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Christmas around the world

How to say 'Merry Christmas' in some other languages

Chinese Sheng Dan Kuai Le Danish Glaedelig Jul Finnish Hauskaa Joulua French Joyeux Noël German Fröhliche Weihnachten Italian Buon Natale Japanese Meri Kurisumasu Dutch Zalig Kerstfeest Norwegian Glkedelig Jul Polish Wesolych Swiat Portugese Boas Festas Russian 'S Rozhdestvom Khristovym Spanish Feliz Navidad Swedish God Jul

Whether celebrated religiously or not, Christmas is a time of family and charity and tradition around the world. The following are just a sampling of modern Christmas customs.

Great Britain

British traditions -- from which American customs derived -- include singing carols, opening gifts on Christmas Day, enjoying a holiday feast, and decorating with holly and ivy. Children write letters to Father Christmas and hang stockings for him to fill with gifts.

Unique to Britain is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, a federal holiday. It is traditionally a day for giving to the less forturnate -- for churches to distribute donations to the poor, for servants to have the day off, for tipping service workers.


Most French homes display a creche, a Nativity scene decorated with figures called santons which depict the birth of Jesus Christ. Children traditionally put their shoes in front of the fireplace for Pèe Noë to fill with gifts. Adults might wait until New Year's Day to exchange gifts.


The tradition of the Advent wreath originated in Germany. It has four candles, one lighted on each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. During Advent, many German cities host festive markets, the most famous of which is the 400-year-old Nuremberg Christmas Market. St. Nicholas leaves gifts for German children to open on his feast day, December 6. Other children receive gifts on Christmas Eve from Christkindl (Christ child) or Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man).


Yule log traditions have their roots in Scandinavia where burning a tree would celebrate the winter solstice and the lengthening days that followed. Elves or gnomes are said to bring gifts to the children of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

The Christmas season in Sweden begins on December 13, St. Lucia Day. In the morning, a family's oldest daughter dresses in white, wears a wreath with seven lighted candles, and serves coffee and buns to her family.

The Netherlands

Dutch children await the arrival of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) who is said to sail from Spain on his feast day with his assistant, Swarte Piet (Black Pete) who knows who has been bad and who has been good. Sinterklaas leaves gifts in shoes that children have left by the chimney for him to fill.


Italians exchange gifts on the Epiphany, January 6, the day to remember the Magi's visit to the Bambino (Christ child). A woman known as La Befana, which means Epiphany, is the bearer of gifts to the good and punishment to the bad. La Befana might be an old woman, a kindly witch, or a fairy queen.


The Christmas season in Spain begins on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. On Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, families traditionally gather for midnight Mass, to feast, and to dance and sing. Spanish children leave their shoes on windowsills or balconies on the eve of the Epiphany for the Magi to fill with gifts.

Sources: World Book,

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