Snow starts falling, the streets are decorated with festive lights, and the air is heavy with the smell of gingerbread and sweet biscuits – that’s how we know Advent is here in Austria! Around the world, though, Christmas celebrations are quite different and loaden with a variety of customs and traditions. So in this week’s blog story, we’re taking off on a journey to explore the most beautiful and very special Christmas traditions around the world!

 

Christmas traditions in Great Britain: Merry Christmas! 

 

One very special guest at any British Christmas lunch is the Christmas cracker: made out of paper in bright, festive colours and placed beside each plate at lunch, this is pulled apart by two people sitting next to one another, ‘cracks’ open, and contains small gifts for one of them. For many people in Britain, the traditional Queen’s speech is another Christmas highlight. This short broadcast, which always airs at the same time (3 pm in the afternoon on Christmas Day) is one of the most-watched programmes of the year, as the British lie on the sofa and sleep off lunch.

 

The British are a traditional lot when it comes to Christmas celebrations, and like to be in amongst their family. Everyone gets together to decorate the Christmas tree in bright, festive colours, and mistletoe, ivy and holly will often be used to ensure the rest of the house feels just as warm and Christmassy as the tree. 

 

 

On Christmas Eve (24 December), children will hang stockings or pillowcases by the chimney or at the end of their bed. And just to ensure Father Christmas has the energy to fly from home to home dropping presents down all those chimneys, people will usually leave a plate with a delicious mince pie out for him to enjoy.

 

On Christmas Day, or 25 December, the presents are opened, then it’s time to eat Christmas dinner with the family. Most British tables will be weighed down by a huge roast turkey on the big day, with the famous Christmas pudding for afters

 

 

Christmas traditions in China: 聖誕快樂

 

Christmas is only really celebrated in China’s larger cities, as only 1% of the population is Christian. In the country’s metropolises, however, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the streets are decorated in festive colours with lights and garlands in the same way as in many European countries. In numerous shopping centres nowadays, moreover, you can ask the Chinese Santa Claus, Shen Dan Lao Ren, for a Christmas gift. Literally translated, by the way, his name means ‘old Christmas man’. 

 

 

Younger generations of Chinese, in particular, have fallen in love with the traditionally ‘western’ celebration, however: they enjoy going to Christmas parties, and couples like to exchange presents. Christmas is a time to celebrate love, of course, and is seen in China in a similar way to Valentine’s Day elsewhere in the world.

 

Christmas traditions in Belgium and Holland: Vrolijk kerstfeest!

 

In Belgium and the Netherlands, Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, which falls in early December, is more important than the Christmas celebration itself. SinterklaasSanta Claus – is responsible for handing out the presents on 5 or 6 December. On these days, children put their shiniest shoes in front of the chimney – next to a plate of cookies and carrots to help give Sinterklaas and the horses pulling his sledge the energy to keep flying the night skies. During the night, Sinterklaas’ little helper Zwarte Piet climbs down the chimney and leaves presents behind. Sinterklaas also has a book containing all the children’s names, and knows whether or not they have been good that year! If the children have been well-behaved, then they get presents: if not, legend has it that Zwarte Piet sticks them in his sack and takes them to Spain.

 

For the rest of the Christmas time, the Belgians and Dutch love visiting Christmas markets in towns and cities. Many children look forward to opening one of the doors of their Advent calendar each morning to make the time until Christmas itself just fly by!

 

 

© Antwerpen Toerisme en Congres

 

Christmas Eve is spent with family, and croquette potatoes are usually served as a side with their meal. Many families also have a decorated Christmas tree, with small presents underneath it, which are then opened on the evening of 24 December. 

 

Christmas traditions in Japan: メリークリスマス

 

Although Christmas is not an official national holiday in Japan, many Japanese nowadays do enjoy marking the Christmas celebration. In recent decades, the Japanese have taken on a number of customs from other countries, such as the USA.

 

As there aren’t many Christians living in Japan, though, it’s not a religious festival so much as one of happiness and love and is celebrated in a way similar to our Valentine’s Day. Ever since KFC implemented a particularly successful Christmas campaign in 1974, the Japanese have associated Christmas closely with chicken, turning it into a tradition within just a few years.

 

 

Christmas traditions in Austria: Frohe Weihnachten

 

Christmas is by far the most important celebration of the year for Austrians. They like to make the Christmas time even more enjoyable with calendars, wreaths and visits to the markets so typical of the weeks running up to Christmas.

 

 

One very special tradition in Austria is that of Krampus and the Perchten, which, while it may not be particularly ‘lovely’, is still widespread and definitely worth a mention. The Krampus is a kind of scary, beast-like figure who appears together with St. Nicholas. The legend is that children who have been well-behaved that year are rewarded with small presents from St. Nicholas, while children who have misbehaved are put in Krampus’ sack and taken away with him. 

 

 

Hand-cut and particularly scary masks, wild horns, costumes made of fur and loud bells ring in the so-called Perchtenläufe, or witches’ processions, particularly in Alpine regions. Unlike the Krampus, Perchten are more of a custom than a tradition; the Perchtenläufe are held in many parts of Tyrol, Salzburg and Styria in December when crowds of the legendary figures make their way through towns and villages in the evening to drive out the winter.

 

Christmas Eve is celebrated with family over a festive meal and specially decorated Christmas tree. Before any presents are opened, people will often strike up traditional Christmas songs such as ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Oh, du Fröhliche’.

 

 

We’re totally in a Christmas mood now, and already looking forward to all those Christmas cookies, hot punch and beautifully decorated streets. How do you celebrate the weeks just before Christmas? Which special Christmas customs and traditions do you observe – or maybe you’ve even come up with a few of your own…