All over the world, Christmas celebrations reflect local culture and traditions. The festivities can be startlingly different from country to country, focusing on different aspects of the nativity story.Â But whether you’re celebrating Sheng Dan Jieh in China or awaitng Pere Noel in France, you’re sharing in the wonder and magic of the Christmas season. In the following pages, we’ll take a look at Christmas traditions in countries around the world, from Sweden to Australia, from England to China.
Ethiopia follows the ancient Julian calendar, so Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s celebration of Christ’s birth is called Ganna. It is a day when families attend church. Everyone dresses in white. Most Ethiopians don a traditional shamma — a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends. Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19, Ethiopians begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, which commemorates the baptism of Christ.
Christmas celebrations France begin on December 5, which is St. Nicholas Eve, but Christmas Eve is the most special time in the French celebration of Christmas. Church bells ring and voices sing French carols, called noels. On Christmas Day, families go to church and then enjoy an abundant feast of wonderful dishes, ending with the traditional buche de Noel, a rich buttercream-filled cake shaped and frosted to look like a Yule log.
In Sweden, the Christmas festivities begin on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day, which celebrates the patron saint of light. The eldest daughter gets up before dawn and dresses as the “Queen of Light” in a long white dress. She wears a crown of leaves. Singing “Santa Lucia,” the Lucia Queen goes to every bedroom to serve coffee and treats to each member of the family. The younger children in the family help, too. The whole family helps to select the Christmas tree just a day or two before Christmas.
German families prepare for Christmas throughout cold December. Four Sundays before Christmas, they make an Advent wreath of fir or pine branches with four colored candles. They light a candle on the wreath each Sunday, sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas cookies. The children count the days until Christmas with an Advent calendar. Each day, they open a little numbered flap on the calendar to see the Christmas picture hidden there.
Dutch children in Holland, or the Netherlands, anxiously look forward to St. Nicholas Day on December 6. While they eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas, the people around them shop for gifts, write a little poem to accompany each one, and carefully wrap each gift to keep the contents a surprise to the receiver.