead of presents. Nowadays, everyone gets something including a sweet that resembles coals but it’s delicious!
Traditionally Christmas Eve is the big day in these festivities. On this eve, family members gather for a special dinner. A traditional meal for this celebration is The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Esta dei Sette Pesci). This includes cod, clams, calamari, sardines and eel. For dessert, a well-known sweet both in and out of Italy, Panettone, is the traditional choice. After dinner everyone goes to Midnight Mass service.
The main day for present giving is on 6th January when the Befana fills the stockings left by the fireplace with gifts. The befana is a character that belongs to Italian folklore. She’s portrayed like an old lady, carrying a broomstick and covered in soot as she enters houses through the chimney. She’s also called the Christmas witch.
Christmas Eve is a big event in Greece, especially going to Midnight mass. The typical Christmas meal includes lamb or pork often roasted in the oven. Other Christmas foods are Baklava, Kataifi and Theeples. These are usually eaten for breakfast or as starters. A traditional table decoration is Christopsomo, or Christmas bread. It’s a sweet bread decorated with a cross on top. It’s generally made on Christmas Eve ready to be eaten on Christmas day.
Greeks celebrate the Epiphany, on 6th January, which commemorates the date when Jesus received his baptism when he was an adult. In order to remember this day, young men jump into really cold rivers and even the sea where they try to get a blessed cross which is supposed to bring good luck for the new year.