It is almost that time of the year: Christmas! Christmas is a universal tradition that unifies people all around the world. Most Americans celebrate Christmas in the same traditional way, but what about other countries? There are different traditions in Europe and Asia, which a lot of Americans are unaware of.
In Europe, most countries celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. The days ahead are filled with strange and sometimes even evil traditions. Below are listed some remarkable Christmas rituals around Europe.
In Spain, people start celebrating Christmas on Dec. 8 with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This festival contains the beating of the “Tió de Nadal,” or translated into English, “the Christmas log.” Every night until Dec. 24, children feed the decorated log with dried fruit and nuts. They pretend it is a real creature and they will take care of it with blankets and a head to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve, the little log is brought out and beaten with sticks by children while they sing a traditional song. After the song, the children look under the blanket to find that Tió de Nadal has “pooped” out lots of treats!
In Poland, families traditionally come together for a meal on Christmas Eve, which is known as Wigilia. They will start eating when they see the first star in the night sky.
The meal has 12 courses, which will always include carp, a kind of fish.
The Netherlands and Germany
Christmas celebrations start early in the Netherlands, and parts of Belgium and Germany, as Sinterklaas – also known as St. Nicholas – arrives by boat on the last Saturday in November. Sinterklaas does not live at the North Pole like Santa Claus, but he comes from Spain! There is a rumor that if children have been inappropriate, they will be taken back to Spain on the boat.
He travels across the Netherlands dressed in red bishop robes and a miter, and he always carries his golden staff with him. He also does not ride in a sleigh like Santa Claus. Instead, he travels on a white horse called Amerigo. When he arrives, children leave a shoe out for him by the fireplace filled with a carrot or hay for Amerigo. On the Dec. 5, called Pakjesavond in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas celebrates his birthday and brings presents for all the children around the country.
Christmas, or in Italian called “Epiphany,” occurs on Jan. 6, when children will receive a stocking of sweets if they have been good or a stocking full of coal if they have not. This is brought by the Italian Christmas witch, who is called La Befana. Some people say she accompanied the Wise Men on their way to baby Jesus on Epiphany. She is said to be old, ugly and that she wears bad clothes, because she is a symbol for the old year, which has ended.
In Iceland there is not one Santa Claus, but there are actually 13 Father Christmases, called Yule Lads! These evil characters are said to live in the mountains and visit towns one by one in the 13 days leading up to Christmas. If children misbehave during the year, they might be eaten by a giant Christmas cat who belongs to the Yule lads’ mum called Grýla.
In Greece, children walk from house to house on Christmas Eve, playing music and singing carols in return for treats to eat. This sounds quite familiar to the Halloween tradition in the United States, but for the Greeks, it is a typical Christmas ritual. Also, before Christmas, fresh basil is wrapped around a wooden cross, which is used to sprinkle water around the house to keep away malicious gnomes called Killantzaroi.
In Asia, most countries do not see Christmas as a religious celebration but more as a time to spread happiness. Two Wittenberg exchange students from Asia share their Christmas experiences and customs with the Torch.
Malaysian Christmas traditions fall under big church events and extravagant decorations in malls with a lot of fireworks. People go to the bars on Christmas Eve, where they party until they start the countdown for Christmas day.
Evelina Chandran, an exchange student at Wittenberg from Malaysia, said that most Malaysian people do not decorate their houses with lightning, because a lot of them are guarded with big gates. She also said that Christian families will have open houses for neighbors and family to visit and eat.
As Orin Nishinobo, an exchange student at Wittenberg form Japan, said, there are not that many Christians in Japan, so Christmas is more known as an event to spend time with your family and friends and be thankful for them. Also, Christmas Day is more seen as a romantic time for couples to give each other presents and to go on a date. Christmas is not a national holiday, so most Japanese people see Christmas as a normal day and go to work or even to school.
“I remember I had classes on Christmas when I was in elementary school,” Orin said.