Since smiley pumpkins and witchy hats went off the scene, it is time to announce another celebration appearing on the horizon – Christmas. For most of us it means lots of nice food, two weeks holiday, more or less fabulous presents and time spent with relatives. However, there are as many ways of celebrating this holiday as names for Santa Claus.
In Sweden, Christmas begins with Saint Lucia Day, on 13th December when the eldest girl in a family puts on a white robe and serves her parents buns and coffee. After the Christmas Eve dinner the Swedish Santa Claus – Tomte, believed to be the Christmas gnome who lives under floorboards, brings gifts.
Sankt Nikolaus and Christkind
For kids in Austria, a country with some oldest holiday traditions, getting presents is not an easy task. On 6th December their Saint Nicolas arrives accompanied by the devil to count all the good and bad deeds for the previous year. Sweets and toys only for well-behaved angels. Lucky ones – they also receive gifts AND a Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve – from the Christ Child. Austria is also known for strong tradition of caroling – the Silent Night originated there.
In Poland, where I come from, Christmas is still very traditional and tied to religion. On Christmas Eve night, which is the most important time of this feast, people look out for the first star to wish each other all the best in the following year and to begin a ceremonial dinner. It’s composed of 12 traditional fast dishes – meat can’t be eaten that day. It is said that if you want to be rich and lucky next year you have to try all foods. After the meal it’s time for exchanging gifts. If you’ve been bad this year, you are very likely to receive a birch. At 12 o’clock many people attend a ceremonial mass. Like in Austria, children are also given some small presents on 6th December.
Similarly in Germany, presents time comes twice. However, if kids want to get a treat on 6th, they have to polish their shoes and leave in front of the bedroom’s door – to be filled with presents. On Christmas Eve Germans have dinners consisting of dishes traditional for each family. Germany is also where the tradition of Christmas Tree was born.
In Spain, and many countries of Latin American, you have to wait until 6th January, The Three Kings Day, to get gifts. On 28th December, the feast of Holy Innocents, young boys light bonfires and one of them is appointed the mayor who orders people to perform civic chores, for example sweeping the streets. Before 24th December in Mexico there have place las Posadas – re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s journey in search of shelter. A party is held each night in a house in a neighbourhood, participants sing and hosts open the door to offer traditional food.
Christmas in Japan is not a family or religious event since the main religions there are Buddhism and Shintoism, and only 1% of the population claims to be Christians. The holiday is meaningful mainly for children, who get presents, and youth. Due to the media hype Christmas is now the new Valentine’s Day; young people spend it with their special ones in romantic settings.
So many countries, so many customs. Places may differentiate in terms of when to give presents and what to eat, and it’s great that despite all the homogenisation around us some traditions remain varied. At the end of the day what is the most important though, is who to spend Christmas with. If the company is good, it doesn’t really matter whether you get your present from Tomte, Santa Claus or Papa Noel.