Merry Christmas

Christmas Around the World

In Mainland China, December the 25th is not a legal holiday. The small percentage of Chinese
citizens who consider themselves Christians observe Christmas. Many others celebrate
Christmas-like festivities which are very similar to Western celebrations.

Both Hong Kong and Macau designate Christmas as a public holiday. Both are former colonies of
Western powers with (nominal) Christian cultural heritage.

South Korea is the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday.
Christian and non-Christian Koreans engage in some holiday customs and children have
embraced Santa Claus, whom they call Grandfather Santa.

In India Christmas is a state holiday though only 3% of the population is actually Christian.
Sincere devotees attend church services. In many of the schools that are run by the Christian
missionaries, the children actively participate in the programs.

In Japan Christmas is not a national holiday. The Japanese have adopted the character of Santa
Claus in their celebrations. Christmas is not as important as New Year's Day. Christmas Eve is
a day for parties, while the official New Year's Day holiday is a day of family celebration.

In Lebanon Christmas is a state holiday a country in which 40% of the population is Christian.
Most Lebanese Muslims celebrate Christmas with friends. Churches are open all night and people
visit friends and families. French is widely spoken, and the greeting, "Joyeux Noel" is used.

In Malaysia Christmas is a public holiday however, much of the public celebration is commercial
and has no religious overtones. Occasionally, Christian groups buy newspaper ads at Christmas
but this is only allowed in English newspapers and permission is not given every year.

In Pakistan, December 25th is a public holiday. This coincides with the birth anniversary of
Jinnah the founder of the nation. Christians constitute approximately 1 percent of the population.
In Christian households presents are exchanged and people visit friends. In rural areas, people
go to Christmas Day services, which in Urdu and Punjabi is called 'Bara Din', the 'Big Day'.

The Philippines celebrates the world's longest Christmas season. Traces of the holiday arise from
early September. It is traditionally ushered in on December the 16th. Christmas Eve is the much
anticipated "noche buena" feast (ball cheese and ham) after midnight mass. They celebrate Rizal Day
on December the 30th, New Year's Eve, Christmas Eve, Ninos Inocentes on December the 28th, and
the Epiphany on January the 6th. These days are declared as non-working days.

In Singapore, Christmas is a public holiday celebrated by almost everyone. The shopping district
is decorated with colorful lights from mid November until New Year's Day. As Christians only comprise
14% of the population, most of the celebration tends to be secular and commercial in nature.

In Taiwan, Christmas is not officially celebrated or legally recognized however December the 25th, 1947
is the signing date of the Constitution of the Republic of China. In 1963 an official holiday was declared
and unofficially treated as Christmas. In 2001 Constitution Day was removed.

In Mexico Christmas traditions are based on Mexico's form of Roman Catholicism and popular culture
traditions also called posadas. Children receive gifts on January the 6th, the Epiphany. At midnight on
Christmas, families place the figure of baby Jesus in their nativity scenes as the symbolic representation
of Christmas. Christmas festivities begin on December the 12th, and end on January the 6th.

In the United States and Canada the traditions are essentially the same. Many Christmas attractions include
the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and elaborate animated department store windows which are heavily
visited by tourists from all over the world.

In Chile gift giving traditions include "Viejo Pascuero" (Easter Old Man), and "Papai Noel". They resemble
Santa Claus however South American "Santas" dress more lightly in keeping with the warmer Christmas and
have adopted a number of means, from ladders to trampolines, to enter homes at night.

In Argentina gift giving occurs on Christmas and on January the 6th, "Kings' Day", when children leave shoes
under their beds to be filled with snacks or small gifts by the Magi, who stop off on their way to Bethlehem.

In Brazil Christmas is a family celebration and carries the European traditions, particularly from Portugal,
brought by the Jesuits. Between December the 24th and January the 6th, there is an event called Folia de Reis,
which is a procession through the city singing carols for "Menino-Deus" (The "Baby Jesus") and the Three Kings.

In Colombia Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday. Presents are brought by "El Nino Dios" (Baby Jesus)
instead of Santa Claus. The decorations begin in early November and the start of the Christmas festivities
occurs on December the 7th, which is the "Day of the Candles". The streets are decorated with candles in
honor of the Immaculate Conception which takes place the next day. Activities include music, fireworks and
planned city events. December the 16th, is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion of prayer said
on nine successive days the last one is Christmas Eve which is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia.

In Venezuela Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday. The unofficial start of the Christmas festivities is
the second half of November. Neighbourhoods get together for the "patinatas" night festivals where children play
with skateboards, roller blades and bicycles. On Christmas Eve churches offer nightly masses called "Misa de Gallo"
(Rooster's Mass) at midnight. Their celebrations are very similar to Columbia.

