Christmas is probably the most widely celebrated festivals in the world. Although it is primarily a Christian festival, almost every person on the globe is aware of its concept. Following are the most common Christmas traditions, including variants in different cultures:
The notion of Santa Claus is of prime importance during Christmas.
The Santa Claus that we know today is a result of many modifications of various folklore. It all started with Saint Nicholas, who used to give gifts to the poor.
Santa Claus also takes its insipiration from the Germanic Pagan God Odin. Sinterklaas is a Dutch version of Santa Claus who is also known as Father Christmas.
Today, we mostly see parents dressed up as Santa, giving gifts to their children. Commercialization has also lead to Santa Clauses popping up in malls and marketplaces.
The idea of gift giving during Christmas originated as a result of The Three Wise Men/Magi presenting gifts to baby Jesus upon his birth.
Presents are sometimes kept in Christmas stockings that are hung by a fireplace or in boots, and under the Christmas tree, to be opened on Christmas morning.
Moreover, the gift bringer (mostly known as Santa Claus) has different names/characters in different countries. For instance, 'Christkind' in Austria, 'Kerstman' in Netherlands, 'Papa Noel' in Argentina and Bolivia, etc.
Earlier, coniferous trees were decorated with nuts, dates and apples during Christmas. Over the years, these decorations modified into tinsels, candy canes, lights and other ornaments.
People today use both real as well as artificial Christmas trees. Although these decorations remain fairly consistent across cultures, some differences still exist.
The Japanese, for example, make use of fans, dolls, small toys and origami swans to decorate Christmas trees.
Besides this, people also indulge in decorating their homes and outside lawns with pointsettia plants, mistletoes, wreaths, Santa with his reindeers on a sleigh, snowmen, displaying the Nativity Scene ,et al.
We also see gigantic Christmas trees these days set up in public places. For instance, the Rockefeller Centre in New York sets up a large Christmas tree every year.
Christmas carols were originally sung as Christmas hymns in 4th century Rome, taking inspiration from the pagan songs of early Europeans.
Some popular Christmas carols today include "Jingle bell rock", "Jingle bells", "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer" and "We wish you a merry Christmas", among others.
These carols have also been translated into numerous languages and some countries even have their own traditional Christmas carols.
A Christmas feast with family and friends is another important custom celebrated the world over. Christmas dishes vary from country to country.
For instance, a typical Christmas dinner in UK,USA and Canada would include among other things, roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and yams while desserts would include puddings, pies, plum/fruit cakes along with apple cider and eggnog as drinks.
In Finland, Christmas ham with mustard is very popular, French Christmas cuisine would include Foie Gras, smoked salmon, oysters, Kouglof, and the Christollen is another popular German Christmas dessert.
It is a Christian tradition to attend a 'Midnight Mass' on Christmas Eve as Jesus Christ is believed to be born at night. Today, we even see non-Christians attending this Mass, to be a part and get a glimpse of traditional Christmas celebrations.
For instance, in Greece, gifts are exchanged on St. Basil's Day on January 1 and at Christmas, gifts are mainly given to the needy.
The Spanish have a special Christmas dance called 'Jota', the Irish believe in keeping mince pies and Guinness (a kind of Irish beer) out for Santa - to refresh him on his journey, and in Japan, traditional Christmas cuisine includes Kentucky Fried Chicken!
There are unusual and bizarre customary beliefs about Christmas as different people have their own ways of celebrating Christmas but everywhere, the feeling of spreading joy and warmth remains the same. Wish you a very heartwarming Christmas!