As the air becomes crisp and the days grow shorter, the world comes alive with the enchanting spirit of Christmas. This is a season where the air is adorned with the warmth of festive lights, the streets echo with the melodies of timeless carols, and the spirit of kindness weaves its way into our lives. In actual fact, Christmas is more than a celebration, it is a magical journey that goes beyond borders, cultures, and generations, uniting us in a shared tapestry of traditions, love, and joy. Therefore, in this article we will delve into the complex threads that compose the rich tapestry of Christmas, from the sparkling lights that illuminate the darkest nights to the different ways in which people around the world come together to create a season filled with connection and joy. Beside this, we will also explore the traditions and the habits typical of this great celebration, and also some funny arts and crafts that can be recreated at home.
CHRISTMAS PREPARATIONS AND TRADITIONS
Christmas is a cultural festivity that entails a lot of preparations. It is a public holiday and so people get a Christmas break to celebrate it. Preparations for Christmas involve a lot of activities: people usually buy decorations, food, and gifts mostly for children in the family and friends. The common preparations include decorations of the place with Christmas trees, lighting, which brings the Christmas spirit in homes.
The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree has a rich history. Originating in Germany, it has become a global symbol of the holiday season. Families gather to adorn their tree with twinkling lights, ornaments, and a shimmering star on top. The aroma of pine fills the air as everyone participates in creating a festive centerpiece. Decorating homes with lights and wreaths is a universal practice that adds a magical touch to the festive atmosphere. Streets come alive with colorful displays, creating a winter wonderland that captivates both young and old. The glow of fairy lights and the soft jingle of bells evoke a sense of wonder and nostalgia. Another beloved tradition is the preparation of a Christmas feast. Families gather around tables laden with delicious dishes. It’s a time when culinary traditions are passed down through generations, creating a tapestry of flavors that define the holiday season.
Christmas gastronomy is a delightful journey that varies widely reflecting the unique traditions and culinary preferences of different countries. Therefore, around the world festive meals become a focal point, bringing families and friends together to pamper themselves in a rich diversity of dishes.
Besides this, Christmas gastronomy goes beyond the act of eating; it embodies cultural traditions and holds deep meanings. For instance, the shared experience of partaking in festive meals creates a sense of unity, not only connecting people with their traditions but also connecting each other.
Moreover, the carefully cooked dishes, often passed down through generations, become a symbol of the link between the present and the past. As families gather around tables filled with delicious food, the flavors of Christmas remind us that this season is more than just about tasty treats. Christmas is meant to be a time in which people enjoy their cultural customs, find joy in sharing meals and in which we are pleased by the warmth of togetherness.
- Global Sweet Delights
Sweet delights abound during the Christmas season, just think of gingerbread cookies that have become a cherished symbol in many countries, representing the coziness and the joy of the season. Another typical dessert is fruitcakes: these rich fruity cakes come in different forms and are enjoyed worldwide. In fact, some families exchange them as special gifts, while others savor them during festive gatherings. For these reasons, fruitcakes hold a special spot in global Christmas tradition.
An additional dessert that cannot be missed in Christmas feasts is the Yule log. It consists of a log-shaped cake, made with sponge cake and creamy frosting and pays tribute to ancient traditions of burning Yule logs for warmth. Nowadays, it is a tasty symbol of Christmas holidays in Europe, and subsequently in North America. In France, it is called “bûche de Noël”, and in Italy “tronchetto di Natale”.
Last but not least, the chocolate: from the advent calendars with daily chocolate surprises to the delicious wrapped truffles, chocolate plays a major role in holiday tables.
Beyond these customs, Christmas markets are a delightful experience. Streets are transformed into bustling bazaars, offering an array of handcrafted ornaments, festive treats, and unique gifts. The markets create a sense of community spirit, as people come together to revel in the holiday spirit. Each Italian region has Christmas markets, but the most famous are in Bolzano and more in general in Trentino Alto-Adige, in Verona, and in the biggest Italian city reflecting the atmosphere of that place.
In Europe the most famous are in Vienna, in Prague, in Berlin and in Strasbourg, which is called “Christkindelsmarik” in the Alsatian language. It is an amazing experience to be involved with the Christmas warmth.
Furthermore, the Christmas season brings with it a charming number of traditions that are filled with joy and warmth. Thus, among these cherished Christmas habits, building a snowman stands out as a playful and creative pursuit. As the first snowflakes blanket the ground, families and friends come together to build a jolly snow companion, complete with a carrot nose and coal eyes.
As well as building a snowman, making snow angels is a delightful habit, especially for kids. Children and adults alike joyfully spread their arms and legs, leaving behind angelic shapes.
