Holiday Season in Different Countries!

Finally 25 days till Christmas Day!
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Hopefully everyone is filled with Holiday Spirit!! No matter what religion you are in, and what you believe and what you don't believe; it's always good to have at least a day to relax, and forget about all the dark and gloomy unpleasant memories!

Other Winter Festivals

There are other religious and secular festival held around the time of Christmas.

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Hanukkah - The Jewish Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and it remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This happened in the 160s BC (before Jesus was born). (Hanukkah is the Jewish word for 'dedication'.) Hanukkah last for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kivlev, the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar (it uses the moon for its dates), Kivlev can happen from late November to late December.
In 2012, Hanukkah will start on December 8th.
During Hanukkah, on each of the eight nights, a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a 'hanukkiyah'. There is a special ninth candle called the 'shammash' or servant candle which is used to light the other candles. The shammash is often in the center of the other candles and has a higher position. On the first night one candle is lit, on the second night, two are lit until all are lit on the eighth and final night of the festival. Traditionally they are lit from left to right. A special blessing, thanking God, is said before or after lighting the candles and a special Jewish hymn is often sung. The menorah is put in the front window of houses so people passing can see the lights and remember the story of Hanukkah. Most Jewish family and households have a special menorah and celebrate Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is also a time for giving and receiving presents and gifts are often given on each night. Lots of games are played during the time of Hanukkah. The most popular is 'dreidel' (Yiddish) or 'sivivon' (Hebrew). It's a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The four letter are the first letter of the phrase 'Nes Gadol Hayah Sham' which means 'A great miracle happened there' (in Israel, 'there' is changed to 'here' so it's 'Nes Gadol Hayah Po'). Player put a coin, nut or chocolate coin in a pot and the top is spun. In the letter 'nun' (נ) come up nothing happens, if it's 'gimel' (ג) the player wins the pot, if it's 'hay' (ה) you win half the pot and if it's 'shin' (for 'there' ש) or 'pe' (for 'here' פ) you have to put another item into the pot and the next person has a spin!
Food fried in oil is traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Favourites are 'latkes' - potato pancakes and 'sufganiyot' - deep friend doughnuts that are then filled with jam/jelly and sprinkled with sugar.

The Story behind Hanukkah

About 200 BC Israel was a state in the Seleucid Empire (an empire ruled under Greek law) and under the overall charge of the King of Syria. However, they could follow their own religion and its practises. In 171 BC, There was a new King called Antiochus IV, who also called himself Antiochus Epiphanes which means 'Antiochus the visible god'. Antiochus wanted all the empire to follow Greek ways of life and the Greek religion with all its gods. Some of the Jews wanted to be more Greek, but most wanted to stay Jewish.
The brother of the Jewish high priest wanted to be more Greek, so he bribed Antiochus so he would be come the new High Priest instead of his brother and then he had his brother killed! Three years later another man bribed Antiochus even more to let him become the High Priest! To pay his bribe he stole some of the objects made of gold that were used in the Jewish Temple.
On his way home from having to retreat from a battle, Antiochus stopped in Jerusalem and he let out all his anger on the city and the Jewish people. He ordered houses to be burned down and tens of thousands of Jews were killed or put into slavery. Antiochus then went to attack the Jewish Temple, the most important building in Israel to Jews. The Syrian soldiers took all the treasures out of the temple and on 15 Kivlev 168 BC Antiochus put up a status of the Greek god Zeus in the centre of the Jewish Temple (but it had the face of Antiochus!). Then on 25 Kivlev he desecrated the most holy place in the temple and destroyed the Jewish holy scrolls.
Antiochus then banned practising the Jewish faith & religion (if you were found out you and all your family were killed) and made the Temple into a shrine to Zeus. There were many Jews killed for their faith. Soon afterwards a Jewish rebellion started.
It began when a 'former' Jewish Priest, called Mattathias, was forced to make an offering to Zeus in his village. He refused to do so and killed a Syrian Soldier! Mattathias's sons joined him and killed the other soldiers in the village. Mattathias was an old man and died soon after this, but his son Judah then took charge of the freedom fighters. Judah's nickname was 'Maccabee' which come from the Hebrew word for hammer. He and his troops lived in caves and fought an undercover war for three years. They then met the Syrians in open battle and defeated them.
When they got back to Jerusalem, the Temple was in ruins and the statue of Zeus/Antiochus was still standing. They cleaned the Temple. They rebuilt the Jewish alter and on 25 Kivlev 165 BC, exactly three years after the statue was put up, the alter and Temple was rededicated to God.
There are several theories about why Hanukkah is celebrated over eight nights. One legend says that when Judah and his followers went into the Temple there was only enough oil to burn for one night, but that it burned for eight nights. Another story says that they found eight iron spears and put candles of them and used them for lighting in the Temple.

