Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas is the hero of the Belgian Christmas. He is responsible for bringing presents to children on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, rather than on Christmas Day. There are also small gifts left in stockings or under the tree on Christmas Day, but the major gift giving is on St. Nicholas Day.
The holiday eating festivities begin on "le reveillion de Noel" or Christmas Eve. An aperitif (before dinner drink) is served with small appetizers or h'ors douveres. Next comes a seafood course followed by - what else - a turkey!
"La Buche de Noel" (Christmas Log) is a special dessert made with cream served after the Christmas Eve dinner. On Christmas morning breakfast will include "cougnou" or "cougnolle" which is a special sweet bread shaped, they say, like Baby Jesus.
Some families enjoy another big meal on Christmas Day, but for most the Christmas Eve Dinner is the main attraction.
Merry Christmas: Joyeux Noel
Papai Noel is Brazil's "Jolly Old Elf". Brazilians celebrate Christmas in similar fashion to the United States or Great Britain. Finances allowing, they have multiple meat dishes, including chicken, turkey, ham and pork. Fruits (both fresh and dried) are a major addition to the meal. For the less financially fortunate, chicken and rice is on the menu.
The drink of choice to celebrate Christmas is beer. Full, dark beer with lots of flavor is enjoyed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and is always available if friends stop in.
Merry Christmas: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo
Christmas really hits home in Finland where the people believe that Santa Claus lives in the northern part of Finland known as Korvatunturi. A large tourist theme park "Christmas Land" is located in northern Finland close to Santa's home.
Of course the actual location of his home is top secret and not open to tourists or even locals to just stop in for a visit. Being north of the Artic Circle helps insure Santa's privacy.
Major housecleaning is done in preparation of not one but three Christmas holy days. The first is Christmas Eve. The morning of Christmas Eve starts with a breakfast of rice porridge and plum fruit juice. Then the family joins together to decorate a spruce tree.
The Mayor of the Finnish city of Turku simulcasts a radio and television Christmas message of peace at noon every year to all of the people of Finland.
Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. A traditional meal will include casseroles with ingredients such as macaroni, rutabaga, potatoes, carrots and either ham or turkey. Cemeteries are visited on Christmas Eve with families placing a candle on the graves of family members.
Even presents are distributed on Christmas Eve, often by a family member in costume.
The second Day of the Christmas religious holiday is Christmas Day itself, which is a reverent day of prayer and meditation. Of course, it is not completely solemn and often friends will visit each other and offer "glad tidings"
The third day is "Boxing Day" which is also celebrated in the United Kingdom. There are many myths connected to the name, but in fact it has nothing to do with the sport of "boxing" or even the boxes presents come in.
It is also known as St. Stephens Day and the tradition requires that those of good fortune give gifts of cash or durable goods to those of less fortune. The theory is that the day after Christmas people are so full of good food and so aware of their many blessings that it is the perfect day to ask them to sacrifice for others.
The people in Finland treat this day with high regard and take seriously the charge of helping the less fortunate.
Merry Christmas : Hyvaa joulua!
The people of Scotland celebrate very quietly and much in the same fashion as the English. The Church of Scotland, which is the Presbyterian Church, does not place a great emphasis on this holiday and as a result it is a low-key day of celebration.
Remembering that Australia is in the southern hemisphere, it is often very hot at Christmastime, often near 100 degrees F.
Traditional meals can be served as a picnic and will most likely include turkey, ham or pork. Flaming plum pudding is a must for dessert, which is often served back inside once the picnic is over. A small trinket is baked into the dessert, bringing luck to the person who finds it. Mince Pies are also very traditional holiday fare.
Tens of thousands of Australians gather in Melbourne to sing Christmas Carols each year on Christmas Eve. A native plant, the Christmas Bush, which has small red leaves is used for decoration.
Christmas is a very religious holiday in Ireland. In case Joseph and Mary are looking for shelter on Christmas Eve, the Irish put lit candles in their windows to welcome them. The candles, often red, are generally decorated with holly, which grows wild in Ireland.
Three puddings are made, one for Christmas, New Year's and the Twelfth Night.
To show that all are welcome in their homes, the Irish leave their doors unlocked after the Christmas meal and out bread and milk on the stoop for those passing by.
Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ur!
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Most of China is not a Christian country and therefore does not celebrate Christmas. However, those that do make paper ornaments in bright, happy colors to decorate trees. The ornaments are made into various shapes such as flowers and lanterns. Muslin socks are hung for "The Christmas Old Man" to bring them gifts and special treats.
Non-Christian Chinese refer to the Christmas Season as Spring Festival and celebrate with delicious meals and events geared to paying respects to their ancestors.
Firecrackers are a big part of the season for Christians and non-Christians alike.
(Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun
(Mandarin) Kung His Hisn Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
Much like China, the people of Japan are not predominantly Christian. Yet most Japanese people decorate their stores and their homes with evergreen trees, wreaths and trim during the Christmas season. They also give each other gifts during this time.
A priest ("Hoteiosha") represents Santa Claus for the Japanese children and brings them toys and gifts. Legend has it that Hoteiosha has eyes in the back of his head and therefore the children must behave especially well during the season or he will not bring them gifts.
Merry Christmas: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto.
Christmas (Noel) in France is a time when Pere Noel (Father Christmas) brings gifts and families gather together to share the best of meats and wine. Everyone has a Christmas tree which they decorate with red ribbons and white candles. Even fir trees in the gardens are decorated.
Merry Christmas: Joyeux Noel
Advent (Adventskranz), the four-week period leading up to Christmas, is a very important part of the German tradition. Most families will have an Advent wreath in which they light a new candle at the beginning of each week in Advent, building up to Christmas Day.
The houses are always brilliantly decorated often with candles. Most homes will also have a Nativity set of some sort.
"Der Weihnachtsmann" (Santa Claus) brings presents in the lat afternoon on Christmas Eve, after everyone has attended a Church service. One person will ring a family bell and call everyone into the room with the tree and presents will be opened.
Traditional German Christmas dinner will either be fish or goose.
Merry Christmas: Frohliche Weihnacht
Latvian tradition is that Father Christmas brings presents each of the twelve days of Christmas, starting on Christmas Eve. The presents are put under a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
Traditional dinner will include cooked brown peas with pork sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.
Merry Christmas: Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Like the Germans, Poles look at Advent as a very special, holy time. They regard the four Sundays of Advent as representative of the four thousand years of waiting for the birth of Christ. Beeswax is poured on water throughout Advent, and also on Christmas Eve, and fortunes are told from the emerging shapes.
"Piemiki" (honey cake) is made during Advent to be served at Christmas. Christmas decorations are often hand made and include "pajaki" (mobiles). Eggshells are also decorated.
Christmas trees in Poland are often decorated with apples, walnuts and beautifully wrapped candies and chocolates. The trees may remain up until as late as February 2, the feast of St. Mary of the Candle of Lightning.
Merry Christmas: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
People of Italy fast for twenty-four hours before Christmas Eve. The fast is broken with a tremendous feast of fish and meat as well as many desserts. Poems are recited, songs are sung and prayers are read in anticipation of Christmas Day. The majority of the Italian people attend midnight Mass.
Christmas festivities begin with Las Posadas, nine consecutive days of candelight processions and lively parties starting December 16.
In villages and urban neighborhoods throughout Mexico youngsters gather each afternoon to reenact the holy family's quest for lodging in Bethlehem. The procession is headed by a diminutive Virgen María, often perched on a live burro, led by a equally tiny San José.
They are followed by other children protraying angels, the Santos Reyes (Three Kings), and a host of pastores y pastoras (shepherds and shepherdesses), all usually decked out in colorful handmade costumes and carrying brightly decorated báculos (walking staffs) or faroles (paper lanterns).
The parade of Santos Peregrinos (Holy Pilgrims) stops at a designated house to sing a traditional litany by which the Holy Family requests shelter for the night and those waiting behind the closed door turn them away. They proceed to a second home where the scene is repeated.
At the third stop the pilgrims are told that while there is no room in the posada (inn), they are welcome to take refuge in the stable. The doors are flung open and all are invited to enter.
This is an active way of teaching children the story of the Nativity, but the chief attraction is the merrymaking that follows, above all the chance to engage in the ruthless smashing of piñatas and a mad scramble for the shower of fruits, sugar cane, peanuts and candies released from within.