Trees and Traditions
The majority of Japan's population is Buddhist, and Christmas is not a commonly celebrated holiday. However, younger generations do exchange gifts at Christmas. Shogatsu, New Year's Day, is Japan's primary winter holiday. On New Year's Eve, many Japanese visit their shrine or temple to pray for a healthy and prosperous new year. Joya-no-Kane is the midnight Buddhist chiming of the bells - 108 chimes signifying the 108 Earthly sins.
Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Approximately half of Korea's citizens are Christian. Christmas is not a major celebration as it is in the West, but it is a time for sharing and making donations to those less fortunate. Children believe in Santa Haraboji (Father Santa) and many youngsters participate in a Christmas Eve pageant at their church and go caroling after Christmas services.
The Latvian holiday season is filled with food and folklore! Dishes include lentils with bacon, pork roast, piragi (rolls with bacon-onion filling), fresh butter and honey, homemade cheeses and gingerbread. On New Year's Eve, Latvian families may drag a large log thoughout the house, then set it ablaze. The effort recalls the hard labor of farming, and burning the log symbolizes removal of hardship and a return to warmth and light. The ashes, said to have healing properties, are sprinkled inside and outside the home.
Milad Majeed (Arabic), Joyeux Noël (French)
In Lebanon, a few weeks before Christmas, beans, peas, wheat and lentil seeds are planted. At Christmas, the newly sprouted plants decorate the manger in nativity scenes. A traditional meal of lamb, beef roast or turkey, plus tabouli and kibbi, is served with baklava for dessert.
Before Christmas Eve, Lithuanian homes are cleaned from top to bottom, including fresh bed linens and baths for everyone. Kúcios (or the Christmas Eve feast) includes a generous nine to 12 meatless courses. Straw is placed beneath the tablecloth to symbolize the manger where Christ was born.
Children leave out plates on the evening of December 5. St. Nicholas (known as Kleeschen in Luxembourg), accompanied by his servant Houseker (Black Peter) leaves fruits, nuts and sweets for good children.
During Las Posadas, a nine-day candelight procession that culminates on Christmas Eve, a girl dresses as the Virgin Mary and a boy dresses as Joseph. They are followed throughout their town by children dressed as angels and saints. Each night, a different home welcomes them. On Christmas Eve, their arrival is marked with the breaking of piñatas and merry celebration. Dia de los Reyes (King's Day) also is celebrated throughout Mexico on January 6. Children receive gifts left by the Magi.
Many Native American tribes became Christianized when Europeans arrived in America, so some traditions are similar to European-American customs. Several tribes create handmade nativity scenes with ornately crafted cribs to hold the baby Jesus. Instead of Middle Eastern camels and donkeys, these nativity scenes feature American wolves, foxes and bears.
On the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) sets sail from Spain. Dutch children set out wooden shoes filled with sugar and hay for Sinterklaas' horse. If they are good, they receive shoes full of sweets! Kerstkrans, the traditional Holland ring cake, is enjoyed during the holiday season.
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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.)