Traditions Around The World

Here you can find out how Christmas is celebrated in other countries.
I hope you find it as interesting as I did!



Christmas is celebrated on January 19. This is because they believe that Christ's birthday should be celebrated on the same day as his baptism. Present day January 19 used to be January 6 in the old Julian calendar. The Armenians prepare for Christmas with a fast. They eat no animal food for a week and no food at all on the last day before Christmas. The fast is broken only after the Christmas Eve service, when they return home to a dinner of rice pilaf. The children then go onto the roofs with handkerchiefs and sing carols. Adults fill up the handkerchiefs with presents of raisins or fried wheat or sometimes money. There are also morning services on Christmas Day.


As Australia was settled by the British, Christmas customs are the descendants of the traditional British Christmas. As the weather is warm & no snow there are no sleigh rides, or Yule logs, or any other comforts against the cold. The main articles of decoration are the Christmas bell and the Christmas bush. After a hearty afternoon feast, supper may be a picnic in the countryside or at the beach. One tradition that is purely Australian began in 1937 by a radio announcer, Norman Banks who saw a lonely old woman listening to Christmas carols on the radio while a lone candle burned forlornly in her window. The following Christmas Eve he broadcast a great carol sing by all who want to join in , from the Alexandra Gardens along the banks of Melbourne's main river. "Carols by Candlelight" became a joyous annual event and was eventually broadcast in many other countries around the world. Each year, more than a quarter of a million people gather to sing carols and join hands at midnight for "Auld Lang Syne." It is a great showing of community and Christmas spirit that is almost unequaled anywhere else in the world.


Christmas in Austria is a very musical time. Many of the world's greatest carols came from here. December 6 is the day when St. Nicholas and his grotesque assistant, Krampus, may pay a visit. But the gifts are brought on Christmas Eve by the Christkind. Sometimes the Christkind will even help decorate the Christmas tree before the big Christmas Eve supper, which will probably feature carp as a main course. Dinner on Christmas Day will be roast goose with all the trimmings.


In Belgium, St. Nicholas pays two visits to each house. On December 4 he comes to check into the behavior of each child, to find out if they have been naughty or nice. Then on December 6 he returns with just rewards for all, either presents or switches, which he leaves in the shoes or small baskets that have been placed inside near the doorway, where he will easily find them. Just to get on his good side there are snacks of hay, water and carrots left for his horse or donkey. Christmas Day is reserved for religious celebrations & Nativity plays sponsored by the churches. They are often performed in 16th century costumes. In small villages, there are often three virtuous men chosen to portray the three Wise Men and go throughout the town, caroling at each doors and receiving small gifts of food.


Christmas comes at the beginning of their summer season. It is a time for boating, picnicking and other summer festivities. The red and green of Christmas decorations are provided eucalyptus leaves and brilliant red flowers of many sorts. The "pesebre", or manger scene is important and there is also a Christmas tree decorated with candles. On Christmas Eve the "cena", or meal, is set out before the family goes to Midnight Mass so that the Holy Family can have some if they wish while everyone is out. A popular menu would include turkey, fish and champagne. Before going to bed, the children set out their shoes for Papa Noel. On Christmas morning the children fix breakfast, then get their presents from their shoes and look for gifts that are hidden around the house. Christmas evening can be spent outdoors in the balmy weather and is a great time for fireworks. The people of Northern Brazil, as in Mexico, enjoy a version of the folk play Los Pastores ("The Shepherds.") In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child.


Chile's gift-bringer is called Viejo Pascuero, ot Old Man Christmas. He strongly resembles Santa Claus and likewise comes drawn by reindeer. However, as chimneys are less than roomy in this warm climate, he contents himself with climbing in a window. As in all Latin America, the manger scene is the center of festivities; and following the midnight Mass of the Rooster, the Christmas Eve meal often includes azuela de ave, a chicken soup filled with potatoes, onions and corn on the cob; and pan de pasqua, a Christmas bread filled with candies fruit.


Christians in China celebrate by lighting their houses with beautiful paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call "Trees of Light," with paper chains, paper flowers, and paper lanterns. Chinese Children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call Dun Che Lao Ren (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means "Christmas Old Man." Since the vast majority of the Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China the Chinese New Year which takes place toward the end of January. Now officially called the "Spring Festival," it is a time when children receive new clothing, eat luxurious meals, receive new toys, and enjoy firecracker displays. An important aspect of the New Year celebration is the worship of ancestors. Portraits and paintings of ancestors are brought out and hung in the main room of the home.


