Twinkling lights. A crackling fire. A warm cup of cocoa and a krakeling (a Dutch cookie shaped like a pretzel) in hand. Every time the holiday season comes around, these are the things I look forward to most. It’s a time to connect with family members, slow down and relax, as well as a time to rediscover my Dutch heritage and learn from the cultures of others.
Almost every country across the globe celebrates some form of year-end celebration with its own unique flair and style. Read on to explore how others around the world get in the holiday spirit.
As a predominantly non-Christian country, the majority of Russians forego the American version of Christmas with Santa, elves and reindeer, celebrating their festivities on New Year’s Day instead.
According to my father (who studied abroad in Moscow and majored in Russian in college), the major excitement occurs when Ded Moroz, also known as Grandfather Frost, brings presents to children across the country on New Year’s Eve, accompanied by his female companion, Snegurochka. When the clock strikes midnight, Russians exchange the traditional greeting for Happy New Year, “S Novym Godom,” and celebrate either in public or private gatherings to ring in the New Year.
To mark the beginning of the advent season, Colombians celebrate the national holiday of Día de las Velitas (Little Candles’ Day) on Dec. 7 every year. The day honors the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, as people place candles, paper lanterns and the like in streets, windowsills, parks, balconies and all across the towns and cities.
The festivities finish with mugs of “canelazo” passed around and the sharing of Colombian Christmas treats such as buñuelos, natilla and tamales. According to one Colombian blogger on Colture.co, “The lighting of the candles (velitas) symbolizes the wishes we ask for ourselves and our families. It is a moment to reflect, give thanks and think about our first wishes of the Christmas festivities.”
3. South Korea
While celebrating Christmas in South Korea largely depends on religious affiliations, the largest festivities occur around the Lunar New Year, celebrated each year around January and February.
In South Korea, Lunar New Year (also known as Seollal) is a three-day long event intended to honor ancestors and spend time with relatives. Donning traditional Korean attire called the hanbok, families will remember their ancestors through sebae, a New Year’s bow. After the sebae, children will receive money and words of wisdom. Celebrations are concluded with families coming together to indulge in traditional New Year’s games and foods such as Ddeokguk (thinly sliced rice cakes) and dumplings.
Unlike Christmas in the U.S., for Australians, the holiday season comes right in the middle of their summer. For that reason, Australians have been known to break out the sandals, grab surfboards and grill up some barbecue on the beach.
Expat blogger of Adventures in Aussieland, Stephanie, explains some of the most unique differences between Christmas in the U.S. versus in Australia are a surfing Santa, carols by candlelight and a Christmas barbecue lunch with seafood and prawns.
I still remember my first trip to Toronto during the heart of Christmas season, when my college roommate and I explored Toronto’s famous Christmas market overflowing with scrumptious treats. I’ll never forget my first bite of poutine and the gorgeous displays of handcrafted goods.
After enjoying the market, we went to Nathan Philip’s Square to watch the lighting of Canada’s official Christmas tree, a spectacle involving ice skating, performers and thousands of people cheering in the crowds.
Beyond Toronto’s famous Christmas market, Canadian traditions largely depend on the province you’re in. Canadian writer, Mychelle Blake, lists several different Christmas traditions across the country such as:
- Belsnicklers in Nova Scotia
- Christmas markets in Quebec
- Morning meat pies on Prince Edward Island
- Boxing Day
- Midnight Mass
One of the most exciting holiday traditions that I found occurs in the town of San Fernando, Philippines, giving it the name “The Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” Citizens and tourists alike come together to celebrate the Giant Lantern Festival, a competition to decide the most extravagant and decorative lantern of the year. Competitors create their lantern, called a parol, with up to 10,000 light bulbs each and put them to the test with a spectacular, seven-minute light show.
According to Travel + Leisure, the event is attended by thousands of people. Throughout the years, it has grown into a beloved celebration throughout the country.
7. United Kingdom
A friend told me that the holiday season in the United Kingdom is best represented through its unique seasonal foods. Each Christmas, he remembers looking forward to finding Terry’s Chocolate Oranges—a classic British stocking stuffer—in his stocking and drinking Buck Fizz (also known as mimosas) for breakfast. After stockings and presents, he recalls Christmas day as a time filled with delightful holiday foods such as pigs in a blanket (wrapped in bacon rather than crescent rolls) and, of course, Yorkshire pudding.
While each culture is unique in terms of holiday celebrations and practices, one thing remains the same: humans everywhere love to celebrate and spend time with loved ones, no matter the season or time of year.
How do you celebrate the holiday season? Share your story in the comments below!
Image via Marlow Amick