Christmas Traditions around the World
One of the negative side effects of modernization and globalization is that, more and more, countries lose their cultural identity by adopting the modern Western culture.
In which country do we find people still wearing their traditional costumes? It’s t-shirts and jeans everywhere. What culture still uses exclusively their uniquely traditional, ecological utensils? Even in the poorest homes in the least developed countries, we find characterless plastic objects. The number of places on earth where people still build houses according to their ancient local practices is dwindling — and this list goes on and on.
So, it’s a joy to see that some despite globalization, there is still diversity in Christmas traditional celebrations across the word.
Surely enough, one finds standard American-style China-made Christmas decoration in many places. One also finds traditions that are really modern-day conventions, with no history or symbolism — such as the Japanese Christmas celebration, which consists in eating at KFC. (The result of a very efficient marketing campaign by the food chain in the 1970s.)
And there are also Christmas traditions which are really nothing more than rumours spread around the Internet — like the myth that Norwegians hide their brooms (or on the contrary, leave them outside) because of witches going about on Christmas Eve.
But looking beyond that, it’s possible to see that much remains of truly local Christmas traditions in many countries.
For instance, despite the ubiquity of Christmas trees, there are countries in which the really traditional way of creating a Christmas presence in the home is different.
In Spain, Portugal, Italy, and in Latin American countries, it’s the Nativity scene. It can be very small and succinct — only tiny images of the Virgin Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus in a crib — or it can be large and complex, including angels, shepherds, animals, the Magi, people from Bethlehem and so on, in an elaborate country landscape.
And even though in the last decades most people in those countries have adopted Christmas trees, they usually still build the traditional Nativity scene close to it.
Another difference in Christmas celebrations across countries — and even across different regions within the same country — is the date for giving gifts, as well as the identity of the gift-giver.
In certain places in Italy, for instance, it is Saint Lucia who brings sweets and toys to the children, on the night of December 12.
In the Netherlands, and in former Dutch colonies such as Aruba, Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) visits good children and rewards them with gifts on Saint Nicholas’ Eve — December 5. In Belgium, Luxembourg and northern parts of France, he comes on the next day, which is Saint Nicholas Day. Sinterklaas is helped by Zwarte Piet, a swarthy character dressed in Moorish costume, who carries a broom with which he spanks naughty children. In Alpine countries, a diabolic-looking character called Krampus is responsible for accompanying the saint and punishing bad children.
In Spain and some countries that were once Spanish colonies, such as the Philippines, it’s the Three Kings who bring gifts to the children — and they do it on the feast of Epiphany, January 6, which is called Día de los Reyes Magos (Day of the Magi Kings).
In Portugal, the Child Jesus himself brings gifts on Christmas Eve.
These are only a few of the many different traditions associated with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ around the world. And, while one can argue that the spread of Christianity was itself a movement of globalization, which brought about a certain cultural uniformity in Christian countries, one must also admit that that uniformity still leaves plenty of room for diversity.
For as long as countries and regions preserve their own traditions, this world will be a richer place. This is why it is important for all of us to find the correct balance between globalization and the preservation of our local cultures.