In the heart of these festivities, Letters to Santa Claus from children add a touch of innocence and anticipation. The tradition of writing down dreams and wishes, addressed to the North Pole, captures the imaginations of the youngest celebrants. In places like Finland, where the town of Rovaniemi serves as Santa’s official hometown, the exchange goes beyond wishful thinking. Personalized responses from Santa himself bring enchantment and a sense of connection to the children, fostering the belief in the spirit of giving.
Among these beautiful habits for kids, there are lots of activities for adults. For instance, several associations welcome different objects and gifts for people who cannot afford it, or voluntary activities that people can do in different areas: bringing a hot meal to the poorest in the city, and giving their time to help others. All these things remind us of the feeling of closeness not only to our loved ones whom we spend more time with, but also to people we do not know.
Another lovely habit is watching Christmas movies with the family or friends. Waiting for the moment to watch our favorite movie, maybe with a good cup of hot chocolate in our hands on the sofa, increase the spirit of Christmas and sometimes makes us children again.
All this atmosphere is contoured by Christmas songs which make people more happy and fill our homes. Moreover, caroling, where groups of singers spread joy through melodic tunes, is another tradition that brings communities together. The sound of Christmas carols resonates in the air, creating a harmonious backdrop to the season’s festivities.
CHRISTMAS ARTS AND CRAFTS
As the holiday season unfolds, the Christmas spirit finds expression not only in festive decorations, but also in the creativity of arts and crafts. This joyful and personal approach to celebrating Christmas allows individuals to infuse their surroundings with a unique, handmade charm.
- DIY Christmas Decorations
Creating our own Christmas decorations adds a special touch to the festive atmosphere. Thus, families often come together for crafting sessions to make ornaments and wreaths. Paper snowflakes, hand-painted baubles and personalized stockings become cherished items that carry both artistic flair and sentimental value.
- Handmade Christmas Presents
The act of crafting extends to gift-giving, as people take pleasure in making handmade presents for their loved ones. Whether it’s a knitted scarf, a carefully crafted photo album, or homemade candles, these gifts carry a personal touch that reflects the thoughtfulness and creativity of the giver.
- Festive Table Centerpieces
Crafting also extends to the dining table, where festive centerpieces become a focal point. From handmade candles holders that cast a warm glow to thoughtfully arranged floral displays, each centerpiece becomes a unique expression of creativity. Besides this, crafters often incorporate festive elements like pinecones, holly, and seasonal foliage, creating a visually enchanting table.
These crafted centerpieces extend beyond decorations, they bring a sense of warmth and a touch of color to the table, they symbolize joy, creativity, and of course, the spirit of Christmas.
HOW PEOPLE WISH HAPPY HOLIDAYS
People from every part of the world wish Happy Holidays in different ways, such as “Buon Natale” in Italy, “Merry Christmas” in the United Kingdom, “Feliz Navidad” in Spain, “Joyeux Noël” in France, “Frohe Weihnachten” in Germany, “Boas Festas” in Portugal, “Glaedelig Jul” in Denmark, “Chúc M?ng Giáng Sinh” in Vietnam, “Meri Kirihimete” in New Zealand, “Meri Kurisumasu” in Japan, and so on. Anyway, not everyone believes in Christmas, so it is important to respect others and their culture. For this reason, if we do not know how and if others celebrate Christmas, the best thing is to wish “Happy holidays” in order to respect everyone!
HOW DIFFERENT COUNTRIES CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS
In addition to all the previous traditions, each country celebrates Christmas with other specific costumes linked to the culture of that place. Let’s see some examples.
- Christmas in the United Kingdom UK
In the United Kingdom families often celebrate Christmas together. Most families have a Christmas tree in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping.
Furthermore, Ivy, Holly and Mistletoe are sometimes used to decorate homes or other buildings. In addition, most villages, towns and cities are decorated with Christmas lights, the most famous are in Oxford Street in London. Every year thousands of people go to watch the big ‘switch on’ around the beginning of November.
Besides this, in the UK, the main Christmas Meal is normally roast turkey, roast vegetables and “all the trimmings” which means vegetables such as carrots and peas, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages. It is often served with cranberry sauce and bread sauce.
A typical dessert is Christmas Pudding, which is made with dried fruit, suet, breadcrumbs, flour, eggs, and spice, along with liquid such as milk or fortified wine.
The dinner table is also decorated with a Christmas Cracker for each person. It had to do with short cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper. When the crackers are pulled – with a bang! – a colorful party hat, a toy or a gift and a festive joke falls out!
- Christmas in France
In France, Christmas is a magical time filled with unique traditions that blend festive cheer with a touch of elegance. Let’s discover some Christmas traditions in France.
