I wish you the very best on this day - whoever you are and wherever you are. Here is a brief summary of what Christmas means in many parts of the globe.
Christmas in America
In America, there is a huge variety of cultures and nationalities, and an 'ideal' Christmas tradition which seems to be accepted by many is a family time with a great deal of travel happening over the holidays.
Santa Claus was born in US in the 1860's he was named this as he had a white beard and a belly, so he was named Santa Claus as this was the Dutch word for St Nicholas, Sintaklaas. Although the Dutch had bought him with them in the 17th century, he did not become an important person at Christmas until the novelist Washington Irving put him in a novel that he wrote in 1809. This first Santa Claus was still known as St. Nicholas, he did smoke a pipe, and fly around in a wagon without any reindeer, but he did not have his red suit or live at the North Pole, he did however bring presents to children every year.
In 1863 He was given the name Santa Claus and bore the red suit, pipe, and his reindeer and sleigh.
Polish Americans on Christmas Eve spread hay on their kitchen floor and under the tablecloth to remind them of a stable and a manger. When they make up the table for dinner two extra places are set up for Mary and the Christ Child in case they should knock at the door to ask for shelter.
In Arizona they follow the Mexican traditions called Las Posadas. Families play out the parts of Mary and Joseph searching for somewhere to stay. They form a procession and visit their friends' and neighbors' homes where they admire each family's Nativity crib. In parts of New Mexico, people place lighted candles in paper bags filled with sand on streets and rooftops to light the way for the Christ Child.
Christmas in Europe
In Europe, Christmas is all in all a family affair. On this day, all family members spend time in baking cookies, making fudge and preparing a big Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings.
The feast of St Nicholas marks the beginning of Christmas in Austria. The saint accompanied by the devil asks children for a list of their good and bad deeds. Good children are given sweets, toys and nuts. Gifts that are placed under the tree are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve.
Brass instruments play chorale music room church steeples, and carol singers, carrying blazing torches and a manger from house to house, gather on the church steps.
Silent Night was first sung in 1818, in the village church of Oberndorf. There is a story told of how Christmas was almost spoiled for the villagers that year.
On Christmas Eve, the priest went into the church and found that the organ was not working. The leather bellows that are used to pump the air through the pipes were full of holes. Christmas without music would not do so the priest showed the organist Franz Xaver Gruber a new Christmas hymn he had written. Franz quickly composed a tune for it that could be played on a guitar. So Oberndorf had music after all.
In Austria baked carp is served for the traditional Christmas dinner.
Christmas in Russia
In Russia, the nature of the Christmas celebration has undergone many changes. The grand celebration was observed for many centuries, but after the communist revolution, the celebration of the feast was suppressed, only to return after the fall of Communism.
In Russia the religious festival of Christmas is being replaced by the Festival of Winter but there are some traditions that are still kept up in some parts of the country.
In the traditional Russian Christmas, special prayers are said and people fast, sometimes for 39 days, until January 6th Christmas Eve, when the first evening star in appears in the sky. Then begins a twelve course supper in honor of each of the twelve apostles - fish, beet soup or Borsch, cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit and much more.
Hay is spread on the floors and tables to encourage horse feed to grow in the coming year and people make clucking noises to encourage their hens to lay eggs.
On Christmas Day, hymns and carols are sung. People gather in churches which have been decorated with the usual Christmas trees or Yelka, flowers and colored lights.
Christmas dinner includes a variety of different meats - goose and suckling pig are favorites.
Babushka is a traditional Christmas figure who distributes presents to children. Her name means grandmother and the legend is told that she declined to go with the wise men to see Jesus because of the cold weather. However, she regretted not going and set off to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents. She never found Jesus, and that is why she visits each house, leaving toys for good children.
Christmas in Africa
In Africa Christmas is a summer holiday. There is no snow, but it has many flowers, many beautiful varieties of cultivated and wild flowers. Singing Carols is the most important activity by people celebrating Christmas.
Christmas in South Africa is a summer holiday. In December, the southern summer brings glorious days of sunshine that carry an irresistible invitation to the beaches, the rivers, and the shaded mountain slopes. Then the South African holiday season reaches its height. Schools are closed, and camping is the order of the day. In South Africa there is no snow, but it has many flowers, many beautiful varieties of cultivated and wild flowers being in their full pride.
In Ghana, on Africa's west coast, most churches herald the coming of Christmas by decorating the church and homes beginning with the first week in Advent, four weeks before Christmas. This season happens to coincide with the cocoa harvest, so it is a time of wealth. Everyone returns home from wherever they might be such as farms or mines.
