How Christmas Is Celebrated Around The World In 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic is developing more complicated, many places around the world still celebrate Christmas time with traditional festivals, delicious food and spend their time with their families and friends.
December 22, 2021 | 16:44

Despite the complicated developments of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Christmas atmosphere is still bustling in many parts of the world with the hope that it will pass and regular life will return to normal soon. People who celebrate Christmas don't have all of the same traditions around the world. In Japan, a bucket of KFC fried chicken has become a holiday staple. Christmas Eve in Finland can involve going to the sauna with your whole family.

1. Christmas season in the Philippines

Santa figures in the Philippines. Dondi Tawatao/REUTERS
Photo: Dondi Tawatao/REUTERS

People in the Philippines like to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible! The playing of Christmas carols in shops can start in September! The formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many people go the the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. The last mass is on Christmas day. The Christmas celebrations continue to the First Sunday in January when Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings is celebrated.

In the Philippines the early masses held before Christmas are called the 'Misa de Gallo' or 'Simbang Gabi' in Filipino.

Most Filipinos are Christians with about 80% of people being Catholics. It's the only Asian country with so many Christians. Because of this, Christmas is the most important holiday in the Philippines. December is actually one of the 'cooler' months of the year in the Philippines. The Philippines only has two real seasons, wet (June to October) and dry (April and May). December is one of the months in between the wet and dry seasons.

Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of western and native Filipino traditions. (Christianity became widely known in The Philippines in the 1500s when missionaries from countries like Portugal and Spain traveled to the area.) So people in the Philippines have Santa Claus (or 'Santa Klaus'), Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Christmas carols from western countries!

They also have their own Christmas traditions such as the 'parol' which is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it. It's traditionally made from bamboo strips and colored Japanese paper or cellophane paper and represents the star that guided the Wise Men. It is the most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines.

Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay awake all night into Christmas day! During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last 'simbang gabi' or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena.

2. People in Japan like to eat fried chicken on Christmas

A KFC in Japan was decked out in Christmas decor in 2016. Quality Stock Arts/Shutterstock
Photo: Quality Stock Arts/Shutterstock

While millions do celebrate Christmas with KFC, others in Japan treat it as a romantic holiday similar to Valentine’s Day, and couples mark the occasion with dinner in upscale restaurants. For other Japanese families, Christmas is acknowledged but not celebrated in any particular way.

But for those who do partake, it’s not as simple as walking in and ordering. December is a busy month for KFC in Japan – daily sales at some restaurants during the Christmas period can be 10 times their usual take. Getting the KFC special Christmas dinner often requires ordering it weeks in advance, and those who didn’t will wait in line, sometimes for hours.

The genesis of Japan’s KFC tradition is a tale of corporate promotion that any business heading to Japan ought to study, one that sounds almost like a holiday parable.

According to KFC Japan spokeswoman Motoichi Nakatani, it started thanks to Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in the country. Shortly after it opened in 1970, Okawara woke up at midnight and jotted down an idea that came to him in a dream: a “party barrel” to be sold on Christmas.

Okawara dreamed up the idea after overhearing a couple of foreigners in his store talk about how they missed having turkey for Christmas, according to Nakatani. Okawara hoped a Christmas dinner of fried chicken could be a fine substitute, and so he began marketing his Party Barrel as a way to celebrate the holiday.

In 1974, KFC took the marketing plan national, calling it Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas. It took off quickly, and so did the Harvard-educated Okawara, who climbed through the company ranks and served as president and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from 1984 to 2002.

3. Christmas tradition in Poland involves keeping a fish in your bathtub

Holiday lights in Poland. AP Images
Photo: AP Images

In Poland, Advent is the beginning of Christmas Time. It's a time when people try to be peaceful and remember the real reason for Christmas. People try not to have excess of anything. Some people give up their favorite foods or drinks and parties and discos are not widely held. Some people also go to Church quite frequently. There is the tradition of the 'roraty', special masses (or communion services) held at dawn and dedicated to Mary for receiving the good news from the angel Gabriel.

