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December 2015

How the World Celebrates Christmas

How Christmas is celebrated in diverse countries around the world

We’re all more than familiar with how most Western countries celebrate Christmas. Whether it’s midnight church services or a great, big Christmas tree, modern observations of the holiday have been chronicled in song and film and exported across the world. But not everyone enjoys festivities the same way. Today, we take a look at how a diverse set of countries celebrates the Christmas holiday.

Christmas in China

Only a small percentage of the Chinese population are Christians, so it's understandable if Christmas isn't celebrated quite as much in China as it is in the West. However, those in the big cities observe the more commercialised form of the holiday with giant Christmas trees, massive sales in giant department stores, and folks dressed up as Santa Claus for parties. To wish a "Merry Christmas" in Mandarin Chinese, one could say sheng dan kuai le. In Cantonese, it would be seng dan fai lok. (Sheng dan/seng dan refers to Christmas itself.) Santa is known as sheng dan lao ren, which translates to "old man of Christmas". On Christmas Eve, the giving of apples is a popular tradition. The word for apple, ping guo, sounds very much like how one would say silent night, or ping an ye.

Christmas in Russia

Christmas in Russia is actually celebrated on the 7th of January, as the Russian Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar adopted by the majority of the world. Phonetically, one could wish a "Merry Christmas" in Russian by saying "S rah-zh-dee-st-VOH" (C рождеством). A popular Christmas dish is a wheat porridge known as kutia, sometimes eaten from a singular bowl depicting unity. Unlike some celebrations in the West, many Russians choose to fast during the holiday. At night, children sing and call for Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") who comes and brings presents.

Christmas in Ghana

In Ghana, Christmas is a celebration lasting from the 20th of December to early January. The African country is a melting pot of languages and customs, so it's no surprise that there's so much going on. Church services are common, including Nativity scenes and lots of singing. Ghana is also one of the world's principal producers of chocolate with its harvest being in December, offering another reason to celebrate. A yam paste called fufu is eaten, as well as stews and meats.

Christmas in Brazil

Christmas is celebrated in Brazil with celebrations from the country's Portuguese roots. Midnight Mass is popular, as well as the Mass of the Rooster (Missa do Galo). Plays representing the Nativity (Presépio) are performed, as well as plays known as The Shepherds (Los Pastores). Christmas trees are erected, fireworks are ignited, and Brazilians come together for the singing of Silent Night (Noite Feliz), one of the most popular Christmas songs in the country. Brazilians are a diverse group, so traditional food items range from those influenced by Portuguese, African, Italian peoples, and more.

Christmas in Iceland

Iceland is a small country, but it's also a very magical place. This makes Iceland the perfect backdrop to celebrate the season of the winter wonderland. Christmas is known as Yule or Jól. Magical people known as the Jólasveinar come down from the mountains from the 12th of December to Yule Eve. Each day, a different Yuletide lad arrives, from "Gimpy" (Stekkjarstaur) to "Doorway Sniffer" (GáttaÞefur). There's even a lad that gobbles up your Icelandic yoghurt, so be sure to hide that skyr! Major Yule days include St. Thorlakur's Day (Þorláksmessa), Yule Eve (Aðfangadagur), and Yule Day (Jóladagur). The celebration then continues into Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and the Twelfth Night.

What is your favorite Christmas celebration? How does your country celebrate the holiday? Let us know on Facebook and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on culture from around the world.