The holiday season is here and people all around the world are preparing for the occasion. While the date of celebrating Christmas remains December 25, there are many traditions and custom that differs from place to place. There are many popular modern celebratory customs that are a blend of pre-Christian, Christian and secular themes. Santa Claus, a feast and Christmas trees are staple Christmas fixtures, but there are countries where Christmas means something entirely different. Here are some interesting Xmas traditions that may come as a surprise.
Austria: At Epiphany, as a remembrance of the three Wise Men - Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - people write a special sign in chalk over their front doors with their initials included. The year 2017 would be written as '20*C*M*B*17'. The famous carol Silent Night, called Stille Nacht in Austrian, was written in Austria in 1818. The children believe the 'Christ kind' will bring them presents on Christmas Eve. The Christ kind looks like a golden haired baby with wings, symbolizing baby Jesus. (Source: Jurgen Priebe via Flickr)
Argentina: In Argentina, any tree can be converted into a Christmas tree - they don't necessarily have to be fir. Argentineans let float the 'globos' in the sky. Globos are paper decorations supplied with a light inside. The sky is filled with them on Christmas Eve. Argentineans greet each other by saying 'Feliz Navidad' - Spanish for Merry Christmas. (Source: Abigail Davis via Flickr)
Malta: 'Priedka tat-Tifel' is a Maltese Christmas tradition in which a child - aged 7-10 years - replaces the priest as the preacher of the sermon at midnight mass. In 1921, a priest called George Preca introduced the practice of a life-sized figure being carried at the head of the Christmas Eve procession. A 500-member strong 'Friends of the Crib' - formed in 1986 - puts on an exhibition of about 100 cribs of all shapes and sizes every year. (Source: Michael Caroe Andersen via Flick)
Mexico: In the Posada tradition, Mexican children set out on a procession with clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph. They pause at homes of friends and families and sing a song about Mary and Joseph requesting a room at the house. Initially declined, the children are eventually told about a vacant room where a little party with food, games and fireworks lay waiting. Pastorelas (The Shepherds) is another Christmas play in which shepherds who've set out to find baby Jesus are stopped by a devil, who tries to tempt them away from their goal. But the shepherds finally reach their destination with the help of Archangel Michael, who comes and beats the devil. The plays often conclude with hilarious results. (Source: Susan Sermoneta via Flickr)
Armenia: The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates Christmas on January 6. It is not uncommon for people to fast in the week before Christmas. A light menu is prepared on Christmas Eve to make the body ready for a heavy Christmas feast the next day. Santa Claus - Gaghant Baba or Kaghand Papa - pays a visit on New Year's Eve. (Kevin Dooley via Flickr)
Belgium: In Belgium at Epiphany, children dress up as the three wise men and go home to home trick-or-treating. They leave their shoes in front of the fireplace for 'Sinterklaas'. They also leave a carrot for Sinterklaas' horse and something for Zwarte Piet (Sinterklaas' assistant). Sinterklaas is believed to be in possession of a book listing all children's names and their deeds of the year. If a child has been naughty, it is believed that Zwarte Piet will ship him off to Spain in his sack. (Source: Gerard Stolk via Flickr)
Brazil: In Brazil, Christmas is celebrated in the summer; so, many people head for the beach. Santa Claus is called Papai Noel and Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man). Secret Santa - called amigo secreto - is a popular tradition. Brazilians get a double salary - called the 13th salary - in December. (Source: Ana Fuji via Wikimedia Commons)
Denmark: Danish children receive a gift per day (total 24) in the run up to Christmas Eve. Similarly, 'Julekalender' - which means Christmas calendar - is a TV series with 24 episodes that is aired by two prominent TV channels with slight variations every year. The storyline usually revolves around the main characters saving Christmas from someone trying to ruin it. (Source: Nationalmuseet via Flickr)
Australia: Australia is vulnerable to bush fires in the countryside, especially in the summers, which is when they celebrate Christmas. Volunteering bush firefighters are rather busy trying to save people and property in all states. The Christmas carols are tweaked by replacing words about snow and winter with Australian words more apt for the weather (these are the Australian lyrics for Jingle Bells). Santa trades in his red fur coat for some thongs (?), and gives his reindeers a rest in favor of kangaroos. (Source: Trevor Dennis via Flickr)
Finland: The Finnish believe that Santa Claus lives in the northern part of Finland called Korvatunturi, which is host to a theme park. Since days are shorter in Finland, traditionally people visit cemeteries to visit the graves of their family members and ancestors, and leave hanging lanterns lit up with a candle around the grave. The scene looks like a winter wonderland. (Source: Ilkka Jukarainen via Flickr)
France: While most French traditions are no different from the regular ones, there is one that stands out - in some parts of France, 13 different desserts are eaten. (Source: Mmatins via Flickr) Greenland: Greenland has some unusual Christmas traditions. Starting with the feast, some popular dishes are 'Mattak' - whale skin with a strip of blubber inside, and 'Kiviak' - raw flesh of auks, an arctic bird, buried in sealskin from months before till it reaches an advanced state of decomposition. Men take over the household responsibilities and serve their women.
A popular Christmas game involves passing around an object from hand-to-hand under the tablecloth. The object is supposed to be repulsive - like a frozen egg, wrapped in strips of wet fox fur. (Source: Lisa Risager via Flickr) Japan: Christmas in Japan resembles Valentine's Day. It is, in fact, seen as a romantic day. Booking a table on Christmas Eve is very difficult due to its popularity among the young couples. (Source: Sean via Flickr)