Christmas Traditions Around the World
As we approach Christmas, we thought we'd share with you some festive traditions from a few of the countries we are lucky enough to work in!
Tanzania is notably multi-cultural with a majority Christian population, as well as a large Muslim population and Hindu, Sikh and tribal communities. As such, there are many celebrations that take place throughout the year, including Eid and Diwali, alongside Christmas!
Due to its high percentage of Christians, in Dar-es-Salaam, the capital, there are Christmas lights and churches will be decorated with flowers and candles. People might visit amusement parks in the build up to Christmas. Overall however, Christmas is not a huge commercial holiday in Tanzania, and rather than a long extended Christmas period like the one we enjoy in the UK, Tanzanians typically celebrate the holiday as a few days. In Christian communities there are often carol services on Christmas Eve, and a family meal on Christmas day. Most families won’t have decorations of a Christmas tree, though this has increased slightly in recent years. Children typically will receive a toy, or a new set of clothes, which they will then wear to church for the Christmas service.
In the UK, the bulk of our Christmas celebrations takes place on the 25th December. Out in Peru however, the main day for gift giving and celebrating is the 24th, Noche Buena (or Good Night.) After mass, everyone heads home and exchanges gifts and has Christmas dinner, including a traditional roast turkey as well as tamales and salads. Peru is known for its delicious dark chocolate, and at Christmas they melt it to become hot chocolate!
Traditionally, the Christmas gifts are placed around the nativity scene, known as the pesebre, rather than a Christmas tree. The nativity scene in Peru is unique, as figures of sheep are often replaced with llamas! On Noche Buena, a child from the family is chosen to place baby Jesus in the manger. In Cusco, there is an annual Christmas Market, known as Santuranticuy, which has a strong focus on artisans selling beautiful items to go in the pesebre. Once the gifts are exchanged and the children have gone to bed, the adults let their hair down and there are often parties until the early hours of the morning. As a result, the 25th of December is a fairly quiet and uneventful day.
Christmas celebrations in Guatemala kick off on the 7th of December, with the Quema del Diablo - the burning off the devil. There are bonfires in the street and pinatas resembling the devil are beaten. The burning of the devil is said to cleanse negative energies in preparation for the birth of Jesus.
The advent period continues from December 16th with postadas, a small procession through the streets from house to house over various nights until the 24th. The images of Mary and Joseph are carried and families follow behind carrying bright lanterns and sing Christmas songs. Once the crowd reach the next home, everyone gathers inside for dancing and a meal.
Similar to Peru, Guatemalan Christmas is also strongly centred around the nativity scene, the Nacimiento, which the family build together. Christmas is also celebrated on Christmas Eve, with everyone enjoying a Christmas meal including Guatemalan tamales and Ponche de Frutas, a hot Guatemalan fruit drink. Presents are traditionally opened shortly after midnight, following fireworks to mark the birth of Jesus.
The festive period in Iceland really properly thirteen days before Christmas Day, where children begin the shoe-in-the-window tradition. Folklore states that every night one of the thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads (essentially Icelandic Santa Clauses) visit the children of Iceland putting either a small gift or a rotten potato in their shoe, depending if their behaviour has been good or bad that year.
Icelanders notably remember their loved ones who have passed during the Christmas season. Often they will decorate gravestones with lights and candles throughout the yuletide period. Graveyards become truly beautiful places, with masses of sparkling lights in the winter darkness.
Iceland has a long history of Christmas traditions, known as Yule, spanning back to the ancient winter solstice celebrations. Yule truly kicks off on the 23rd December, a day of celebration of the pre-eminent saint of Iceland, St Thorlakur Thorhallsson. Traditionally, families will eat skate and decorate their Christmas tree.
Christmas celebrations properly begin on the 24th at 6pm, where children will open their presents. The 25th is a day for the whole extended family to celebrate together. Instead of turkey, the centrepiece of an Icelandic Christmas dinner is a leg of roast lamb. Families will also make leaf bread, which is made by rolling out dough into wafer thin sheets and intricately decorating it using a leaf bread iron, creating geometric patterns in the dough before baking it.