Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Christmas Traditions from Around the WorldTo celebrate Christmas in America, we cut down pine trees and firs, decorate our homes with colorful lights and red ribbons, and exchange carefully wrapped gifts among friends and family. Although Christmas is a trademark holiday for Americans, countries all around the world celebrate Christmas and have traditions of their own. From roller skating to church to oscillating back and forth on a swing set, people all around the world have embraced the spirit of Christmas and made traditions and customs of their own. Read on to discover some unique holiday customs practiced around the globe.

China
Though a Communist and an officially atheist state, Christmas is a widely celebrated holiday in China (though not an official one). While most Westerners at least recognize Christmas as a religious holiday, the Chinese instead prefer to treat Christmas more of an informal holiday that is often associated with romance. For this reason, young couples may go out for a night of ice skating or watching a movie to celebrate the joyous occasion.
The Chinese exchange cellophane-wrapped apples. Because the words “Christmas Eve” (píng’ān yè) and “apples” (pínggu) are relatively similar, many Chinese give each other cellophane-wrapped, colored apples with inscriptions like, “Merry X-Mass” written across them.

Santa Clauses are often seen playing the saxophone. For reasons widely unknown, Santa Clauses in China are often seen portrayed jamming on the saxophone. Some believe it is because Christmas is associated with Western culture and the saxophone is of western origin; thus, Santa Clause plays the sax in China. Others believe that it has to do with the fact that Bill Clinton played “Heartbreak Hotel” on the tenor sax on “The Arsenio Hall Show” shortly after Deng Xiaoping opened some southern cities in China to the world in 1992. To date, there is yet a clear consensus on the origin/reason of this portrayal of Santa Claus.

Egypt
According to Egypt’s 2006 Census data, 5.3 percent of Egypt’s population is Coptic Christian. This people group is the largest supporter of Christmas in Egypt. However, much like China, the holiday is becoming increasingly commercialized.

Christmas is celebrated on January 7 in the Coptic faith. As done in America, on Christmas Eve Christians go to church for a special service. For Christmas Day, Egyptians gather for a night of feasting with family and friends.
Coptic Christians observe 43 days of fasting. During the 43 days before Christmas (Advent), Coptic Christians abstain from eating meat, poultry, dairy and other animal products. Increasingly though, people are opting only to fast the last week of Advent.

Iraq
According to the CIA Factbook, Christians constitute three percent of the Iraqi population; with 97 percent of Iraqis belong to the Muslim faith. Nevertheless, Gulf News states that even since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraq declared Christmas an official holiday in 2008.

On Christmas Eve, Iraqis burn wreaths of dried thorns. It is tradition on Christmas Eve for the children of the family to read the Christmas story from Arabic Bibles while family members light candles and listen. Afterward, dried thorns are burned and if the pile disintegrates into all ash, then it is deemed an indicator of good fortune. The family members then proceed to hop over the ash and make wish as they do so.
During Christmas Day service, members engage in the “touch of peace.” The process of the touch of peace is done during the church service and is initiated by the bishop. By placing one hand on a member, the member is then supposed to bless another member by touching him/her and the process is continued until everyone has been physically blessed.

Spain
With 94 percent of Spain’s population claiming to be Catholic, according to the CIA Factbook, Christmas is a widely celebrated and religious holiday in Spain. The joyous occasion is often celebrated with dance, music, and tradition inspired by biblical events and Catholic culture.

Spaniards partake in fire leaping. In honor of the winter solstice, men and women are often seen jumping over bonfires, or “hogueras” in Spanish, in a symbolic effort to ward of illness. This custom is mostly observed in the cities of Granada and Jaen.

People swing to complement Christmastime music. During the Christmas season, swings fill up the town square so that young children can swing to the beat of the music. The tradition dates back to ancient myth that swinging higher would encourage the sun to “swing” higher and higher in the sky too.

Venezuela
Christmas in Venezuela is similar to Christmas in America, in that Venezuelans also have Christmas trees, Santa Claus (or in their case, a Papá Noel), and gifts to be exchanged. However, unlike Christmas in America, the holiday in Venezuela possess many quirks of its own.

Venezuelans roller-skate to church. In Caracas, it is common in the days leading up to Christmas to attend Early Morning Mass (“Misa de Aguinaldo”). However in the country’s capital, rather than driving or walking to church, Venezuelans often roller-skate to church. In order to perpetuate this tradition, the Venezuelan government closes down many roads on Sunday just so people can roller-skate to church.

Venezuelan children tie a piece of string around their big toe the night before Sunday service. Although the origins of this tradition are largely unknown, the custom is that on the night before mass leading to Christmas, Venezuelan children tie a long piece of string to their toe and then leave the other end out the window. If a roller skater on his way to church sees the string hanging out the window, it is his job to pull the dangling string.
Whatever your family’s unique traditions are, enjoy making Christmas your own … roller skates optional!

Cresonia Hsieh is a journalism student at the University of Florida. She can be reached at [email protected].

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