Christmas in Poland is celebrated with gift-giving, church services, and fasting on Christmas Eve before a 12-dish feast, which usually features carp for good luck.

Though most people simply buy a cut of fish from the market, according to The Independent, the old tradition was for the lady of the house to keep a live carp in the bathtub for a few days before preparing it for the Christmas meal.

This tradition is also popular in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and Croatia, according to NPR.

There are very many carols sung in Poland and each region has own carols. The most popular ones are "Wśród nocnej ciszy" (Within nights silence), "Bóg się rodzi" (God is born), "Lulajże Jezuniu" (Sleep baby Jesus) and "Dzisiaj w Betlejem" (Today in Bethlehem). The oldest carols are from medieval times, but the most popular ones are from the baroque period.

Presents are brought by "Święty Mikołaj" (St Nicholas/Santa Claus), but in some parts of Poland there are different present bringers (because during the 19th century the borders of Poland were different, so people had different traditions).

In the east (Podlaskie) there is "Dziadek Mróz" (Ded Moroz/Grandfather Frost), in parts of western and northern Poland there's "Gwiazdor", the Starman. The starman is not always all-good - if someone was bad, he might give him "rózga", a birch-stick! In the Śląskie and Małopolskie regions in the south of Poland it might be "Dzieciątko" (the Baby Jesus), and in southern areas of Poland it might be "Aniołek" (Little Angel) or "Gwiazdka" (Little Star)!

4. Finland people celebrate Christmas with a trip to the sauna


Christmas – or Joulu, as it’s known in Finland – is a time to celebrate. The pre-Christmas party season starts as early as the first week of November, and, as you might have guessed, it’s marked by Christmas parties with friends. Christmas markets, twinkling lights, and caroling concerts all bloom throughout the streets, creating the perfect atmosphere for the arrival of the 24th of December.

Finnish people typically spend these festive days at home with their families. After a Christmas Eve breakfast of rich rice porridge with fruit soup or plum juice, families head out to the local market to find their perfect tree. If they’ve already completed this task the day before, the time will instead be spent decorating the tree.

After lunch or an afternoon church service, many will head in for a special Christmas Eve sauna. This is an essential time to relax and unwind before the evening celebrations.

A good clean in the morning ensures that the sauna is ready to receive family and guests, and fresh bench covers, sauna oils, and lanterns are set out. Traditional wood-burning saunas may begin heating first thing in the morning in order to have it nice and hot for the afternoon, but modern electric saunas only require a few hours to reach the appropriate temperature.

When people enter, it is with the goal to purify their bodies and calm their minds. Some joke that it’s to prepare for hosting all their relatives that evening!

After the initial afternoon sauna, people may return for a second soak in the warmth after dinner.

5. The United Kingdom: stockings are hung from the end of beds and the queen gives an annual speech

Photo: Pool/Reuters
Photo: Pool/Reuters

In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents!

Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in England.

Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or other buildings.

Most villages, towns and cities are decorated with Christmas lights over Christmas. Often a famous person switches them on. The most famous Christmas lights in the UK are in Oxford Street in London. Every year they get bigger and better. Thousands of people go to watch the big 'switch on' around the beginning of November.

Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children's beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them. Now, it's often a non-alcoholic drink that's left because Santa has to drive his sleigh.

Children write letters to Father Christmas/Santa listing their requests, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas/Santa reads the smoke.

At 3.00pm on Christmas Day, the Queen's Christmas Message is broadcast on TV, radio and online in the UK. The tradition of a Royal Christmas Message started in 1932 by King George V. Queen Elizabeth II gave her first Christmas Message in 1952. It was first broadcast on TV in 1957. The speech is now pre-recorded a few days before Christmas. It's actually broadcast first in New Zealand and Australia (at about 5am UK time) as they start Christmas Day earlier!

