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Christmas Traditions from Around the World

by Teresa Xuereb

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Seeing golden pigs, lighting up candles on the pavement, cooking over a large fire in the yard, opening presents on New Year's Eve, putting hay underneath the tablecloth...have you ever heard of these Christmas traditions from around the world? Christmas has brought about an array of distinct traditions throughout the years. But which traditions are still very much alive in 2019? After talking to fellow colleagues with foreign roots, I've compiled this list of unique traditions: 

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic boasts quite a few distinctive traditions which are still very much upheld:

Eating Carp

This freshwater fish is the highlight of the traditional Christmas dinner on December 24th. Carp sellers start popping up on the streets in the days preceding Christmas Eve, and while it's possible to buy fish that is ready to cook; the tradition is to buy it while it's alive and place it in the bath until it time to prepare dinner on Christmas Eve. Czech families eat fish soup and fish fillets with potato salad, but not before enduring a day of fasting.

Keeping a Fish Scale

Czechs keep a scale from the carp in their wallet until next Christmas Eve, traditionally  symbolising a prosperous year ahead.

Looking for the Golden Pig

Highly-anticipated by kids, this tradition demands that you refrain from eating meat all day, with the hope that you'll see a vision of a Golden pig, which is a sign of good luck.

Unwrapping Gifts

Czech families must remain seated around the dining table until everyone is done eating. We can only imagine how nerve-wrecking this is for the little ones! When everyone has put down his fork and knife, a bell rings and everyone moves to the living room and starts unwrapping the gifts under the Christmas tree.

Slicing Apples

Czech families slice apples in half to read the future based on the shape of the seeds.

Constructing Nut Boats

Walnut shells with tea candles are floated in a water basin and their direction is said to be an indication for the future.

Going to Church

Church attendance is a very important part of Czech culture, so Christmas Day is the time to go to Church together as a family.

Greece

Kalanda

On Christmas Eve, kids venture around the neighbourhood knocking on doors and singing traditional Greek carols in return for small change.

Eating Traditional Greek Sweets

The kourabiedes and melomakarona are the (yummy) highlight of Greek Christmases.

Opening of Gifts

Contrary to many countries, gifts are given on New Year's Eve as soon as the new year is welcomed, and not on Christmas Eve.

USA

How is Christmas celebrated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean? It's difficult to speak for each region, city and neighbourhood, but these are some of the most popular traditions amongst our American fellas at Yellow. 

  • Christmas Eve is the day when uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces gather together for one large celebratory dinner, while Christmas Day is reserved for more intimate lunches amongst families.
  • Traditional mains and desserts characterise Christmas Eve dinners. You can expect to find turkey or ham as the main course, teamed with mashed or baked potatoes with gravy or butter and cheese, carrots, corn or green bean casserole, pumpkin or apple pie, cranberry sauce, cookies, eggnog and much more. A toast and prayer kickstart dinner, with each family member or guest taking turns to say what he's thankful for. 
  • Most families go to the traditional midnight mass.
  • On Christmas Eve each household puts brown paper bags with sand and candles on the sidewalk, and lights them at dusk. This results in twinkling roads and delightfully lit neighbourhoods.
  • Christmas Day is celebrated with an abundant breakfast full of family favourites. From waffles and bacon, to fruit and yogurt, the breakfast table will be laden with an assortment of all your favourite breakfast items.
  • Stockings that are filled to the brim with small treats, gadgets or trinkets and people go around giving out presents before Christmas breakfast.
  • After pigging out on breakfast, the tradition is to go to Church.
  • Each family spends Christmas day differently. Some choose to spend the day travelling and visiting extended family; others opt to bring a smile to others who still work during the holidays, such as police and firemen, and carry out acts of kindness.
  • On Christmas day, everyone lights up a candle, and weather permitting, goes around sharing greetings with their neighbours, together with a warm dish or gift. Depending on the size of the town, and its level of safety, households unite to go carolling or just walk around the town enjoying the Christmas lights and nativity scenes.

Poland

 

A Polish Christmas is typically a quaint family-oriented event that is celebrated on the 24th of December, and includes:

Waiting for the First Star

Before dinner, families wait for the first star to appear in the sky, in remembrance of the star of Bethlehem.

Sharing an Oplatek 

Remembering the Last Supper, each family member shares a piece of unleavened wafer embossed with a religious image known as oplatek, while exchanging good wishes before dinner.

Speaking with Animals

It's believed that animals are presented with the gift of speech on Christmas Eve, in exchange for their help during the birth of Christ. Thus, kids try speaking to animals on this day.

Leaving an Empty Seat at the Dinner Table

In case a lone stranger comes knocking on the door asking for shelter.

Fasting from Meat

Polish people refrain from eating meat and drinking strong liquor on Christmas Eve. Instead, they have fish and wine.

Putting Hay Beneath the Tablecloth

As a way to remember the manger in which Jesus was placed in as a newborn.

Twelve Dishes

Christmas dinner is characterised by 12 dishes - one for every month. You need to take a bite from every dish to have good luck throughout the next year.

Colombia

Little Candles' Day

On 7th December (eve of the Immaculate Conception), Colombians light candles on windows and balconies outside their houses, marking the start of the Christmas season.

Christmas is celebrated during the night between the 24th and 25th.

Dinner is served at 10pm and gifts are opened at the stroke of midnight. A night of dancing and drinking ensues, with Colombians going to bed in the early hours of the morning.

Novena

On the nine days before Christmas (from the 16th till 24th December), families gather around a crib to pray, sing Christmas carols and eat festive food, meeting at a different house each day.

Festive Food

Amongst the distinctive festive dishes found in Colombian cuisine, you will find:

  • Colombian lechona- a roast pig stuffed with rice, beans, peas and meat
  • Roast turkey
  • Natilla- a custard dish made out of milk

  • Deep-fried bread with cheese
  • Bunuelos- fried dough balls
  • Dulce de manjar blanco- homemade caramel
  • Tamale- dough with rice, potatoes and vegetables steamed in banana leaves
  • Aguardiente - a popular liqueur with a very high alcohol content derived from sugar cane

Very often Colombians gather to cook typical Colombian food in large pans over a huge outdoor fire.

Cali Fair

Taking place between the 25th and 30th of December, this fair is popular for its Salsa marathon, parades, concerts, historical performances, markets, horse riding and dance parties.

Christmas Lights

Astounding light displays are an integral part of Colombia's traditions. The Christmas Lights in Medellin are notably the ones which attract a lot of tourists.

France

  • Families gather together on Christmas Eve to have dinner and open the gifts placed under the Christmas tree.
  • This famous dinner usually includes roast turkey and ends with the mouth-watering Buche de Noel (a chocolate sponge cake log).
  • The papillote Noel are foil-wrapped chocolate bites which are popular treats during the Christmas season.
  • Advent calendars is a popular tradition, especially amongst kids.
  • Nativity scenes are a common sighting in French homes and on French streets.
  • French families love visiting Christmas markets, with the most popular being that in Strasbourg- Christkindelsmärik.

Hungary

Waiting for Santa

On the 6th of December, children wait for Santa to bring them chocolate...but only if they were good throughout the year.

Presents from Baby Jesus

Little ones believe that the gifts that they receive are from baby Jesus.

Feasting on Traditional Hungarian Food

Fish and meat soups, stuffed cabbage with sour cream, fried chicken and pork, goulash, and poppy or nut roll cake characterise a Hungarian Christmas dinner. And how about a shot of plink at the end?

Are you feeling the festive spirit yet? You must be now! Discover the local shops providing the best Christmas decorations around the islands.

Here are all the events happening around Malta and Gozo during the Christmas season and how to prepare for the perfect Christmas lunch.

Keep on discovering local with Yellow!