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Unusual Christmas traditions in different countries

Unusual Christmas traditions in different countries

by Olivia Bell a month ago
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Table of contents

  • 1. India
  • 2. Greece
  • 3. Mexico
  • 4. New Zealand
  • 5. China
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We’re accustomed to tried-and-true Christmas traditions, such as singing carols and decorating a spruce, buying and unpacking gifts, making cookies, roasting turkey and watching favorite comedies in a family circle. But some of the ways this holiday is celebrated around the globe may surprise and even shock you! What about singing carols in Maori with Santa in sandals and a T-shirt? Or watching Bible scenes carved in giant red-and-white radishes? Read till the end to learn why the Chinese people present each other with a Christmas apple and why the Greeks decorate their cities with illuminated wooden boats!

1. India
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Goa Portuguesa Restobar
#10 of 5946 seafood restaurants in Mumbai, India
Mili Building, Takandas Kataria Marg, near Hinduja Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
ClosedOpens at 12PM

Only 2,3% of the population in India are Christians, but in relation to its over 1 billion inhabitants, that makes over 23 million people who celebrate Xmas every year! The biggest Christian community is in Mumbai, the second one is in Goa, and others can be found in several eastern states of India.

Midnight mass is a very important issue for every family, which walks to church together in their best outfits and sparkling jewelry. The Christmas Eve Mass Service is traditionally followed by a massive feast which includes different delicacies such as curry, small pastries stuffed with dry fruit and coconut, and dodol — small toffee-like candy with coconut and cashew in it. Churches and houses are usually decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles, artfully made manger with nativity scenes and small oil burning lamps which are placed on the roofs of homes to show that Jesus is the light of the world. Instead of traditional Christmas trees, people often decorate banana or mango leaves with garlands and paper lanterns in the shape of stars.

Some Xmas traditions in India remain western-style, for example, in Goa and Mumbai there are numerous restaurants where you can eat the main holiday meal — grilled turkey or chicken, as well as popular Christmas cake with marzipan and royal icing. Try it at Goa Portuguesa Restobar in Mumbai or order alternatives from the local cuisine — chicken or fish curry (manipur), kolkata (pork sausages), and Prayagraj cake which is made of petha, fruits and nuts soaked in rum and local marmalades.

2. Greece
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Noel
#320 of 6033 cafes in Athens, Greece
Kolokotroni 59B, Athens, Attica, Greece
Closes soon: 1AMReopens 4PM

Very interesting old Christmas customs can be found in Greece too. One of them is the decoration of small wooden boats with garlands, nuts and golden paint — this beautiful tradition roots in the ancient times in memory of the sailors who managed to survive in a terrible winter storm. Every December, tourists can see these boats in the hands of children singing carols, as well as on the main cities' squares or venues’ entries. Another traditional decor is a shallow bowl with water and a sprig of basil wrapped around a wire and a wooden cross. Every morning, women dip the cross and basil into the holy water and sprinkle it around every corner to bless their home.

What can be found on a table of every family is Christopsomo — special Christ’s sweet bread with cinnamon, orange, cloves, and a cross made of dough on the top of it. The main Christmas meal is also roasted lamb or pork, served with a spinach & cheese pie, fresh salads and olives. As a Christmas dessert the Greeks often cook delicious pastries, such as baklava (with nuts and honey), kataifi (shredded filo dough with cinnamon, nuts, and sugar liquor), melomakarona and others. People usually cook them at home, but many restaurants offer their own recipe for this traditional winter treat — check it out at the Noel restaurant, serving the best traditional Greek food and desserts in Athens.

As for New Year’s Day — don’t hurry to pay a visit to a Greek family early in the morning. The first person to step on the threshold this year should be a first-born or the luckiest child in a family to attract happiness to the house. In some areas of Greece they also break a pomegranate at the doorstep: the more scattered seeds (symbols of happiness and good fortune), the better!

3. Mexico
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Azul
#103 of 49031 restaurants in Mexico City, Mexico
Av Nuevo León 68, Mexico City, Mexico
Open now 9AM - 11PM
Pozole
Pozole

Pozole is a spicy stew made with pork, hominy, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa and red chiles. This savory and hearty soup is a traditional Mexican dish.

Christmas celebrations start in Mexico in the mid of December and last till January 6th. Till Christmas Eve, children perform Posadas (the religious march which reenacts a journey of Joseph and Mary), singing carols at each house and asking to let them in. The facades of buildings are usually decorated with lanterns, evergreens and lamps, and children are walking with candles too, illuminating their way. A lot of people create Nativity scenes in their houses, and the figures, which are often passed through generations, can reach life size! Besides traditional Bible characters, one can see common people, tropical animals, birds, and butterflies. As soon as a welcoming Posada house is found, they put a figure of baby Christ into the manger and go to church with their families to celebrate the beginning of the holiday. During these Posada parties they often hit a piñata — a papier-mâché jar filled with sweets — with the sticks, symbolizing seven deadly sins, until it breaks and the candies pour out.