Hanukkah and Christmas

The dates of Hanukkah and Christmas might well be associated because 25 Kivlev was when the Temple was rededicated and the early Church chose December 25th because they took over the birthday of Greek god Zeus/Roman god Jupiter.


Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates African and African American culture and history. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase 'matunda ya kwanza' which means 'first fruits' in the Swahili language (an Eastern African language spoken in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe). Kwanzaa is mostly celebrated in the USA.
Kwanzaa Candles
During Kwanzaa a special candle holder called a kinara is used. A kinara hold seven candles, three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right with a black candle in the centre. Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The black, centre, candle is lit first and the it alternates between the red and green candles stating with the ones on the outside and moving inwards. This is quite similar to the lighting of the menorah in the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.
The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwannzaa (Nguzo Saba):
  • Umoja: Unity - Unity of the family, community, nation and race
  • Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - Being responsible for your own conduct and behaviour
  • Ujima: Collective work and responsibility - Working to Help each other and in the community
  • Ujamaa: Cooperative economics - Working to build shops and businesses
  • Nia: Purpose - Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs and history
  • Kuumba: Creativity - Using creating and your imagination to make communities better
  • Imani: Faith - Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers and the righteousness of the African American struggle
There are also seven symbols used in Kwanzaa. The seven items of often set on a Zwanzaa table, with the kinara, in the house:
  • Mkeka: The Mat - A woven mat made of fabric, raffia, or paper. The other symbols are placed on the Mkeka. It symbolises experiences and foundations.
  • Kikombe cha Umoja: The Unity Cup - Represents family and community. It is filled with water, fruit juice or wine. A little is poured out to remember the ancestors. The cup is share between people and each person takes a sip.
  • Mazao: The Crops - Fruit and vegetables from the harvest. These normally includes bananas, mangoes, peaches, plantains, oranges, or other favourites! They are shared out.
  • Kinara: The Candleholder - It represents the days, and principles of Kwanzaa
  • Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles - are placed in the kinara. Black, red and green are the colours of the Bendera (African Flag)
  • Muhindi: The Corn - There is one ear of corn of each child in the family. If there are no children in the family, then one ear is used to represent the children in the community. It represents the future and the Navtive Americans.
  • Zawadi: Gifts - Gifts given to children during Kwanzaa are normally educational, such as a book, dvd or game. There's also a gift reminding them of their African heritage.
There are also sometimes two extra symbols:
  • Bendera: A flag with three horizontal stripes of black, red and green
  • Nguzo Saba Poster: A poster of the seven principles of Kwanzaa
There's also a special greeting used during Kwanzaa in Swahili. It's 'Habari gani' and the reply is the principle for that day. (Umoja on the first day, Kujichagulia on the second and so on.)
The Kwanzaa festival was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Dr. Karenga wanted a way bring African Americans together and remember their black culture. Harvest or 'first fruit' festivals are celebrated all over Africa. These were celebrations when people would come together and celebrate and give thanks for the good things in their lives and communities.
From these festivals he created Kwanzaa.

Holiday Season!!

image Everyone has to start the year with a bright smile on their face no matter what, and look forward toward the future.  image
image Don't be overly depressive!!! image

imageWhat is everyone up to this Holiday Season, a lot of shopping, eating, dancing, drinking, or sleeping? image

Here in Japan it's more of a lover's day, lol. Anyway keep reading this post and you learn about Christmas and how some countries celebrate it. It's really quite interesting and it is always to have an open mind on different cultures. For more information on different, or you did not find a country in particular click here.


