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Christmas Ornaments From Around the World & Accompanying Traditions
The holiday season is celebrated all around the world and indeed with Christmas ornaments from around the world. Many countries and cultures have different and unique CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS. One of the ways in which we can share with friends and family around the globe is to properly greet them for the holidays.
A Handful of Countries & Christmas Ornaments From Around the World
In China they decorate with delicate paper lanterns hanging from trees. In Germany children search for a special ornament that Santa has hidden on the tree. Australians decorate for Christmas with Eucalyptus leaves and seashells adorning their tree. Russians celebrate Father Frost with decorations of snowflakes. Ukrainian's follow a tradition of trimming their tree with spiders and spider webs. In Norway young ladies traditionally wear wreaths adorned with candles on their heads. The Irish decorate with a candle in the window of their home. Common to almost all Christmas ornaments from around the world is the nativity scene and is especially predominate in European Christmas traditions. In Greece many homes decorate a ship with Christmas lights. A Yule log decorated with candles and greenery is used as a decorative focal point of homes in France. Regardless of where in the world you celebrate Christmas, there is an abundant array of Christmas ornaments from around the world and a variety of decorating techniques used for the holidays.
The spirit of Christmas is shared around the world and different traditions make up the fun. We have selected a few far off places and not so distant ones for you to enjoy reading about. Maybe you can take some tips and start a new family tradition in the spirit of your ancestry. I would love to hear about your own family traditions, so write to me Dianne@OrnamentShop.com.
Argentina – Children place their boots by the door, so that when Father Christmas comes he is sure to fill them with sweet surprises.
Australia – A small favor is baked inside the Christmas pudding and whoever finds it will have good luck. Santa Claus doesn't usually arrive with his sleigh and reindeer, but on a surfboard riding the waves.
Austria – The children gather and St. Nicholas who asks children for a list of all the good things and the bad things that they did all year, and those children deemed good are given toys and sweets. On Christmas Eve, the Christ Child brings not only the presents for the children, but the Christmas tree as well. Children then eagerly await the chimes of bells in which they enter a special room where the tree is all decorated and they all sing carols before tearing open their gifts.
Belgium – Children receive their gifts on December 6 th but depending on what language you speak, the giver may be different. St. Nicholas comes in December 4 th to those that speak the Waloon language to see who has been good and who has been bad. On the 6 th , those that were good receive presents and candy while those who were bad receive twigs in their shoes! Those that speak French are visited by Pere Noel who arrives with his companion Pere Fouettard who does the asking if the children were good or bad. Again, those who are good receive sweets and those who are not get a handful of sticks.
Bethlehem – The West Bank city of Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Over 100,000 tourists travel to Israel to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem. One of their goals is to visit is to visit the Church of the Nativity, which is widely considered to be the oldest church in the world. Despite the unrest in this area of the world, Christmas in Bethlehem is actually peaceful and people of all faiths celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Brazil – In Brazil , most families don't celebrate Christmas, but those that do, call the jolly fellow Papai Noel or Father Noel, who often wears silk clothing due to the summer heat, brings gifts to the children from his home in Greenland .
Canada ( Nova Scotia ) – Based on Newfoundland tradition, masked mummers (belsnicklers) walk around neighborhoods ringing bells and making noises, hoping for candies and treats during the twelve days of Christmas. If you guess who it is, the mummer removes his/her mask. The mummers question children to see if they have been good or bad and earn candy rewards for good behavior.
Chile - Chileans are known for creating elaborate pesebres, or Nativity scenes. The pesebres range in materials from cardboard, straw and dirt to hand-carved wood and porcelain. When they aren’t making Nativity scenes, many Chileans stay up late to sing villancicos, or tradition carols. But, they always settle down in time to make sure to get a visit from Papa Noel or El Viejo Pasquero.
Colombia - In Colombia, candles are a constant illuminating presence throughout the season. The country’s 47 million people are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and are said to be the most devout followers of the faith in South America. So it follows that they would assign a divine characteristic to short votives and long tapers alike. To Colombians, the candle wax is a metaphor for Christ’s body while the wick represents his soul. The flame, of course, symbolizes the Light of the World.
Czech Republic – Svaty Mikalas (St. Nicholas) resides in heaven and climbs down a golden rope with an angel and a devil who carries a whip, so children really try to make sure they are good at this time of year! Also, girls traditionally put a cherry twig in water on December 4 th and anxiously wait the telling of their future. If blossoms appear before Christmas Eve, the girl will get married that year.
