Christmas traditions around the world

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
A 1907 Christmas card with Santa and some of his reindeer.

According to a survey from Pew Research, 90% of Americans and 95% of Christians celebrate the Christmas holiday. Currently, 160 countries across the globe celebrate the Christian holiday. Even in countries where Christmas in not part of the culture, such as Thailand, where more than 90% of the population are Buddhist, Christmas decorations are still put up on display. Santa is a popular figure around the world, with many people exchanging gifts on December 25.

Many countries and cultures have adopted various religion-related ceremonies to celebrate Christmas.

Advent, observed by many Christian denominations, signifies the coming of Christ and marks the beginning of the four-week Christmas season.

Christingles is a common children's service during Advent. This celebration began with a Moravian congregation in Germany in 1747. It is now celebrated by congregations worldwide. Children are given a lit candle placed in the top of an orange, symbolizing the love of God and the world.

Epiphany is celebrated for 12 days after Christmas, ending on January 6. The reason for this is to remember the Wise Men who visited Jesus when he was born. Gifts are given in some countries.

Las Posadas (The Inns) is primarily celebrated in Latin America. It's a 400-year old tradition that consists of 9 days of candle-lit parades of families and friends depicting Joseph and Mary seeking a place at the inn. Once the couple is accepted, the group prays and shares traditional food, such as tamales. The last evening of the celebration includes a piñata and fireworks.

A typical Neapolitan presepe or presepio, or Nativity scene. Local crèches are renowned for their ornate decorations and symbolic figurines, often mirroring daily life.

Spain is a deeply Christian country. According to, "Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or 'La Misa Del Gallo' (The Mass of the Rooster). It is called this because a rooster is supposed to have crowed the night that Jesus was born. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena. In the days before Nochebuena, children might take part in 'Piden el aguinaldo' where they go and sing carols around their neighbors hoping to get some money.

Most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve before the service. The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner is 'Pavo Trufado de Navidad' which is Turkey stuffed with truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolate ones!) or 'Pularda asada' (a roasted young hen), although they are not commonly eaten now. In Galicia (a region in north-west Spain, surrounded by water) the most popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood. This can be all kinds of different seafood, from shellfish and mollusks, to lobster and small edible crabs."

Nativity of Christ, medieval illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century).

A ban on Christmas couldn't stop ChristianRussians from celebrating the birth of Jesus. Christmas was banned after the Russian Revolution in 1917, with Christmas trees also being banned. the website,, further explains Christmas in Russia, "After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas again. But it's still a quieter and smaller holiday in Russia after the big New Year celebrations. The New Year is the big time for spending lots of money and eating and drinking lots. Christmas is much more religious and private.

New Year is also when 'Grandfather Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year's eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is 'S Novym Godom'."

Hong Kong has several unique traditions according to the website, "Chinese Christians celebrate Christmas with Church services in Chinese. At the Anglican Cathedral, some services are held in English, because Europeans who live and work in Hong Kong attend them as well as people from Hong Kong. The services in Chinese and English are held at different times of the day. Christians in Hong Kong love to sing carols and also visit the Christmas markets.

In Hong Kong, people also send Christmas cards. They're normally bought in shops, although a few people still like to make them using Chinese craft techniques. Poinsettias flowers, tinsel, Christmas lights and Nativity scenes decorate homes, churches and public places.

There is a street in Hong Kong that, in the run up to Christmas, sells only Christmas Trees and other plants. Christmas Trees are especially popular with Christians in Hong Kong. Santa is most commonly called Santa Claus or Father Christmas. In Cantonese he is known as "Sing Daan Lou Yan" (Christmas Old Man) although most people use English to refer to him. Every year in Hong Kong there is a 'Winterfest'. It's a huge winter party that involves the shops, theme parks and other attractions in Hong Kong.

Sweden's Gävle goat on December 21, 2009.

Sweden has the Yule Goat, their symbol for Christmas dating back to pagan festivals. According to Country, the tradition experienced a resurgence in 1966, "The tradition got a whole new life after someone came up with the idea to make a giant straw goat, now referred to as the Gävle Goat. According to the official website, the goat is more than 42 feet high, 23 feet wide, and weighs 3.6 tons. Each year, the massive goat is constructed in the same spot. Fans can even watch a livestream from the first Sunday of Advent until after the New Year when it's taken down."

The Philippines Giant Lantern festival attracts thousands of people every year. This is the Barangay Telabastagan - 2012 Second place winner.

The Philippines goes all-out with their Giant Lantern Festival, Ligligan Parul. The lanterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem with each once consisting of thousands of spinning lights. San Fernando is considered the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

In 1970, Takeshi Okawara, manager of the first KFC restaurant in Japan, started promoting friend chicken "party barrels" as a Christmas meal intended to serve as a substitute for the traditional American turkey dinner. Okawara marketed the part barrels as a way to celebrate Christmas, a holiday which lacked widespread tradition in Japan at the time.

Perhaps the most unique Christmas tradition is in a country where only 1% of the population are Christian: Japan. A country of over 126 million people celebrates Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii! What does that phrase mean? Kentucky for Christmas! As in, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)! Yes, Japanese celebrate Christmas with that good old American fast food staple, Kentucky Fried Chicken! Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980), the creator and entrepreneur behind KFC, must have found a great deal of joy in the Japanese tradition, which was launched after a highly successful marketing campaign in the 1970s. The Colonel himself visited the Japanese operations in 1972, 1978 and 1980. In 1983 there were 390 outlets with annual sales just under $300 million. By this time Japan was KFC's largest single foreign market. Just how popular is KFC on Christmas in Japan? Well, Japanese have had to start ordering their boxes of the "finger lickin' good" chicken in advance. They can go to the KFC restaurants, but that requires waiting in line for up to 2 hours or more!

Different countries and different regions have special meals for Christmas Eve, such as Sicily, where 12 kinds of fish are served. In the United Kingdom and countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes turkey, goose or other large bird, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes bread and cider. Special desserts are also prepared, such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, Christmas cake, Panettone and Yule log cake. Traditional Christmas meal in Central Europe is fried carp or other fish.