Bright, tropical flowers highlight decorations for Christmas. Special trips are made to gather the wild orchids that bloom in the jungle areas. The manger scene is called a portal and is decorated with these brilliant flowers and colorful fresh fruit. Wreaths of cypress leaves and red coffee berries are very popular. The supper after Midnight Mass will consist of tamales and other local dishes. Children used to leave their shoes out for the Christ Child to fill, but Santa Claus is relieving Him of this task now.


The Christmas feast, in Denmark, is celebrated at midnight Christmas Eve. Everyone looks forward to dessert when a special rice pudding is served in which a single almond is hidden. Whoever finds the almond will have good luck for the coming year. The jolly bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. He is assisted with his Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics. Children leave out saucers of milk or rice pudding for them and are delighted to find the food gone on Christmas morning.


Christmas Day is a day of colorful procession as the Indians who live and work in the highlands and mountains dress in their finest and ride their brightly arrayed llamas down to the ranches where their employers live. They bring gifts of fruit and produce, which they lay before the image of the Christ Child in the pesebre, or manger scene, which is set up in the ranch house. Children also bring their gifts and make pretty speeches to the Holy Infant, asking blessings for their family and their animals. Then there is a fiesta with much singing and dancing outdoors. The owner of the ranch distributes gifts to all his employees and their families. The huge meal will consist of roast lamb, baked potatoes and brown sugar bread. There is alwayss too much to eat, so that the processions that wend their way into the mountains at the end of the day are as heavily laden with leftovers as they were with offerings in the morning.


Father Christmas, who reigns in the place of Santa Claus or St. Nicholas, is depicted wearing long robes with sprigs of holly in his long white hair. Letters are sent to him by children who want to make sure he has got their order right. These letters are not mailed though; they are thrown into the fireplace. If they go up the chimney, the wish will be granted; if not, one's wish goes ungranted. Stockings are hung by the chimney or at the foot of the child's bed to receive small presents, which are opened Christmas morning. The Christmas tree has occupied a central position in the festivities, however, it has never completely replaced the combination of greenery & mistletoe called the kissing bough. Bringing in the Yule log and the boar's head are not commonplace today. In the countryside you can find Christmas mummers who perform plays and waits still carol through the streets. In a place in Yorkshire, the tolling of the devil's knell takes place every Christmas Eve. The church bell is rung once for every year since Christ's birth with the last stroke timed exactly for midnight. The Christmas meal consists of roast turkey or beef and desserts are mincemeat pies and plum puddings.


Nearly every French home at Christmastime displays a Nativity scene or creche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. The creche is often peopled with little clay figures called santons or "little saints." An extensive tradition has evolved around these little figures which are made by craftsmen in the south of France throughout the year. In addition to the usual Holy Family, shepherds, and Magi, the craftsmen also produce figures in the form of local dignitaries and characters. The Christmas tree has never been particularly popular in France, and though the use of the Yule log has faded, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Nol, which means "Christmas Log." The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le rveillon. Le rveillon is a very late supper held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The menu for the meal varies according to regional culinary tradition. In Alsace, goose is the main course; in Brittany, buckwheat cakes with sour cream; in Burgundy it is turkey with chestnuts, and the Parisians feast upon oysters and pat de foie gras. French children receive gifts from Pere Noel who travels with his stern disciplinarian companion Pre Fouettard. Pre Fouettard reminds Pere Noel of just how each child has behaved during the past year. In some parts of France Pere Noel brings small gifts on St. Nicholas Eve (December 6) and visits again on Christmas. In other places it is le petit Jesus who brings the gifts. Generally adults wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts.


