December 25, 2016 by Iván

Christmas traditions around the world

As Christmas have arrived, we´d like to share with you some particular celebrations that most of you might not be aware of, happening in those countries represented by the languages we teach here at EIL:
Spanish speaking countries
During the previous and Christmas days, nativity scenes are not only put up at homes but also in churches and associations, schools and other institutions. Some of them are animated with light, water and sound by changing weather conditions and day hours.
In Mexico and El Salvador, Christmas celebrations start earlier than usual: on December 16, in which a daily (until December 24) parade called “Las Posadas” (The Inns) represents Joseph and Mary´s pilgrimage in search for an inn to stay the days before Jesus was born.
In Dominican Republic, Christmas´ Eve dinner is shared with neighbors and people in need. In Nicaragua the typical dish for that night is “arroz a la valenciana” (Valencian style rice), which is the Latin version of the traditional Paella from Valencia.

Las Posadas in Mexico


In all Spanish speaking countries, December 28 is “Los Santos Inocentes” (Innocent Saints or Holy innocents) day, which commemorates the massacre of innocent newborns perpetrated by Romans in order to avoid Jesus Christ to become the King of Jews. During Innocent’s Day, people and media make jokes, and those who fall into the trap are called innocents. It’s Spanish version of April Fools.
Most of our students aren´t aware that most of the Spanish speaking countries (traditionally) people don´t exchange Christmas gifts until January 6 (called Epiphany), as presents are brought by the Three Wise Men (Los Tres Reyes Magos de Oriente), who, according to the Bible, brought presents to Jesus Christ the night of January 5.
In Puerto Rico, people organize “Parrandas”, which are surprise visits to friends and relatives homes during Christmas time. They also celebrate the eight days following January 6: “Octavitas”. In this period of time people they pay tribute to the three wise men (or three kings). That´s why Puerto Ricans brag they have the longest Christmas in the world, as theirs don’t conclude until January 14.
German speaking countries
In Germany, Austria and Switzerland kids begin with preparations on December 1st with an Advent Calendar. For those of you who don’t know what this calendar is about, it represents a countdown, starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas (Advent Sunday, dated any day from November 27 till December 2) until Christmas eve (both inclusive). Every of its 24 days have a flap and when these flaps are lifted, it would reveal a Christmas scene. During this time, four candles are lighted up until Christmas day, one for every Sunday.
In Austria, December 4 is “Barbaratag”, a day where Austrians pay tribute to Saint Barbara by cutting small twigs from cherry trees or forsythias.
On December 6 either in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is celebrated St. Nicholas Day, in which Saint Nicholas (who is accompanied by either “Krampus” or ”Schwarzer Peter” -Black Peter-, “Pelznickle” or “Ru-Klas“, depending on the region) leaves some sweets and chocolates the prior night in the boots that kids have previously shined them.

St. Nicholas on December 6


In Germany, “der Weihnachtsmann” (Santa Claus or Father Christmas) is the one who bring presents. That’s why Christmas Eve is the day when Germans exchange presents with their families. Traditionally Christmas tree room is locked and kids are brought there at midnight to unlock it and get their presents. On the other hand, as Austria is a catholic country, people receive their presents on January 6, because gifts are brought by the three wise men (Like in most of the Spanish speaking countries).
Christmas Day being called “Erste Feiertag” (first celebration) and the 26th December is known as “Zweite Feiertag” (second celebration).
In Switzerland, as it’s a country with a potpourri of four different cultures, “Befana“, “Christkind“, “Samichlaus” and “Le petit Jesus” are believed to be the different gift-bringers for children.
French speaking countries
In France (like in many Spanish speaking countries), nativity scenes are also used to decorate homes. However French ones often include a butcher, a baker, a priest or a policeman.
Epiphany (remember, the three wise man day, on January 6) is also celebrated in France and Quebec (Canada), named “La Fete du Roi” (the kings festivity).

Christmas in Quebec


Despite the fact that the majority of French speaking countries in Africa are predominant Muslims, there is still a percentage of the population who is either Christian or Christian blended with local religions.
In Congo, there is usually an annual Christmas pageant and in Cameroon, it is characterized by “fait le tour”, in which people pay a visit to all friends homes to eat and drink with them.
Ivory Coast, Benin and Ghana, as they are predominant Muslim countries, focus their celebrations on religious aspects, therefore Christmas gifts are often absent.
English speaking countries
In most of the English speaking countries, traditions are similar to the ones we have in Hong Kong. Advent calendar is also used in United Kingdom, United States and Ireland.
In United States, on New Year’s Day in Philadelphia there is a parade, called Mummer’s Day, which lasts over six hours. Different associations perform in amazing costumes which take months to make.
However, in those countries located in the south hemisphere, like Australia, New Zealand or South Africa, celebrations are often taking place outdoors, as weather remains hot during Christmas because it’s summer.
In Melbourne (Australia), Carols by Candlelight is held every year on Christmas eve. Thousands of people gather to sing Christmas’ songs while holding a candle. Sidney and other cities in Australia and New Zealand follow this tradition during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne



We hope you enjoyed this post and hopefully you learned something new about different Christians traditions in some of the Western countries that speak the languages we teach.
From EIL, we wish all of you a very joyful Christmas and a happy new year 2017, full of love, prosperity and health !!

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