Le Réveillon: Christmas Eve, known as “Réveillon,” is a major celebration in France. Families come together for a late-night feast (after midnight) that often includes delicacies such as oysters, foie gras, smoked salmon, and a variety of festive desserts. The meal can extend well into the early hours of Christmas morning.
Le Père Noël: Children eagerly anticipate his arrival on Christmas Eve, and it’s a tradition for Père Noël to leave gifts in children’s shoes. In some regions, especially in the east of France, there is a character called “Père Fouettard,” who is said to accompany Père Noël, punishing naughty children.
Le Bûche de Noël and other desserts: the “Bûche de Noël,” or Yule log, is a classic Christmas dessert shaped like a log, symbolizing the ancient tradition of burning a Yule log for good luck. It’s made of sponge cake and buttercream, often decorated to resemble a tree log. Yule logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. In fact, an old tradition is that the log was carried into the home on Christmas Eve and sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it was burning. There is another custom, which is leaving the log and candles outside burning all night with some food and drinks.
Another tradition, in some parts of France, is eating thirteen different desserts! All the desserts are made from different types of fruit, nuts and pastries.
Les Marchés de Noël: throughout December, Christmas markets, or “Marchés de Noël,” pop up in towns and cities across France. These markets feature festive stalls selling crafts, decorations, and seasonal treats. Mulled wine, gingerbread, and roasted chestnuts are among the delights that add to the festive atmosphere.
- Christmas in Italy
One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity crib scene, which in Naples has become a cultural rather than a religious thing. In fact, in Naples there is a street called “Via San Gregorio Armeno” where you can find and buy handmade Nativity scene decorations, but also “everyday” figures made by Neapolitan craftsmen, such as famous people (singers, actors), politicians, important people and some professions all surrounded by lights, songs and a special Christmas warmth.
Another tradition is to decorate the Christmas tree on 8th December and the tree then stays up until the Epiphany on 6th January.
Moreover, during the Evening of Christmas Eve, the 1983 comedy film “Trading Places” is always shown on Italian TV, but after it people can also watch “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, or “Home Alone” and other masterpieces of Christmas cinema!
In Italy, there is a wide culinary tradition which differs according to the region. Generally, on Christmas Eve Italians eat seafood meals, and the types of fish include Baccala, Clams, Calamari, Sardines, and so on, but there are lots of Christmas dishes all around Italy. Typical Italian dessert is the “Pandoro” (“Pane + D’oro”, which literally means Golden Bread), a traditional Veronese sweet bread shaped like a frustum with an eight-pointed star section, and often served dusted with vanilla-scented icing sugar.
But people also eat the “Panettone”, which is similar but contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate.
- Christmas in Spain
Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena, and in the days before it, children might take part in “Piden el aguinaldo” (ask for Christmas bonus/money) where they go and sing carols around their neighbors hoping to get some money.
The traditional Spanish Christmas dinner was “Pavo Trufado de Navidad ” which is a turkey stuffed with truffles (mushrooms) or “Pularda asada” (a roasted young hen), although they are not commonly eaten now. Nowadays, the first course typically involves a stew or soup/broth. Andalusian stew, Catalan escudella (a traditional meat stew with sausage), garlic soup (for example in Castle-La Mancha), cream of almonds in the Balearic Islands or even trout soup (typically in Castile and Leon) are the most popular. Rotisserie meat (especially lamb, suckling pig or Ternasco lamb, if possible, cooked in a woodfire oven) and oven-baked fish, such as bream or sea bass, are among the most typical main courses.
In Galicia (in the north-west of Spain) the popular meal for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day is seafood. Popular desserts and sweets include mazapán (made of almonds, sugar and eggs), turrón (made of honey and toasted almonds) and polvorones (made of flour, butter and sugar).
One old tradition was for people to walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums, saying “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir” which literally means “Tonight is the good night, and it is not meant for sleeping”.
In the Catalonia region of Spain there is a Christmas character called “Tió de Nadal” (the Christmas log), which is propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end. Catalan families “take care” of it by giving some food and a blanket, and On Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the log “gives out” small gifts!
- Christmas in Latin America
In some Latin American countries Christmas comes during the summer, but there are lots of Christmas traditions. Among the countries there are Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá, Paraguay, Uruguay. So, let’s see some of their traditions!
Christmas in Argentina is not only free of snow, but also of the European Christmas symbol: the fir tree! In fact, in that country it does not grow. For this reason, at Christmas, Argentine families decorate palm trees or resort to artificial Christmas trees. As in other Hispanic countries, the tradition wanted gifts to be exchanged on January 6th. The children left their shoes outside the door with a basin full of water and a bit of fodder for the horses. Then, when they woke up, they would find gifts. But now, even in Argentina, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day.
