Can you hear the sleigh bells ringing? The Christmas season is here, and while people in the United States certainly put their own spin on it, the holiday is also celebrated around the world by people in other countries, who similarly have their own unique flair.
Here are some of the ways people in countries around the world celebrate the Christmas season:
1. Costa Rica
Down in Costa Rica, the Christmas celebrations are centered around traditional nativity scenes called “Portas.” Small toys and fruit are laid in front of the Portas as an offering. There’s a midnight mass called “Misa de Gallo” (mass of the rooster), and then on December 26th, horseback parades known as El Tope take place in major cities. The Christmas season ends on January 6th, when it’s believed that the three wise men came to meet Baby Jesus.
Nativity scenes are popular in Italy, as It is believed that the Italians were the first to use cribs full of straw in theirs. On Christmas Eve, Italians who celebrate the holiday abstain from meat and sometimes diary. After midnight mass, it’s customary to have a slice of Panettone, a fruity sponge cake, along with a cup of hot chocolate. Though Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) arrives to give gifts on Christmas Eve, the gifts themselves aren’t typically exchanged until early January. Additionally, on January 6th, an old woman called La Befana comes to the houses of children. Good children get gifts in their stockings, while naughty children receive black sugar sweets.
There are many different regional Christmas traditions in Spain. In Catalonia specifically, you’ll find the Tió de Nadal. It’s a Christmas log with four legs, a smiling face painted on one end, and sporting a red sock hat. The children feed the log and keep it warm beneath a blanket. Then on Christmas eve, the children beat the log, forcing out small gifts like nuts, candies and dried figs. Additionally, Día de Los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Saints) on December 28th is the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day, where pranks and silly jokes are in abundance.
Christmas decorations in England promptly go up in early November. On Christmas Eve, children leave out mince pie for Father Christmas and then watch the Royal Family open their presents. Then, on Christmas Day, families gather to watch the Queen’s annual speech and eat a meal of turkey, Yorkshire pudding, and Christmas pudding. Decorations are taken down on January 5th, and if you keep them up past then, it’s considered bad luck.
In addition to common traditions around the world like Midnight Mass and town decorations, there are some really fun and specific Christmas traditions in Ireland. In Dublin, hundreds of swimmers dive from the Forty Foot in Sandycove into the freezing sea water to benefit charities. There’s also Women’s Christmas, otherwise known as Little Christmas (or Nollaig na mBan in Irish Gaelic), a tradition where men take over all of the household duties while women go out with friends to celebrate on the January 6th Epiphany.
In France, a yule log is carried into homes across the country. The log is soaked in red wine and burned throughout Christmas Eve night while candles are kept lit and food is left out in hopes that Mary and Baby Jesus will stop by. A glass of wine left out for Père Noël (Father Christmas), who brings his unhelpful friend Le Pere Fouettard. Fourttard is somewhat of an anti-Santa, leaving behind coal for naughty children.
Christmas looks a little different here, as December is Australia’s summer. But even though it’s beach season, you can still see Christmas trees, wreaths, lights and even depictions of Santa, albeit in a bathing suit and sunglasses. In Melbourne a tradition called Carols by Candlelight has been ongoing since 1938, where people gather on Christmas Eve to, well, sing carols by candlelight. On Christmas Day, families who celebrate the holiday gather and eat just like they do in the United States, only they feast on seafood like lobsters and prawns.
Happy Holidays from AIFS Abroad!
We want to wish our global community a very happy holiday season! Though you can’t wrap it and put it underneath the tree, an international study abroad or internship experience makes for a meaningful Christmas gift. The memories you make will last forever. Don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture while earning college credits.