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Christmas Around the World

Christmas in Germany (Special Photo)

Christmas in Germany (Special Photo)

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Helium-filled balloons suspend a Santa Claus figure riding a horse-drawn chariot made of balsa wood near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The event inaugurates the traditional Noel market as part of Christmas holiday season preparations. (Reuters)

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Joseph Mohr (Special photo)

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The Vatican Christmas tree is lit up after a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Reuters News Service)

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A general view of Christmas decorations and lights at the home of the Duszenko family in Polkowice, Poland. Since 1999, the Duszenko family has decorated their house and garden before Christmas. This year, they used around 52,000 lights for the decorations. (Reuters News Service)

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A Christmas tree bearing the colors of the Paraguayan national flag is seen in front of the Lopez Palace. (Reuters)

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A young girl looks at illuminated Christmas decorations in Cali. (Reuters News Service)

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Members of the school choir of the Terra Nova private school perform on a Christmas market at the Werdmuehleplatz square in Zurich. (Reuters News Service)

All over the world, countries are celebrating Christmas Day with beloved traditions that are unique to their nation. While many traditions are similar, each has its own identity deeply wrought in history and cultural tradition. However, a common thread found is to exhibit goodwill toward men, and enjoy fellowship with family and friends at this very special time of year.

Germany

Though many countries all over the world observe Christmas, Germany is one area that quite elaborately celebrates the holiday.

Christmas preparations often begin on the eve of December 6th. People often set aside special evenings for baking spiced cakes and cookies, and making gifts and decorations. Germans make beautiful gingerbread houses and cookies. The German Christmas tree pastry, Christbaumgeback, is a white dough that can be molded into shapes and baked for tree decorations.

Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts.

The Advent season includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas and ends on Christmas Day. In Germany, a greenery wreath is customarily set out with four purple candles, one to be lit each Sunday, and a large white candle in the center to be lit on Christmas Day.

Fun fact: One of the most famous of all Christmas songs, “Silent Night,” was written in 1818 in a small town called Oberndorf near Salzburg. Joseph Mohr, a priest, wanted a new song for the Christmas festival and gave some lines he had written to the organist a few hours before services were set to start. Since that time, it has been translated into 44 languages and remains perhaps the most widely known and best-loved Christmas song in the world.

France

In France, a Nativity is often used in Christmas décor. Along with traditional Nativity figures, French scenes may also include figures such as a butcher, a baker, a policeman and a priest.

The Christmas tree has never been particularly popular in France, but some homes still incorporate the tradition of burning a Yule Log. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and may be sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell fragrant when burning.

In France, Santa Claus goes by the name Pere Noel. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts.

The main Christmas meal, called Réveillon, is eaten early Christmas morning after people have returned from the midnight church service. Dishes might include roast turkey with chestnuts or roast goose, oysters, foie gras, lobster, venison and cheeses. For dessert, a chocolate sponge cake log called a bûche de Noël is normally eaten.

Greece

On Christmas Eve, children often go out singing carols in the streets, while playing drums and triangles as they sing.

Christmas trees are gaining popularity, but aren’t traditional. Rather, most homes feature a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hangs from the wire. Water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, someone dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.

This is believed to keep bad spirits, known as Killantzaroi, away during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is also meant to keep the Killantzaroi away.

The main Christmas meal is often roasted lamb or pork, served with a spinach and cheese pie and vegetables. Other foods include baklava, which is a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey, kataifi which is a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon, and theeples, a kind of fried pastry.

Italy

One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity. Using a creche to help tell the Christmas story was made very popular by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, a year after he visited Bethlehem and saw where the stable it was thought that Jesus was born.

Christmas celebrations begin eight days before Christmas with special “Novenas,” or series of prayers and church services.

On Christmas Eve, it’s common that no meat is eaten. A light seafood meal is eaten after Midnight Mass, with the types of fish and how they are served varying between different regions in the country. A dry, fruity sponge cake called panettone is also served as a traditional dessert.

Epiphany is also important in Italy. On Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called Befana brings presents for them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill. On Christmas Day, Babbo Natale, or Santa Claus, might bring some small gifts, but the main day for present giving is on Epiphany.