Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. However, celebrations can vary widely across countries and cultures.
In the UK, celebrations start very early, and many towns switch on their Christmas lights as early as mid-November. Nativity plays and carols are quite popular close to Christmas time, and a lot of houses display a Christmas tree. The main meal is on Christmas Day, which is usually comprised of roast turkey, roast potatoes, vegetables and other trimmings, with Christmas pudding for dessert, and presents are exchanged on the day. On the 26th December, the UK celebrates Boxing Day, which started as the day when collection boxes for the poor kept in churches were opened in order to distribute the contents, but these days is more known as the day when the sales start, which draw huge crowds to the city centre stores.
In Spain, most families eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. This is a big family occasion and it’s not rare to find 20-25 people gathered in one small room. And true to their reputation as food lovers, they have another large meal for lunch on Christmas Day. The traditional dinner varies from region to region, and it can be anything from turkey to lamb or even seafood. Although children receive some presents on Christmas Day due to influence from other cultures, the main festival is on the 6th January, which celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men, who brought presents to baby Jesus. On the night of the 5th January, it’s traditional to leave shoes on windowsills or balconies with small gifts (mainly food) for the Three Wise Men. When the children wake up, they can find their presents hidden under the bed, provided they have behaved well that year; naughty children can get coal as a punishment (which is not real coal, but a sweet shaped like the mineral).
Similarly to Spain, in Italy Christmas is quite a religious affair. A nativity scene is usually displayed in houses, town squares and churches. Father Christmas, or “Babbo Natale”, brings some presents to the children on Christmas Day, but the main celebration is also on the 6th January, day in which Befana, an old woman, flies from house to house on her broomstick bringing presents to children.
In Australia, Christmas takes place at the the beginning of summer, and it’s quite common in coastal towns to gather and sing Christmas carols on the beach in the run-up to the holidays. Houses are decorated with Christmas trees, bunches of Christmas bush (a shrub native to Australia with cream-coloured flowers which later turn red) and lights. Neighbours can get quite competitive about their displays! Once he gets to Australia, Santa gives his reindeer a much needed rest and swaps them for six kangaroos, or “six white boomers”. Barbecues are also very traditional this time of year.
In the Philippines, Christmas is a mixture of Western and native traditions. Whereas they celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas day and have Santa Claus, it is a tradition to have a bamboo pole (“parol”) with a star-shaped lantern on it, which represents the star that the Three Wise Men followed to get to Bethlehem.
In many other European countries, St Nikolaus is accompanied by a scary character, who acts as a warning to naughty and disobedient children and goes by different names, from “Knecht Ruprecht” in Germany to “Le Père Fouettard” in France.
Finally, in the Czech Republic, the traditional Christmas meal consists of fish soup and fried carp with potato salad. Some people fast during Christmas Eve in the hope of seeing the vision of the "golden pig" on the wall, which is said to bring luck. Also, it's a tradition for an unmarried girl to place a cherry twig under water on the 4th December. It if blossoms by Christmas Eve, she will get married within a year.