How Christmas is celebrated around the world

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays around the world. In countries like the United States, radio stations play Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ non-stop, entire suburbs are decorated in Christmas lights, and shopping centres filled to capacity with people hoping to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

Most Western Catholic parishes spread the Christmas message by creating and displaying Nativity scenes, and Advent retreats. However, each country and group of Catholics celebrate with their own unique traditions.

Celebrating Christmas in India:

Christianity is a minority religion in India, but in areas with a dense population of Christians, streets are lit and decorated for Christmas and churches keep their doors open until late at night for nativity peeking. 

Every parish creates a nativity that highlights an important social issue, calling it ‘A Crib with a Message’. Churches are decorated with poinsettia flowers and candles for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, which is followed by a massive feast of different curry delicacies and gift-giving. 

Most Catholic homes have a star-shaped lantern outside their windows. However, in Southern India, small oil-burning clay lamps are displayed on the flat roofs of homes to signify Jesus as the light of the world.

Celebrating Christmas in Hong Kong:

Catholics in Hong Kong have adopted many Western traditions, mostly because of their 100-year stint as a British colony. This creates a unique cultural blend of the East and West. 

Most Catholic families in Hong Kong prepare for Christmas by lighting a weekly Advent candle. In addition, some dioceses hold a walk to pray for mostly youth-related religious vocations. Trends like Christmas trees and big family dinners are gradually declining in Hong Kong, but in the remaining Catholic communities, both religious and popular Western traditions remain.

Celebrating Christmas in Germany:

Like almost every Catholic parish worldwide, Advent in Germany begins with the lighting of the first candle of the Advent wreath coinciding with the commencement of a bought or homemade advent calendar. 

Once per week in the morning, a traditional, candle-lit Rorate Mass takes place, followed by breakfast before school. Germany's traditional ‘Christkindlmarkt’ market takes place in almost every city in Germany, with stands selling trinkets, decorations, toys, food accompanied by Glühwein (mulled wine) and a band playing traditional Advent hymns. 

Germans tend to place more emphasis on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day. Families come together to sing songs, light candles, and prepare a big goose or ham dinner, followed by the opening of gifts and concluding with midnight Mass.

Celebrating Christmas in Egypt:

Egyptian Christians vary between the Eastern Catholics, Orthodox and other ancient Churches of the East. Mass is held in either Latin, Arabic or Coptic (the ancient Egyptian language spoken and written in the Greek alphabet). 

Choirs and church concerts are sung in various languages and many non-profits, organisations, schools and churches organise Christmas bazaars for charity, to honour those who are less fortunate. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are similar to that of Western countries, with midnight Mass and a large family turkey dinner, with stuffed vine leaves and fatta (Middle Eastern flatbread dish). Egyptian Catholics fast during Advent, so these dinners are very special to them.

Celebrating Christmas in Mexico:

With Mexico bordering on North America, many Catholic Christmas traditions are shared.

However, customs are lived in a very particular way for two months, starting with the Posadas. Families and communities start a novena 16 December and gather spiritually to accompany Joseph and Mary on their pilgrimage through prayer. This prayer consists of a rosary, as communities go door to door with candles, asking through song if they have “room at the inn”.

At the conclusion of the song, a colourful piñata with seven points—representing the seven deadly sins—is hit until it breaks open and candy pours out, symbolising the strength of God’s grace against sin. Families exchange gifts on Epiphany, 6 January, rather than Christmas Day, where children wait for either the Three Kings or Baby Jesus to bring gifts instead of Santa Claus.

As you can tell, every country prepares for and celebrates Christmas in unique ways, but universal is the underlying theme of being one Catholic family sharing in the joy of Christmas and Christ’s birth.

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Alexander Foster Image
Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is the Digital Communications Officer in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle