As many of you know, Christmas is a holiday or festival which commemorates the birth of Jesus. Preparations start several days in advance, and the special environment you can feel in the air might start several weeks in advance, too! In late November streets and houses get decorated, Christmas trees are also decorated with lights, garland, tinsel, different ornaments... carols start to be sung, cards are exchanged and Nativity scenes are set up in houses, churches, institutional buildings...
The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English: "Christemasse" and Old English: "Cristes mæsse", a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek "Christos" and "mæsse" is from Latin "missa" (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, have been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, "Xmas" is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.
Christmas are celebrated in many lands all over the world, and the celebrations and traditions which take place are different from one place to another despite its original meaning. Through our Facebook group: Penpalling & Letters, many people wanted to tell how they are celebrating this time of the year, and I decided to put all words together here.
Teresa in Czech Republic: Hi all from Prague, Czech Republic! Over here we typically gather with the family for a dinner on 24th. We eat a fish soup (carp fish) followed by a fish (the same carp :)) and potatoe salad. Then go to the Xmas tree (which is, meanwhile, lit up and the presents are already placed underneath) and unwrap the presents, talk, watch Xmas movies, eat small snacks and sometimes people go to the midnight mass at the church... not so much for religious reasons, more as a tradition. :) 25th is a relatively calm day and if you have a bigger family (aunts, etc.) you visit them then for more gifts and food. :) Merry Xmas to everyone!
Angie in Germany: Here we give out presents already on Christmas Eve, in the evening, after having a dinner together. We do sing carols, pray in front of the tree and afterwards we do hand out presents to each other. Typical food for this day is fish, but since we don't like fish that much in our family we usually make something different. I chose "Cordon bleu" this year. On Christmas Day we usually do gather around and often do have goose with dumplings for food. And on Boxing day we usually don't do much so we do play games and such things. :)
Erika in Mexico: Here, in Mexico, we have a family dinner on December, 24th. The time depends of every person as for my family we have lunch with all my relatives (around fifty people... hehe! I have a BIG family!) around 3pm; and at night, a small dinner with my parents. Traditional dishes? In my family we will have: "Cod fish with olives and potatoes" ("Bacalao a la Vizcaína"), "Rosemary with some mole" ("mole" is a Mexican dish, which is a mix of about thirty ingredients and spices: chili, cinnamon, chocolate, bread, pepper, onion... etc.), sweet apple salad, some fruity salad, too, and turkey.
Deirdre in the Netherlands: Most people have family dinners on 25th, and 26th family dinners, too, or just a lazy day. The 24th is nothing, people have to work. The 25th and 26th we have the day off work.
Mirjan in the Netherlands: I have to work until 2 pm... Xmas eve some people are going to the church. We are celebrating Xmas on December, 25th and 26th. Our typical dish is turkey, beef.
Heather in Massachusetts, USA: I usually end up wrapping all my gifts on the 24th. At night I go to a family member's house and hang out. Typical Christmas dish here (all depends on the person): usually ham, lamb or roast beef is served for Christmas. People here tend to eat at around 1pm or 2pm. Then, have desserts about 4ish. Then, open gifts and all that happy Christmas stuff. My father's side of the family have a cake for Jesus, so they have cake along with everything else. Then, if you are hungry later there are a bunch of leftovers.
Mitzi in Arkansas, USA: When I was younger we would open one present on Christmas Eve and then wait til Christmas Day to open the rest... but with all the hype of PRESENTS my family opens them all at Christmas eve, although I would rather open them in the aim of Christmas day, enjoy the day with family and friends and have a feast that day.
Samantha in California, USA: At Christmas Eve we all get to open the smallest present before bed and drink hot chocolate. We also watch Christmas movies and wake up the next morning and open presents together. Right now my 6 year old and 4 year old are making Christmas ornaments out of paper for our tree. It is so cute!
Laurie in Illinois, USA: Christmas Eve we go up to my family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Then, Christmas morning we open our gifts to one another and the day we go to a sister in law's home. We usually have a ham, different salads, shrimp, cheese and crackers...
Marie in Florida, USA: We eat sausage on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, we eat antipasto, lasagna and cannolis.
Patti in Washington, USA: We prepare white nut fudge (divinity) each year. Hard to make but worth it!
Shiloh in Hawaii, USA: My Christmas celebration starts on the 24th of December. When I was living with my foster-family we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My foster family did that so we could spend Christmas with our own families. I still carry that tradition today. On Christmas Eve, we go to my in-law, or other family houses, but on Christmas Day we spend it at home for some great quality time.
Aga in Poland: Christmas in Poland in some points probably looks like in other countries, in others it differs. We decorate Christmas tree, buy gifts… *cough*… Santa brings gifts and we fest on Christmas Eve together with the whole family. But of course, we can’t start eating before the first star shines! And even before we sit by the table, we share an “opłatek” between us, wishing each person all the best in the coming year... Go on reading more about Christmas in Poland by visiting Aga's Blog: "Got that Swing" where she explains about Christmas Traditions in Poland.
Snjezana in Bosnia-Herzegovina: We celebrate Christmas on the 7th January - for Orthodox people - We roast a pig on a stick above the fire and we cook wheat with nuts and sugar. We also eat baked mash beans, sarma (sauerkrat leaves filled with rice and meat, or wine leaves), Greek baklava and we drink red wine, say our prayers and spend time with family and relatives on the 1st day. There are sweets for children in hay under the table or in the villages they go outside to haunt the treasure that adults hid around...
Beatriz in Spain: On the 24th December we are preparing for a family dinner in the evening. Before, we already have ready Christmas ornaments, the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene and might sing/listen to Christmas carols. The typical dishes depend on every Spanish region. Here, in Galicia, northwestern Spain, the most traditional meal is cod with cauliflower and boiled potatoes as well as shellfish (crayfish, different kinds of crabs, scallop shell, lobster, barnacles...). However, some people prepare roasted beef, capon, turkey, lamb, suckling pig, hake or octopus... On Christmas Day we have a family lunch, and some of the dishes you can eat are among the ones I named before. After dinner/lunch typical Christmas sweets are eaten like "turrón" (a kind of nougat candy typical in Spain in Xmas), "polvorones" (I heard it is similar to "shortbread" in New Zealand), "marzipan", "pasteles yema/gloria"... On the contrary to most countries in the world, we don't exchange gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but on the 6th January, the Epiphany or the "Three Kings Day". However, in the latest years, Santa is more present than ever, and still many children get something "little" either on the 24th or the 25th. ¡Feliz Navidad a todos!
If you are interested in reading more articles related to the Christmas time and New Year's, check the following:
- The Saint Nicholas tradition
- The Christmas Season in Spain
- New Year's Celebrations
- The Three Kings Day or "Día de Reyes"