Trees and Traditions
Explore the national customs presented in this year's Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light. Where do kids await the elf named Julenisse? Which nation joins us this year with a hearty Vesela Koleda? Read on to find out...
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Shnorhavar Soorp Dznount
Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6 with a water blessing symbolizing Christ's baptism. Christmas is a joyous time, but the holiday is a true holy day with fewer festivities and more contemplation and prayer than in Western countries. Some Armenian families eat fish during the holiday because it was blessed by Christ. Pomegranates may also be eaten as a symbol of lavishness.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Froliche Weihnachten
Austrians celebrate St. Nicholas Eve on December 6, Christmas Eve on December 24 and Christmas Day on December 25. Families gather on Christmas Eve to enjoy dinner, featuring baked or fried carp. Christkind (Christ child), often a young woman dressed in robes, visits Austrian homes giving out gifts to children. The beloved Christmas carol "Silent Night" was composed in Austria in 1818.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Vyaselykh Kalyad
In addition to Christmas, many citizens of Belarus celebrate Kaliady, a pagan festival that takes place from December 25 to January 7. Many dress in elaborate animal costumes, sing songs, make music and perform plays. Foods such as kuccia (a barley dish), herring, vinihret (a beet salad), and kalachi (fruit-filled pastries) grace the holiday table.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Joyeux Noel (French), Vrolijk Kerstfeest (Dutch), Frohe Weihnacthen (German), Vrolike Kerstmis (Flemish)
Belgium is a land of many languages and customs. St. Nicholas visits Walloon-speaking Belgians twice. On December 4, he visits homes to determine if children have been good. On December 6, his birthday, he returns and gives gifts of sweets and toys to good children and twigs to those who have misbehaved. Francophones receive a visit from Pere Noel on December 6. Dutch-speaking Belgians are visited by St. Nicholas on December 6. Families enjoy baking (and eating!) speculoos (spiced cookies shaped like St. Nicholas) and buche de Noel (a yule log cake).
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Feliz Navidad (Spanish), Kampliment a di seezn (Kriol)
Belize's rich cultural diversity translates into a mosaic of holiday celebrations. For the nine evenings of Las Posadas (celebrated by Mestizo culture), statues of Mary and Joseph are carried throughout town, from home to home, accompanied by music, dance, fireworks and other festivities. In Garifuna culture, the "Charikanari" dance interprets the relationship of a bull with a hunter with elaborate costume, fun and games. And Kriol (Creole) communities in Belize celebrate the Bram, a parade of dancing, singing and music-making throughout the countryside.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Feliz Navidad
Elaborate presebres (nativity scenes) are an important part of Bolivian holiday celebrations. At midnight on Christmas Eve, many Bolivian families gather around the presebre to pray and celebrate the birth of Christ. Empanadas, roast pork and turkey are foods typically enjoyed during the season.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Srethi Prazhici (Happy Holidays)
Depending upon religious affiliation, some Bosnians celebrate Christmas; others celebrate New Year's Day. Traditional holiday foods include pojaca and hjleb, tasty traditional breads. Sarma (a cabbage, beef and rice dish) is also served the holidays.
Traditional Christmas Greeting: Vesela Koleda
In Bulgaria, Christmas celebrations begin December 20, a day called Ignazhden in honor of St. Ignatius, and run through December 27. The season's highlight is Christmas Eve with a feast of nine, 11, 13, or more vegetarian dishes! It is believed that the more bountiful the table, the more abundant the next harvest.
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Revisit the memorable architectural and visual design of Chicago's 1933 World's Fair.
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Trees and Traditions Podcast
Hear about the international holiday traditions on display in Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.
Get the "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" exhibit guide, including the events, hours, a map and activities. (PDF file)