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Christmas Traditions Around The World

Post by Haley Roberts

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I love learning about the traditions and cultures of other countries. At Stephanie’s Portrait Design we thought it would be fun to do some research on how other countries celebrate this time of year! Since America is a giant melting pot, many of our traditions stem from the cultures around us. Here are a few that peaked my interest this year. ( Image above of Gratz, Germany, 2007. )

Salzberg,  Austria

About 4 years ago I traveled with my husband’s family at Christmas to Austria and Germany. It was one of the BEST Christmas of my life. In Austria and Germany they understand how to celebrate Christmas! Even the air is magical.

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  1. Christmas Markets are a long standing tradition in both Austria and Germany. From large towns such as Munich and Salzberg to small towns and villages everyone has a market. One can find fresh breads, wreaths, hand crafted nutcrackers, smokers, pyramids, and coo-coo clocks. The buildings surrounding the market can date back to before our country was founded so you can imagine how surreal the setting is!
  2. The Advent is a period of preparation celebrating the birth of Christ. It begins on Sunday, four weeks before Christmas. Handmade wreaths with four candles are placed in the home.  On each Sunday leading up to Christmas, a candle is lit while families read scriptures, sing and pray until at the end of the month, all candles are lit symbolizing the coming of the Christ child.
  3. The Lighting of The Christmas Tree occurs on Christmas Eve. All shops close by 6p.m. Christmas Eve in Austria.There are no concerts/performances, shops, bars, or movie theaters open. This is so everyone can go home, gather round the Christmas tree, sing “Silent Night” and light the candles. We actually witnessed this in Salzberg that Christmas. The city was so still, so reverent. It was filled snow, peace, and the voices of the innkeeper’s family singing around their tree.
  4. There is no Santa Claus as we know him in Austria. Children believe the Christ Child decorates the Christmas tree and brings them presents instead.

Click Here to discover more about Austria!

Paris, France

I have never been here at Christmas time, but it is on my list!

  1. To truly be Christmastime in France, the city must be filled with lights. As stated by the Official France Government Tourist Website “In Paris, the Champs-Elysées will be strung with 150,000 lights and a project known as “Paris Lights Paris,” will decorate 30 neighborhoods with lively effects and highly original creations.” That sounds like something I need to see!
  2. The yule log shaped cake tradition comes from France. Before we had electric or gas heating, a special over sized log was selected for Christmas in order to burn the entire night long. As the years passed and the actual log was no longer needed, the French found a fabulously tasty way to keep the tradition alive.
  3. Famous Christmas heroes or characters include Olentzero, who lives in the mountains and once a year, he provides wood to all the poor so no one will be cold on Christmas, Aunt Airie, who travels by donkey to share candy, and Christkindel, who visits well behaved children with treats. I wonder if children are better behaved in France as if they are not good, legend says that Hans Trapp will come and take away naughty children to the dark woods forever.

Moscow, Russia

My brother-in-law is currently living in Moscow Russia so the customs and traditions of their Christmas holiday are of particular interest to me.

Mike in Russia

  1. It was not until recently in 1992, that the Christmas holiday was able to be openly observed in Russia. After the 1917 revolution, Christmas was one of the religious celebrations banned from the country.
  2. The Christmas Eve meal in Russia is a very large affair. Russian tradition stems from the Orthodox faith, which requires fasting prior to the Christmas eve worship service, or the first star appearing. Once the first star has appeared, the feast begins. This feast, also known as ” The Holy Supper” does not, however contain meat. All aspects of the meal are symbolic-from the table cloth to the items served. Click HERE for more specific information. It is very fascinating!
  3. Originally, Russians celebrated St. Nicholas, but due to the suppression of the holiday and all associated with Christmas, the new figure became Ded Moroz or Grandfather Frost, the Russian Spirit of Winter. He brings gifts and presents for the New Year in January.
  4. The Christmas tree was banned in Russia, but one could have a New Years tree. Due to the communist regime, many could not afford ornaments so they decorated their trees with fruits and homemade decorations.
  5. Rather than celebrating Christmas on December 25th, Russians celebrate on January 7th. When Christmas was banned they disguised the holiday as “The New Year’s Holiday Tradition” and celebrated it in January. Today, Russians celebrate on both days, with the January Holiday as the larger of the two events.

Discover more about Russian Christmas.

Thoughts from Stephanie Adams

Brazil

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Isaac and I have a special place in our hearts for Brazil so we wanted to share a few traditions they enjoy.  For one thing, it is summer time in Brazil, so no white Christmas for them.

One tradition in Brazil is to create a nativity scene or Presépio. The word comes from the word “presepium” which means the bed of straw that Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presépio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahia, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Maranhão, Ceará, Pernambuco, Piauí and Alagoas). The Presépio was introduced in the 17th century, in the city of Olinda in the state of Pernambuco by a Franciscan friar named Gaspar de Santo Agostinho. Today you can find presépios set up in December and displayed in churches, homes, and stores.

The people of Northern Brazil, as in Mexico, enjoy a version of the play Los Pastores or “The Shepherds.” In the Brazilian version, there are shepherdesses rather than shepherds and a gypsy who attempts to kidnap the Christ Child.

Papai Noel (Father Noel) is the gift-bringer in Brazil. According to legend, he lives in Greenland. The idea of this Santa-type character was adopted from North America in the 50’s. The commercial appeal in the late 60’s and 70’s is what made him popular. When Papai Noel arrives in Brazil, he usually wears silk clothing due to the summer heat.  Read more here.

Another common tradition is amigo secreto (secret friend), where friends and family exchange names secretly at the begining of December.  During the month they exchange correspondence among each other using apelidos (fake names). On Christmas, family and friends gather to reveal their secret friends and offer them a special gift.

