How Do Countries Around The World Celebrate Christmas? Part 3

Welcome back to the last part in our three-parter series discovering how some countries around the world celebrate Christmas. Let’s jump right into it!

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The Portuguese celebrate their traditional Christmas dinner, also known as consoada or Ceia de Natal, is celebrated on Christmas eve. It consists of a special cabbage and potatoes, along with popular Christmas foods such as roast turkey, cakes, fried cookies and nuts. Families also exchange their gifts on Christmas Eve! Each region in Portugal has their own selection of desserts though. For example, in the northern province of Minho, those who are wealthy would have dessert made with lots of eggs such as ‘Lampreia de Ovos’ which is sugary egg yolks made into the shape of a fish. Most people would also have rice pudding, french toast (Rabanadas) as well as fried dough dessert (Filhós) sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Christmas meals are usually paired with porto wine, traditional liquors and consumed with ‘azevias’ and ‘felhozes’ (biscuits and sweets) and then followed by parties late into the night. At midnight of Christmas Day, some attend a Christmas mass where gatherers will queue up to kiss baby Jesus, who will then be placed in the nativity scene. Unlike most other Christmas celebrating countries, the Portuguese actually prefer sleeping in on Christmas Day, before enjoying another family meal. Christmas trees are a common decoration in Portuguese households, much like the rest of the world, but the Portuguese also uniquely display a small Nativity Scene decoration at home. In the district of Penamacor, a Christmas tradition known as the ‘Christmas Madeiro’ occurs on Christmas Eve. It is the tradition where young men who were due to go for their compulsory military service (which has since been stopped since 2004) steal whole trees to make the tallest fire in the church yard. After Christmas Day, in the lead up week towards the new year, people will go from door to door in groups with an image of baby Jesus singing the ‘Janeiras’ songs (january songs). Ideally, the owner of the house would invite them in to warm up and provide them with snacks such as dry figs with walnuts, or savoury cheese and chorizo, to be washed down with some wine or brandy. If this happens, the January singers will sing a song to thank the generosity of the host. Epiphany is also celebrated in Portugal on the 6th January. In fact, on the island of Madeira, the janeiras are very well known and are also known as the “Cantar os Reis” (Singing the kings) 

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Despite having a relatively small proportion of Christian population in Singapore, many locals still get into the Christmas spirit by gathering with friends and families to enjoy a meal together and exchange presents. Most malls and community streets in Singapore are decorated with glittery ornaments and twinkling fairy lights to bring that festive feeling. Some malls may also have a Nativity scene or some other Christmas decoration on display outside the building. In the main shopping district of Orchard Road, you can see dense crowds as many Singaporeans rush to complete their last minute Christmas shopping for their loved ones, in fact, so much so that Orchard Road and its Christmas decorations are now a popular tourist attraction. It’s no wonder though, as Orchard Road boasts kilometers of beautiful Christmas lights that look like mediocre decorations by day, but stunning light and ornament displays by night. As much as not many Singaporeans celebrate Christmas as a tradition, they still often dig into classically traditional Christmas dishes, such as roast turkey, smoked ham, plum pudding with brandy sauce, and minced pies. Further south of the Central Business District where Orchard Road is located, lies the beautiful Gardens by the Bay. During the build up to Christmas, the Gardens will feature the Christmas Wonderland attraction, which is often seen as a popular attraction for locals and tourists to visit during the festive period. You can read more about Christmas Wonderland and other places to visit during the Christmas season in our Christmas Eve blog post! Even the sandy beaches of Sentosa island are Christmas themed, as compared to its usual tropical style, but rest assured that your favourite rides are still available at Resort World Sentosa, without the risk of eating fake snow while screaming down that roller coaster. If this tempts you to visit Singapore, you will be given a warm Christmassy surprise as Singapore’s Changi Airport flaunts a stunning array of different Christmas decorations which can be found in their operational terminals (Terminal 1 and 3), and of course, in Jewel Changi Airport. The decorations put up are so festive that it’s not uncommon for locals to visit the airport just to feel the Christmas spirit, and of course to snap pictures and upload it on their social media.

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South Africa

Our last southern hemisphere destination of interest in this series, Christmas in South Africa takes place in the summer. As such, a lot of South African flora are in full bloom during December, leading up to Christmas. South Africa shares many Christmas traditions with the British, who settled in the nation in the 19th century. Despite achieving independence from the British over a century ago, most South Africans celebrating Christmas still follow the British Christmas traditions, with their own local twists, of course. As usual, carolling on Christmas Eve is popular in towns and cities around the country. Many people also go for church service on Christmas morning. Food wise, the main Christmas meal in South Africa consists of either turkey, duck roast beef or suckling pig served with yellow rice and raisins and vegetables and is usually eaten outside under the sun, to fully embrace the weather. The dessert that follows includes christmas pudding or a traditional south african dessert called Malva Pudding (sometimes also called Lekker Pudding). Alternative Christmas foods in South Africa include braaibroodjies which is similar to toasted cheese, and Braai, which, in an oversimplification, is South Africa’s barbeque or roast. The big difference, however, is the fire, as braai is strictly not cooked on a gas grill, instead opting for wood or coal fires to bring out the best flavours. The star of any braai are the meats, and one such highlight is the boerewors, which is a thick beef sausage that roasts to juicy goodness on the braai. Similar to most countries, the main streets of South Africa are beautifully decorated with stunning displays of decorative lights. Inside though, South Africans prefer to keep it simple and classic, decorating their homes, shops, and churches with Christmas trees and lights.

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The United States of America(USA) shares many different Christmas traditions with other nations globally, due to their multi-cultural nature. For example, Western European families living in the US may indulge in some turkey or ham with cranberry sauce, where as their Eastern European counterparts may opt for turkey with trimmings, kielbasa/kielbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups instead. For many households, putting up a Christmas tree signifies the start of Christmas. Once their houses are flooded with Christmas lights and their trees threaded with ornaments, it’s time to get the party started. Similar to some other cultures such as the British, most American families practice hanging up Christmas stockings over the fireplace. Families also like to make gingerbread houses and drink eggnog together. Many churches host special Christmas carolling and activities, telling the story of Christmas in addition to the normal activities. Elsewhere, people may go Christmas carolling from door to door, hoping that the owner provides them with a light refreshment of cookies and eggnog after they’re done. As usual by this point, you can expect most towns and cities to be decorated with lights and Christmas decorations to celebrate the festive mood. Arguably the most iconic Christmas decoration in the USA is at the Rockefeller Centre in New York, where there is a huge Christmas tree surrounded by activities such as ice skating for the locals to enjoy and celebrate Christmas. In Southwest USA there may be some special customs which are similar to those in Mexico. This includes ‘luminarias’ or ‘farolitos’, which are paper sacks with shapes cut into them and are partly filled with sand and have a candle put in them. They are usually lit on christmas eve and are put on the edges of footpaths to signify lighting of the way for Mary and Joseph.

Well, that’s the end of our three part series exploring how some countries around the world celebrate Christmas. Even though we weren’t able to provide an insider into how every country celebrates Christmas, we hope that our selection has given you a somewhat wide scope of how different cultures globally may celebrate Christmas in a similar or different way as compared to another country. We would also like to once again share our heartfelt thank you to WhyChristmas, who has blessed us with a huge amount of Christmas knowledge around the world, allowing us to create this article with some degree of cultural accuracy. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this series, and you can check out more blogs like these here!

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