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FEATURE The traditions of Christmas around the world

A popular tradition in many countries is children’s photographs with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Every summer, the City of Oshawa celebrates its diversity during the Fiesta Week.

Residents of numerous backgrounds proudly show off their culture and heritage during the annual parade, pavilions, and other activities.

Every country has its own unique traditions, and it is no different around this time of year.

Christmas is celebrated in many different ways across the world.

In total, the holiday is celebrated in approximately 160 countries or about 80 per cent of all those on the planet.

Here is a look some of the traditions from across the globe.



For many Italians, the Christmas season really kicks off on Dec. 8 with the Feast of Immaculate Conception.

Although the origin of the feast harkens back to many years ago, it was first declared officially by the Vatican on Dec. 8, 1854.

The Feast of Immaculate Conception is a public holiday in Italy and a day that many Italians begin to count down to Christmas.

Many natives of the country abstain from eating meat on Christmas Eve, instead choosing a meal containing large amounts of seafood, known as the “Feast of Seven Fishes.”

Another popular tradition is the presepe, also known as Christmas cribs. Although these are usually set up before Dec. 25, Baby Jesus is often not added to the scene until the eve of Christmas.



Ireland has some interesting older traditions which have faded away but are still remembered fondly.

In the old days, some people would place a tall, candle on the sill of the largest window in the house.

The purpose of this was to provide a light for Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.

Another is Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Little Christmas – a tradition that saw women get together and enjoy their own Christmas, while the men of the house would stay home and handle the chores.

While not as common in today’s age, it is still strongly recognized in parts of the country.



In Finland, there is an alternative version of Santa Claus known as Joulupukki.

In Finnish, Joulupukki literally translates into “Christmas Goat” or “Yule Goat.”

The idea of the Yule Goat was more of a pagan tradition, which may have consisted of a man turning into a goat creature on Christmas Eve, and was believed by some to be an unfriendly and frightening character.

Eventually, Joulupukki came to represent the Finnish version of the more traditional Santa Claus, although one difference is his reindeer cannot fly.



One big difference in Australia from a lot of other countries is Christmas takes place in the middle of summer.

Some Australians will choose to decorate their homes with a ‘Christmas Bush’, a tree native to Australia that features green leaves that eventually turn into a deep red colour.

In some circles, it is said Santa Claus replaces his reindeer with kangaroos when he reaches the continent.



For many Japanese people, Christmas and New Year’s are celebrated in opposite ways.

In Japan, Christmas is often seen more as a time to socialize with friends and partners/spouses, and some consider Christmas Eve as the Japanese version of Valentine’s Day.

On the other hand, New Year’s celebrations in Japan are closer to how Christmas is celebrated in the Western world.

Celebrations often run between Dec. 31 and Jan. 4.

Another interesting Christmas tradition in Japan is eating KFC for dinner, as it is estimated more than 3 million Japanese people will do so during the holidays.



The concept of the Secret Santa is popular in Brazil, where it is known as Amigo Secreto.

The process of randomly choosing a person to buy a present for is very popular in the country and is often done between groups of friends, family and even co-workers.

But perhaps Brazil’s most well-known Christmas ‘tradition’ is the 13th salary.

In 1962, the Brazilian government ruled that all employees should receive a “Christmas bonus” in the form of an extra month’s payment.

While there are numerous regulations involved in the 13th salary concept, it was started to boost the economy during the Christmas season.



Sinterklaas is a figure that is believed to bring children presents on Dec. 5 and 6.

Children leave their shoes out on the eve of Dec. 5, and it is believed Sinterklaas, along with his horse and assistant Zwarte Piet, will visit.

Also left out for Sinterklaas are foods such as tangerines, chocolate, and gingerbread.

The story behind this tradition is quite detailed and varies from region to region, but a consistent concept is good children will receive presents from Sinterklaas while bad children will be put in a sack and taken back to Spain where he lives.



One of the more terrifying Christmas traditions is the character of Krampus.

He is depicted as a half-goat, half-demon, and is believed to roam the streets looking for bad or evil children.

While there are many incarnations, Krampus is usually believed to be hairy with cloven hooves and the horns of a goat.

Sometimes Krampus is believed to accompany Saint Nicholas.

The idea of Krampus is recognized in numerous other countries, including the Czech Republic and Croatia.


South Africa

While many children in Canada will be enjoying candy canes and gingerbread around Christmas, the tradition in South Africa is a bit more exotic.

The savoury treat in this country is deep-fried insects ranging from caterpillars to moths.



Norwegian legend states that Christmas Eve is a hotspot of activity for witches and other evil spirits.

Therefore, many residents of the country hide all their brooms so they cannot be used for evil reasons.

In addition to Santa Claus, called Julenissen is Norway, presents are often brought by small gnomes called Nisse.

The city of Oslo, Norway presents the United Kingdom with a Christmas Tree every year as a way to thank them for the help provided during the Second World War.



As Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, it is sure some of the above traditions are celebrated right here in Oshawa and across the nation.

However, there have been some truly Canadian traditions as well.

A rather obscure tradition said to have been celebrated in the southern regions of Nova Scotia is ‘belsnickeling.”

This tradition involves a group of people all dressing up as Santa Claus and visiting their neighbours to have them guess the identity of each ‘Belsnickel.”

This tradition, which has German roots, was once featured in the U.S. version of the Office.


It is safe to say traditions of Christmas go far beyond just countries, as many families have their own unique customs that they celebrate every year and most likely have passed down through the generations.