Family Christmas traditions are one of the best parts of the holidays, but no one’s Christmas is exactly alike.
Everyone has their own family Christmas traditions, but around the world, everyone celebrates differently. At Christmas time, I think it is important to develop an understanding of each other. One way to do this is to understand how other cultures celebrate Christmas.
Each country has its own unique way of celebrating. They might even inspire you to start some new traditions with your family. Below are some family Christmas traditions which I just know you’re going to love.
The Dutch celebrate Christmas on two different dates in the Netherlands. The first being one of the sweetest family Christmas traditions in Europe. Sinterklaas, celebrated on the 6th December, with a feast in the name of Saint Nicholas and gifts are given the night before on Sinterklaas Eve.
Sinterklaas is based on the historical figure, Saint Nicholas, who wears a long red robe. He rides a white horse called Amerigo, meaning Gray Horse. Zwartze Piet, Black Pete, are the Dutch equivalent of Santa’s helpers. The Zwartze Piet wear colorful clothes and a feathered cap. They have black faces because they climb down the chimney to deliver presents to the children.
In the middle of November, Sinterklaas and the Zwartze Piet arrive on a boat from Spain, and this can be seen from many docks around the Netherlands. They then travel through the cities on a horse, welcomed by cheering children who sing traditional Sinterklaas songs.
On the lead up to the 5th December, children put their shoes next to the fireplace with a carrot or some hay. The Zwartze Piet come down the chimney at night to place sweets and small presents in their shoes.
The Netherlands also celebrates Christmas on the 25th December, but Sinterklaas is the most celebrated of their gift-giving family Christmas traditions.
In Japan, family Christmas traditions are very untraditional. Christmas is much more of a romantic holiday rather than one spent with family. Christmas remains a novelty to the country, and aside from gifts and light displays, traditions are not as well established.
One rather peculiar tradition has emerged, however, which has Westerners scratching their heads.
In Japan, instead of the typical feast with some kind of roasted poultry as the main aspect of the meal, families tend to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken. That’s right, the Japanese eat the Colonel’s own KFC for their Christmas feast.
This tradition has become so popular that KFC advertises their feasts on their website and in adverts around Japan leading up to Christmas. This stemmed from a highly successful advertising promotion in the 1970s, attributed to Japan’s first KFC manager, Takeshi Okara.
Okara created a ‘party barrel’ to be sold around Christmas and the slogan ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ to go alongside it. The plan went nationwide and soon, KFC for Christmas became a well-established tradition around the country.
Continuing the theme of unique Christmas family traditions, in Venezuela, celebrating Christmas is, for the most part, very conventional. Feasts are enjoyed, presents are given, and Christmas Eve is a time for religious celebration at Mass.
How do they get to Mass? Roller skates. On Christmas Eve, the roads to churches are safely blocked off so that locals can safely skate to the church.
It is unclear where exactly this tradition came from. Some suggest it is an alternative to sledding due to the naturally higher December temperatures in the Southern hemisphere. Skaters pull on the ends of long strings laid by children, signaling that they need to get up and… get their skates on, because it’s finally Christmas.
After Mass, Venezuelans enjoy feasts and firework displays in the evening, returning to the typical Christmas traditions we all know and love.
In Russia, family Christmas traditions usually fall around 7th January rather than the 25th December. This is because Christmas was not an accepted holiday in the days of the Soviet Union and New Year was of greater importance.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, people were free to celebrate Christmas once again, but the holiday didn’t regain the popularity it once had.
On the 7th January, however, Grandfather Frost brings presents to children and is accompanied by his granddaughter, Snegurochka. Many people fast during Christmas Eve, then enjoy a feast when the first star has appeared in the sky.
Christmas time in Russia will last from December 31st to January 10th. Although much more similar than other conventions, the Russian spin on Christmas reflects the country’s vast history.
Christmas is a time for togetherness, kindness, and acceptance. Learning how others celebrate this magical holiday opens us up to the cultures of others and enriches our own experiences. Everyone celebrates differently, and traditions are very nuanced by history.
This Christmas, perhaps you could try out a new one. I would love to hear about your favorite family Christmas traditions and this year, I hope they are spectacular.
By Francesca F.