To mark our first post on this new blog, we wanted to mark the popularity of our updated Christmas Wordsearch activity (the increased demand caused our website to crash!), so here are some ways that children (and adults) celebrate Christmas in different countries around the world.
In many parts of the Netherlands and some parts of North Europe, Christmas comes early, as children celebrate St Nicholas’ Eve (December 5th) and St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6th) with the giving of gifts. The Dutch call their version of Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, who comes from Spain, and rides in on a white horse, with his helper.
The festival of Sinterklaas and was celebrated by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam – the original name for New York. Sinterklaas got changed to Sinter Klaas, and from there Santa Claus.
It is from Germany that we get the tradition of the Christmas Tree. This custom was made popular in England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who came from Germany. The tree was originally decorated with lighted candles (this was before the days of health and safety riles). In Germany, the tree is traditionally not put up until Christmas Eve.
Large Christmas markets are popular across Germany, as is Stollen. Both of which have spread further afield nowadays.
A popular symbols in scandinavian countries is the Yule Goat, which is often made from straw. The last straw of the harvest was saved and made into a goat, which was though to keep bad spirits at bay, and make sure Christmas preparations were done correctly.
In the town of Gävle in Sweden, a giant goat, made out of straw, is erected. Although illegal, it is the subject of arson attacks, and is burnt down most years. The goat has a humourous twitter page, @Gävlebocken.
There was a tradition called “julebukking” where people would go to their neighbours house dressed in disguise, singing Christmas songs. The neighbours would have to guess who was in disguise and would give the visitors food or drink – a bit like a mix of halloween and carol singers!
The word Yule itself comes from an ancient 12 day festival celebrated in Northern Europe, which has become our modern 12 days of Christmas. The word ‘jolly’ is also though to have originated from Yule.
In Russia,’Ded Moroz’, or Grandfather Frost delivers presents to children. He is similar to Father Christmas – but he can wear a red blue or white coat, and is often assisted by his grand-daughter, Snegurochka, the Snow-Maiden.
Christmas Day is celebrated on January 7th, as in Russia the Julian calendar is used to calculate the date for feast days. In the west, we use the Gregorian calendar (which is several days ahead of the Julian calendar), introduced in 1582.
The main Christmas (‘Navidad’ in Spanish) meal is often eaten on the evening of Christmas Eve in Spain, traditionally before Spaniards went to Midnight Mass. Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena (or Goodnight).
Children just receive a few gifts on Christmas Day from Papá Noel, and receive most of their presents, from the three wise men, on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.
December 28th is called ‘Holy Innocents Day, and it is like April Fools Day, where people play tricks on each other.
In Catalan, there is a tradition of the Tió de Nadal, a log decorated with a face and a blanket to keep it warm. Children are encouraged to beat the log with sticks on Christmas Day, whilst singing a traditional song and it will produce gifts. Tió de Nadal translates to “the pooing log”
A popular part of Christmas for Mexican children is a series of parades called ‘Las Posados’ (from the word for inn), celebrating the biblical story where Mary and Joseph were looking for somewhere to stay. The Posadas ends with a party, with lots of food and games, including piñata, where children try to break open a paper-mache star, or donkey, filled with sweets, using a long stick.
If you have any customs or traditions in your part of the world, please feel free to add them into the comments below.
And just a reminder that the Christmas Wordsearch is available for iPads and iPhones and for Apple Macs. Android/Chromebook version is coming soon!