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Christmas and its Multicultural Traditions Around the World

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but those holiday greetings that come with it being the most wonderful time of the year differ from one culture to the next. Let’s take a look at how Christmas is celebrated around the world.

Liberia

To celebrate the season here, most of the traditions are similar to the ones in the U.S., as Liberia has a heavy American influence — it was founded in 1817 by the American Colonization Society and settled by some freed American slaves. Liberians go caroling, put up lights, decorate Christmas trees and even paint their houses (if they don’t paint them by mid-December they can be fined). A key difference, however, is the tradition of Old Man Beggar. Old Man Beggar is known as Santa’s sidekick who puts on performances to depict social commentary and teach Christian morality. It is said Old Man Beggar targets stingy Liberians who may brush off another’s “My Christmas is On You” traditional greeting, which means that person is in need. As for family meals around this time, goat soup and biscuits are plentiful.

The Philippines

Known for having the longest holiday season of any other country, Christmas celebrations in the Philippines start as early as September. There are parades, festive lights, carolers, life-sized nativities and concerts galore. Besides all of this, there is also the preparation for the homecoming of millions of Filipinos who are work and live abroad. NPR reports there’s even a popular holiday song in this country that describes the annual Christmas homecoming called “Sa Araw Ng Pasko,” which means “On the Day of Christmas.” The celebrations run through the First Sunday in January when the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated, and foods expected on every table include roast pig, cheese, noodles, fruit salad and ham.

United States & Canada

While Christmas Day in these two countries is celebrated on December 25 each year, the season often kicks off right after Halloween, with holiday movies airing on several channels, Christmas music playing 24 hours a day on the radio and Christmas shopping beginning. The season also consists of decorating Christmas trees; adorning homes with lights, poinsettias, garland and wreaths; building gingerbread houses and going caroling. For Christians, this is a religious holiday, which also includes advent calendars and candle lightings, church services and nativity scenes to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

Depending on region and cultural background within these countries, popular foods vary but may include roast ham, turkey or chicken; gravy; mashed potatoes; collard greens; stuffing; biscuits and chitterlings. On Christmas Eve, children leave out milk and cookies for Santa Claus who they believe will come and bring them toys. Hot chocolate, eggnog, warm apple cider and candy canes are also traditional around this time.

Mexico

While some other cultures may be familiar with the “12 Days of Christmas,” in Mexico, they count down the nine days to Christmas Eve with a “posada party” each night. A posada is the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Navidad (Christmas) in Mexico doesn’t end on December 25, though; the season continues on through January 6, which is known as El Dia de los Reyes (day of the kings or the wise men) — also known as Epiphany in other cultures.

Piñatas, poinsettias, Santa, lights and nativity scenes are also popular here. And according to Culture Trip, January 6 is also the day when Rosca de Reyes (a sweet bread) is eaten. In a tradition reminiscent of the lenten King Cake in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., this sweet bread has hidden inside of it tiny figurines of baby Jesus. But, unlike the King Cake tradition, you don’t want to be the one to find the baby in your slice. If you do, you’ll have to buy everyone tamales on the next holiday — Candelaria, or Candlemas.

Poland

Boże Narodzenie, or Christmas, is celebrated from December 25 through December 26, according to polishpod101.com, and as in other parts of the world, it’s a time to spend with family and friends and eat a lot of good food. In this country, Christmas Eve dinner is the most important holiday meal, and it includes carp, dried fruit, cabbage dishes, and beet and mushroom soup, to name a few. On this day, the Christmas tree is also decorated and hay is placed in corners of the room, as well as on the dinner table, to remind everyone of the reason for the season — Jesus’s birth in a humble stable. Before the meal, the Christmas wafer is also shared, as wishes for peace and fortune are shared around the room.

Germany

In Germany, you know Christmas is right around the corner when you see gingerbread-themed foods hit the shelves, according to deutschland.de. And once the first Sunday in Advent arrives, Christmas markets, festive music and decorations pop up everywhere. There’s even a special gifting day for children before Christmas arrives. On December 5, kids set out their boots in front of the bedroom doors hoping St. Nicholas will leave them a present.

Here, Christmas Day and the day after are holidays, but it’s Christmas Eve that’s the biggest day for festivities. On December 24, people purchase the last of their gifts, wrap them, decorate their trees, sit down with family to a meal of fish and potato salad, and then, open up their gifts. And, since St. Nick has already stopped by earlier in the month, parents tell their children the main gifts that have appeared are from the Christ Child. On Christmas Day, another family meal is shared, which typically consists of duck, goose or rabbit served with potato dumplings, sausage and apple stuffing and red cabbage.

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1 comment

  1. Aside from the traditions in the United States and Canada, I can really get behind the Philippines tradition of having the longest holiday season spent eating roast pig, cheese, and ham.

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