Christmas is an event celebrated in many countries of the world. There are three countries here, Alaska, Africa, and Australia, all located in very different regions of the world and each has its own unique traditions and celebrations. These are some of its fascinating traditions and celebrations.
Alaska – “Carrying the Star” is a traditional Christmas procession. Young and old wear elaborately decorated eight-pointed tinsel-adorned wheels, usually the size of an umbrella. They are highlighted with a central image of an angel or the nativity scene. They are transported for three nights starting January 7 on icy snow-covered roads. The stars represent the angels who announced the birth of Christ. Families lovingly keep the stars. Some are over a hundred years old!
Africa: There are approximately 350 million Christians in Africa who celebrate Christmas. The emphasis is more on religious celebrations of the birth of Christ than gift-giving. Although the most common gift (at least) is new clothes to be worn in the church service. People in many African countries, such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, believe that it is an absolute must to attend church on Christmas Day, even if they never attend the rest of the year. An annual Christmas parade, as well as groups of Christmas carols singing Christmas carols within the villages, are now part of the festivities.
Churches in Africa begin intense preparations for Christmas many months in advance. No one escapes the Christmas feeling as it has been said that it feels as if the entire country is preparing for the birth of baby Jesus with so much joyful and active community preparation! The streets are full of music, as well as radio, television and almost everywhere you look! People joyfully visit their friends and family in the spirit of communal celebration of religious persuasion. It is common to see trucks, cars and buses decorated in bright colors, as well as homes, schools, churches and neighborhoods that often feature creative and festive displays made with colored crepe papers. Africa is colorful and full of joy! Ancient and spectacular masquerades locally called “Agugu” now play an important role in Christmas celebrations. Usually after the Christmas Eve service there is a joyous procession of dance and music through the streets led by local bands with masked dancers (usually young children dressed in fancy and colorful costumes) and Christmas revelers. People parade with large intricate lanterns called “lanterns”, usually in the shape of houses or boats.
In Ghana, Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu (a thick dough for food) and okra soup, and in Liberia rice, beef and biscuits are the order of the day. Zimbabweans make sure there is enough bread, jam and tea to eat with their prized goat meat, which is their traditional Christmas barbecue. On the west coast of Africa, most homes have an oil palm for a Christmas tree.
Austria – Saint Nicholas is widely honored and appears at his feast on December 6. In Austria, this is a different holiday than Christmas. He appears in his traditional dress of loose tunic and a high bishop’s miter carrying a shepherd’s staff and a thick book. It is believed that the good and bad actions of children are recorded in his book! It was once a tradition to hold an elaborate Christmas Eve ceremony in which Saint Nicholas and the dreaded Ruprecht (a demonic creature, who wears leather, has glowing eyes and a long red tongue) appear on Christmas Eve. The children gather and sing a hymn to welcome the Saint. Then, one by one, the children join the Saint at a family table where he reviews his lesson books and then asks them to repeat a sentence he says. This ends with the boys kissing his bishops ring as he tells them to put their shoes outside and look at them when the clock strikes ten! Ruprecht stands by the door watching the children’s every move! Before Saint Nicholas leaves, he blesses the children while sprinkling them with holy water and then silently and quickly leaves. The children, very excited, then hurriedly run to put their shoes outside their houses. At the stroke of ten kids run outside to find their shoes full of apple and nut candy!
Austria is a predominantly Catholic country known as the land of the sound of music and home to Mozart, Strauss, and Schubert. Christmas celebrations include the “Advent Concert Series” in Innsbruck. It features groups of familiar singers and instrumentalists similar to the famous “Trapp Family” from “The Sound of Music.” Another famous Christmas party is in Salzburg, where the most popular ticket of the season is for the “Salburger Adventsingen”. It is an advent and folk music program that began more than half a century ago. They receive more than 100,000 applications each year for the precious 30,000 tickets available for admission. Fish carp is served for the traditional Christmas dinner.
Austria is famous for its miniature manger figures. Almost all families have a nursery with miniature figures of the holy family and often some animals are included. Many nurseries are hundreds of years old, treasured relics passed down from one generation to the next!
Celebrations of the Epiphany in Austria: Boys and girls on Epiphany day (reminiscent of the Wise Men from the east who were looking for the newborn Jesus) dress in oriental costumes and sing traditional songs. They move from house to house receiving small gifts, including gifts of money. They carry a lantern known as the “burning star of Bethlehem” to guide them on their way. It is popular to see people chalk the initials of the wise men “CMB” (Casper, Melchior, Balthasar) on their door sills!
The fun tradition of Krampus Day in Austria: In Salzburg, December 5 is known as Krampus Day. Krampus is believed to be an evil spirit. He is usually dressed in terrifying fur, with deer antlers, a mask with a long red tongue, and bulging red eyes, and carries a birchwood staff. He rushes down the street with a bang using huge cowbells and vibrating chains as he threatensly yells at the onlookers. Thousands, including many children, crowd the streets to watch the medieval event. With much laughter and joy, every time children and adults see Krampus, they throw snowballs at this menacing figure. Every year in the city there is a “Krampus Run” with lots of fun and lots of teasing, pushing and laughing. It is said that the purpose of Krampus is to remind children to be good!
In recent times in some communities the Krampus actors have to wear a number to be able to be identified under their masks in case they lose control. Some have been known to get carried away after drinking too much brandy or beer. A prominent Austrian child psychiatrist has been advocating for a ban on Krampus. It suggests that it is “a jolly old scare” for the children. However, there have been few known cases of “Krampus trauma”.
Australia: Christmas falls in the height of summer and the heat can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is common for people to barbecue outside for the main Christmas party, and parks and beaches are often alive with family festivities. It is not uncommon to see thongs, shorts, a beer in hand, and a Santa hat from the head chef (usually the father of a family) at the Christmas Day barbecue, which is almost always followed by dessert more. dear from Australia, “Pavlova”. It is as light and delicate as Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian dancer who gives it her name.
Australian Carols by Candlelight – an Australian Christmas Eve carol service started in 1937 by radio host Norman Banks. Famous artists come together to sing at “Carols by Candlelight” held in Melbourne each year. A very popular annual event televised across the country. The carols are performed on a stage to a large audience where thousands attend the open air with lit candles.
Beach visits on Christmas Day in Australia: up to 40,000 people visit Bondi Beach in Sydney on Christmas Day! It’s the middle of summer in Australia and with heat levels on the rise, barbecue lunches on the beach and swimming are popular while waiting for Santa to arrive in a boat on Christmas Day.