The German Christmas is a very important time to each person and family. Preparations are made for weeks. Advent wreaths, candles and calendars set the mood. St. Nicholas' Day, December 6 marks the beginning of the season. Although the crib is often found in German homes, the tree is the center of attention. The custom began in Germany & every home must have one. Usually it is the mother who decorates the tree and no one is allowed in until it is finished. It is the Christkind who brings the presents, accompanied by one of its many devilish companions, Knecht Rupprecht, Pelznickle, Ru-Klas, or one of the other monstrous playmates created by this nation, which is known for its fairy tales. The highlight of the Christmas food is the cookies. There are dozens of different Cookies, shaped like figures of Christmas or stamped with familiar designs. Edible trees and tiny baked brown gnomes fill the warm kitchens for a week before the festivities.


St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek. On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits. After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of christopsomo ("Christ Bread"). This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family's profession. Christmas trees are not commonly used in Greece. In almost every home the main symbol of the season is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Killantzaroi away from the house. There are a number of beliefs connected with the Killantzaroi, which are a species of goblins or sprites who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). These creatures are believed to emerge from the center of the earth and to slip into people's house through the chimney. More mischievous than actually evil, the Killantzaroi do things like extinguish fires, ride astride people's backs, braid horses' tails, and sour the milk. To further repel the undesirable sprites, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days. Gifts are exchanged on St. Basil's Day (January 1). On this day the "renewal of waters" also takes place, a ritual in which all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new "St. Basil's Water." The ceremony is often accompanied by offerings to the naiads, spirits of springs and fountains.


For nine days before Christmas, posada processions pass through the streets. The beat of drums and the crackle of fireworks provide lively accompaniment as the figures of Mary and Joseph are carried to a friend's house, where a carol is sung asking for lodging for the Holy Family. After ritual questions and answers, the doors are opened and Mary and Joseph are taken to the nacimiento, or manger scene, where they will remain until the next night, when they once again go out seeking shelter. Everyone who accompanies the figures on their quest makes a great party with punch and hot tamales and dancing once the goal is accomplished. On Christmas Eve, the figure of the Christ Child is added to the nacimiento at the last of the nine hopuses to receive the Holy Family. This is the signal for the biggest party of all, and the home selected had better be a large one, since everyone who was involved over the last nine days will show up on this night. The Christmas tree has joined the nacimiento as a popular ornament because of the large German population in Guatemala. Gifts are left under the tree on Christmas morning by the Christ Child for the children. Parents and adults do not exchange gifts until New Year's Day. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve follows the posada and is in turn followed by a full supper.


In the Netherlands St. Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas. To the Dutch, St. Nicholas' Day is the time of greatest revelry in the Christmas season. St. Nicholas comes on the last Saturday of November by steamer. As he comes into the port of Amsterdam, all business and traffic stops as the people pour out to greet him. He disembarks with his servant Black Peter and riding his white horse. He is dressed in traditional bishop's robes while Black Peter wears Spanish attire. They are greeted by the mayor and lead a great parade through the streets to the royal palace. Here all the royal children are waiting and must give accounts of their behaviour over the past year, just as all Dutch children must do. After the princes and princesses have proved their worth, the parade continues to a major hotel, where St. Nicholas will establish his headquarters for the season. December 5, St. Nicholas' Eve, is when the presents are exchanged. The presents are called "surprises" because they are disguised as much as possible to make the final discovery more delightful. A small gift may be wrapped inside a huge box, or hidden inside a vegetable, or sunk in a pudding. A large gift may lurk in the cellar with clues to its location. All surprises must be accompanied by a bit of verse. On Christmas itself, there are no presents. There are church services both Christmas Eve and morning and a big dinner in the evening. The Christmas tree is the center of the home celebration, which consists of carols and story-telling in the afternoon. December 26 is also a holiday, called Second Christmas Day, and is a time to relax and probably go out to eat. The people of Twente in east Holland hold a special Advent ceremony in which special horns are blown to chase away evil spirits and to announce the birth of Christ. Horns are homemade out of one-year-old saplings and are three or four feet long. Blown over wells, they sound a deep tone, similar to a foghorn.


Because India is mainly Hindu and Moslem, there is no official celebration of Cvhristmas. However, this time of year is looked upon as an appropriate time for gift-giving and tipping or giving "baksheesh," charitable hand-outs to the poor of the country. Christians in India decorate mango or banana trees at Christmas time. Sometimes they also decorate their houses with mango leaves. In some parts of India, small clay oil-burning lamps are used as Christmas decorations; they are placed on the edges of flat roofs and on the tops of walls. Churches are decorated with poinsettias and lit with candles for the Christmas Even service.