Denmark – On Christmas Eve, children leave a mischievous elf named Nisse a bowl of rice pudding to keep his little pranks to a minimum. Nisse is said to wear a red bonnet, gray woolen clothes, red stockings and white clogs. Nisse comes on Christmas and leaves goodies for children and plays jokes on the adults. The Christmas plate originates from Denmark when the wealthy used to leaves plates of biscuits and fruits for their servants. They were special plates, not used everyday, and thus became so collectable.
Ecuador – In Ecuador , children write letters to the Christ Child and place the letters in their shoes which they leave in their windows. Noisemaking is all of the rage on Christmas morning as children energetically celebrate the gifts that are left in their shoes.
England – Similar to the practices of the United States , children hang their stockings by the chimney, or if none, then by their beds for Father Christmas's arrival. As they prepare for the big night, children write letters to Father Christmas and then throw them into a lit fireplace, whereby they will float up the chimney and fly to him in the North Pole. If, instead of floating up, the letter catches on fire, the letter will have to be rewritten. During dinner, plum puddings are served which small, lucky treasures hidden inside. This was the first country to hang up mistletoe for sneaking kisses!
Ethiopia – King Balthazar, one of the three magi, left his native Ethiopia to help present baby Jesus. Balthazar brought frankincense, symbolizing Jesus as a high priest. Balthazar was the king who gave his people Christmas in Ethiopia. Learn more about him and how Ethiopians celebrate Christmas, with food, fun and games!
Finland – Children here are so excited to receive gifts, because they actually receive their gifts from Santa Claus in person, who merrily arrives with a staff of elves who help him hand out the presents.
France – Pere Noel visits the children on Christmas Eve, who fills children's shoes, which are left by the fireplace, with small gifts. A tradition in Southern France is to burn a log in the fireplace from Christmas Eve until New Years Day as good luck for the coming year's harvest. In Northern France , adults and children receive gifts on different days. Children are given their gifts on December 6 th , St. Nicholas's Day, while the adults exchange their presents to each other on New Year's Day, all instead of on Christmas Day.
Germany – Children spend their time decorating letters which they leave on their windowsills in hopes that Christkind, a winged angel adorned in white robe and golden crown, who distributes gifts. Children also celebrate St. Nicholas's Day by leaving their shoes or boots outside the door so that if you were good, you would find them filled with gifts, or if not so good, a single rod. The rod would be a good indication of the need for behavioral changes before the arrival of Christkind.
Greece – St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and thus an important aspect of the holiday season. Children know St. Nicholas as a seaman, working against the waves to rescue sinking ships on the sea. No Greek ship ever leaves port without some St. Nicholas icon aboard. During the season, a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross is suspended from a piece of wire spread across a shallow wooden bowl. Once a day, the family member dips the cross and basil in holy water and sprinkles it in each room of the house in order to keep the kallikantzeri (mischievous goblins) from appearing during the twelve days of Christmas.
Holland – St. Nicholas, dressed in bishop's robes, arrives in November by a boat, along with his helper, Black Peter. Children rush to the Amsterdam docks to greet him where he mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets during the parade and other festivities. They spend most of the year recording children's behavior in a very large books and deliver gifts to the good children.
Hungary – St. Nicholas, dressed in bishop's robes with a red miter on his head, a staff in one hand and a sack full of presents in the other, visits children on December 6 th . Often times he arrives with a devil boy, dressed in a black costume with horns and tail, who holds a switch and is ready at a moment's notice to whip naughty children. Good children receive small gifts, toys or sweets.
Iran – Children do not receive toys or even exchange gifts since they don't know who Santa Claus is. The real excitement is the new clothes they receive which they proudly wear throughout the season.
Iraq – The family gathers around a bonfire made of dried thorns, holding lighted candles and listen as a child reads the Nativity story from an Arabic Bible. As soon as the story is finished, the bonfire is lit. They sing and if the thorns burn to ashes, the family will have good fortune for the upcoming year. Once only the embers are left, each family member takes a turn jumping over them three times and making a wish.
Ireland – Children traditionally put out a Christmas sack instead of hanging stockings, leaving mince pies and a bottle of Guinness for Santa. It is a wonder Santa is able to drive his sleigh home after visiting Irish children!