Brazil is a crossroads of cultures and cultural influences from the world, first the African culture. The most folkloric Christmas is organized in Gramado (in the Serra Gaúcha) which takes the name of Natal Luz and lasts from December 18th to January 11th. The lively Brazilian spirit fills the streets of the town built at the time of the German colonial period and is intertwined with the typical Christmas traditions, but under the summer sun! Although, at the entrance to the city, is placed a big and illuminated Christmas tree.
In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from December 12th to January 6th. A game that children often play is Piñata, which is a jar decorated with clay or papier-mâché, full of sweets and hanging from the ceiling or branch of a tree. To play, the children are blindfolded and, in turn, hit the piñata with a stick until it cracks and the sweets come out. Then the children hurry to collect as many sweets as possible!
Christmas Eve is known as “Noche Buena” and is a day dedicated to the family. Typical dishes for the main Christmas meal include pozole (a thick soup made from hominy, chicken or pork and peppers topped with vegetables), roast turkey, roast pork, tamales, bacalao (cod), romeritos (a green vegetable cooked in mole sauce with potatoes and shrimp) and normally there are salads served as a side dish like Ensalada Nochebuena (Christmas Eve salad). Bunuelos, fried pastries sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon or a hot sugar syrup, are very popular desserts. To drink there may be the Ponche (a hot Christmas fruit punch) and the Rompope (a drink similar to eggnog to which rum is often added). In some states of Mexico, children wait for Santa Claus to arrive on December 24th. In southern Mexico children wait for gifts on January 6th during the Epiphany , known as “el Dia de los Reyes”.
- Christmas in other hot countries
Also other countries celebrate Christmas during the summer, which is a little bit strange for European people, but it is definitely an experience to do at least once in your life. Let’s see some traditions that probably not everyone knows.
For example, in Australia Santa Claus wears the typical Australian hat, called akubra, and reindeer are replaced by white kangaroos called boomers. Moreover, Australians make barbecues based on fish and shellfish, and prepare cold dishes with large salads of fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, accompanied by fresh drinks.
In New Zealand, although the weather dictates a summer outfit, Santa Claus surfs wearing the traditional Lappish costume. People eat Pavlova, a delicious fresh cake made from meringue, cream and fruit; and celebrate Christmas twice a year! In fact, an interesting thing is that emigrants from the Western Hemisphere do not give up celebrating it even in July, when the country’s winter is late and the atmosphere is reminiscent of the Christmas of their country of origin.
But traveling to other hot countries like the Seychelles, the Maldives, the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, The Bahamas, Mauritius, Brasil, you will find many other traditions! For this reason, it is important to respect all different cultures.
‘TIS THE SEASON!
To sum up, Christmas is not a simple celebration, it is a special season in which people feel empathy, closeness, and kindness. The beauty and the warmth of lights, decorations and Christmas songs in every place make a magical moment for adults and children. It is an opportunity to be “re-born” and to give our time to others, because the greatest gifts are not expensive, but come from the heart. In fact, all these different traditions around the world show us that Christmas is a special moment for sharing this sense of union with our loved ones and with those who need them most.
Whether you are in the snow, by the sea, or at home it does not matter because there are lots of Christmas traditions that you can live and experience in most countries of the world. Christmas Eve is also an opportunity to share food and moments with the people we love: cooking together, eating and laughing at the table remind us how lucky we are to have people who love us. Christmas, therefore, is also an occasion of gratitude, to remind us to give value to all we have, including relationships. In conclusion, the aim of this article was to give only “a little taste” of the cultures and the Christmas traditions all around the world, to explain how important and warm Christmas is. It is meant to be a time in which people enjoy their cultural customs, find joy in sharing meals and in which we are pleased by the warmth of togetherness. For this reason, we wish you to experience all these things in order to understand the power of sharing with others. And, to respect all, we wish you Happy holidays!
JOIN CAIL in celebrating the magic of Christmas!
Languages are learned best through enjoyable and meaningful experiences. For children, holidays provide a precious opportunity to further increase their motivation to learn, thanks to the joyful atmosphere and the wealth of linguistic and cultural stimulation.
We are thrilled to offer a whole morning of workshops in Bologna to learn thematic vocabulary, sing together, have fun with creative activities, and exchange wishes for the most enchanting season of the year. All in English, of course!
Don’t miss our CHRISTMAS PARTY!
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, FROM 10:00 AM TO 12:30 PM at the INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE CLUB (Via Gaudenzi 6F, Bologna).
Fill in the following form to participate!