Many families stay up on December 24th and have a feast at midnight with family and friends.  Then they celebrate as fireworks light up the sky.  Huge Christmas “trees” of electric lights can be seen against the night skies in major cities such as Brasilia, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro throughout the season. Fireworks displays go off to welcome the new year.

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Holland

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Another country whose traditions interest me is The Netherlands (Holland).  They celebrate Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) Day on December 5th.  Sinterklaas is said to live in Madrid, Spain and arrive by boat at a different harbour in Holland each year so as many children as possible get a chance to see him.  He then leads a procession through the town, riding a white horse.  Sinterklaas travels with Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who keeps a record of all the things the children do throughout the year and if the children were good, Sinterklaas will bring them presents.  If they were bad, Zwarte Piet will chase them with a stick.  On the night of the 5th, children leave their clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents.  They also believe that if they leave hay and carrots for the horse they will be left some sweets.

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There are parties as well to celebrate Sinterklaas Day.  Many children at school draw a classmate’s name from a hat and surprise that person with a gift they made.  The presents are often things that the person would find useful with their favorite hobby.

Christmas day is a much quieter day with church service and a family meal.  And Santa Claus is called Christmas Man so he is not confused with Sinterklaas.  Read more.

We hope you enjoy this holiday season and learn about or incorporate new traditions from around the world.

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Christmas Traditions

Post by Stephanie Adams
As we enter the month of December I am very excited for some of the family traditions Isaac and I have started since we have been married. So I wanted to share some of our holiday traditions as well as some of those we have heard from family and friends.
As you may know, Isaac and I love to read. During the month of December we have a few books we read as we prepare for this wonderful season. This year we decided to start with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” I am sad to say the only version of this classic tale I know is the one which includes Scrooge McDuck. And yes, as we read this story I can’t help but picture Scrooge as a duck. I really need to work on that. But I am really enjoying the original words by Mr. Dickens.  Find it available here as a free ebook.
Scrooge
Another book we read this time of the year is “The Mansion” by Henry Van Dyke.  In this book rich and miserly John Weightman dreams one night that he has died and is traveling to the Celestial City, where each person is rewarded with a mansion according to how they lived their life.  This is a wonderful story that illustrates the importance of giving unselfishly.  It is a quick read and available here as a free ebook.

Mansion

And one last short story is “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  This story is about a struggling newlywed couple who are anxious to give each other a Christmas gift.  Each one sells the one thing they hold most dear so they can afford a great gift to show their love.  This is a truly touching story.  Find it here as a free ebook.

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In Isaac’s family, each Christmas Eve mom reads The Polar Express while everyone sips their own mug of hot cocoa with a candy cane and whipped cream. My mom also read us the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, among a few other fun stories.

polar express

A tradition we adopted from Isaac’s sister, Amanda’s family is lighting an advent candle and reading in the scriptures about Christ.  I really enjoy doing this every evening in December leading up to Christmas because it is wonderful to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and Christ, and I really enjoy the ambiance of reading by candlelight.  The first time we did this was while we were in Wyoming a couple of years ago and Amanda and her husband shared this tradition with us.  We would end up staying up talking for hours, sharing stories and laughs, and I loved how it really brought us closer together.

Okay for my guilty pleasure during the holiday season, I really love to watch cheesy Christmas movies.  You know the ones found on ABC Family and the Disney Channel.  Yes, I know…  But they make it feel wintery because they always have snow,  as I write this today it is 75 degrees here (not that I’m complaining, I am loving the beautiful warm weather and I really only like to visit the snow.)  But of course I have to reminisce from my childhood and watch Home Alone.  Also, when my brothers and I were little, we used to watch the claymation shows that came on tv every year.  I think what I like about these movies this time of year is they are always heart warming and end happily.  I’m truly a romantic at heart.

I also love listening to Christmas music.  I will say though that I prefer to wait until December 1st to start listening to it otherwise I start to feel that should be over before it actually gets here.  So to save me from getting burnt out on the season I like to wait until after Thanksgiving and really enjoy Christmas during the month of December.  Some of my favorite Christmas songs are O Holy Night, The Little Drummer Boy, All I Want for Christmas is You, and Baby, It’s Cold Outside.  Yes, that is me singing in the car as I’m driving all over town.

One tradition that my grandma shared with us every year was making hand dipped chocolates.  She was amazing.  One year I had the pleasure of learning some of her recipes and I love it when I get a chance to dip chocolates to share with friends and family during this time of year.  Of course, this is my busiest time of year so I do not get a chance to dip chocolates, but I do look forward to working that into our family traditions as our children come along.  Some of my favorites that Grandma would make are a variety of flavors of fondent, english toffee, Idle Isle, and fresh butter mints.  I have never attempted to make butter mints myself, Grandma would have blisters on her hands from pulling the mints until they turned in to a delicious treat that would melt in your mouth.  I have never had a butter mint like Grandma’s.  There were many other things she made and would include a sampling in a tin for each of her children and grandchildren as they grew to be adults.  During the holidays Grandma would always offer us chocolates when we came to visit.

A family tradition that I hope to incorporate with our children one day is to work together as a family to serve others.  There are lots of programs out there, coats for kids, toys for tots, the food bank, community kitchens, angel tree, and so many more.  Some wonderful stories I have heard from other families is how they have worked together as a family to provide service.  Be it everyone collecting their loose change in a jar or contributing money to a can each time they walk by or shop for less fortunate kids, getting the kids involved and helping them feel the true meaning of love and service is a wonderful thing.

Most of all what I love about this time of year is getting to spend time with family.  I love doing service for others and I love that it brings people together.

What are some of your family’s Christmas or other Holiday Traditions?