You wake up, and realize it’s Christmas morning. You’re excited to open up the presents under your Christmas tree and check out all your stocking stuffers. Maybe the night before, a younger sibling left cookies and milk out for santa. You may think most people celebrate their Christmas this way, but not only does Christmas vary from family to family, but it is celebrated in drastically different ways across other countries.
In the European country of Poland, presents are not opened on Christmas morning, but rather on Christmas eve. The family splits a Polish bead called Oplatek with every person in the room and personally wishes them good health and happiness. Children peep out the window in anticipation, waiting for the appearance of the first star in the night sky. Once the star can be seen,everyone’s allowed to start eating dinner, because the star is symbolic of Jesus’s birth. Straw is placed under the tablecloth before the traditional meal. After dinner, presents can be opened.
In Sweden, Christmas trees other than being adorned with ornaments, are also decorated with apples, candles, and Swedish flags. On the night of Christmas Eve, the mother of the family lights all the candles of the Christmas tree. A rice porridge called Risgryngrot is prepared with an almond hidden inside. When a family member receives the almond in their bowl of porridge, it is believed they will marry in the new year. In the Swedish town of Gavle, a towering 43 foot traditional yule goat is built out of straw every year, only to be burned down by arsonists. Every year the Gavle Goat is destroyed, it is rebuilt yet again.
In Russia, a mostly Greek Orthodox country, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. On New Year’s Ev,e ‘Grandfather Frost’ brings presents to the children. The children circle the Christmas tree calling for Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, Snegurochka. Svyatki, Russian Christmastide, is celebrated after January 7 until January 19. During this Christmastide, there is fortune telling and caroling, as well as a bathing in the freezing waters of lakes and rivers on January 18. January 18 marks the end of Christmastide and Epiphany, or the baptism of Jesus.
Though there are not many practicing Christians in the predominantly Hindu and Buddhist India, those who do celebrate Christmas choose to decorate banana or mango trees in the warmer climate where coniferous trees do not grow. Indian families use mango leaves to decorate their homes for the Christian holiday and create clay nativity scenes. They may also place small oil-burning lamps on top of the flat roofs of their homes.
Giving gifts in Serbia does not occur on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. Instead, the three Sundays before Christmas are assigned to the children, mom, and dad of the family to give gifts, (respectively:Detinjci, Materice, and Oci,). On Detencji, the children of the house are tied up with ropes or scarves, and to be freed must give a present to their parents, which they had prepared in advance. The same happens with the mother and father on Materice and Oci.
Greece, a Greek Orthodox country similarly to Russia, believes in a different kind of elves than the ones who help santa create his presents. The Kallikantzari ‘Christmas goblins’ are believed to appear only during the twelve days of Christmas, when they rise from the center of the Earth and enter people’s houses. They are believed to cause mischief in the household do some Greeks, as part of the myth, keep a yule log burning from December 25 to January 9. A wooden cross wrapped in basil and drenched in holy water is used to ward off the bad spirits.
However Christmas is celebrated, it is a very important time of year for families around the world.