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Christmas Around the World: When to Celebrate |

When is Christmas celebrated where you live?  Do you know why many countries celebrate on December 25 (and why others do not)?  Thanks to Carrie of Crafty Moms Share for teaching us more about this fascinating aspect of Christmas around the world.

Christmas Around the World: When to Celebrate

The Bible does not tell us when Jesus was born. No one actually knows the date of his birth. The first recorded Christmas on December 25th was in 336AD. It was during the time of Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. A few years later Pope Julius I declared Christmas Day to be December 25. There are many theories as to why this date was chosen. One theory is it is nine months after the date of Annunciation, when it is believed Mary became with child (March 25). Another is that it is around the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice as well as other Roman pagan festivals. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, begins on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev (a month that often occurs at the same time as December) and since Jesus was Jewish, perhaps it was to honor his past.

In the early church Christmas was also celebrated on January 6th, also known as Epiphany (the revelation that Jesus is God’s son and the Baptism of Jesus). Then there is the switch of the calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian, though some churches still use the Julian calendar. All of this affects the date of Christmas and various countries celebrate Christmas at different times. There is also the question of what is the Christmas celebration? Is it when Santa Claus or other gift bearer brings gifts to children? Is it when families gather for the celebration or when people go to church? Each of these things also occur at different times in different cultures.

In Venezuela some people begin their celebrations with St. Barbara’s Day on December 4th. On December 16th families bring out their pesebre, elaborate nativity scenes, and the height of the celebrating begins on December 21st and lasts through the 25th. Epiphany or Three Kings Day is also celebrated in Venezuela. The main presents arrive Christmas Eve.

In the Netherlands December 5th is a big date. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day; however, in the Netherlands there are major celebrations on the 5th. The kids leave out their shoes for Sinterklaas to fill with gifts during the night. Then there is a large parade on St. Nicholas Day. Christmas is a much quieter event with church and a family meal.

Mikulas a cert v Praze (1)
Traditional St. Nicholas Celebration in the Czech Republic By Chmee2 (Own work)[GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Many countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day, December 6th. This is often when the kids in those countries receive their gifts. Some of the countries that celebrate it are Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Posadas en Tequixquiac (4)
A Posada By Marrovi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Mexico the celebrations begin on December 16th. Each night the children perform Posadas (which means inn). The kids parade in the night carrying candles and with someone acting as Mary and Joseph. They go to houses each night where Joseph asks for a room. Eventually at the chosen house they are told there is room and they are allowed in, followed with a party. In some parts of Mexico kids expect Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and in other parts they wait until January 6th for the Three Wisemen.

In the Philippines the celebration begins on December 16th as well. There it starts the nine days of pre-dawn church services which end on Christmas Day. The celebrating lasts until the first Sunday in January (Epiphany).

In Romania the celebrations start on December 20th with St. Ignatius Day. Traditionally this is the day the family kills the pig that will be for the Christmas meal. The real celebrating however begins Christmas Eve with the tradition of decorating the tree.

In Kazakhstan Christmas is not a national holiday, so it is often celebrated the Sunday before Christmas since people are off work that day.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Longship
A Viking longship is burnt during Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations.By Lee Kindness [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Many countries celebrate December 24, 25th or January 6th or a combination of these days. The next interesting date to note is in Scotland. December 31st or Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) is a bigger celebration than Christmas. The word Hogmanay comes from a type of oat cake which is given to the children on this day.

In Greece gifts are brought to the children on January 1st by Saint Basil. They however have celebrations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In Spain there are some gifts on Christmas day however the children write letters to the Kings on Boxing Day (December 26) asking for what they want. The Kings come on January 6th, the Epiphany.

The real difference in dates occur with the different calendars. Places that have Orthodox churches tend to celebrate Christmas on January 7th. This is in countries like Georgia, Ukraine, Serbia & Montenegro, Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Macedonia. In Georgia however people get their gifts on December 31st (New Year’s Eve). The gifts are brought to the kids by Tolvis Papa or Grandfather Snow. In Macedonia the celebrations actually start January 5th called Kolede. The kids sing carols throughout the neighborhood and are given nuts, coins and fruit. When the singing is done everyone gathers around large bonfires.

With all the different dates and traditions, it makes the holiday season even more interesting. When do you celebrate Christmas? What is the most important part of the holiday for you?


Crafty Moms ShareCarrie is a former high school math teacher with diversity training and helped advise many diversity clubs at the schools she taught. Now she is a stay-at-home mother of an almost five-year-old and very active with her church. She writes about her life with her daughter and the fun things they do at Crafty Moms Share. You can also find her on Pinterest and Google +.

This post is part of the Christmas in Different Lands series from Multicultural Kid Blogs.  Learn more about Christmas traditions and celebrations around the world through the other articles in this series.

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