Christmas is celebrated in all sorts of ways, from a day of feasting to a day on the beach. Let Azimo take you on a tour of some of the world’s festive treats and traditions.
Festive tradition dictates that Brits decorate every inch of their house, eat as many mince pies and sing as many carols as they can, and leave stockings for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve while the house is asleep. Many people go to midnight mass, but for others Christmas Day is more about family get-togethers than church services. Much of 25th December is spent eating, drinking or dozing in front of the telly.
After a huge lunch of turkey, stuffing, sausages, bacon, roast potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts comes the fabled Christmas pudding – a steamed treat of dried fruits, suet and spices soaked in brandy. The Queen gives a speech to the nation at 3pm, and then the rest of the day is for snoozing, board games, snoozing, TV Christmas specials, and more snoozing.
Like most of the Orthodox world, Ethiopia celebrates Christmas on 7th January. It’s an early start – people dress up in traditional white and head for church at dawn on Genna (Christmas Day). The marathon service lasts three hours and finishes with the procession of the tabot (which symbolises the Ark of the Covenant) three times around the church on the priest’s head, with priests, singers and congregation following behind.
Everyone then heads home for a well-deserved festive feast featuring typical Ethiopian dishes such as doro wat, a spicy chicken stew. In the afternoon, the men play a game – also called genna and an ancient take on modern-day hockey. According to legend, the shepherds were having a match on the night of Jesus’s birth.
In Poland, Christmas festivities begin in earnest on Christmas Eve. As the first star appears in the night sky, the Wigilia vigil supper kicks off with the sharing of oplatek, a traditional unleavened wafer, and the wishing of a happy year for all at the table. The meat-free feast that follows traditionally has 12 courses, including the likes of mushroom soup, borscht, pickled herring (sledzie), fried fish, pierogi, beans and sauerkraut (groch i kapusta), a dried fruit compote and assorted pastries.
Gifts are also opened at Wigilia and then, if anyone can still move after dinner, it’s time to head off to midnight mass. Carollers go house-to-house between Christmas and Epiphany enacting nativity scenes and singing carols, and households often treat them to some festive food and drink.
Christmas in Australia follows the British model – except that it’s hot and sunny, of course. So while there’s no chance of a flake of snow, there are Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas carols galore during the season. Evening carols by candlelight are popular in parks and squares, and many people choose to spend Christmas day itself outside too.
In Sydney, beautiful Bondi Beach is a classic 25th December destination, with around 40,000 people soaking up some festive rays there each year. Unsurprisingly, many locals skip the traditional turkey feast, opting instead for an Aussie version: cold turkey, ham or seafood and salad, followed by Christmas pud with ice cream.
The Philippines is a global giant when it comes to Christmas, with festivities stretching from September to January. Churches really step up the pace with Simbang Gabi, a series of dawn masses held across nine days in the run-up to Christmas Eve. Sound a bit intense? Attend every one and legend has it that if you make a wish it will come true.
Parols – beautiful Christmas lanterns in a kaleidoscope of colours – adorn cities, towns and villages across the country. Equally distinctive are the dishes served at the traditional Noche Buena meal after Christmas Eve mass. Anyone for puto bumbong, glutinous purple rice steamed in bamboo tubes with butter, sugar and coconut? Christmas Day means family time, with youngsters entertaining elders in exchange for a bit of Christmas cash.
Christmas is a big deal in Nigeria – which makes for crowded roads as people across the country head back to their home towns and villages. Markets, meanwhile, are rammed as mountains of food are bought to be cooked up at festive family feasts. Christmas Eve is a real party night, with some revellers heading straight from club to church to attend early morning mass.
Christmas Day food varies according to region, but chances are there’ll be jollof rice, fried rice and fried or boiled chicken on the table. Children receive small amounts of money from family elders, which is often spent on the firecrackers that can be heard going off throughout the rest of December.
Egypt’s Coptic Christian community celebrates the big day on 7th January, like other Orthodox churches. For the Coptic Church’s many committed Christians, there’s no feasting in the run-up to Christmas. Instead, they undertake a strict 43-day Advent fast, following a vegan diet. Then, on Christmas Eve, everyone dresses up in new clothes and heads to Christmas mass. It usually starts at 11pm… and can go on until around 4am with many people standing for the whole event!
After church, people head home for a special family meal, usually fata – a big, baked dish of bread, rice, garlic and boiled meat. Christmas morning is a time to visit friends and neighbours, taking home-made kahk (a kind of shortbread) as a gift.
Once upon a time, gifts were supplied by St Nicholas on his feast day, 6th December. But Protestant disapproval of saints put a stop to that. However, kids still place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door on the 5th in the hope that St Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate and sweets.
Nowadays, the sprite-like Christkind leaves gifts on Christmas Eve in many regions of Germany. Elsewhere, they come courtesy of the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man). Carp and potato salad make up Christmas Eve dinner, followed by suckling pig or roast goose, stollen, cookies and a raft of other treats on Christmas Day. And after that? A New Year’s resolution to diet!