All over the world, people are making preparations for Christmas day, yet while we decorate trees, wrap presents and write our cards, have you ever wondered how other cultures get ready for the festive period and what the differences are in how we celebrate?
Some traditions include leaving hay for the Three Kings and leaving a glass of wine for Italy’s La Befana – a friendly holiday witch. The research also found that many countries celebrate Christmas on Epiphany, when the Three Kings are believed to have visited Baby Jesus bearing gifts for him on January 6th. Whilst different cultures have their own Christmas traditions, we all share the idea that good children get presents and naughty ones are left with a lump of coal.
In Italian folklore, on Epiphany an old friendly witch called La Befana delivers gifts to good children and coal to bad ones. Italian children leave out socks or stockings to be filled along with a bottle of wine and a piece of salame for La Befana – very Mediterranean.
In Puerto Rico, families also celebrate Christmas on Epiphany. But instead of leaving a snack for Santa, children leave out three boxes full of hay for the three kings’ camels. In return for feeding their noble steeds, the three kings fill the boxes with sweets and gifts.
In Belgium, children don’t hang a stocking by the fireplace but instead leave their shoes for ‘Sinterklaas’ and his white horse to fill. Their treats include tangerines, gingerbread and mokjes, which are biscuits made in shapes of letters.
Socks are hung from windows in Brazil for Papa Noel to fill with gifts and treats. Other presents are hidden all over the house but before the children can look for them, they have to serve their parents breakfast in bed first.
In Denmark, Julemanden (aka Santa) doesn’t visit the children but sends his elves, the Nisser, out to deliver the presents. Danish tradition says that the Nisser live in the attics of homes and will play tricks on you unless you leave out treats for them. Traditionally, children leave out a special rice pudding called risengrød for the elves to feast on.
Over on the western coast of South America, Santa is treated to pan de Pascua – a sponge cake made with ginger, honey and candied fruit. In Chile, Father Christmas is known as Viejo Pascuero, which literally translates to “Old Man Christmas.”
Whilst in England it is custom to leave a glass of sherry or whisky for old Saint Nick, over in Ireland he is greeted by a pint of Guinness waiting for him by the fireplace. After a long night of hard work, Santa definitely deserves a nice refreshing beer.
Good thing Santa, or Christkind, is already pretty full up by the time he reaches Germany as there is no snack waiting for him there. Instead, children leave Christkind personalised letters on the windowsills and by Christmas morning the letters are replaced with gifts under the tree.
Over in East Africa, Kenyan families enjoy a feast of roasted goat on Christmas Eve. If Santa’s lucky, he might be able to sneak away some leftovers from the kitchen!
In France, Père Noël does not ride on a reindeer-drawn sleigh but instead has a donkey called Gui – which is French for Mistletoe. Trekking around the world in one night is hungry work for a donkey so French children fill their shoes with carrots before they go to bed.
If the children have been good, the carrots are replaced with presents from Père Noël.