Italy – The Urn of Fate is filled with presents as well as empty boxes. Those who are lucky receive gifts. All children are then visited by Befana, a kind but ugly witch, who, according to legend, was too busy to go with the three wise men to see Jesus. She missed the star along the way and has been flying around on her broomstick ever since, leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She flies down chimneys and fills stockings and shoes with presents for good children and coal for bad children.
Japan – Hotei-osho, a Buddhist monk like Santa Claus brings presents to children. Many children are afraid of Hotei-osho because it is said he has eyes in the back of his head, so they really do behave during the holiday season!
Lebanon – Rather than the traditional dinner, the Lebanese gather for Christmas lunch, which is usually held at the grandparent's home or the eldest son's home.
Mexico – On Christmas Day, the children are blindfolded and take turns trying to break open the candy-filled piñata. Those children who are well behaved receive gifts from the three wise men on January 6 th .
Netherlands – Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) sails from Spain on December 5 th to visit children who leave out their shoes filled with hay and sugar for his horse, and awake to find them filled with candy and treats. Often times Sinterklaas visits children in their homes to ask them specifically about their behavior, wielding a birch rod by his side to influence children to be good.
New Guinea –Traditionally, tribes would try to create peace amongst each other during the holiday season, and in order to do so, tribes would exchange infant sons with each other known as a Peace Child. They would take good care of this adopted child for a year, for if the child died, the peace between the tribes would end and the fighting start up again.
New Zealand – European Christmas traditions of elves and gnomes abound, but over the last couple of decades, the Father Christmas figure has changed to be more like the Santa Claus of the United States and Ireland .
Norway – Similar to Denmark , Norwegian children believe in the little gnome Nisse who plays tricks on children who don't leave out a bowl of porridge for him. Julebukk (Christmas buck) is a goat-like creature who brings the gifts. He dates back to Viking times when pagans worshipped the god Thor and his pet goat. As in Sweden , on December 13 th , the youngest daughter in each family dons a white robe with a sash, and wears a crown of evergreens containing lighted candles, and accompanied by her brothers dressed as star boys in long white shirts and pointed hats, wakes her parents, serving them breakfast.
Poland – Traditionally on Christmas, families carry oplatek (a special bread) to their friends, family and neighbors to share. As each person shares the bread, they would have to forgive any wrongdoings of the person from the past year as well as wish them lots of happiness for the upcoming year. This practice is still done, but is more limited to family involvement.
Portugal – Children put their shoes along windowsills, doorways and the fireplace and believe that Father Christmas fills their shoes with gifts. During the Consoda (feast) on Christmas Day, families set extra places at the table for the souls of the dead, in the hopes that giving them food will increase their fortunes the following year. The Cepo de Natal, is an oak log that burns throughout the day.
Romania – On December 20 th , the custom of Ignatius is observed in which a pig is cut with a very sharp knife, and then his snout is stuffed with straw. The pig is then covered with straw and burned a bit. It is then washed and covered with a cloth for ten minutes. At that point, the pig is blessed with incense and the family gathers around, reciting, “Let's eat the pig!” Afterwards, the pig is cut and friends and family father for the feast.
Russia – Babushka (grandmother) is a legendary Christmas figure who did not go with the wise men because of the cold Russian weather. She regretted her decision and went to try and catch up, filling her basket with presents. She never made it and that is why she visits children, leaving toys for those who are good.
Scandinavia – Yule log traditions are derived from this country, developed from the dark, cold winters, in which people sought warmth and light. Yuletide (the turning of the sun) has had such a great importance during winter solstice when it was dangerous to sleep alone. The log was traditionally an entire tree, in which the bottom would be placed in the hearth and as it burned, the rest of the tree would slowly be fed into the fire. Julenisse (a little gnome) lives in the attics of houses. Children leave out a bowl of porridge and he puts presents underneath the Christmas tree for them in return.
Scotland – On Christmas Eve, families build raging fires in their fireplaces to ward off elves from coming down the chimney, and it is considered extremely bad luck for the fire to burn out. On Christmas day, the bagpipes are played as people dance around a large bonfire.
Slovakia – The Christmas tree goes up on Christmas Eve, after which families go to church and come home to sit down to a traditional dinner, after which they go look at the tree to find it filled with Christmas presents, as if they magically appear.
