While Christmas is now a secular holiday largely celebrated by countries all over the world, some countries have very unique, traditional ways of celebrating the holiday season. Let’s uncover some of the different ways of other countries commemorating this special day that falls on 25 December.
Italy has a population of 60.0 million people, in which predominantly 88 per cent are
Christians, following specifically the Roman Catholic church teachings. It’s only
understandable that Christmas is the most awaited time of the year. In fact, Italy starts
celebrating the holiday way earlier; in early December itself, depending on the region, until the day of Epiphany, on the 6th of January. Children will look forward to the start of the Christmas season where Christmas trees are put up and houses are decorated.
Italians go to church on Christmas Eve, which has been a spiritual practice for every Catholic believer. St. Peter’s Basilica cathedral in Vatican City is the mecca for the yearly mass. There, huge Christmas tree is displayed and many families buy tickets to the festive midnight-mass which is held by the Pope himself.
World famous Christmas figure, Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, is celebrated every 6th December; the St Nicholas Day where many families celebrate the patron saint of children, seamen, and the hungry. It is believed Santa Claus would bring gifts to homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve, so children would write letters to St Nicholas asking for gifts, then hang a sock and put out a plate of biscuits and milk on the table as a treat for him.
Christians believe Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable surrounded by live animals and angels, and later were visited by the Shepherds and the Three Wise Men. In Italy, as most of the population are Catholic, performances reenacting the crib (also called manger) scene are one of the must-have activities during Christmas. They help to deliver the story of the birth of Jesus to children and serve the community a reminder of the beautiful Saviour. The city of Naples is world famous for its cribs, known as Presepe Napoletano (meaning Neapolitan Cribs). The first crib scene in Naples is thought to go back to 1025 and was in the Church of St. Maria del Presepe (Saint Mary of the Crib).
For Australians, Christmas is a summer holiday! Children have their summer holidays from mid-December to early February, hence many people celebrate the event away from home, heading to holiday destinations like parks, celebrating Christmas at campsites, or at relatives’ homes.
The beach is probably one of the most populated areas to be in during Christmas time.
Surfing, sun and Santa hats are prominent at the beaches of Australia. Since it’s a sweltering summer season, most Australians hit the beach as heatwave sends thousands to the coast to keep their cool. The people normally enjoy some time in the water on Christmas morning and crowds will eventually continue to swell throughout the day.
Australians hang wreaths on their front doors and decorate their houses with bunches of “Christmas Bush”, a native Australian tree with small green leaves and cream coloured flowers. Families decorate their houses and gardens with Christmas trees and Christmas lights. To spice things up a little bit, sometimes the neighbours have a competition to see who has the best light display.
Australians also go out Christmas carol singing on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve carol
service lit by candles is an Australian tradition that was started in 1937 by radio announcer Norman Banks. This outdoor service has now been held in Melbourne every year since then. Carols by Candlelight events today range from huge gatherings, which are broadcasted live on TVs throughout the country, to smaller local community and church events. Sydney & Carols in the Domain is a popular platform for music stars, where many light-hearted Australian Christmas songs have become an essential part of the Australian Christmas experience. These include Rolf Harris& Six White Boomers, Colin Buchanan& Aussie Jingle Bells and the Australian Twelve Days of Christmas. Also in Australia, Santa gives the reindeer a rest and uses the nation’s pride and joy. Yes, a kangaroo and Santa changes his clothes for ones suited for the summer holidays!
Christmas is not seen as a religious holiday or celebration in Japan as there aren’t many Christians residing there. Several customs came to Japan from the USA in the early days, such as sending and receiving Christmas cards and presents. Soon, Japan started reinventing more colourful ways to bring in Christmas in their own way.
Christmas Eve is celebrated on a grand scale rather than Christmas day itself. In Japan, 24th December is regarded as a couples’ holiday, like Valentine’s Day in the West.
Normally, young Japanese couples would book dinner at a fancy romantic restaurant and probably stroll around town to look at the Christmas lights around.
Believe it or not, but eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on Christmas has become an
infamous Japanese tradition since the 1970’s, all thanks to their catchy slogan and marketing campaign. There was an advertising campaign by KFC in 1974 called ‘Kentucky for Christmas!'(Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!) which was very successful and made KFC popular for Christmas! This is easily the busiest time of the year for the fast food giant.
Disneyland in Japan takes Christmas seriously as well, incorporating a magical place with the holiday. Tokyo Disney hosts its annual Christmas parades in December and includes everything that’s expected of a Christmas parade; from fun, festive costumes and music to candy giveaways and even an appearance by Santa Claus himself. Sounds like a dream come true if you love theme parks!
Japan is also considered as one of the best places to spend your winter season. Most of the cities will be filled with colourful lights and Christmas decoration. Major malls such as Tokyo Midtown, public parks including Inokashira, and famous landmarks like Tokyo Station all have their own unique winter illumination displays.
One of the most populous nations in Asia, the Philippines is an overwhelmingly Christian nation. Approximately 90% of Filipinos are Christian and 80% of those are Catholic, an influence that came from the country's period as a Spanish colony travelled to the area from the sixteenth century until the end of the nineteenth.
Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people would stay awake all night to ring in Christmas Day! During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ or the Christmas Eve mass. While other countries focus a lot on the commercial side of Christmas, Filipinos attend several masses throughout the Christmas season.
The simbang gabi showcases a series of masses held over nine nights culminating in
Christmas Eve. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena. The Noche Buena is a big, open house celebration with family, friends and neighbours dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Most households normally would serve several dishes that include: lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong are traditional Christmas foods) and other sweets, steamed rice, and many different types of drinks.
One of the most famous decorations you can find all over the Philippines is the ‘parol’, a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it. It’s made from bamboo strips and coloured Japanese paper or cellophane paper and represents the star that guided the Wise Men.
Christmas is quite a small festival in India due to the limited number of Christians; only about 2.3% compared to people who belong to other religion. The population of India is over 1 billion, so there are about 25 million Christians in India. That amount itself sounds a lot! Mumbai has one of the largest Christian communities, mainly Roman Catholics.
The midnight mass is one of the most enduring Christmas traditions and is a very important service for Christians in India, especially Catholics. Families will walk together to church and start their service with carol singing, after which the Christmas mass is held. This will be followed by a massive feast of different delicacies, and the giving and receiving of presents. Churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles for the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass service.
Father Christmas or Santa Claus delivers presents to children from a horse or cart. Instead of traditional, cone-shaped Christmas trees, Indians use banana or mango trees decorated with ornaments. Sometimes people even use mango leaves to decorate their homes. In Southern India, Christians often put small oil burning clay lamps on the flat roofs of their homes, symbolising Jesus is the light of the world.
It’s beautiful how Christmas can ignite the spirit of unification. No matter how different countries celebrate Christmas, the holiday is set to be a magical, heartwarming one. Most importantly, the new year is peeking around the corner too! Have a jolly great Christmas from 2CENTS.