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Christmas traditions and celebrations warm my heart. No matter which part of the world I find myself in at Christmas time, there are a dozen or more indications that the holidays are around the corner. Streets are filled with colors of red, green and white and people seem to be extra cheerful.
Christmas day activities in our household involve a lot of family gatherings and yearly traditions. Despite the familiarity that comes with observing celebrations such as Christmas, I still find myself looking forward to observing it.
More than the gifts and other material things that abound, the importance of Christmas to me is simple – a Child is born, and it is enough reason for the whole world to celebrate.
What are the origins of Christmas traditions?
It is said that Christmas traditions were the byproduct of a book written by bestselling author Washington Irving. Irving wrote a book called The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon in 1819. It talked about the celebration of Christmas wherein the setting was an English manor house.
In his stories, Christmas time proved to be a time where differences are set aside and people from all walks of life gather and mingle with one another in a peaceful and joyful manner. Ancient customs were depicted in the book, leaving historians to think that he was implying what Christmas and Christmas traditions should be.
English author Charles Dickens also has a role to play in the birth of traditions that are widely celebrated to date. His classic book entitled A Christmas Carol spoke of goodwill during the season of Christmas. This led many Americans into looking into the many ways Christmas was celebrated by others.
In no time, they have come up with a string of traditions themselves which will find their way into the yearly Christmas celebration of people from around the world. Let me share with you some great Christmas traditions in various countries around the world!
Christmas customs celebrations around the world
1. Boxing day (UK)
Boxing Day in the United Kingdom happens the day after Christmas (26th December). Literally, it is boxing in the form of gathering goods, putting them in one box and handing them out. The boxing day is also being a celebrated day across the Commonwealth nations.
Some say Boxing Day arose from the tradition of putting up a common box containing the leftovers from Christmas Day, simple tokens and monetary gifts. Others would say it started from the boxes set up by Christian churches through the donations collected prior to Christmas Day. These are then given on the 26th because it is St. Stephen’s Day – a man widely known for his charitable acts.
Don’t forget to bag great shopping discounts on Boxing day sales around the UK.
2. Christmas crackers (UK)
Another item particularly linked to Christmas in the UK is the Christmas crackers. It comes in a candy-looking cardboard cylinder wrapped in festive paper, containing with the surprise gift so when you and another person pull the ends, a small pop goes.
Inside you will find trinkets of sorts, Christmas hat, classic dad jokes or short sayings. The person getting the larger part of the cracker gets to keep the gift. Christmas crackers are great ice breakers and add to the cheerful mood during the festive season.
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3. Feast of Sinterklaas (the Netherlands)
December 5th marks one of the happiest days for the children in the Netherlands because it is the feast of Sinterklaas. Dressed in a red robe, Sinterklaas goes from town to town together with servants called Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete) to give gifts to children. The famous Sinterklaas that is widely celebrated in the Netherlands is originally from Spain.
The Zwarte Pieten are believed to be keeping a list of kids who have been good and bad during the year. The good ones get gifts while the bad ones – although only exaggerated – are put in a sack and are subject to discipline.
There will be a little programme for the kids at the plaza showing the town mayor is handing over the key to Sinterklaas. This symbolises that Sinterklaas can now visit all the houses in the neighbourhood to drop their presents. This tradition has caused a lot of controversies due to the racial symbolism of Black Pete. Various protesters has been asking the Dutch government to discontinue this tradition or alter it, to not offend anyone!
4. Simbang Gabi (Philippines)
Simbang Gabi or Night Mass is a devotional practice of Roman Catholics in the Philippines. For nine days up to the celebration of Christmas, devotees attend a dedicated mass either in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. People are bound to make a wish at the beginning of the 9-day tradition, and if you complete all days the wish is believed to come true.
I have once completed the 9 Mornings of Simbang Gabi and I must say that my wish came true. So there is definitely no harm in trying to complete the festive 9 mornings of Simbang Gabi.
5. Junkanoo (Jamaica)
Junkanoo is one of the most celebrated festivals in Jamaica and the Caribbean region. The festival is typically celebrated on Boxing day (the day after Christmas). The celebration is filled with street dancing, colourful and lavish costumes and lively music. The Junkanoo festival has a strong influence on Western African culture.
The Junkanoo festival traditions started from the enslaved Africans who were celebrating the festivities in the plantations. The festival’s origin was believed to have a few versions: The most embraced one is the celebration of John Canoe – A West African Prince that outwitted the English and became the hero. The other version was from the French word that translates to – masked people.
Whatever it is, do not forget to bring your most comfy street dancing shoes as you join the lively vibes of Junkanoo festival during the Christmas season in Jamaica.
6. Krampus (Germany)
We typically associate Christmas with Saint Nicholas, however the evil counterpart of St. Nicholas is known as Krampus. The Krampus Christmas tradition originated from Germany since the pre-Christian Alpine times. The half-goat, half-demon figure has been known to punish the kids who have misbehaved.
The Krampus tradition eventually spread in Austria and other parts of Central Europe. So don’t be so surprised to see a demon looking figure during the Christmas time when you visit Germany and other countries in central Europe.
7. Grýla and The Yule Lads (Iceland)
In Iceland, a quirky Scandinavian Christmas tradition is being celebrated. The family of Grýla and her 13 Yule kids plus the black Christmas cat. Grýla and her family are known to be an Icelandic troll that lives in the mountains.
They come down to the city during the Advent season to observe which kids are behaving well. The misbehaved kids are captured and boil in her cauldron. The 13 Yule lads (Grýla’s son) are always up to no good and mischief.
The kids will traditionally place a shoe on their bedroom windows and the Yule lads will put a little gift or a rotting potato depending on the children’s behaviour from the day before. The Christmas Cat is a black cat of Grýla, it is believed that it is a must to received a piece of new clothing for Christmas or else you can get eaten alive by the Christmas cat.
So you better be in your best behaviour when you visit Iceland during the Christmas season.
These are just a sample of some of the great Christmas traditions of different countries around the world. Have you experienced celebrating the Christmas time in any of these countries? I bet it was a great experience!