Christmas in France
The celebration of Christmas in France varies by region. Most provinces celebrate on December 24-25 with family gatherings and giving gifts and candy to children and the poor. On Christmas Eve, the French attend a Midnight Mass followed by le Réveillon, a grand feast and a symbolic awakening to the meaning of Christ's birth. A prominent feature at Le Réveillon is a Christmas cake in the shape of a Yule log, buche de Noel.
Sapin de Noël, a tree filled with apples, paper flowers, and ribbons, adorns many French homes, streets, shops, offices, and factories at Christmastime. However, the central attraction in most homes is the crèche, a nativity scene with small clay figures called santons ("little saints"). Living crèches in the form of plays and puppet shows based on the nativity are commonly performed to teach the importance of Christianity and the true meaning of Christmas.
French children place shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve in the hopes that Père Noël will fill them with gifts. Kids believe that Père Noel travels with his stern companion, Père Fouettard, who tells Père Noël about the behavior of each child in the past year. In some parts of France, Père Noël brings gifts for children on St. Nicholas Eve (December 6) and again on Christmas. In other parts of France, le petit Jesus brings the gifts. Adults usually wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts. "Merry Christmas" is said, "Joyeux Noel."
Christmas in Russia
Because Russia's church still uses the Julian calendar, Russia celebrates Christmas 13 days behind America. Most Christian Russians belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church and are accustomed to fasting until after the first church service on Christmas Eve. For centuries, Russia observed the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. The Communist revolution suppressed the celebration until the fall of Communism when it was again revived.
The Russian people adore St. Nicholas. The legend surrounding St. Nick is that in the eleventh century, Prince Vladimir traveled to Constantinople to be baptized and returned with stories of miracles performed by St. Nicholas of Myra. \
Christmas Eve dinner is vegetarian and typically includes kutya, a porridge made of wheat berries or other grains, which symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds, which symbolize happiness, success, and rest. Russians often hold a home blessing ceremony, eating kutya from a common dish to symbolize unity. At one time, some even threw a spoonful of kutya on their ceilings. According to tradition, if the kutya stuck, there would be a plentiful honey harvest.
For many Russians, a return to religion represents a return to their old roots and culture. After Christmas Eve worship services, people parade around the church with candles, torches, and homemade lanterns, just as their grandparents and great-grandparents did.
Christmas in Africa
Christmas day begins with groups of carolers walking through their villages and along the roadways, spreading song. Many take a love offering in honor of Jesus to the Christmas morning worship service and lay their gifts on a raised platform one at a time.
Africans enjoy a summer holiday filled with many varieties of cultivated and wild flowers. South African homes are decorated with pine branches and a fir tree surrounded by presents for the children. On Christmas Eve, children hang up their stockings for presents from Father Christmas. Liberians decorate oil palm trees and exchange gifts like cotton, cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, and books before attending a church service to reenact the nativity and sing hymns and carols. Liberians observe Boxing Day, December 26, as a national holiday.
Africa's traditional Christmas meal consists of turkey, roast beef, mince pies, or suckling pig, as well as yellow rice with raisins, vegetables, plum pudding, crackers. People dine in paper hats and spend the day outdoors, playing games and watching fireworks.
Christmas in India
India celebrates Christmas with pomp, gaiety, and devotion. Festivities begin on Christmas Eve and continue until New Year's Day. Christians mark the birth of Jesus with church services, Christmas cake, decorated trees, family reunions, gifts, and new clothes. In several parts of India, especially metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai, people of all religions celebrate Christmas.
Customs vary due to each region's culture. In south India, Christians light clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses. In northwest India, tribal Christians sing their equivalent of carols throughout the night for one week straight. Several states decorate banana or mango trees instead of traditional pine trees, and the large population of Roman Catholics in Mumbai traditionally stage nativity scenes and decorate their homes with big stars. "Merry Christmas" is said, "Shub Christu Jayanti."
Christmas in Sweden
Swedes celebrate Jul on Christmas Eve with a special meal of ham, herring fish, and brown beans. A popular tradition in Sweden is the Julklap or "Christmas knocking." On Christmas Eve, families go throughout their houses, knocking on doors and shoving presents into rooms. Each family member must then find his or her present.
Christmas in Australia
Whereas the northern hemisphere is in early winter, Australia is enjoying temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit by Christmas day. However, the warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which began in 1937, Carols by Candlelight, when tens of thousands of people gather in Melbourne on Christmas Eve to sing. Visits with Santa Claus often take place on beaches, with Santa arriving on a surfboard or lifeboat.
Some Australians and many tourists have Christmas dinner at a local beach. A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner with ham, pork, mince pie, and a flaming Christmas plum pudding. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today, a small favor is baked inside that symbolizes good tidings for whoever finds it. Another custom is decorating with Christmas Bush, a native plant which has little red flowered leaves.
Christmas in Chile
Chile's Christmas is a religious celebration centering on Jesus. Activities include attending daily church services and midnight mass, singing carols, and reading Bible passages related to the nativity. Chileans decorate their homes with lights, nativity scenes, and Christmas trees, on which they place pesebre, tiny clay figures representing the Holy Family and other religious characters. Some spend Christmas day enjoying sports and nature at a beach, rock-climbing, or surfing. That evening, families share a holiday dinner, unwrap gifts, and celebrate late into the night. "Merry Christmas" is said, "Feliz Navidad."
Do you incorporate Christmas customs from other parts of the world into your homeschool?