In the Southern Hemisphere, December the 25th occurs during the height of the summer season. Australian traditions
are similar to those of North America. Sometimes Santa is displayed in Australian style clothing including an Akubra
hat, thongs, and his sleigh pulled by kangaroos. Gifts are opened on Christmas day. Families gather for a Christmas
lunch similar to our traditional meal. It is popular for people to decorate their houses and the displays range from
modest to extremely elaborate. Some suburbs enjoy an ongoing reputation for high quality displays and attract a great
amount of traffic during the season. Carols by Candlelight occurs on Christmas Eve and is a tradition that started in
Melbourne in 1938. Another popular tradition celebrated in Adelaide is the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. This parade
is the largest of its kind in the world, attracting crowds of over 400,000. The Pageant began 1933 and occurs every
November. It is a procession of floats, bands, clowns, dancing groups, and walking performers, all culminating in the
arrival of Santa Claus. Many of Australia's Christmas traditions also apply to New Zealand.

In countries of Central Europe the main celebration date for the general public is Christmas Eve. The day is
usually a fasting day; in some places children are told they'll see a golden pig if they hold fast until dinner.
Traditions concerning dinner vary from region to region, in the Czech Republic the meal is fried carp with potato
salad and fish soup. However, in some places the tradition is porridge with mushrooms and elsewhere the dinner
is exceptionally rich, with up to twelve dishes. Tradition varies with region, commonly gifts are attributed to
Christkind (Little Jesus). An example of complicated history of the region is the "fight" between Christmas beings.
During communism, when countries of Central Europe were under Soviet influence, communist authorities strongly
pushed Russian traditional Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") in the place of Christkind. Little Jesus won. Now
Santa Claus is attacking, by means of advertising and Hollywood film production.

In Russia Christmas is not as widely followed as in Western countries in favor of the New Year celebration.
Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January (which corresponds to December the 25th in the Julian Calendar).
The tradition of celebrating Christmas has been revived since 1992. It is centered on the Christmas Eve
"Holy Supper", which consists of twelve servings, one to honor each of Jesus' apostles. The Russian traditions
were largely kept alive by shifting some of them, including the visit by "Grandfather Frost" and his "Snowmaiden"
to New Year's Day. Many current Russian Christmas customs, including their Christmas tree, or "yolka", were
brought by Peter the Great, after his western travels in the late 17th century.

In the Netherlands the celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December the 5th, resembles our Christmas. Sinterklaas,
from whom the English and American Santa evolved, is based on the real Saint Nicholas, and brings presents on the
evening of December the 5th. He wears a red bishop's dress with a red mitre, rides a white horse over the rooftops,
and is assisted by many mischievous helpers called 'zwarte Pieten' (black Peters).

In Denmark, Christmas is celebrated on December the 24th, which is referred to as Juleaften. An evening meal is
eaten with the family consisting of either pork, duck or goose which is eaten with potatoes, red cabbage and plenty
of gravy. For dessert rice pudding is served, traditionally with an almond hidden inside, the lucky finder of this
almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal people gather around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas songs.

The Danish are famous for their "Julefrokost", literally meaning "Christmas lunch", which includes various
traditional Danish dishes. The family Julefrokoster is normally held between Juleaften and New Years Eve. Another
more recent tradition is the concept of TV "Julekalendere", special Christmas-themed TV shows with a daily episode
shown on each of the first 24 days of December, thus culminating on "Juleaften".

Finnish people clean their homes well before Christmas and prepare special treats for the festive holiday season.
Fir trees are cut or bought from a market and taken home on Christmas Eve and decorated beautifully. A sheaf
of grain, nuts and seeds are tied on a pole, which is placed in the garden for the birds to feed on. Christmas
dinner traditionally begins with appearance of the first star in the sky. Candles are lit on the Christmas tree,
which is decorated using apples and other fruits, candies, paper flags, cotton and tinsel. Just before the
Christmas festivities begin, people go to the sauna and dress up in clean clothes for the Christmas dinner.
Christmas gifts are usually exchanged after dinner. Children do not hang up stockings in Finland but Santa
visits the household with a Christmas elf to help distribute the presents. The traditional dish of Christmas
dinner is codfish, roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham. Everybody wishes each other "Merry Yule."

The Striezelmarkt, Germany's Dresden region, is a worldwide Christmas gift production center which continues
for nearly one month. This is the time when Dresden Stollen fruitcake, Pulsnitzer gingerbread, wood carvings
from the Erzgebirge Mountains, Dresden Pflaumentoffel, Lusatian indigo print, Silesian ceramics, Bohemian
glass, and Meissen porcelain dominate the lives of visitors who come from all over to immerse themselves in
Christmas. Knecht Ruprecht is a companion of Nikolaus in many different German speaking areas of Europe. In
some German-speaking communities, particularly in Catholic regions of southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria
and Liechtenstein, as well as in other Catholic regions of Central Europe, the character of Santa is replaced
by the Christkind ("Christ child"). He brings the presents not on the morning of December the 25th, but on the
evening of December the 24th, (Holy Evening or Heiliger Abend). The Christkind is never seen instead rings a
bell in order to let children know that the Christmas tree and the presents are ready.

Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration of the year and lasts from December the 24th to January the 6th.
Many view December the 8th, as the start of the season as it is the traditional Christmas shopping day in Ireland
due to all schools being closed. There are huge attendances at religious services for Christmas. The traditional
crib takes centre-piece along with the Christmas tree as part of the decorations. Christmas Day and St. Stephen's
Day are public holidays. Irish people spend more and more money each year on celebrating Christmas. In 2006,
the total amount spent to celebrate Christmas was 16 billion (Euro), which averages approximately 4,000 (Euro)
for every single person in the country. Santa Claus, known in Ireland simply as Santy brings presents which are
opened on Christmas morning. The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey and ham with a selection of
vegetables and a variety of potatoes, as potatoes still act as a staple food in Ireland. Christmas celebrations
finish with Little Christmas on January the 6th, also known as Women's Christmas in Cork.

Swedish Christmas begins with the first of Advent. Saint Lucy's Day is the first major Christmas celebration before
Christmas itself. As in many other countries in northern Europe, the Jultomte (or simply Tomte) brings the presents
on Christmas Eve. The Jultomte is a version of Santa Claus, yet he does not enter the house through the chimney but
knocks on the door and asks "are there any good children here?" Television plays a big role in most families. If
one has two families to celebrate Christmas with, it is common that one of the families move their celebrations to
Christmas Day or the first Saturday before Christmas Eve (commonly referred to as little Christmas Eve). On January
the 13th, locally known as knutdagen, the Christmas celebrations end and all Christmas decorations are removed.

In the United Kingdom Christmas starts at Advent, where holly wreaths are made with three pink, one pink and one
purple candle. It lasts until January the 6th, (Epiphany). On Christmas Eve, presents are delivered in stockings
under the Christmas tree by Father Christmas but now is mainly associated with Santa Claus. The two names are
used and equally known to British people, but Father Christmas tends to be used more often. One tradition is to
put out a plate of carrots for the reindeer and mince pies and sherry for Father Christmas. On Christmas Day,
nearly the whole population has the day off to be with their family and friends, so they can gather for traditional
Christmas dinner, which is mainly turkey with cranberries, parsnips, and roast potatoes, followed by a Christmas
Pudding. During the meal, Christmas crackers are often pulled containing toys, jokes and a paper hat. Another
tradition is Carol singing, where many carols are sung by children on people's doorsteps, and by choirs.

In Greece Christmas lasts from December the 25th, to January the 6th. Most families set up Christmas trees and
shops have decorations and lights. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree and are opened on New Year's Day.
In Greek tradition, Basil's (of Caesarea) name was given to Father Christmas and is supposed to visit children and
give presents on New Year's Day (when Basil's memory is celebrated), unlike other European traditions, where this
person is Saint Nicholas and comes every Christmas. Carol singing is another tradition on Christmas and New Year's
Eve. The Christmas meal usually includes lamb or pork

In Romania Christmas is generally considered one of the most important religious holidays. Celebrations begin with
the decoration of the Christmas tree during daytime on December the 24th, and in the evening Father Christmas
delivers the presents. The singing of carols is a very important part of Romanian Christmas festivities.

Christmas in France is celebrated mainly in a religious manner. Children put their shoes by the fireplace so Father
Christmas or Santa Claus can give them gifts, as opposed to the American variation of hanging Christmas stockings
on the mantle. Many French families also decorate their homes with Nativity Scenes depicting the birth of Jesus.
Families attend midnight mass. Some put additional Santons (little saints) in their nativity scenes.

In Italy Christmas is celebrated similarly to other Western European countries, with a stronger emphasis given to
the Christian meaning of the holiday and its celebration by the Roman Catholic Church. On Christmas Eve dinner
traditionally consists of seafood and is followed by typical Italian Christmas sweets. At midnight presents are
left for children under the family Christmas tree either by Babbo Natale the local name for Santa Claus or by Gesu
Bambino (baby Jesus). Boxing day is a bank holiday in Italy. The festivities extend to the end of the year and
then to the Epiphany, which is more commonly called "la Befana", from the name of the benevolent hag who, over
the night between the 5th and 6th of January, brings sweets and gifts to good children, and charcoal to bad ones.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christmas is the most important holiday of the year. Traditionally
chicken shall not be absent on the menu. Christmas Day, is a public holiday which is celebrated mainly in
the southern and eastern parts of Nigeria. Nigerians have special traditions and almost everyone goes to
church on Christmas Day. Weeks before the day, people buy hens, turkeys, goats and cows. On Christmas Eve,
meals are prepared. In Yoruba, such meals include pounded yam, eba or amala, served with peppery stewed
vegetables. Other meals include rice served with chicken stew, which is similar to Indian curry stew. Some
include a delicacy called Moin-moin; which is blended black eyed beans, mixed with vegetable oil and diced
liver, prawns, chicken, fish and beef. The concoction is then wrapped in large leaves and steamed. Another
tradition is decorating homes and churches with both woven and unwoven palm fronds, trees and lights. There
are festive jubilations on the streets, fireworks, traditional masquerades on stilts and children displaying
their best clothes. There are no other celebrations that compare to Christmas festivities in Nigeria, where
everyone can personalize their own festival. Families merge with friends and family both physically and
psychologically, creating a universe of fun and contentment.