The final Posada ends at Christmas Eve and families celebrate it with a rich feast, which includes pozole, turkey and pork, Nochebuena salad and fried pastries like bunuelos. Restaurants are also full on this day — if you are in Mexico city, book a table at the Azul restaurant to enjoy traditional Mexican Christmas dinner in a festive atmosphere with sparkling decor and music!

By the way, if you happen to be in Oaxaca one day before Christmas Eve, don’t miss a festival called The Night of Radishes in the town plaza. Thousands of people come to look at exquisitely carved red-and-white giant radishes performing Bible scenes and nativity stories, local wildlife and traditions, and plots from modern life. The tradition of radish carving appeared 350 years ago to attract people to Christmas markets, and so it goes till today.

4. New Zealand
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Esther Restaurant
#1119 of 7764 restaurants in Auckland, New Zealand
4 Viaduct Harbour Ave, Auckland, New Zealand
ClosedOpens at 12PM
Lamb
Lamb

The lamb meat is tenderer and more nutritional if compared to any other meat and has a particular gamey taste. It is not as firm as beef but chewier than chicken.

Though Christmas traditions in New Zealand are very much similar to those in the US or Europe, there are some local customs which differ a lot. First of all, Christmas in New Zealand comes in the middle of summer holidays, that’s why during festive parades Santa Claus wears sandals and a T-shirt instead of a warm winter costume. The traditional Christmas tree is Pōhutukawa, which is in full bloom this time of year and is covered with huge red flowers often printed on souvenir postcards.

On Christmas Eve, the New Zealanders love to have BBQ parties on the beach with roasted shrimps, seafood, ham slices, and some exotic meat, such as kangaroo. They also have typical English dishes such as turkey and lamb, potatoes and desserts — for example, hot fruit pudding with custard, pavlova or meringues topped with cream and fresh summer fruits. If a family has Maori roots, they will probably cook a traditional hangi, baking fish or chicken with sweet potatoes on the hot stones underground. 

The Kiwis also sing traditional Christmas carols, but some of them have been translated into Maoris and thus sound all-new. Learn the common Christmas greeting in the Māori language — Meri Kirihimete, and you’ll be welcomed everywhere across New Zealand!

5. China
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Mr&Mrs Bund
#20 of 3975 seafood restaurants in Shanghai, China
The Bund No.18, 6层18 Zhongshan Rd (E-1), Shanghai, China
ClosedOpens at 5:30PM
Duck
Duck

Duck is a flavorful bird that is considered a healthy food. It can be cooked whole or in separate pieces. Duck can be made into a soup, a casserole with pasta, pancakes, curry, and many other dishes.

There are about 90 million Christians in China, which is only 5% of its huge population. That’s why Christmas is celebrated publicly only in big cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai, where one can find decorated Christmas trees, lights and decor on the streets and in the malls. Among young people, who often come back home from European and American universities for vacations, Christmas parties are popular too. One of the traditional presents for Chinese Christmas is an apple wrapped in colored paper and ribbons. This tradition arises from the interpretation of the phrase Christmas Eve which means “peaceful and quiet evening” and sounds very much alike to the word “apple” in Mandarin.

On Christmas Eve, those who don’t want to cook turkey by themselves order food delivery from restaurants and cafes. One of the most popular dishes is called “The East meets the West'' and is a Chinese version of a traditional turkey. They fill a duck with slices of ham and chicken, prawns, fresh chestnuts and bamboo shoots, dried scallops or mushrooms with rice al dente and soy sauce. Try it in Shanghai at Mr&Mrs Bund — a Michelin-selected restaurant with a terrific view on the city and delicious dishes from French and Chinese cuisines.

Shanghai celebrates Christmas in a big way. The city is shining with garlands and decor, restaurants and hotels are full of people and tourists who come to celebrate Xmas in one of the most unusual cities of the world. Jingle into a festive spirit at Paulaner Bräuhaus Christmas market — the biggest and the most popular market in Shanghai, where people can try traditional and European food, buy gifts, entertain their kids with winter activities such as ice-skating and competitions. It's open every Friday (3 am-9 pm) and the whole weekend in December (11 am-9 pm) and the first weekend in January. Though Christmas in China is celebrated in a more commercial way, this country is definitely worth visiting this time of year!

Have you ever been to a country with different Christmas traditions? What did you love most and what was shocking for you? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

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