Christmas in Japan
Christmas is not widely celebrated in Japan as not many people there are Christians. However, several customs have come to Japan from the USA such as sending and receiving Christmas Cards and Presents.
In Japan, Christmas in known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents.
In many ways it resembles Valentine's Day celebrations in the UK and the USA. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant - booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it's so popular!
Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, so schools and businesses are normally open on December 25th.
In Japanese Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Meri Kurisumasu'. And it's written in the two Japanese scripts like this; Hiragana: めりーくりすます; Katakana: メリークリスマス. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Parties are often held for children, with games and dancing. Japanese Christmas Cake is a sponge cake decorated with trees, flowers and a figure of Santa Claus.
In Japan Santa is known as サンタさん、サンタクロース santa-san (Mr Santa). Another Japanese gift bringer is Hoteiosho, a Japanese god of good fortune from Buddhism and not really related to Christmas. Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for restaurants such as KFC and people can place orders at their local fast food restaurant in advance! 
The traditional Japanese christmas food is christmas cake, but it's not a rich fruit cake, but is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream.
The Japanese New Year (called 'o shogatsu') is more like a traditional Western Christmas. New year is the period where families get together, have a special meal, pray and send greetings cards. New year is celebrated over five days from December 31st to January 4th and is a very busy time.
Thank you to Sarah Marie Casey for her help in giving me information on Christmas in Japan!

Christmas in South Korea
There are more Christians in South Korea (the Republic of Korea) than in other asian countries such as China and Japan, so Christmas is celebrated more widely. (Christians make up about 25-30% of the population.) However, the other 70% of people in South Korea are Buddhist (about 25%) or don't have a religion.
Unlike Japan, Christmas is an official holiday - so people do have the day of work and school! But they go back on the 26th (Boxing Day). There's a longer official winter break in the New Year.
Churches are decorated with lights and many have a bright red neon cross on top (all the year!) so that goes very well with the Christmas lights! Most churches will have a service on Christmas day. Going to Church for Christmas is becoming more popular, even among non Christians.
Department stores put on big displays of decorations. There's also an amazing display of lights in the capital city, Seoul. The lights are all over the city centre including the bridges over the Han River.
Some people (especially Christians and westerns who live in South Korea) will have decorations at home including a Christmas tree.
Presents are exchanged and a popular present is money! Giving actually gifts has become more popular, but giving money is still very common.
Santa Claus can also be seen around Korea but he might be wearing red or blue! He's also known as 산타 클로스 (santa kullosu) or 산타 할아버지 (Santa Grandfather).
A popular Christmas food is a Christmas Cake, but it's often a sponge cake covered in cream brought from a local bakery! Or you might even have an ice cream cake from a shop like 'Baskin Robbins'!
Happy/Merry Christmas in Korean is 'Sung Tan Chuk Ha'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
If you live in North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Christmas will be very different. Being a Christian is 'officially' allowed but you can go to prison, or even be killed for being a Christian or even having a Bible. Christians in North Korea have to meet in secret and any celebrations of Christmas will also be held in secret.
Thank you to Heidi Wenger for her help in giving me information on Christmas in South Korea!

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Christmas in Mexico
In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated from the December 12th to January 6th.
From December 16th to Christmas Eve, children often perform the 'Posada' processions or Posadas. Posada is Spanish for Inn or Lodging. There are nine Posadas. These celebrate the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for a room in an Inn. For the Posadas, the outside of houses are decorated with evergreens, moss and paper lanterns.
In each Posada, children are given candles and a board, with painted clay figures of Mary riding on a donkey and Joseph, to process round the streets with. They call at the houses of friends and neighbors and sing a song at each home. The song they sing is about Joseph and Mary asking for a room in the house. But the children are told that there is no room in the house and that they must go away. Eventually they are told there is room and are welcomed in! When the children go into the house they say prayers of thanks and then they have a party with food, games and fireworks.
Each night a different house hold the Posada party. At the final Posada on Christmas Eve, a manger and figures of shepherds are put on to the board. When the Posada house has been found, a baby Jesus is put into the manger and then families go to a midnight Church service. After the Church service there are more fireworks to celebrate the start of Christmas.
One game that is often played at Posada parties is Piñata. A piñata is a decorated clay or papier-mâché jar filled with sweets and hung from the ceiling or tree branch. The piñata is often decorated something like a ball with seven peaks around it. The peaks or spikes represent the 'seven deadly sins'. Piñata's can also be in the form of an animal or bird (such as a donkey). To play the game, children are blind-folded and take it in turns to hit the piñata with a stick until it splits open and the sweets pour out. Then the children rush to pick up as many sweets as they can!
In Mexico, children get their main presents at Epiphany (January 6th). (see Spain for more information). In Mexico Epiphany is known as 'El Dia de los Reyes' (the day of The Three Kings). The presents are left by the Three Kings (or Magi). It's traditional to eat a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' (Three Kings Cake) on Epiphany. A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the 'Godparent' of Jesus for that year on another important day, Candelaria which is on the 2nd February and is the end of the Mexican christmas celebrations!
In Mexico, presents might also be brought by 'El Niñito Dios' (baby Jesus) & Santo Clós (Santa Claus)
February 2nd 'Candelaria' (it's called 'Candlemas' in many parts of the world) is the day when Christians remember when Jesus was taken to the Temple as a baby and officially named. Lots of Mexicans have a party for Candelaria.
The largest ever Angel Ornament was made in Mexico. It was made in January 2001 by Sergio Rodriguez in the town of Nuevo León. The angel was 18' 3"" high and had wing span of 11' 9"! Perhaps the most amazing thing about the angel was that it was completely made out of old beer bottles, 2946 of them!

