How Christmas is Celebrated Around the World

From Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, here’s a snapshot of how “the most wonderful time of the year” is celebrated around the globe.
by Mary Wimmer

What could say “Christmas” more than roller skating to church, a family trip to the sauna or eating some Kentucky Fried Chicken? If you happen to be from Venezuela, Estonia or Japan (respectively), there is no better way to ring in the holidays than doing just that…strange as it may seem. In fact, Christmas is the most widely celebrated holiday around the world, so you can expect different cultures to celebrate the last few weeks of the year in their own unique ways. From Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, here’s a snapshot of how “the most wonderful time of the year” is celebrated across the globe.


With most Argentines belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, the holidays in this South American nation are largely a time of religious services. But on the night of Nochebuena (or Christmas Eve) it’s time to party and fireworks can be heard in cities and towns across the country. Families traditionally enjoy their Christmas dinners that night as well, around the usual dining time of 9 or 10 p.m., while children hold off opening their presents until Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos (or Three Kings Day) on January 6.


Hanukkah in Israel is celebrated by sharing time with family, eating special foods and enjoying festivals and concerts – not unlike how the holiday is celebrated by North American Jews. But what sets this country apart is how it’s celebrated in Jerusalem, when people from all over the country flock to the Old City to take in the beauty of lit menorahs (nine-branched candle stands) flickering in windowsills throughout the holiday, giving the celebration its famous moniker: the Festival of Lights.  


Citizens of capital city Caracas celebrate Christmas with some familiar aspects of the holiday season (Christmas trees and Nativity scenes) and a few not-so-familiar traditions, like roller skating to the early morning church services from the 16th to the 24th of December. Children will usually go to bed early during the nine-day period, and to make sure they wake up early enough for church services, they traditionally tie a long string around their big toe and leave the other end hanging out the window so that passing roller skaters can wake them up by giving them a tug.


There’s no arguing that Christmas is the most important holiday celebrated in this Baltic country, as can be seen each year on Christmas Eve when its President historically declares “Christmas Peace” across the nation as part of a 350-year-old tradition. And what could be more peaceful than a relaxing trip to the sauna, another Estonian holiday tradition with roots that extend far into the country’s past when it was customary for families to bathe before Christmas Eve service at their local village church.


Christmas Eve in Japan is usually celebrated as a time to spend with family, exchange gifts – and head to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Indeed, the “Christmas Chicken” reigns supreme in Japan, and it’s all thanks to “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”, a widely successful marketing campaign that the fast-food chain undertook in 1974 after – legend has it – a group of foreigners couldn’t find a turkey on Christmas Day and opted for KFC instead. Today, KFC restaurants across Japan experience their highest sales volume every year on December 24th.


No other country has the Christmas spirit quite like the Philippines, where Halloween decorations are almost immediately replaced by Christmas lights to make for one of the longest holiday celebrations in the world. As the third largest Catholic nation globally, Catholicism in the Philippines is largely a legacy of its history as a former Spanish colony. The country’s nine-day series of Christmas masses called simbang gabi and the festive star-shaped lanterns that light up windows in homes during the entire holiday season are also remnants of their colonial past.

United States

A relative newcomer to the year-end holiday scene is Kwanzaa, the week-long celebration of African heritage enjoyed by some African Americans, as well as Canadians and members of other nations of the West African diaspora. With its roots in the 1960’s Black Nationalist movement of the United States, Kwanzaa (a word derived from the Swahili expression for “first fruits of the harvest”) is a time for decorating your house with objects of African art and eating with family and friends. Celebrants spend the holiday enjoying their community and culture, while observing Nguzu Sabo, or the “seven principles of African heritage.”


From our “work family” here at CAA North & East Ontario to yours:
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and Happy Holidays!