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20 Christmas traditions around the world

That time of year that we love so dearly is almost here. It is filled with light, traditions and good company. On the table, there should be nougat and polvorones (a type of Spanish shortbread). What is obvious to us may be unknown to someone else who has not celebrated Christmas in our country. And you – do you know your clients’ Christmas traditions? In this article we gathered 20 Christmas customs around the world.

Japan celebrates Christmas with fried chicken

Only 1.5% of the Japanese population is Christian. Yet, Christmas was imported from the United States and is targeted towards couples. And since the 1970s, the Japanese have been celebrating Christmas by eating KFC fried chicken. In fact, between 23rd and 25th December, this restaurant chain earns 10% of its total annual revenue.

Christmas markets: a German tradition

Christmas markets originated in Germany in the mid-16th century in Protestant cities such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Dresden. Since then their popularity has grown steadily and they are now held in other countries as well. The key to these Christmas markets is closeness and good company, whether of family or friends.

Christmas tradition in the Czech Republic: throwing a shoe

This quirky ritual is carried out in the Czech Republic during the Christmas season, in which an unmarried man or woman stands outside their house and throws a shoe over their right shoulder towards the door. If the shoe falls with the toe pointing towards the door, it is a sign that he or she will get married in the coming year.

Yule log: a French Christmas tradition

The Yule log or bûche de Noël is the quintessential Christmas dessert in France. It is similar to the Swiss roll, yet quite different. It is covered with buttercream or chocolate icing, which is applied with a fluted piping bag to look like a tree bark. It is then decorated with holly leaves, usually made of almond paste.

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Christmas in January? Christmas traditions in Russia and other eastern countries

After the Russian revolution of 1917, Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar. However, the Orthodox Church strongly opposed this change and wanted to keep the Julian calendar. For this reason, most Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on 7th January.

Christmas traditions in the Netherlands: Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas

Did you know that in the Netherlands children receive their presents on the night of 5th December? They are distributed by Saint Nicholas (or Sinterklaas in Dutch) with the help of Zwarte Pieten, i.e. Black Petes. They are so called since their faces are stained with soot from climbing up and down the chimneys to deliver presents to the children.

By the way…History suggests that the origin of Father Christmas is related to Sinterklaas. The Dutch seem to have exported Sinterklaas to the United States when they founded New Amsterdam (now New York).

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Leaving shoes by the fireplace: another German Christmas tradition

Leaving shoes by the fireplace is not a Christmas tradition unique to the Netherlands. During the early morning of 6th December, Saint Nicholas also has time to visit Germany. The youngest ones, apart from the shoe, also leave a plate on the table with biscuits for Saint Nicholas’ animals. In return they receive a small gift.

Christmas traditions in Poland: stunning nativity scenes

Poland is one of the countries that celebrates Christmas the most. One of the most important traditions is creating nativity scenes to commemorate the birth of Jesus. There are all kinds of nativity scenes: classic, living, sand, just to name a few. Krakow’s nativity scene tradition was even inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

12 Christmas Eve dishes in Poland

Another Polish tradition is to serve a dinner on 24th December consisting of… 12 dishes! In the past, an odd number of dishes was prepared. It was later changed to 12 to represent the number of months in the year and the number of apostles.

There is one more custom: one empty plate is always left on the table as a way to honour the memory of ancestors and all those with whom we cannot spend this Christmas Eve. Straw is also placed under the tablecloth to represent Jesus’ birthplace, Bethlehem. Finally, each guest receives a thin wafer which they share with other guests and offer them best wishes and messages of peace.

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Fireworks: a Christmas ritual in Colombia

There are many Christmas traditions in Colombia that differ from those in our country. At Christmas time in Colombia we can savour delicious dishes such as buñuelos (small dough fritters), tamales or sancocho soup. One of the most iconic traditions is the big fireworks celebration on the night of 24th December.

Australia: Father Christmas in swimwear

In Europe we celebrate white Christmas, with snowy landscapes and evenings by the fireplace. In Australia Christmas falls in the summer, the peak season for barbecues, afternoons on the beach and pool parties. That’s why Father Christmas delivers presents wearing boardshorts and flip-flops.

Roller skating to mass: a Christmas tradition in Venezuela

In Venezuela it’s also summer during the Christmas season. The tradition of skating to mass to celebrate Christmas has been widespread there since the 1950s. The exact origin is unknown.

The Three Wise Men, a tradition almost exclusive to Hispanic countries

Did you know that in some countries children receive their presents on Epiphany Eve? On the 5th and 6th January, the Christmas thrill and spirit are still very high over here, while the rest of the world is already back in the January routine.

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Portugal: a different kind of Epiphany celebration

Portugal also celebrates Epiphany. The family gathers for an afternoon snack, where Bolo Rei – a kind of king cake – is served. However, it’s not like the Spanish one as the dough is different and it usually doesn’t have a filling. Also, on the evening of 5th January, choral groups gather to sing Christmas carols from door to door.

Krampus, a Christmas tradition that terrifies Austrian children

In Austria and parts of Germany, children fear Krampus, the Christmas demon. It is a creature with elf-like ears and a devilish countenance that kidnaps naughty children.

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Ukraine: throwing food onto the ceiling

Christmas is celebrated in Ukraine both on 25th December and 6th or 7th Januarysince part of the population is Orthodox and part Christian. One of the most peculiar Christmas traditions is throwing food up to the ceiling. The honour goes to the oldest person. And the more food stuck to the ceiling, the better the harvest for the coming year.

Filling the tree with spider webs: a Christmas tradition in Ukraine

Another Ukrainian Christmas tradition is to fill the Christmas tree with spider webs. This also attracts good luck. This custom has its origins in a beautiful legend: a poor widow decorated the Christmas tree for her children with spider webs; and on the night of the 24th, the spiders turned their web into gold and silver threads.

Tying up the parents: a Christmas tradition in Serbia

A peculiar Christmas custom in Serbia involves tying the hands and feet of parents. Firstly the mother’s and 10 days later – the father’s. They will have to give presents to the children as their ransom.

Norway: hiding mops and brooms

Norway hides brooms and mops at Christmas. Why? They want to protect themselves from evil spirits who may steal these utensils to fly over them in the Christmas sky.

Sweden celebrates the end of Christmas

Bored of Christmas already? In Sweden they celebrate the end of Christmas on 13th January. Family and friends get together again and say goodbye to Christmas by eating leftovers, dancing and, finally, taking down the Christmas decorations. The most interesting thing? They throw the Christmas tree out of the window! Well, at least they did so until it was banned at the beginning of the 21st century and places to recycle them were set up.

What about you, where are you celebrating Christmas this year, and what Christmas traditions will you share with your loved ones? At Overseas Translations we strive not only to provide excellent translation and interpreting services, but also to do so by building bridges between cultures. The entire Overseas Translations team wishes you a very Merry Christmas

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