6. Christmas tradition in Croatia

Photo: Croatia Week
Photo: Croatia Week

Croatians are renowned for knowing how to throw a party. In a country where weddings, child-birth and sports victories are known to be celebrated for days if not weeks, it is no different when Christmas rolls around each year…

For Croatians the big day in the Christmas period is “Badnji Dan” (Christmas Eve Day) and “Badnja Večer” (Christmas Eve night). The term badnjak comes from the old slavic words bodar or badar meaning “to be awake”, hence referring to staying awake all through the night until Christmas Day.

The tradition of bringing a log into the house and placing it on the fire on badnjak, and keeping it burning throughout Christmas Day, has been going on in regions in Croatia for centuries.

Since Christmas Eve is a fasting day, traditionally on Christmas Eve Croatians eat a small meal in the evening. Bakalar (dried cod-fish) from Dalmatia is served with a salad or cabbage in households all over the country. Later in the evening locals make their way to the abundance of nearby churches for “midnight mass”. After mass the bars come alive as Croatians party through the night – strictly adhering to the term where the word badnajk was derived from.

Another old tradition is sowing of pšenica (wheat seeds) in a bowl of water (usually on St. Lucy’s day), which will grow until Christmas and is then used to decorate the table on Christmas. The wheat is trimmed and usually wrapped with a red, white and blue ribbon of the Croatian tricolour.

On Christmas Day Croatians traditionally prepare turkey, lamb, roasted pig, sarma (minced meat wrapped in cabbage), peppers stuffed with minced meat, salads, freshly baked bread and traditional Christmas deserts such as fritule (pastry resembling doughnuts), strudel, walnut and poppy-seed cakes and many, many more delights.

7. People in Greece might keep a fire burning during Christmas to ward off holiday goblins


On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing 'kalanda' (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes they will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.

If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets and dried figs.

An old and very traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross and hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.

This is believed to keep the 'kallikantzaroi' Καλλικάντζαρος (bad spirits) away. The kallikantzaroi are meant to appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). They are supposed to come from the middle of the earth and get into people's house through the chimney! The kallikantzaroi do things like putting out fires and making milk go off. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is also meant to keep the kallikantzaroi away (burning old shoes is meant to be a very good way of scaring off the kallikantzaroi).

The main Christmas meal is often lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit. It's often served with a spinach and cheese pie and various salads and vegetables. Other Christmas and new year foods include 'Baklava' (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon), Theeples (a kind of fried pastry). The pastries are either eaten for breakfast or as starters. Another popular Christmas dessert are melomakarono, egg or oblong shaped biscuit/cakes made from flour, olive oil, and honey and rolled in chopped walnuts. Another popular biscuit in Greece are kourabiedes, which are a butter and almond cookie, a bit like shortbread.

8. Christmas on the beach in Australia

Photo: AP Images
Photo: AP Images

While it’s common to celebrate Christmas Eve in Europe, in Australia it’s more accepted to gather on Christmas Day (25 December). Some members of the community might attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – if you’d like to do this, there’s bound to be a church near you that you can visit.

If you’re hosting a Christmas party, make sure that you are monitoring indoor/outdoor gathering limits in your state. If you’re attending a specific event, check the official website or social media profiles for the latest updates. It’s also worth knowing what is open on Christmas Day so you can plan accordingly.

Australians often celebrate Christmas Day by enjoying a Christmas lunch or dinner with their closest family and friends. The meal usually consists of a selection of hot and cold dishes, including fresh seafood. Even though Christmas falls during summer, many families will enjoy roast turkey, hot sides and rich Christmas pudding on the day.

Since December is a summer month in the southern hemisphere, most of Australia is bathed in balmy temps during the holidays.

Accordingly, those in Australia frequently celebrate Christmas with a lunchtime barbecue on the beach. Friends and family gather to indulge in prawns, lobster, and sweets before playing a game of cricket or taking a dip.

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