Christmas traditions around the world

Dec 21, 2018
As Canadians we are blessed to live in a country filled with people from all over the world, and we benefit from the incredible variety of food, music, and traditions that they bring. Have you ever wondered how your neighbour celebrates Christmas? We asked some sponsored children from several countries to share their holiday traditions.

Children from Brazil who have participated in World Vision projects.
Children from Brazil who have participated in World Vision projects. Photo: Marine Vancini
Brazilians usually gather together with relatives and friends for a special dinner where everyone brings a plate of food and the meal is shared among all. It is a time marked by different sounds produced by a lot of music and the joy of children’s laughter as they play in anxious expectation of Santa Claus. In some of the communities where sponsored children live, the celebration can begin or end on the streets, which are adorned with many lights and a colourful glow. Children play, families hang out and the birth of Jesus is staged in front of a crib with people joyfully singing and dancing to Christmas songs. 

10-year-old Kanika (middle), with her friends from Phnom Prek Area Develoment Program. Photo: Dara Chhim10-year-old Kanika (middle), with her friends from Phnom Prek Area Develoment Program. Photo: Dara Chhim

In this season, Cambodia celebrates the biggest and most important traditional festival. For 15 days, Cambodians come together to remember their ancestors through the generations. The first 14 days are called “Kann Ben” or “Dak Ben”, which means offering or giving. Day 15, the last day of the festival, is called “Phchum Ben”, which means to congregate or gather. 

Dominican Republic:
Children and youth from the Dominican Republic wearing traditional clothes.Children and youth in the Dominican Republic who participated in World Vision advocacy and community activities. Photo: Claudia Martinez

The Dominican Republic celebrates this time of year with Christmas trees, stars, reindeers and other animals displayed on the streets. On Christmas Eve night they celebrate the Aguinaldo (caroling), where neighbours go door to door playing joyful traditional songs with local instruments, including the guira and tambora. People open their doors, enjoy songs and share ginger tea and cookies.

Children play outside of a preschool in Ecuador.Children playing outside a preschool in Ecuador. Photo: Chris Huber

For Ecuadorians, family is very important, and they spend the holidays with the people they love the most. They gather in their homes and make a special meal for everyone to share. And then they dance!

Children dancing in a kindergarten class renovated by World Vision in Georgia.Children dancing in a kindergarten class renovated by World Vision in Georgia. Photo: Felicia Carty

Christmas is a favourite time for children in Georgia – a time for good food, music and celebrating with family and friends. It is celebrated on January 7, according to the Julian calendar. Children and adults parade through villages, towns and cities wearing traditional red and white clothing or dressed up as shepherds and other figures from the nativity. This special parade is called “Alilo”. All through the streets you can hear people singing carols and celebrating. “Chichilaki”, the traditional Christmas tree, is carved from walnut trees into curly strands of wood. 

Youth laughing in their school, which was rebuilt by World Vision and a local partner in Haiti.Youth laughing in a school in Haiti, which was rebuilt by World Vision and a local partner. Photo: Guy Vital-Herne

Christmas is such a special time in Haiti! In rural areas, families cut pine trees from the mountains and decorate them with bright ornaments. In towns and cities, people get Christmas trees at the market and create nativity scenes at their base. On Christmas Eve, children put straw in their shoes and leave them at the door or under the tree. They hope that Tonton Nwèl (Santa Claus) will remove the straw and put presents in and around their shoes. 

Children learning English at an education centre in Lebanon.Children learning English at an education centre in Lebanon. Photo: Marc Abou Jaoude

On Christmas day in Lebanon, families come together to share a feast which usually includes kebbeh, a traditional and much-loved pie made of meat and burghul, as well as spiced rice and chicken. Coffee, mezze platters, sugared nuts and dates are consumed throughout the day. During this season, people perform a special traditional dance called the “dabkeh”, where they hold hands and dance in a circle, stamping to the music. Dancers dress up in brightly coloured clothes. In the villages, people make large bonfires, and everyone gathers to share stories and songs. There is a wonderful festive atmosphere of joy, family and friendship. 

Aisha (third from the right) and friends celebrating Christmas in Haiti.Aisha (third from the right) and friends celebrating Christmas in Malawi. Photo: Charles Kabena

Christmas is a day that children look forward to in Malawi, because of the excitement it brings to their lives. Families and friends gather together and enjoy good food, including chicken, rice, thobwa, (a local drink), and soft drinks. It is a day where children put on new clothes and go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. After church, children, their families and the entire community gather in the village square to enjoy traditional dances.

Children in Nicaragua at a program aimed at eliminating child labour in coffee.Children in Nicaragua at a program aimed at eliminating child labour in coffee. Photo: Ortega Orozco

Christmas Eve is especially significant in Nicaragua. It is celebrated with a family dinner, the giving of small gifts like fruits or candies, and fireworks at midnight to celebrate Jesus' birth. Then ‘El Nino Jesus’ (Baby Jesus), leaves gifts on Christmas morning for the children. Christmas is a day of rest after all the celebration and festivities with family and neighbors the night before. 

Children in Peru pose at a Child Friendly Space.Children in Peru pose at a Child Friendly Space. Photo: Ernesto Nieto

Christmas in Peru is a special time to celebrate with family, friends and community. Children typically gather together with their families to arrange the nativity scene, and then they dance the “huaylillas”, (a typical dance) around it. Afterwards, they share a traditional meal from the community that includes the traditional turkey as well as tamales, salads, applesauce and a sweet bread called Panetón or Panettone.

Children in the Philippines post on large rocks holding decorative orange stars.Jandel, Emerlyn and Nicole say that children and their families in the Philippines usually have simple celebrations for Christmas. The three friends shared that the real essence of Christmas is to be with one's family and remember Jesus's love for His children. Photo: Lanelyn Carillo

Christmas is a celebration of every Filipino’s love of family. This love is expressed through the Noche Buena meals they eat together, the gifts they give each other and the celebration of the many blessings that they joyfully share.
So next time you see your neighbour, ask them how they celebrate Christmas. You may be delighted by the stories they share. From World Vision to you and yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.