Iran, formerly Persia, is the land where the Three Wise men are believed to have lived when Jesus was born. Today Christians in Iran begin fasting from animal products on December 1. This is called "Little Fast." "Big Fast" occurs during Lent, the six weeks preceding Easter. After Church service of December 25 they enjoy Christmas dinner which they call "Little Feast." A traditional dish is a chicken stew called harasa. Gifts are generally not exchanged but children get new clothes which they wear proudly on Christmas Day.


On Christmas Eve, Iraqi Christian families gather together and one of the children read about the birth of Jesus while other family members hold lighted candles. Afterward the reading, a bonfire of thorn bushes is let and everyone sings. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted for the coming year. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and makes a wish. On Christmas Day another bonfire is lit in the churchyard. The bishop, carrying a figure of the Baby Jesus leads the service. Afterwards he blesses one person with a touch. That person touches the person next to him or her and the touch is passed around until all present have felt the "touch of peace."


To the Irish, Christmas is a time for religious celebration rather than revelry. The manger scene is in most houses and there are a few Christmas trees. The best-known Christmas custom is that of putting a candle in the window, often decorated with some greenery, on Christmas Eve. The idea is to help light the way of the Holy Family or any other poor traveller out on such a night. After the evening meal, the table is also set with bread and milk and the door left unlocked as a symbol of hospitality that the family is offering to Mary and Joseph and the little one to come. The only festive note that is struck is in the pudding that caps the meal. Three puddings are made early in December, one each for Christmas, New Year's, and Twelfth Night. The day after Christmas, St. Stephen's Day, witnesses the rowdy old custom of hunting the wren, when boys go from door to door with a wren on a stick (today the wren is not a real one), singing the traditional song and begging for treats.


Bethlehem, the little town where Jesus is said to have been born is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations every Christmas. On Christmas Eve natives and visitors alike crowd the church's doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the dramatic annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus. Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door and each home displays a homemade manger scene. A star is set up on a pole in the village square.


The popularity of the Nativity scene, one of the most beloved and enduring symbols of the holiday season, originated in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi asked a man named Giovanni Vellita of the village of Greccio to create a manger scene. St. Francis performed mass in front of this early Nativity scene, which inspired awe and devotion in all who saw it. The creation of the figures or pastori became an entire genre of folk art. In Rome, cannon are fired from Castel St. Angelo of Christmas Eve to announce the beginning of the holiday season. A 24-hour fast ends with an elaborate Christmas feast. Small presents are drawn from the Urn of Fate. The main exchange of gifts takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration in remembrance of the Magi's visit to the Christ Child. Children anxiously await a visit from La Befana who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad. According to legend, the three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for food and shelter. She refused them and they continued on their way. Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone. La Befana, which means Epiphany, still wonders the earth searching for the Christ Child. She is depicted in various ways: as a fairy queen, a crone, or a witch. The main Christmas meals vary from region to region. A general menu would feature capitone, roasted, baked or fried female eel for the meatless Christmas Eve dinner, the pranzo delta vigilia; Christmas dinner might consist of tortellini, a capon and a variety of cakes. On Christmas Eve the children would present their parents with their Christmas letter, best wishes and promises to be good printed in their best hand on ornate stationery.


Jamaican Christmas festivities reached their height in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with feasts and processions featuring strolling singers and performers. In this century, the celebration came under more regulation so that performers had to be licensed. This has added to a general decline, although all the customs can still be found in various pasts of the island. The women were called "set-girls," because they worked together in a set of a specific number. They danced to the accompaniment of gourd rattles, fifes, triangles, and tambourines. The men were called "actor boys" or " koo-koo boys." They wore masks and elaborate headdress and would sometimes perform plays or skits. The name "koo-koo boys" derived from a song in one of the plays which begged for food. "Koo-koo" was the sound used to imitate the rumbling of an empty stomach. The most colorful figure in these bright festivities was the "John Canoe" dancer. He wore a mask, a wig, and a military jacket. On his head was a pasteboard houseboat with puppets of sailors, soldiers, or plantation workers. Often this was of great size, and the most skilled dancer had to be chosen to wear it. The name John Canoe is obscure. It may be a corruption of the French gens inconnu, which means "unknown people," or it may come from cornu, "horned," since early dancers wore animal masks. The origins of all these festivities are lost in antiquity, but they seem to derive equally from African and European customs.

