Austrian children revere a fella called Krampus. As the tradition goes, naughty children are whisked away in Krampus’s sack to the sound of clattering bells and clanging chains, while St. Nicholas rewards good children with presents!
In parts of Germany and Switzerland, St. Nicholas, a Christian saint, is remembered on December 6th, when children leave shoes, to be filled with gifts, as a reward for being good. Many still perform and generally show their skills in the hope of being rewarded. Knecht Ruprecht will often accompany St Nicholas, wielding a whip or a stick for those children who have misbehaved!
In Iceland, 13 days leading up to Christmas as the tradition goes, children leave empty shoes by the windows, which get filled up with presents if they have been good. Rotten potatoes if they have been naughty. They are called the Yule Lads! (jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar)
Perhaps one of the most unusual traditions, still honoured today by many in Norway, is the hiding of brooms on Christmas Eve, so that witches and evil spirits cannot use them as their mode of transport!
Luckily for us, when we decided to go to Australia for Christmas, 17 years ago, armed only with Christmas cheer and our 9-month-old baby we didn’t have to accommodate any of these more menacing traditions. It was a different experience for sure, mainly due to the scorching heat of 35 degrees, the beach as the location, and the lunch being shrimps thrown on the barbie, but the main traditions and ethos of the day remained the same as our own in England!
There are many countries however, that mark this most celebrated of religious festivals in a different way. Christmas Eve for example is the most important day for many countries:
Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, omania, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, to name but a few!
All start the Christmas celebrations on the 24th December, the last day of advent, with the opening of presents, decorating trees, attending church services and eating traditional fare. In other countries Christmas is not celebrated at all, which include Thailand, Afghanistan, Algeria and Pakistan among others.
Of course, this is because the vast majority are not Christian, so their beliefs and traditions are focused elsewhere. The day is generally recognised as a holiday, but not for religious reasons.
In China where a small percentage are Christians, Christmas or Sheng Dan Jieh, is mainly celebrated in the big cities, where the traditions of trees, lights, decorations and celebrations can be seen.
Whether Christmas day is a thoroughly religious affair steeped in tradition, or more secular, adopting some but not all the trimmings that accompany this time of year, we at Dialogue wish you a very Merry Christmas!