Christmas Around the World
Christmas is a holiday filled with tradition. The stretch of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is a time of good cheer, when people gather together to celebrate the season, and each city, each country, and each culture has its own Christmas traditions to mark the occasion. Whether you’re in Victoria BC or at a Victorian-style celebration in England, you’re sure to find local color among the parades, parties, and events that center on the holiday. Many of the Christmas traditions around the world have similar origins; many of the Christmas traditions enjoyed in the United States, for instance, have their roots in Europe. When immigrants from France, Bavaria, Scotland, and other parts of the continent arrived in North America, they brought their holiday traditions with them. Christmas trees, many of the familiar carols, and Nativity scenes all have their roots in European holiday celebrations.
Christmas in New York City
Christmas in New York City Image: naotakem (flickr)
Once Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Christmas celebrations kick off in the Big Apple. As one of the top destinations for Christmas around the world, New York City is delightful in December. Department store windows are dressed for the season with charming holiday displays, inviting you to come in and do some Christmas shopping. The stores wrapped around Rockefeller Center also draw Christmas crowds who also come to experience the grand tree, ice skating, and the views from the Top of the Rock observatory. The tree lighting ceremony is one of the most charming Christmas traditions in the US. Held annually at the end of November, the festive night always features celebrities, Christmas carols, and the thrill of seeing the giant Christmas tree light up for the first time of the year. Another Christmas tradition had its start in New York City—the Rockettes have high-stepped their way into the holidays with festive shows at Radio City Music Hall.
German Christmas Traditions
Christmas in Germany Image: grahamhills (flickr)
In this region, the people celebrate Weihnachten, which begins the first Sunday in Advent—four weeks before Christmas. Towns big and small, from the Alps to the Black Forest and in between, celebration the season in style by lighting the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree), intricate glass ornaments, and cheerful music. In Munich, people flock to the Marienplatz in the center of town, to shop for traditional Bavarian carvings and beautiful crystals. Special concerts are held every evening at town hall throughout December. The festivities also include games for children and plenty of fresh cookies for people of all ages. Around the country, Germany Christmas markets, also known as Kris Kringle Marts, open up to sell Christmas crafts, handmade toys, and local food.
Christmas Traditions in France
Seeing the lights on the Eiffel Tower over the holiday is appealing to many travelers, but Christmas in Paris is not the only option for spending a beautiful holiday in France. Around the country, there are lovely local traditions to enjoy. In Lyon, for instance, residents put candles in their window on December 8, to pay homage to the virgin Mary. Strasbourg, which has deep German roots, brings back old traditions for its holiday celebrations each year. The open-air Christmas market has been going strong since 1570—continuing from St. Catherine’s Day (November 25) to Epiphany (January 6) each season. Residents and visitors also celebration the season with a host of baked treats and the Sapin de Noël, the Christmas tree.
Christmas in Italy
Christmas in Italy Image: George Rex (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
In Italy, the peak of the Christmas season is celebrated from December 24 through January 6, the date of the Epiphany, but there are also many events that begin on or around December 8, which is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. Naples and other southern Italian cities have wonderful music involved in their events; flautists and bagpipers wearing traditional and colorful costumes of sheepskin vests, cloaks, and stockings, play outside the churches and in the city square. Rome has a large Christmas market and several huge Christmas trees and nativity displays scattered around the city, but for many travelers Vatican City is the center of the celebrations of Christmas in Italy. The pope hosts a midnight mass on Christmas Eve inside St Peter’s Basilica, and it’s broadcast on a bigscreen TV in St Peter’s Square. The square also has a large Christmas tree and nativity scene of its own.
Vancouver & Victoria Christmas Events
These two cities in British Columbia have some of the most delightful Christmas celebrations in Canada, many of which revolve around lovely arrangements of lights. Butchart Gardens in Victoria has tens of thousands of holiday lights, along with wreaths and a Twelve Days of Christmas display scattered throughout the garden. Vancouver has the Winter Solstice Lantern Festival on December 21, to mark the year’s shortest day, but the best holiday draws are the Festival of Lights in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, the Canyon Lights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the Rogers Santa Claus Parade.
Christmas in Mexico
Christmas traditions in Mexico come from a combination of sources, with some coming from Spain and others having developed among Mexico’s native population. For nine days before Christmas Eve, the posadas take place. These processions celebrate Mary and Joseph looking for lodging in Bethlehem, and children and families request lodging at the homes in their neighborhood; each night has a party, often with a piñata, hosted by a different house. There is a midnight Mass held on Christmas Eve, but children don’t receive gifts until January 6, which is Three Kings Day. Large cities also have the posadas, but Mexico City, for instance, also has outdoor skating rinks in the Zocalo and Christmas decorations on display around the city center.
Christmas Events in the South
Back in the United States, the good cheer also flows free in Pigeon Forge, a cheerful city nestled in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. Every year, millions of people come to experience the holiday light shows, great shopping, parades and so much more. The Pigeon Forge Winterfest celebration is a delightful way to experience Christmas around the World. The lights first twinkle in early November and continue well into the new year, but the bulk of the events take place in December. With a visit to Dollywood, you can shop for one-of-a-kind gifts, see the lights and learn about the traditions of a Smoky Mountain Christmas. Many of the other attractions throughout the region, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, host special events sure to put a smile on your face, even if you were feeling a bit Grinchy when you arrived. Another popular destination for family Christmas celebrations is Branson, a town in southern Missouri, particularly the Silver Dollar City Christmas events, which include a show or festival every year, such as the Old Time Christmas, or the Ozark Mountain Christmas Festival.
Top image: Rob Young (flickr)