I love Christmas. You cannot come to my home and not see Christmas in every room of the house (yes, even the bathrooms). But I also love culture. I got my master’s in political science with an emphasis on international relations. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. If you spend time at my house, it would be normal to watch documentaries on culture, anthropology, and archeology from all around the world.
Although I celebrate Christmas in the Christian way, I also like to see how the rest of the world celebrates. I like sharing this with my son, so he is more inclined to understand other people in the world and all the beauty they bring.
Toward this endeavor, we look at a different culture every week of the season and learn about their traditions, songs, stories, and food.
These are just some ways we have incorporated other cultures, traditions, and fun into celebrating the Christmas season.
Christmas in China
- Shen Dan Jieh (Holy Birth Festival): Families decorate their homes in evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The tree is decorated with flowers and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. Color is a big part of this celebration. We sometimes like to use the bright colored chains as our advent calendar to help count down to the big day.
- Ta Chiu: This is a celebration of peace and renewal. The Chinese will make offerings to saints and read the names of everyone who lives in the area. We chose this time to find a non-profit to give to, give to our church, and remember those we love near and far.
Christmas in England
- Christmas caroling is a big tradition here. People give carolers little treats (little fruit and nut pies are especially delicious). All the wrapping of presents, baking cookies, and hanging stockings happens Christmas Eve. This is one fun tradition we do. I wrap (my husband builds toys and things), and we watch Christmas movies with a nice cup of Egg Nog, wine, or spirit-filled fun drink.
- Writing Letters to Father Christmas: English children write letters to Father Christmas then put them in the fire, so the wishes go up the chimney. We tweak this tradition by having a mailbox to Santa by the fireplace. Our son puts his letter in the box on Christmas Eve and Santa writes by Christmas morning.
Christmas in Ethiopia
- Ganna: Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7 as the Ethiopians follow the ancient Julian calendar. For Ganna, people fast and dress in white, usually a traditional shamma (a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends). They attend church at 4 am. We incorporate this tradition by dressing up on Christmas Eve in our finest clothes.
- The Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Ganna. If a child receives a gift, it is a small gift of clothing. To incorporate this, we do Elf-ing with our son. We find a family that needs a bit of extra love, and secretly help make the season better for them with food and small gifts.
Christmas in France
- Fasting: Christmas Day is a day of fasting and midnight mass. After mass, they come home and enjoy le Réveillon (nighttime feast). Growing up, I enjoyed attending the Christmas Eve midnight service. We move so much; it sometimes is hard to find one. So, we adopted my father’s tradition of bring coffee. and donuts to those security forces (local police) who have to work the holiday at midnight.
- Christmas shows: Plays and puppet shows are popular entertainment (especially in Paris and Lyon). We always try to find a local production to watch (dance schools are great for this) to help get us in the spirit.
Christmas in Germany
- Advent Calendars: There is something fun about counting down to Christmas. In Germany, they use an advent calendar where children open a little number flap to see the Christmas picture hidden there. We do this with pictures, sometimes tiny candies, and verses for the season.
- Christmas Tree: The tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany. Under the decorate tree, they arrange a manger scene. Instead of stockings by the fire, in some places children leave their shoes outside the front door filled with carrots and hay for St. Nicholas’ horses. We leave carrots and celery out for Santa with his cookies.
Christmas in Holland
- The Letterbanket: This is a letter cake made in the shape of the family’s last name. Some families give a little “cupcake” version to every member. We do this, but instead of our cake in our initial, we bake one for Jesus.
- Poems: During the gift giving, the giver also recites a poem written by the giver about the recipient. We love this. We decided to do this all year round by having a dedicated notebook to little notes and encouragements to each other to read and enjoy.
Christmas in Italy
- The Italians use the manger scene in a lot of their decorations. We incorporate one in the center of the entertainment, so we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
- La Befana: Legend has it, La Befana was too busy cleaning house to help the Wise Men on their quest to find the King, so now she spends January 6 (Thee Kings Day) wandering through the air on her broomstick looking for the Christ Child on the eve of Epiphany leaving gifts and candy in the shoes of little children. We do not do this, but we do watch movies about La Befana in the original Italian for fun.
Christmas in Mexico
- Las Posadas Buena Noche: Christmas Eve the children lead a procession to the church and place a figure of the Christ Child in the Nacimiento (nativity scene) and attend midnight mass. To incorporate this, we attend a city children’s parade.
- Farolitos: This little tradition is when family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns. Families then place candles inside the bags, and the lanterns are set alongside sidewalks, in windowsills, and on rooftops outdoor to illuminate the community with the Christmas spirit. My family lights the entire yard with lights. My son also makes additional decorations for the tree (or anywhere).
Christmas in Spain
- Christmas Day Reunion: This is a day for families to come together and enjoy a great feast (having fasted Christmas Eve. As we cannot always travel for the holidays, we use this day to call, text, and zoo family across the world.
- Urn of Fate: Names are written on cards and placed in a bowl. Then, two names are drawn at a time. Those two people will be friends to each other throughout the coming year. My large family does a similar thing via excel spreadsheet. Each name rotates so a new sibling gets to think about and take care of the other for Christmas the following year.
Christmas in Sweden
- St. Lucia’s Day: Christmas really begins here on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day. The Swede celebrate the patron saint of light. The oldest daughter will get up before dawn, dress as the “Queen of Lights,” and go from bedroom to bedroom serving coffee and treats to each member of the family. The younger children help. We like this tradition, but we serve each other cinnamon rolls and coffee after getting the house beautiful for celebration. We work as family helping with chores, making breakfast, and enjoying a slower morning.
- The Jultometn and Julbokar: This tiny Christmas gnome comes on a sleigh drawn by the Christmas goat, Julbokar. In some families, a family friends dresses up in a red robe and wears a long beard to bring toys for children. In other families, gifts are left behind on the tree. After gifts are open, the families dance and sing around the tree. We incorporate this little tradition by leaving notes for our son throughout the season and singing and dancing is a part of our life, so we listen, sing and dance to Christmas carols.
Perhaps there is something here that you might do? May want to try? Let me know.