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Christmas in Russia
In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time. Now Christmas is celebrated normally on the January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December). The date is different because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old 'Julian' calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so it's 40 days long.
The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th. The Russian Christmas greeting is 'S Rozhdestvom!'.
Some people fast (don't eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat 'sochivo' or 'kutia' a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!
Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, this symbolizes unity. In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck to the ceiling, some people thought it meant they would have good luck and would have a good harvest!
The Russian word for Christmas Eve 'sochelnik', comes from the word 'sochivo'.
Some Orthodox Christian Russian also don't eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal/feast.
Other popular Christmas Eve foods include beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom); salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads.
Sauerkraut is main dish in the Christmas Eve meal. It can be served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. It might be followed by more pies or porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms.
Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.
'Vzvar' (meaning 'boil-up') is often the end of the meal. It's a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
Following the meal, prayers might be said and people then go to the midnight Church services. They often don't wash the dishes until they get home from Church - sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am!
The New Year celebrations are still very important to Russians (sometimes more than Christmas).
This is when - when 'Father Frost' (known in Russian as 'Ded Moroz' or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year's eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is 'S Novym Godom'.

One of the most famous things about Christmas in Russia, to people in western Europe and the USA, is the story of Babushka. Babushka means Grand Mother in Russian. It tells the story of an old women who met the Wise men on their way to see Jesus.
However, most people in Russia have never heard of the story and I've had many emails from Russian visitors to the site who have never heard the story before! It seems that it was probably created by an American poet and writer called Edith Matilda Thomas in 1907. Here's more information about how the story of Babushka came into being on another site.

