Christmas Around the World

You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town! But he’s not just coming to Atlanta – Santa Claus is coming to towns all around the world.

To many of us, when we think of Christmas, we think of the festive season around December 25 celebrating the birth of Jesus, embellished with red and green decorations, beautifully wrapped presents, singing carols and of course Santa Claus. However, children around the world don’t all celebrate like we do. Some children don’t even celebrate Christmas on December 25th or with Santa Claus. Since Christmas is all about spreading joy to friends, family and even strangers, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the ways children around the world celebrate Christmas.

So just like Santa Claus does on Christmas, let’s take a trip around the world and see how children celebrate around the globe!

In Italy, Santa Claus takes the form of an ugly but friendly witch named Befana who flies around on a broom on Christmas Eve and drops down chimneys to deliver presents to all the good children! The story behind this tradition is that Befana missed the night star that was to guide her to baby Jesus to deliver her gifts, so she flies around to every home on December 25th just in case Jesus is inside.

In the Netherlands, the most important days for presents are December 5 and 6, when Sinterklaas brings presents. Did you know that we actually get the name “Santa Claus” from the name “Sinterklaas”? Children leave clogs out by the fireplace and windows and sing Sinterklaas songs hoping to wake up the next morning with gifts in their shoes. Sometimes if you put hay and carrots in your clogs, they will be replaced with sweets, in addition to presents!

In Greece, instead of having a Christmas tree, many families will have a shallow wooden bowl with a wooden cross wrapped in basil hanging down. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive. Once a day for twelve days, someone will dip the cross and basil into water and use it to sprinkle holy water in each room to keep the “Killantzario,” or bad spirits, away. The bad spirits are thought to come into homes through the chimney, so having a fire burning though the twelve days of Christmas is also believed to help keep these bad spirits away.

In South Africa, the children are visited by Father Christmas, who visits homes and fills stockings with presents. Christmas occurs during the summer time in South Africa, so many families celebrate on the 25th and 26th with outdoor activities like camping and going to the beach. December 26 is called “Boxing Day” in South Africa and this is the holiday of outdoor relaxation.

Father Noel visits the children in Brazil and he comes dressed in silk because the weather is very warm in December. Father Noel is thought to come from Greenland, which is very close to the North Pole. Nativity scenes, midnight mass and huge fireworks take place in celebration of Christmas which continues until January 6th. That day is called “Three Kings Day” and three kings bring more gifts to the good children just like they did for Jesus’ birth.

Canadians share very similar traditions to the American Christmas but they also have a tradition of Masked Mummers, which is similar to the American holiday Halloween. Small groups of people visit neighborhoods during the 12 Days of Christmas ringing bells, making noise and asking for candy and treats.

Since weather in Australia is very hot in December, Santa Claus is known to change out of that heavy suit of his and throw on some red beach clothing and sunglasses. He also gives his reindeer a little break and is pulled through Australia by a special team of kangaroos, also called the “Six White Boomers” after a popular Australian Christmas carol. Just like many children in the United States, Australian children also write letters to Santa Claus with gift ideas and examples of how they have been good all year.

Learning about Christmas all around the world is a fun way to incorporate some new traditions into your holiday season! Maybe you and your family can take the countries of your heritage and learn how your ancestors celebrated the winter holidays.