Bermuda was the home of similar Christmas festivities, as were parts of the American South.


Christmas was introduced in Japan by the Christian missionaries, and for many years the only people who celebrated it were those who had turned to the Christian faith. But now the Christmas season in Japan is full of meaning and is almost universally observed. The story of the Child Jesus born in a manger is fascinating to the little girls of Japan, for they love anything having to do with babies. In the scene of the Nativity they become familiar for the first time with a cradle, for Japanese babies never sleep in cradles. Many western customs in observing Christmas have been adopted by the Japanese. Besides exchanging gifts they eat turkey on Christmas Day, and in some places there are even community Christmas trees. They decorate their houses with evergreens and mistletoe, and in some homes Christmas carols are sung gaily. In Japan there is a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles our Santa Claus. He is always pictured as a kind old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head. It is well for the children to be good when this all-seeing gentleman is abroad. New Year's Day is the most important day of the whole calendar in Japan. On New Year's Eve the houses are cleaned thoroughly from top to bottom, and are decorated for the morrow. when everything has been made clean and neat the people of the house dress themselves in their finest clothes. Then the father of the household marches through the house, followed by all the family, and drives the evil spirits out. He throws dried beans into every corner bidding the evil spirits withdraw and good luck enter.


Several weeks before Christmas, elaborately decorated market stalls or puestos are set up in the plazas of every town and city. Some people travel for days from remote areas to get to these markets. The puestos offer crafts of every conceivable kind, foods such as cheese, bananas, nuts, and cookies, and flowers such as orchids and poinsettias. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and is believed to have first been used in connection with Christmas in the 17th century when Mexican Franciscans included the flowers in their Christmas celebration. There is a legend connected with the flower. A little boy named Pablo was walking to the church in his village to visit the Nativity scene, when he realized he had nothing to offer the Christ Child. He saw some green branches growing along the roadside and gathered them up. Other children scoffed, but when he laid them by the manger, a brilliant red star-shaped flower appeared on each branch. The main Christmas celebration in Mexico is called las posadas, which refers to processions reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The processions begin nine days before Christmas because the original journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem took nine days. Friends and family members divide themselves into two groups - pilgrims and innkeepers. The pilgrims travel from house to house asking for a shelter and are refused at each until they finally reach the house where an alter and Nativity scene have been set up. Here the pilgrims are admitted with great rejoicing, a traditional prayer is spoken, and the party begins. Food and drink are served and then children take turns trying to break open the pinata.


Like many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass. On January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, it is the three wise men who brings gifts for the children. Often the Holiday season concludes with a brilliant display of fireworks.


At 4:00 p.m. all work comes to a halt on Christmas Eve in Norway. Everyone bathes and puts on new clothes to greet the season. The largest sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds to make their Christmas merry, too. Christmas dinner begins with rice pudding with a lucky almond hidden in it for someone, and a bowl is also set out for the barn elf so that he will continue to watch over the animals and not turn mischievous. A Christmas pig provides most of the meat dishes. Traditionally the Norwegians kept the season bright with a Yule log. It literally formed the center of the celebration since it was frequently an entire tree that could only partly fit into the fireplace and so extended well out into the middle of the living room. As it burned it would be pushed farther into the fire to provide continuous light and warmth through the whole Christmas season. The Christmas tree is taking the place of the Yule log today.The popularity of Santa Claus has resurrected an ancient Norse figure called Julesvenn. In ancient times he would come during the feast of Jul to hide lucky barley stalks around the house. Now he comes on Christmas Eve to bring gifts to good children. Asfter Christmas Day is past, children indulge in a custom much like trick or treat. It is called Julebukk and children wear costumes and go door to door asking for goodies.


Many Peruvian manger scenes will feature the quaintly beautiful figures carved of wood by the Quechua Indians. On Christmas Eve, the meal after Midnight Mass features tamales. Christmas Day festivities in Lima are highlighted by a bullfight and a procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary.