The Story of Babushka

Once in a small Russian town, there lived a women called Babushka. Babushka always had work to do sweeping, polishing, dusting and cleaning. Her house was the best kept, most tidy house in the whole village. Her garden was beautiful and her cooking was wonderful. One evening she was busy dusting and cleaning, so busy that she didn't hear all the villagers outside in the village square talking about and looking at the new star in sky.
She had heard about the new star but thought, "All this fuss about a star! I don't even have the time to look because I'm so behind with my work. I must work all night!" So, she missed the star as it shone brightly, high overhead. She also missed the little line of twinkling lights coming down towards the village at dawn. She didn't hear the sounds of the pipes and drums. She missed the voices and whispers of the villagers wondering whether the lights were an army or a procession of some sort. She missed the sudden quiet of the villagers and even the footsteps coming up the path to her door. But the one thing that she couldn't miss was the loud knocking on her front door!
"Now what is that?" she wondered, opening the door. Babushka gaped in amazement. There were three kings at her door with one of their servants! "My masters need a place to rest," the servant said, "and yours is the best house in the village." "You want to stay here?" asked Babushka. "Yes, it would only be until night falls and the star appears again." the servant replied. Babushka gulped. "Come in, then." she said.
The kings were very pleased when they saw all of the of the home-baked bread, pies and cakes. She dashed about, serving them, asking lots of questions. "Have you come a long way?" "A very long way." sighed Caspar. "Where are you going?" "We're following the new star." said Melchior. "But where?" The kings didn't know, but they believed that it would lead the to a new-born king, a King of Earth and Heaven. "Why don't you come with us?" asked Balthasar. "You could bring him a gift like we do. I bring gold, and my colleagues bring spices and perfumes." "Oh, I'm not sure that he would welcome me," said Babushka, "and what could I bring for a gift? Toys! I know I could bring a toy. I've got a cupboard full of toys." she said sadly. "My baby son, died when he was small." Balthasar stopped her as she went to tidy the kitchen up. "This new king could be your king too. Come with us when the star appears tonight." he said. "I'll think about it." sighed Babushka.
As the kings slept, Babushka tidied up as quietly as she could. "What a lot of extra work there was!" she thought, "and this new king, what a funny idea, to go off with the kings to find him."
Babushka shook herself. There was no time for dreaming, all this washing-up and putting away had to be done. "Anyway," she thought, "how long would she be away? What would she wear? What about the gift?" She sighed. "There is so much to do. The house will have to be cleaned when they've gone. I couldn't just leave it." Suddenly it was night-time again and the star was in the sky. "Are you ready, Babushka?" asked Balthasar. "I'll come tomorrow," Babushka called, "I must just tidy here first and find a gift."
The kings went away sadly. Babushka ran back into her house, keen to get on with her work.
Finally, she went to the small cupboard, opened the door and gazed at all the toys. But they were very dusty. They weren't fit for a baby king. They would all need to be cleaned. She cleaned all of the toys until each one shined. Babushka looked through the window. It was morning! The star had came and gone. The kings would have found somewhere else to rest by now. She could easily catch them up, but she felt so tired. She had to sleep. The next thing she knew, she was awake and it was dark outside. She had slept all day! She quickly pulled on her cloak, packed the toys in a basket and ran down the path the kings had taken.
Everywhere she asked "Have you seen the kings?" "Oh yes," everyone told her, "we saw them. They went that way." For a day Babushka followed the trail of the kings and the villages got bigger and became towns. But Babushka never stopped. Then she came to a city. "The palace," she thought. "That's where the royal baby would be born." "No, there is no royal baby here," said the palace guard when she asked him. "What about three kings?" asked Babushka. "Oh yes, they came here, but they didn't stay long. They were soon on their journey." "But where to?" asked Babushka. "Bethlehem, that was the place. I can't imagine why. It's a very poor place. But that's where they went." replied the guard. She set off towards Bethlehem. It was evening when Babushka arrived at Bethlehem and she had been travelling for a long time. She went into the local inn and asked about the kings. "Oh yes," said the landlord, "the kings were here two days ago. They were very excited, but they didn't even stay the night." "And what about a baby?" Babushka cried. "Yes there was." Said the landlord. "The kings asked about a baby, too." When he saw the disappointment in Babushka's eyes, he stopped. "If you'd like to see where the baby was," he said quickly, "it was across the yard there. I couldn't offer the couple anything better at the time. My inn was really full, so they had to go in the stable."
Babushka followed him across the yard. "Here's the stable." he said. He left her in the stable. "Babushka?" Someone was calling her from the doorway. He looked kindly at her. She wondered if he knew where the family had gone. She knew now that the baby king was the most important thing in the world to her. "They have gone to Egypt, and safety," he told Babushka. "And the kings have returned to their countries. But one of them told me about you. I am sorry but you are too late. It was Jesus that they found, the world's Savior."
Babushka was very sad that she had missed Jesus and it is said that Babushka is still looking for him.

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Christmas in the United Kingdom
In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents!
Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees were first popularised the UK by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German, and thought that it would be good to use one of his ways of celebrating Christmas in to England.
Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or other buildings.
Like a lot of countries, Nativity Plays and Carol Services are also very popular at Christmas time. The Church that I go to always has a Carols by Candlelight Service where the church is only lit up by candles. It is a very special service and always makes me feel very Christmassy! Lots of other British churches also have Carols by Candlelight and Christingle services.
Children believe that Father Christmas or Santa Claus leaves presents in stockings or pillow-cases. These are normally hung up by the fire or by the children's beds on Christmas Eve. Children sometimes leave out mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas to eat and drink when he visits them. Now, some people say that a non-alcoholic drink should be left for Santa as he has to drive!
Children write letters to Father Christmas listing their requests, but sometimes instead of putting them in the post, the letters are tossed into the fireplace. The draught carries the letters up the chimney and Father Christmas reads the smoke.
There are some customs that only take place, or were started, in the UK. Wassailing is an old anglo-saxon custom that doesn't take place much today. Boxing Day is a very old custom that started in the UK and is now taken as a holiday in many countries around the world.
In Scotland, some people celebrate New Year's Eve (which is called Hogmanay) more than Christmas! The word Hogmanay comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve.
Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there! Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as 'first footing'. In England it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.
In Scots (a Scottish dialect) Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Blithe Yule'; in Gaelic it's 'Nollaig Chridheil'; and in Welsh (which is spoken in some parts of Wales it's 'Nadolig Llawen'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
In the UK, the main Christmas Meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It was traditionally roast beef or goose, although it's common to have turkey now, roast vegetables and 'all the trimmings' which means stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages. (In Scotland, some people might even have Haggis instead of turkey!) Dessert is often Christmas Pudding. Mince pies and lots of chocolates are often eaten as well! The dinner table is decorated with a Christmas Cracker for each person and sometimes flowers and candles.

