Christmas in common: 4 Christmas traditions from around the World

Christmas around the world

For many, ‘Christmas’ brings up images of a bearded man in a red tracksuit dropping presents down chimneys as reindeer tug his sleigh through snow and sky. But there are hundreds of unique Christmas traditions around the world that came about from different social, political and cultural circumstances.

Here are four Christmas traditions you’ve almost definitely never heard of from countries around the world.

Christmas traditions: Austria

While the pinnacle of Christmas celebrations takes place with a feast on Christmas Eve as in most European countries, Austria can boast one of the most unusual Christmas traditions in the world.

Arising from an era before even Christianity had a firm grasp on the Austria-Hungary empire, a story from Pagan folklore has it that Krampus — a half-man, half-goat demon — and his army of elves roam the Tyrolean mountains terrorising villagers and abducting the naughty children. So where Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus) gives well-behaved children presents, his evil twin Krampus chases and captures naughty children and takes them away in his sack.

Krampus is the anti-Santa, here to terrorise naughty children and whisk them away in his sack. Photo by Luca Lorenzi

The Krampus Parade has become one of the most popular Christmas celebrations in Europe, attracting scores of locals and tourists to Tyrol early in each December.

Christmas traditions: Albania

During decades under a Communist regime, Christianity and its traditions were suppressed or even criminalised in Albania. As the pinnacle of Christian faith and practice, Christmas was banned throughout the nation and replaced with a new festive focus on New Year’s Day.

Despite Albania’s now-stabilising democracy and the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians within it, Christmas here still looks a little different to Christmas around the world.

Communist-era mosaic above the Museum of Tirana.  Photo by Adam Jones.

The typical Albanian Christmas tradition is the New Years tree, and the giving of gifts on New Year’s Eve. Santa Claus is known as The Old Man of New Year, or Babagjyshi i Vitit te Ri. On New Year’s Eve, families gather to share gifts and feast on local delicacies, often replacing meat with fish, vegetable dishes and pastries with homemade goats cheese.

Christmas traditions: Colombia

Colombian Christmas traditions span from early December through to mid-January, beginning on December 7th with Día de las Velitas, or ‘Day of the little Candles’. Though this day will be familiar to Catholics around the world as the prelude to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, Colombia’s festive enthusiasm on this night is renowned: fireworks, candles on every doorstep and music and dancing throughout city streets announce the beginning of the Christmas season.

Dia de las Veritas in Colombia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In mid-December, Colombians come together to share Christmas prayers, known as the Novenas de Aguinaldos or Christmas Novenas. From December 16th until Christmas Eve, groups of families, friends and neighbours visit a different hosting household each night to share novenas, delicious food and sing carols in the lead up to Christmas.

The main Christmas feast is held on Christmas eve, followed by a midnight church service. The celebrations don’t stop there — Colombians celebrate an April Fools-style day on December 28th with the Day of the Innocents.

Christmas traditions: Democratic Republic of Congo

While some of the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrates Christmas on 25 December, around 5,000 people celebrate their true Christmas on 25 May.

The Kimbanguist Church was inaugurated by Simon Kimbangu in 1921, but suspicion from Congo’s Belgian authorities at the time surrounding his teachings and miraculous healings saw him imprisoned until his death in 1951.

Kimbanguists believe that Simon Kimbangu was original incarnation of Christ, and that his sons are reincarnations of Christ. In 2000, Congolese Kimbanguists had a revelation that Christmas should be celebrated on May 25, the 1916 birth date of Papa Salomon Dialungana Kiangani, Kimbangu’s second son and thus a reincarnation of Christ.

The faith was formally recognised by Belgium in 1959, and today some Congolese Kimbanguist groups celebrate Christmas traditions by making a pilgrimage 100 kilometres southwest of Congo’s capital Kinshasa to the holy hill of Nkamba, where a sacrifice is made as an offering to Papa Dialungana.

The Temple at the holy hill of Nkamba, near Kinshasa, in the Congo. Photo: Pandries.

There are billions of people observing some of thousands of unique Christmas traditions around the world this month. One thing is certain: Christmas has become a global and richly multicultural celebration that brings us a little closer together.

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