Seasonal Celebrations Around the World

Share Share this post
The world is a big place full of diverse belief systems, long held traditions and colorful cultures. At first these differences might seem to separate us, but when it comes to holiday celebrations it is clear just how similar we all are. From family gatherings to religious traditions, many countries bring their own unique twist to the festivities. Join us as we explore the holiday season around the globe…

The Swedish Jul

In Sweden, the Yuletide festivities begin early in the month of December starting with Luciadagen, the Saint Lucia Ceremony. Before sunrise on December 13th, the children of the house dress in white robes with traditional red sashes. The youngest daughter plays the role of Saint Lucia and dons a crown of evergreens topped with long, tapered candles. She and the other children wake their parents with coffee and saffron scented Lucia buns in a ceremony that commemorates Saint Lucy, a 3rd-century Christian martyr who brought food and water to the less fortunate. This ceremony signals the start of the Christmas season, bringing light and joy to a nation that endures long, dark winters.

Along with Americans and Germans, Swedes also share in the tradition of bringing Christmas trees into the home, where they are decorated with apples, Swedish flags, red tulips and traditional red-hatted gnomes. On Christmas Eve a large smorgasbord, or buffet dinner, is served. It includes traditional favorites like pickled herring, sausage and Christmas beer with mulled wine. Instead of Santa, Tomte delivers the gifts dressed as a mischievous Christmas gnome with a long white beard, pointed hat and a sack full of gifts. In Sweden, Christmas doesn’t end until January 13th, or St. Knut’s Day, the last day of the holiday season.

France’s Joyeux Noël

In France, you would be hard pressed to find a Christmas tree at center stage. Instead, a Nativity scene or creche acts as a centerpiece. These scenes are often comprised of small ceramic figures of the saints traditionally crafted by artisans in the southern part of the country.

Historically, French families would also burn a Yule Log, a large log kept on the hearth for the month of December. Families no longer rely on wood burning stoves to heat their homes so this tradition has fallen out of fashion, but even though the fires are no longer lit, children still place their shoes on the hearth to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. Rather than a sack, he carries a wicker basket — like the grape harvesters of the French vineyards — and rewards good children with fruits, candies and other small tokens as they sleep.

On Christmas Eve, the cathedrals of France are awash with candles, bells and light and host a midnight mass re-enacting the birth of Christ followed by a midnight supper with turkey, chestnuts and foie gras. And it wouldn’t be a proper Christmas without a Buche de Noel, a french cake shaped like the customary Yule Log, filled with chocolate and covered in ganache!

a load of holiday dessert bread

New Zealand’s Summertime Christmas

While thoughts of Christmas often conjure up visions of snowy streets and white winters, countries south of the equator experience something completely different. In New Zealand Christmas comes at the height of summer!

Native to New Zealand, the Maori people have their own way of saying Merry Christmas — Meri Kirihimete — and take the time to honor many traditions of the past. A Kiwi holiday usually includes a Christmas Barbeque of roast, pumpkin, pork or chicken, cooked in an underground pit. Preparing food this way puts an emphasis on a connection to the earth, both thanking her for her gifts and reminding the Kiwi’s to stay grounded during the year. New Zealanders also enjoy traditional Christmas cake — Pavlova — a dessert of toasted meringue and pudding, topped with honey, fruit and nuts.

Just because Christmas comes in the summer, doesn’t mean there is not a tree. The iconic Christmas tree is a Pōhutukawa, an indigenous species rooted in history and tradition, with large red flowers and prolific leaves. The country is also known for it’s beautiful landscapes, green hills and vibrant farm culture. New Zealand farmers pride themselves on the quality of their beautiful wool textiles and rugs which make great gifts and souvenirs.

Israel’s Channukah

While there are many different ways to spell Chanukah or Hanukkah, it’s commonly known as the Festival of Lights. Celebrated the world over, but most prominently in Israel, over the course of eight nights members of the Jewish faith come together for a time of feasting, games, gift giving and reflection. It is held on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which means the first date of Hanukkah can fall in either November or December. It’s origins date from the second century B.C. where it began as a commemoration of the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.

festive dreidles with colorful confettiIt is believed that during this rededication, the Jewish priests only had enough oil to light their Menorah, a nine branched candelabra, for one day. Miraculously, after eight days the Menorah was still burning. This is now recognized as a symbol of the indomitability of the Jewish faith.

In modern times, Jewish children celebrate by playing with a dreidel, a four sided spinning top with a Hebrew character on each of it’s faces, to win small sums of chocolate coins called gelt. Though not traditionally a holiday for gifts, it’s proximity to Christmas on the calendar has made gift-giving customary on each of the celebratory nights. Traditional foods include potato pancakes, or latkes, braised brisket, short rib, noodle keugel and sweet doughnuts.

The German Weinhnachten

It’s safe to say that Christmas trees are an integral part of the German Christmas tradition, since this is where they first originated. Like other European countries, Germany also begins the Christmas tradition on the 5th of December, with St. Nicholas Day. On this night, children leave their shoes outside their bedroom door and the spirit of St. Nicholas rewards good children with candy or other treats while bad children are said to receive twigs in their shoes.

Germans also host most of their celebrations of Christmas Eve, holding large dinners, attending church services and enjoying favorite dishes like Stollen, a marzipan flavored bread with fruit and nuts, as well as Lebkuchen spice cookies. To count the days until Christmas, Germans also employ an Advent Calendar. Advent begins on the first Sunday after November 26th and continues up until Christmas day. These calendars often contain small chocolates, bits of advice or wish papers that can be opened as each day or Christmas approaches.

Kwanzaa in the United States

Kwanzaa is a unique holiday and one of the youngest worldwide. Mainly celebrated in the United States, it was started in 1966 by Dr. Manulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Dr. Karenga was seeking a way to bring the African-American population together as a community after suffering through the disastrous Watts Riots earlier that year. Together with other scholars he started Kwanzaa based on the First Fruit harvests prevalent in traditional African harvest celebrations. It is held from December 26th through January first and incorporates aspects of the Zulu and Ashanti tribes. It’s traditions are centered around the seven principles of Nguzo Saba.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa represents one of the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work / responsibility, economy, purpose, creativity and faith. Kwanzaa serves as a celebration of life, prosperity and sense of purpose. Families eat, drink and light candles in a special holder called a Kinara to commemorate the past and light the upcoming year. On the final day, they exchange gifts or Zawadi, that encourage growth, determination and success. It is a both a spiritual and family-focused holiday, and one that brings both old and new traditions together.

We’re All One World

From festive feasts and neighborhood carols to quiet reflection and religious ceremonies, every country has something unique to share. It doesn’t matter if you plan to spend time at home or decide to travel to one of these other nations to experience the spirit of Christmas from another perspective, the season of giving is universal. It’s a time to celebrate tradition, honor the past and look forward to a bright future.

– – – – – –

Regardless of how you decide to spend this holiday season, take a mindful moment and give thanks for everything good you have received. Buon natale!
Share Share this post
Ash Wide Plank Floor
Get Inspired

From luxury homes to commercial interiors, browse an extensive collection of the wide plank flooring that we have designed and crafted for clients all over the world. Find inspiration then save it to your own personal library of images to share for further design exploration and planning.

View Inspiration Gallery