Trees and Traditions
Merry Christmas (English), Joyeux Noël (French)
French Canadians celebrate Christmas with a réveillon (awakening). After Mass, at around 2 a.m., a huge feast is served, featuring tourtière (a meat pie seasoned with sweet spices). In Northern Canada, Inuits celebrate a winter festival called Sinck Tuck. In Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, costumed belsnicklers (also known as masked mummers) travel door to door, making music and noise, asking for treats. Those who cannot identify the masked visitors must join them in their parade.
Seng Dan Fai Lok (Cantonese)
Christians comprise approximately one-percent of China's population. Those who do celebrate Christmas are visited by Sheng Dan Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man). Homes are illuminated with paper lanterns and Christmas trees (called Trees of Light). Much more widely celebrated is the New Year, which begins on the first day of the traditional Chinese calendar (a new moon, generally between January 21 and February 20 on the Gregorian calendar) and ends with the following full moon. Custom dictates that before the new year, homes must be thoroughly cleaned to keep away bad luck. Houses are decorated with bright colors (red is especially lucky) and flowers. Festivities include elaborate parades and fireworks.
Feliz Navidad (Spanish), Navidadwan Tabig tugagunrrigay (Guambiano), Mamaka wejejerãka (Retvara)
The Colombian holiday season begins with Immaculate Conception Day on December 8, and ends with Three Kings day on January 6. On December 14, families begin to construct lavish nativity scenes. Baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve. Following midnight mass, families gather to enjoy a Christmas Eve feast. Gifts are given by baby Jesus (sweets or small toys left under children's beds) though Santa has become popular in recent years.
On St. Nicholas Eve (December 5), children leave out freshly polished boots; good children's boots are filled with treats. Many Croatians abstain from meat on Christmas Eve (Badnjak) and enjoy an array of sumptuous fish dishes. St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13. The female head of household plants wheat grains in a dish. By Christmas Eve, the grain has sprouted and is tied with ribbon of red, white and blue (colors of the Croatian flag).
St. Nicholas Eve is celebrated December 5, when the saint, accompanied by a good and bad angel, visits children, bringing gifts to those who have behaved well. On Christmas Eve, families gather to enjoy a feast featuring baked carp and kuba (a barley, mushroom and onion casserole). Many Czechs fast the 24 hours before Christmas Eve. Those who abide by the fast may be lucky and witness a magical golden pig "dancing" on the wall!
Four weeks before Christmas, Advent begins. A wreath crown is decorated with four candles, one lit during each of the four Sundays before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, a traditional Danish feast includes roast goose and rice pudding in which an almond is hidden. The person who finds the almond receives a gift.
During the Pase del Niño Viajero (festival of the traveling infant child) held in Cuenca, Ecuador on December 24, costumed children parade through town with floats, animals and music. Children also bring gifts of fruit to their neighborhood's nativity scene, offerings to the Christ child.
El Melad Sa'id (Arabic), Joyeux Noel (French)
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many Egyptians will eliminate all animal products from their diets. Trees and homes are decorated with lights. Brand new outfits are worn to Christmas Eve church services where qurban is given. This special bread is decorated with a cross, surrounded by 12 dots representing the apostles.
In England, Father Christmas fills stockings or pillowcases with gifts for children. Youngsters pop open Christmas crackers filled with chocolate gold coins or a trinket to signify good fortune. English tables overflow with dishes including mince pie, Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. The first Christmas card is said to have been sent from England in 1843.
Haid Joule Ja Head Uut Aastat
Joulud (also known as Yuletide or Winter Solstice) predates Christianity. Estonians still refer to the Christmas holiday as Yuletide and celebrate on December 21. Popular Christmas markets in Tallinn and other Estonian cities feature food, wine, linens, clothing, holiday decorations and toys. Traditional holiday foods include white and blood sausage, sauerkraut, potato salad, marzipan and gingerbread.
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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)
For children visiting the exhibit, this take-along guide provides activities to learn more about the cultures represented in our annual holiday celebration. (Suggested for grades 2 - 8.)