By Liz Haas
Australia—There is no white Christmas in the land down under. In fact, the holiday season is at the beginning of the summer holidays and summer break from school. Australians still decorate their houses with tinsel and glitter, but the temperature ranges from 75 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, many families have given up the traditional Christmas dinner. Instead, gatherings are held in backyards, and picnics are to be found on beaches and in parks. The Christmas “dinner” may include seafood, glazed ham, cold chicken, duck or turkey, cold deli meats, pasta, salads, fruit salad, ice cream, mince pies, fruitcake, shortbread, and chocolates.
Although the food eaten at Christmas time may not be entirely traditional along with the setting of the meal, many traditional rituals have remained. Since much of the population is Christian, Christmas begins with a midnight mass. In the morning, the children wake the house as early as dawn, and stockings are rifled through and presents are unwrapped. Santa is still part of the Christmas spirit, though there has been some talk about replacing him with “Swag Man.” Swag Man is clothed in lighter clothing, such as baggy shorts, to stay cool and avoid the risk of getting heat stroke due to his North Pole clothing.
Brazil—Like Australia, Brazil has warm Christmasses, and devout Catholics go to a midnight mass called Missa do Galo, or “mass of the rooster.” They also attend Church later in the afternoon on the 25th, giving them time to sleep in or go to the beach after their feast of ham, turkey, vegetables, fruit, and colored rice.
There is no Santa Claus in Brazil. Instead, Papai Noel brings gifts from his home in Greenland, wearing silk clothes because of the heat. Freshly picked flowers from the garden serve as decorations, and fireworks are shot off over large cities. However, Brazilians also observe some more familiar Christmas traditions, like creating the nativity scene called presépios. In cities, lights are strung to look like huge Christmas trees.
China—Very few people in China celebrate Christmas, since it is a Christian holiday. Those who do celebrate the holiday light their houses with paper lanterns and decorate Christmas trees with paper flowers, chains, and lanterns. Santa is referred to as “Dun Che Lao Ren,” meaning “Christmas old man,” and muslin stockings are hung to receive gifts from him.
Most of the population celebrates the Chinese New Year toward the end of January. This is when children receive toys and clothes as presents, eat large meals, and enjoy fireworks demonstrations. Unlike Christmas, a major part of the Chinese New Year is celebrating one’s ancestors.
Greece—Every Christmas Eve, children travel from house to house in villages offering good wishes and singing carols called kálanda, and they are often given sweets, dried fruit, and coins in return. Christmas trees are not found in Greece, so a shallow wooden bowl with a sprig of basil wrapped around a cross and attached to a wire across the top of the bowl is the main symbol of the season. This cross and basil are periodically dipped into holy water, which is then sprinkled in every room in the house. This is believed to help keep the kalikántzari, a type of goblin that appears from Christmas to January 6th and causes mischief, out of the house.
India—Christians decorate mango or banana trees, since they do not have any evergreens to trim. Sometimes mango leaves are used to decorate houses or small oil lamps are placed on top of walls or along the edges of flat roofs. Candles and poinsettias decorate churches for the Christmas Eve service.
Norway—Norway, like other Scandinavian countries, has a gift-bearing elf as part of its Christmas tradition. The elf, known as Julebukk, is in the form of a goat-like creature.
Venezuela—A daily church service is attended every morning between the 16th and 24th of December. Many urban churchgoers roller-skate to the service, and children attach a piece of string to one of their toes and hang it out their windows for these skaters to tug on as they pass by.