On the west coast of Africa, in Liberia, most homes have an oil palm for a Christmas tree, which is decorated with bells. On Christmas morning, people are woken up by carols. Presents such as cotton cloth, soap, sweets, pencils, and books are exchanged. Also in the morning a church service is held in which the Christmas scene is enacted and hymns and carols are sung. Dinner is eaten outdoors with everyone sitting in a circle to share the meal of rice, beef and biscuits. Games are played in the afternoon, and at night fireworks light up the sky.
Christmas in East Asia
In East Asia, Christmas is not a grand occasion like in Europe and America, but this festive season is celebrated in their own unique way that is highly influenced by local cultures.
In Bangladesh formerly known as East Pakistan, the Christian village men would cut down scores of banana trees and replant them in pairs along the paths to churches and outside their homes. They would then bend over the huge leaves of the banana trees to form an arch, they would then make small holes in the bamboo poles, fill them with oil and tie them across the arches. When the oil is lit, the way to the church is lit up bright enough for all to see.
In Pakistan 25 December is a public holiday it is however in memory of Jinnah the founder of Pakistan.
In Christian homes they celebrate Christmas with the exchanging of gifts and cards, the wearing of new clothes and the visiting of houses of friends.
They have a church service which is packed on Christmas day which is called Bara Din the big day.
Christmas in South America
In South America, Christmas is celebrated in a deeply religious way. The different countries of South America observe this day in their distinct manner.
Native Bolivians celebrate Christmas more as a harvest festival. Thanks are given for completion of the year's work. They give an account of the work done during the year and propose what is to be done the next year. Christmas tends to become a feast of adoration of the Goddess Mother Earth, who is asked to bring a fruitful harvest, to keep away plagues, and to give a prosperous year.
In Brazil Santa Claus is little known and those who do know of the jolly fellow call him Papa Noel.
The children have no Christmas trees, but they do have a crèche or Presepio, representing the Christ-child's birth. Gifts and toys are exchanged during the holidays after which the Presepio is put away until the following Christmas.
In Ecuador the children write letters to the Christ-child and place shoes in the window in which he may place toys as he passes by on Christmas Eve. Noise-making toys are common and are used with much energy on the streets on Christmas morning.
Christmas in Australia
Australians also sing carols by candlelight and decorate their homes with flowers and other plants. Generally, Christmas is celebrated along traditional lines and families often travel great distances to be together. No matter how hot it is, most Aussies have a hot meal ... using cold drinks to simmer things down.
Christmas in Australia is often very hot. Whereas the northern hemisphere is in the middle of winter, Australians are baking in summer heat. It is not unusual to have Christmas Day well into the mid 30 degrees Celsius, or near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also the bushfire season so most are on alert.
A traditional meal includes a turkey dinner, with ham, and pork. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert. In the Australian gold rushes, (1850's) Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows she / he will enjoy good luck. Another treat is Mince Pies.
Some Australians and particularly tourists often have their Christmas dinner at midday on a local beach. Bondi Beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs attracts thousands of people on Christmas Day. Other families enjoy their day by having a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing Cricket out the backyard, and other outdoor activities.
The warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which commenced in 1937. Carols by Candlelight is held every year on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather in the city of Melbourne to sing their favorite Christmas songs. The evening is lit by as many candles singing under a clean cut night sky. The sky with its Southern Cross stars is like a mirror. Sydney and the other capital cities also enjoy Carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Christmas in India
In India, apart from the traditional aspects of Christmas, their is also influence of local tradition with the elephants, umbrellas and traditional music as accessories to their festivities and celebrations.
Christians in India decorate banana or mango trees. They also light small oil-burning lamps as Christmas decorations and fill their churches with red flowers.
They give presents to family members and baksheesh, or charity, to the poor people.
In India, the poinsettia is in flower and so the churches are decorated with this brilliant bloom for the Christmas Midnight Mass.
In South India, Christians put small clay lamps on the rooftops and walls of their houses at Christmas, just as the Hindus do during their festival called Diwali.
You might like to click on this link and play a top song sung by some of the world's best singers in 1984 - "Do They Know It's Christmas?" is a song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure in 1984 to raise money for relief of the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia. The original version was produced by Midge Ure and released by Band Aid on 29 November 1984. Listen to the lyrics. It always makes the hairs rise on the back of my neck.
Clancy's comment: Spare a thought for those who will be doing it tough. Plenty will be. Trust me.