The lucky children of Poland receive presents twice. On St. Nicholas' Day, the good saint himself brings presents. On Christmas Day, it is the Star Man. The Star of Bethlehem is the most popular image in the Polish Christmas. It is the first star of Christmas Eve, which marks the end of the Advent fast and ushers in the time of feasting. Though Christmas in Poland is officially known as Bozz Narodzenie, it is most often referred to as Gwiazdka, which means "little star." Once the star appears, a special rice wafer blessed by the parish priest called oplatki, is broken into pieces and shared by all. Finally the meal can begin. The feast consists of twelve courses, one for each Apostle. The table is always set with one extra seat in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the meal. After supper the Star Man arrives attended by the Star Boys. They are dressed fantastically, as Wise Men or animals or other figures from the nativity. The Star Man examines the children in their catechism and rewards them with small presents if they do well, even if they need a bit of coaching. The Star Boys sing carols and are given a treat for their help. After the fun, all go to Pasterka, the midnight Mass of the Shepherds.


Christmas is celebrated in much the same way in Portugal as it is in Spain. The Portugese enjoy an additional feast, called consoada, in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for alminhas a penar ("the souls of the dead"). In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth for these souls, a custom that dreives from the ancient practice of entrusting the seeds to the dead in hopes that they will provide a bountiful harvest.


Early in the Christmas season, carolers begin going from house to house and from farm to farm. They wear homemade costumes of what the Magi might have worn and sing bright Spanish carols called aquinaldos and villancicos. They are rewarded with food and drink, and many from each house will join them, so that eventually there are great crowds going singing from place to place. Nine days before Christmas, the Mass of the Carols begins. This takes place each morning at 5:30 a.m. It is filled with music and usually the caroling continues on the way to work or home. The manger scenes are peopled with santos, hand-carved figures, that represent some oldest works of art. The tree and Santa Claus are also popular. Gifts arrive Christmas morning, but also on the Epiphany. On January 5 in the evening, children leave water, grass and grain under their beds for the camels of the Wise Men and the next day find presents in their place.


The tradition in Romania is for children to travel from house to house singing carols and reciting poetry and legends throughout the Christmas season. The leader carries a large wooden star called a steaua, which is covered with shiny paper and decorated with bells and colored ribbon. A picture of the Holy Family is pasted in the star's center, and the entire creation is attached to a broomstick or stout pole.


St. Nicholas is especially popular in Russia. The legend is that the 11th-century Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized, and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. Since then many Eastern Orthodox Churches have been named for the saint, and to this day, Nicholas is one of the most common names for Russian boys. The feast of St. Nicholas (December 6) was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed. During the communist years St. Nicholas was transformed into Grandfather Frost. Other religious traditions were suppressed during the communist era. Before the revolution, a figure called Babouschka would bring gifts for the children. Like Italy's La Befana, the story is that Babouschka failed to give food and shelter to the three wise men during their journey to visit the Christ Child. According to tradition, she still roams the countryside searching for the Christ Child and visiting the homes of children during the Christmas season. Babouschka never completely disappeared, and now in the post-communist era, has returned openly. Christmas trees were also banned by the Communist regime, but people continued to trim their "New Year's" trees. Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it is customary to fast until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important ingredient is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of wheatberries or other grains which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds which ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. A priest visits the home accompanied by boys carrying vessels of holy water, and a little water is sprinkled in each room. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity.


The Scots celebrate Christmas rather somberly and reserve their merriment for New Year's Eve which is called Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing." It is bad luck to let the fire go out on Christmas Eve, since that is the time when the elves are abroad and only a roaring fire will keep them from slipping down the chimney. On Christmas Day itself, it is not unusual to have a bonfire and dance to the sound of bagpipes before settling down to a hearty dinner.


