The Christmas holiday abounds in interesting customs and traditions. Some of these Christmas customs and traditions are wholeheartedly religious, while others are secular and relaxed. Some countries also have a national flavor in their customs of Christmas. So evidently, the customs and traditions of Christmas are neither singular nor homogenous all over the world. These keep varying from region to region, and from country to country. Popular Christmas traditions such as the exchanging of gifts, decorating the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the holly bough, the kissing under mistletoe etc are more or less common to all places.
In Christian countries, Christmas has become the most significant holiday of the year, economically speaking. Christmas is celebrated for a span of twelve days following December 25 in the United Kingdom. This twelve-day Christmas tradition is marked by huge celebration and feasting and ends on the Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany. This custom of elongating the Christmas celebrations is gaining popularity by the year. Christmas celebrations begin weeks before the actual day in the United States and the United Kingdom to lengthen the shopping season of Christmas and also to allow more time for meetings and greetings.
The countries celebrating Christmas on December 25, call the day before ‘Christmas eve’ and the day after by varying names. Some like Germany, Poland call it the Second Christmas Day, some Commonwealth countries call the day after Christmas ‘Boxing Day’ while the Irish and Romanians call it St. Stephen’s Day. Some pagan Christmas customs and traditions have been incorporated by some Christian missionaries into their celebration of Christmas, but the conservative Christians refrain from any such celebration of Christmas. Christmas celebrations were banned in the Soviet Union for 75 years after the Russian revolution and the extremist Christian fundamentalists still consider Christmas a pagan holiday, unsanctioned by the Bible and hence strictly keep off from celebrating it.
But apart from these religious and serious overtones in the Christmas customs and traditions, there are also secular and more relaxed observances of the Christmas holiday. For instance, the tradition of giving Christmas gifts is one of the commonest traditions of the holiday irrespective of region or country. Friends and families exchange gifts and greetings, children hang stockings in the United States or keep empty toy-boxes for Santa Claus to fill it up with toys, candies or other gifts. In some places, it’s a custom and tradition for children to put up shoes on window sills on the Christmas night.
One of the very popular and inseparable customs and traditions of Christmas is the Christmas card. Be it your closest pal, or a distant relative, your teacher or your colleagues, your family or your neighbor, each one gets a card on Christmas. Even when people are separated by miles, a ‘Miss You’ Christmas card is sure to reach more often than not.
Decorating homes and the Christmas tree are again well-known Christmas customs and traditions. It’s great joy getting the whole family together decking up the halls and doorways with streamers, candles, stars or holly boughs or being with the entire bunch of friends as you decorate the Christmas evergreen. Candy canes are a very favorite Christmas candy, which are also used as decorations. Traditionally people also decorate the outside of the house as much as the insides. Sometimes Christmas decorations are sponsored by the municipalities.
Christmas parties form the fun part of the holiday and are more a celebration than a custom and tradition of Christmas. Special Christmas meals having a special Christmas menu are customarily served in many countries. While in other places, especially in Eastern Europe, families fast for a few days before the Christmas feast.
In many countries, Christmas dances and Christmas pageants (retelling of the story of Christ) are traditionally held every year. Going caroling in groups is yet another very popular custom and tradition of Christmas. In this, people go singing carols from door to door just to keep the spirit of the holidays alive and fresh. Sometimes people visit the neighborhood houses for a good cause too, like for raising donations and funds for the downtrodden and destitute.
With all the boisterous celebration of Christmas staying fine, Christmas is still observed as a chiefly religious holiday for many people across the globe. It is the time for soul-searching, spiritual renewal, silent prayers, reading out quotes from the Bible, seeking religious blessings and wishing joys and good tidings to everyone for the days to come. The ceremonies are much toned down in a religious celebration of Christmas. Carols and hymns are sung in the churches and in homes, funds are raised for a good cause, volunteer works are conducted and people visit friends, neighbors and dear ones’ places for get-togethers and traditional Christmas meals. The air’s filled with a sweet peacefulness and warmth. A sense of joy and well-being reverberates all around. People wish each other peace, prosperity, happiness and a very ‘Merry Christmas‘.
The religious customs and traditions of Christmas begin with Advent (the day when Jesus Christ’s birth was anticipated). This is around early December. Customs and traditions of this religious celebration include Advent carols and calendars, sometimes also candies and other goodies for the children. Midnight mass or a Mass of the Nativity, featuring Christmas carols, prayers and hymns, are usually held on the Christmas Eve and on the Christmas Day.
Other religious faiths like Islam or Judaism are also giving way to some secular traditions of the Christmas holiday into their own winter celebrations. Islamic countries refer to Jesus as a prophet and the Judaists celebrate their winter festival and an equivalent of Christmas, Hanukkah in December. Thus, Christmas customs and traditions are many, and are modified or incorporated differently by different cultures and ethnicities across the globe.