Spain – For hundreds of years, the Spanish have handed down the words and music for a special dance called the Jota, which includes guitars and castanets. On January 6 th , the three wise men bring the gifts to children who leave their shoes outside filled with straw and barley for their tired camels. In the morning, the straw and barley are replaced with presents. December 8 th begins the start of the season with Los Seises (dance of six), which is an elaborately ritual dance performed by six costumed boys. The precise gestures and movements are considered to be quite moving and beautiful. On Christmas Day, people play on swing sets especially set up for the holidays since swinging at solstice evokes an ancient desire for the sun to “swing” higher in the sky.
Sweden – The festivities begin early in Sweden , before dawn on December 13 th . In fact, the youngest daughter from each family puts on a white robe with a red sash, wears a crown of evergreens with lighted candles on her head and wakes her parents, bearing breakfast. The boys dress as star boys in long white shirts and pointed hats. On Christmas Eve, someone dresses up as tomte, the Christmas gnome who lives under the floorboards of the house, distributing gifts from his bag. If children did not behave well there was no Christmas.
Switzerland – Just like German children, the Swiss await the arrival of Christkinkli angel to arrive. Children listen for the tinkling of a silver bell which announces the arrival and anxiously stand waiting for Christkindli to distribute presents from her basket. In Zurich , Santa arrives via a fairytale tram and gives children a ride through the city, sharing sweets from a basket and singing songs with them.
Syria – On Christmas Eve, each family member stands around an unlit bonfire outside their home, carrying a lit candle. The youngest child of the family reads a Christmas story, after which the bonfire is lit. The way the fire moves tells the fortune of the family for the upcoming year. They carol as the fire burns, and when it starts to go down, everyone leaps over the embers, making a wish for each leap. Children don't receive presents until New Year's Day, which are brought by the camels of the wise men. They leave water and hay outside for the camels and in the morning, the water and hay is replaced by presents.
Turkey – Since it is forbidden to practice Christianity, there is only one small town that celebrates Christmas, which is named Demre. There, a three day festival takes place in early December and celebrates St. Nicholas's birth, because not only was St. Nicholas born in Patara, Turkey, but he was a famous archbishop, known for his kindness to children.
Ukraine – The didukh (grandfather spirit) is a shaft of wheat that is brought into the home and celebrates the ancient importance of rich wheat crops which were considered the foundation for life throughout the centuries. Gifts are given to children on St. Nicholas's Day on December 19 th which has gradually become moved to Christmas Day. Father Frost visits the children in a sleigh with only three reindeer, but he is attended by Snowflake Girl, a little girl in a silver blue costume that is trimmed in fur and wears a crown shaped like a snowflake.
United States of America – Santa Claus comes from the Dutch word Sintaklaas, meaning St. Nicholas. Santa Claus has had a number of looks, but in 1863 he was given the universal name of Santa Claus and wore the red suit, was jolly and bearded, smoked a pipe and had his reindeer and sleigh. Celebrations are not standard since there are many nationalities that make up the United States . Santa Claus is definitely considered to live in the North Pole, but he has two USA homes, one in Torrington , Connecticut where Santa and his helpers give out presents and one in Wilmington , New York , where there is a village where children can see Santa and his reindeer.
Venezuela – Children strew pieces of straw next to their beds and in the morning of January 6th the children wake to find all of the straw gone and in its place are presents. They then rush to look in the mirror, and if they are blessed with a smudge of black on their cheek, they know they have been kissed by Balthazar (one of the three wise men) while they slept and that the Magi and their camels have visited.
Wales – Christmas caroling is a popular holiday activity. In some of the more rural areas, someone is chosen as the Mari llwyd, who rides around town wearing long white robes and carrying the skull of a horse on a pole. Whoever encounters the Mari llwyd and gets “bit” by the horse, must pay a fine.
Yugoslavia – There are many different holiday customs in Yugoslavia . On the second Sunday before Christmas children quietly creep into their parents' bedroom, tie her feet to a chair and shout, “Mother's Day, Mother's Day, what will you pay to get away?” Then mother has to give the children little gifts to be untied. This same trick is played on their father the following week with, “Father's Day, Father's Day, what will you pay to get away?” The children then receive more little gifts from their father. Families bake a Christmas cake called chestnitsa, in which a gold or silver coin can be found in one piece. The recipient can expect a full year of good luck. In the country, families fear the bad luck of the Christmas log burning out in the fireplace, so during the entire Christmas night, it is someone's job to stay up to make certain it stays lit.