Have you ever wondered how people in other countries celebrate the holidays? Learn about other cultures and traditions together with your children this holiday season.
Did you know that Argentines leave their clogs out for a visit from the Three Kings, while the Finnish visit the sauna, and Italian children wait until January 6 for their gifts to be delivered by an ugly witch named La Befana? Read on to find out more interesting tidbits about Christmas traditions around the world.
Christmas festivities in Alaska begin shortly after Thanksgiving is over with families celebrating out in the streets caroling, dancing and enjoying the holiday spirit. Children carry traditional Christmas stars on poles in a procession through the streets as they go visiting from home to home. Once inside, the carolers are served Christmas goodies. Most popular are cookies, candy, maple-frosted doughnuts, smoked salmon and a fish pie called piruk. Holiday celebrations continue in Alaska until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6.
In Argentina, Christmas occurs during summertime and no Christmas celebration is complete without a barbecue and fireworks. The extended family gathers on Christmas Eve for a big party that lasts all night long. At midnight, gifts are exchanged. Children also anticipate the coming of the Three Kings on January 6. They leave their clogs out beside their beds to be filled with candies and small toys.
The Ethiopian celebration of Christmas, called Ganna and celebrated on January 7, is a solemn religious holiday with the primary activity being a long mass followed by a special feast. Gifts are not traditionally exchanged. During the church service, everyone receives a lighted candle that they carry around the church three times. Men and women stand apart and the service lasts up to three hours. Afterwards, the traditional Christmas meal is served with doro wat, a spicy stew, and injera, a sourdough pancake bread that is used in place of silverware in Ethiopian cuisine. The rest of the day is spent singing, dancing, playing games and feasting with family and friends.
On Christmas Eve, the Finnish visit relatives in the afternoon, followed by a trip to the cemetery to remember the dead. Candles are left burning on the gravestones of family members and ancestors. Finnish children can expect a personal visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, when a male relative or friend will dress up and bring gifts to the house. After Santa leaves, the Christmas feast is served with salted ham, potatoes, veggies and lots of homemade biscuits and buns. And no Finnish Christmas is complete without an after-dinner visit to the sauna.
The tradition of the Nativity scene hails from Italy, where artisans hand-carve these beautiful sets which people display in their homes. Churches also feature beautiful Nativity crèches throughout the holiday season, which people enjoy visiting especially on Christmas Eve. A strict fast is observed on the day before Christmas, and on Christmas Eve a traditional seven fish dinner is served. Children hang up their stockings on January 6 for a visit from La Befana, who according to legend, chose not to visit the Baby Jesus on the night of His birth. Regretting her choice, she has been looking for Him ever since. The Italian version of Father Christmas, La Befana travels the world on her broomstick leaving presents in the stockings of good children and coal for those who were naughty.
In Sweden, it’s not Saint Nick that kids are waiting for but Saint Lucia, the patron saint of light. The celebration begins with St. Lucia’s Day on December 13, when the eldest daughter wakes early, puts on a white gown and serves her parents breakfast. In some places, there are also candlelight processions on Christmas Eve.