Christmas is a deeply religious holiday in Spain. The country's patron saint is the Virgin Mary and the Christmas season officially begins December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is celebrated each year in front of the great Gothic cathedral in Seville with a ceremony called los Seises or the "dance of six." Oddly, the elaborate ritual dance is now performed by not six but ten elaborately costumed boys. It is a series of precise movements and gestures and is said to be quite moving and beautiful. Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena or "the Good Night." There is singing and dancing in the streets to the sounds of guitars and castanets. At midnight everyone attends the Misa del Gallo, the Mass of the Rooster, so named because of the legend that the only time the rooster has crowed at midnight was the night when Jesus was born. After mass the dinner, or cena, is served, usually featuring turkey and the Christmas favorite turron, a candy loaf of roasted almonds in caramel sauce. It is a time for family members to gather together to rejoice and feast around the Nativity scenes that are present in nearly every home. December 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents. Young boys of a town or village light bonfires and one of them acts as the mayor who orders townspeople to perform civic chores such as sweeping the streets. Refusal to comply results in fines which are used to pay for the celebration. As in many European countries, the children of Spain receive gifts on the feast of the Epiphany. The Magi are particularly revered in Spain. It is believed that they travel through the countryside reenacting their journey to Bethlehem every year at this time. Children leave their shoes on the windowsills and fill them with straw, carrots, and barley for the horses of the Wise Men. Their favorite is Balthazar who rides a donkey and is the one believed to leave the gifts.


A thousand years ago in Sweden, King Canute declared that Christmas would last a month, from December 13, the feast of St. Lucia until January 13, or Tjugondag Knut (St. Canute's Day). Some say she once visited the country, and others believe missionaries brought stories of her life which entranced the Swedish people. Her story is that in the days of early Christian persecution, Lucia carried food to Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels. To light the way she wore a wreath of candles on her head. Eventually Lucia was arrested and martyred. On her feast day the eldest daughter in each family dresses in a white dress with a red sash, and wears an evergreen wreath with seven lighted candles on her head. She (very carefully) carries coffee and buns to each family member in his or her room and the younger children often wear a conelike hat with a star on top and accompany her. Many schools, offices, and communities sponsor Lucia processions in which carol are sung and everyone thanks the Queen of Light for bringing hope during the darkest time of the year. Before the midday meal on Christmas Eve, the family gathers in the kitchen for a custom called doppa I grytan, "dipping in the kettle." All gather round a pot filled drippings of pork, sausage and corned beef and dip dark bread into it, which they eat when it is completely soaked with the drippings. The traditional Christmas Eve dinner would start off with a smorgasbord with a sip of akvavit; then lutfisk, a sun-dried cod served in cream sauce, and ham; finally rice pudding with an almond in it. After dinner all gather around the Christmas tree to open the presents. These gifts were brought by the "Jultomten", a gnome who lives in the barn, if there is one. He has to have his portion of rice pudding if he is to behave in the coming year. On Christmas Day there is a service at 5:00 a.m. After that the day is devoted to rest and to religious observance.


In terms of its traditions, Switzerland is basically four different countries. There are German, French and Italian areas. Gifts may be given either on Christmas Eve or New Year's Day, and they are brought by the Christkindli or St. Nicholas or even Father Christmas with his wife Lucy. Both the manger and the Christmas tree hold sway. Carols drift on the air in four languages. Switzerland has maintained its careful neutrality by absorbing the best of all nations.


On Christmas Eve, the pouter gates of the homes of Syrian Christians are locked as a reminder of the years of persecution when all worship had to be hidden.The whole family gathers in the courtyard with lighted candles, around a pile of wood that will become a bonfire. The youngest son reads the Gospel story of the Nativity and the father lights the fire. All observe the particular way that the fire spreads through the wood as it will determine the luck of the household for the coming year. All sing psalms while the fire burns and when it dies down they make a wish and jump over the embers. Early on Christmas morning, there is a mass before dawn, and there is a bonfire in the center of the church as well. The image of the Christ Child is carried around the church in a joyous procession. Syrian children receive their gifts at Epiphany from a very original source, the Smallest Camel of the Wise Men. On their way to see Jesus, the Wise Men travelled in a caravan with many camels. The smallest was exhausted by the long journey but refused to give up, his desire to see the Christ Child was so great. When the infant Jesus saw the faith and resolve of this loving creature, he blessed it with renewed strength and immortality. Every year he comes bearing presents for the good girls and boys, who learn the importance of even the most insignificant of us from his example.


Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th alled Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big tow and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see handing. After Mass everyone enjoys tostados and coffee.


Caroling is particularly popular in Wales where it is called eisteddfodde and is often accompanied by a harp. In some rural areas a villager is chosen to be the Mari llwyd. This person travels around the town draped in white and carrying a horse's skull on a long pole. Anyone given the "bite" by the horse's jaws must pay a fine.