Christmas is always a time of special moments and family reunions, but celebrations and traditions can be quite different depending on where in the world you are. Discover how other travellers celebrate Christmas time in different countries around the world!
For most people in Spain, Christmas celebrations start after the national bank holiday of December 8th, when most families start putting up their Christmas trees and all streets are lit up
The days before Christmas is also the time to start buying turrón, a confection made of honey, eggs and toasted almonds shaped in a rectangular tablet that is only eaten at Christmas time. One of my favourite sweets ever!
As in many other Latin countries, the big celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, when families get together for dinner. Food includes seafood (langoustines, lobsters, oysters, barnacle...) as well as meat, mainly lamb or tostón, a piglet roasted in the oven.
December 24th is also the night when Papá Noel, the local name given to Santa Claus, brings presents for the younger of the house. Most families open the presents after dinner, while some others wait until the morning of Christmas day.
However, Papá Noel is fairly new to Spain, as traditionally it is the Three Wise Men who bring the presents on the night of January 5th. This night is celebrated with a big parade in every city and village of Spain, where the three kings throw candy to the kids before delivering the presents while the children sleep. This means that nowadays, Spanish kids are quite lucky and get their presents not only once, but twice a year!
Currently I am studying abroad in the United Kingdom for the fall term. I have been lucky enough to experience many British traditions, but some of my favorites are definitely the traditions that come with Christmastime.
Thanksgiving is obviously not a large holiday here in the U.K., however at around the same time most towns have a "Light On" ceremony. Essentially all the residents flock to the high streets, music is playing, carousel rides are going, food is being sold and everyone is having a merry time while waiting for the countdown to flick the Christmas lights on in the town. Exeter had its light on ceremony on November 17th and I was amazed at the participation rate of the town and the all around festiveness!
My second tradition that I came across here that I really enjoyed was the Coca Cola Lorry. Much anticipation is held for the announcements of towns and dates by Coca Cola, on which they will drive the Coca Cola Christmas Lorry through the town and park it for the day. Free drinks will be handed out and everyone has the opportunity to grab a photo with the Sandra and the Christmas Lorry! Christmastime officially starts with a sighting of the Coca Cola Lorry!
As far as food, Christmas meals are fairly similar to Thanksgiving meals! Picture turkey, gravy and a family around a table and that's your typical English Christmas meal. Unfortunately, I will be returning to the States on Christmas Eve and will not be able to attest to the deliciousness of the meal - but I can guess it will be great!
My favourite part of being abroad during the holidays is not only learning the different traditions other countries hold, but joining in with new people for a merry and festive time!
In Russia, Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January as the Russian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar. It returned to the official holiday calendar after the fall of the USSR, where the state promoted the elimination of religion.
Unlike its Western counterpart, our Christmas is still a predominantly religious holiday. For that reason, celebrations take place at one's family home and are usually low-key: not only does it take place after New Year's (which is the biggest feast and party of the year), it is also only relevant to the Christian part of our multiethnic population. Nonetheless, the whole country gets the week of January 1st-7th off.
From early December through January, big cities put on quite the festive show. You can stumble across some European-style Christmas markets that sell everything from books and souvenirs to Russian traditional food and drinks - think blinis (pancakes) and medovukha (hot honey-based alcoholic beverage similar to mead). And there's always an open ice rink somewhere nearby - there's even one on Red Square!
Fun fact: another reference to the Julian calendar, Old New Year's is celebrated on January 13th. Russia didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1918 so now we enjoy two New Year's (the second being unofficial) because why not!
Because Canada is such a diverse country with so many nationalities and traditions, not every Christmas celebration will be the same. That being said, Christmas in Canada is typically celebrated Christmas morning with celebrations beginning on Christmas Eve. Most families have small get-togethers with close friends and family Christmas Eve for a delicious dinner.
Some people open gifts (depending on family dynamics) but typically gifts are opened the morning of Christmas with immediate family. My family usually open gifts with mimosas (even when I was younger it was the only time I was allowed to drink!) followed by a big breakfast of eggs benedict and cinnamon buns. Christmas night is usually a turkey dinner with extended family.
While some countries celebrate Boxing Day, Canadians use this time to head to the malls and stores for some discount shopping (think American Black Friday - although we are super polite so it’s much more tame). Boxing Day is a national holiday in Canada so for those that aren’t spending the day shopping, the rest are playing with their new toys or catching up on some sleep!
How do you celebrate Christmas? Are there any special traditions or celebrations in your country? Let us know in the comments below!