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Christmas in Germany
A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that is used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called a 'Advent Kranz' and is a ring of fir branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning at each week of Advent.
Christmas Trees are very important in Germany. They were first used in Germany during the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house, the trees are usually secretly decorated by the Mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas eve, and during that evening the family would read the Bible and sing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum, Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht (Slient Night).
Sometimes wooden frames, covered with coloured plastic sheets and with electric candles inside, are put in windows to make the house look pretty from the outside.
Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.
In German Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Frohe Weihnacht'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments. The glass ornaments were originally hand blown glass and were imported in the USA in 1880s by the Woolworth stores. The legend of the glass 'Christmas Pickle' is famous in the USA, but it's that, a legend. Most people in Germany have never heard of the Christmas Pickle!
In some parts of Germany, children write to the 'Christkind' ('The Christ Child' in English) asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
The Christkind is often described as a young girl with 'Christ like' qualities. In Nürnberg a young girl is chosen every year to participate in a parade as the Christkind. She wears a long white and gold dress, has long blond curly hair and wears a gold crown and sometimes wings like an angel. This is similar to St Lucia is Sweden. (And it can seem a bit confusing calling the 'Christ Child', Jesus, a girl!)
The Nürnberg Christkind officially opens the Christmas market on the Friday before Advent starts. And before Christmas she has over 150 'official duties' including visiting hospitals, old people's homes and children's nurseries! She also has to give TV interviews and visit other cities.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents on December 24th. December 6th is St. Nicholas' Day and "der Nikolaus" brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called "Knecht Ruprecht" or "Krampus" who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries a birch. He will punish the children who were bad and will give them a birch as a present. He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called "Schwarz Peter" (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland. In north west Germany Santa is joined by Belsnickel a man dressed all in fur.
Some people say that Santa/Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents and some say it is Christkind!
At small work places and school parties, secret presents are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small presents to be thrown into the room. The presents are then passed around among the people until each person has the correct present! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.
Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). They are four children, three who dress up like the Wise men and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. When they're finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, so Christmas 2012 would be: 20*C*M*B*12. It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away - it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany). The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th.
Carp or Goose are often served for the main Christmas meal. Stollen is a popular fruited yeast bread that is eaten at Christmas. Here is a recipe for Stollen.
Thank you to Céline Krimmel for her help in giving me information on Christmas in Germany!

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Christmas in France
In France, a Nativity crib is often used to help decorate the house. French cribs have clay figures in them, not wooden ones. During December, some towns and cities such as Marseilles have fairs that sell Nativity figures. As well as having the normal Nativity figures in them, French scenes also have figures such as a Butcher, a Baker, a Policeman and a Priest.
In French Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Joyeux Noël'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
Yule Logs made out of Cherry Wood are often burned is French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
In France, Father Christmas / Santa Claus / St. Nicholas is called Père Noël (Father Christmas). In eastern France he is accompanied by Le Pere Fouettard, a man dressed in black. He might be the same person as Zwarte Piet in Holland.
The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten on Christmas Eve/early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight Church Service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.
Another celebration, in some parts of France, is that 13 different desserts are eaten! All the desserts are made from different types of Fruit, Nuts and Pastries.
Epiphany (see Spain for more information), called Fête des Rois in French, is also celebrated in France on January 6th. A flat Almond cake is eaten called 'Galette des Rois'. The cake has a toy crown inside and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.

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