What does Christmas mean to you? For some, it’s sharing a meal with family and loved ones and for others, it’s drinking hot cocoa by the fire or opening presents under the Christmas tree. But, have you ever wondered where we get our Christmas traditions from? For example, the word Santa Claus comes from a combination of the church folklore of St. Nicholas (known as Sinterklaas in Dutch) and the British character of Father Christmas. Legend has it, that the Christmas tree became famous in the Western World when a German prince brought a pine tree with him during a trip to England. Different countries around the world have different Christmas traditions, this article explores the unique ways these places celebrate the universal holiday.
Ukraine Golden Cobwebs
Christmas in Ukraine is celebrated on 7th January, as per Orthodox tradition. On Christmas day, Ukrainians celebrate with a meal of 12 dishes to symbolize the 12 disciples of Jesus. A common tradition in Ukraine is to decorate the Christmas tree with spider webs. This is based on an old Ukrainian folklore ‘The Christmas Spider’. It is the story of a poor family that could not afford to decorate their Christmas tree, and on the Eve of Christmas when the kids go to bed, a spider covers the tree in cobwebs. On Christmas morning, the family discovers cobwebs made of gold and silver on their Christmas tree. One theory claims that it is the light of the sun that changed the colour of the cobwebs. In credence to this story, it is common for many Ukrainians to hang gold and silver coloured cobwebs on their trees.
Philippines Lantern Festival
The people of the Philippines celebrate Christmas for as long as possible. They begin carolling in September and go on all the way till Christmas. However, a tradition that is paramount to Filipino culture is the Great Lantern Festival held in San Fernando. What started as a lantern competition (Ligligan Parul) has a now become a symbol of Christmas in the Philippines- with colourful lanterns that are aglow with the spirit of the season. People all over the country take part in the festival and try to build the most extravagant lanterns made of ‘papel de hapon’ (Japanese origami paper) that is lit by a candle. The lantern festival symbolises the light of Jesus in a dark world.
Christmas in Sweden is known as ‘Jul’ and is celebrated from December all the way to mid-January. The Swedish celebrate Christmas by building a 13-foot tall straw goat called a ‘Yule’ in the middle of the square. The straw used to build the goat is incredibly flammable and has led to the Yule being burned down 35 times in the last 50 years, either in the form of a prank or by accident. The tradition of the Yule comes from the belief that a goat was used as a substitute to the reindeer to deliver presents to children on Santa’s sleigh. To add to that, the Yule built in the town of Gavle every year has won an award in the Guinness Book of World Records for its size!
Germany St. Nicholas’ Day
The Germans celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. The day celebrates St. Nicholas (Nikolaus) who was a priest and later a Bishop from Germany known for his kindness and generosity. Every Christmas the priest left small presents for children at their doorstep. To keep with tradition on December 5th, St.Nikolaus dressed up in white robes and visited the houses of children with his staff. In exchange for a treat, the children perform a song or recite a poem. Father Nikolaus is often accompanied by the Knecht Ruprecht- a devil-like character who carries a small stick to punish the children who misbehave. Overtime, Father Nikolaus evolved into Father Nicholas better known as Santa Claus in the western world.
Toronto Cavalcade of Lights
In beautiful, wintry Toronto, the start of the holiday season is marked by the Cavalcade of Lights. The first Cavalcade took place in 1967 at the Nathan’s Philip Square in City Hall. The square and the Christmas tree is illuminated by 300,000 LED light bulbs that are lit from dusk to almost midnight all the way until New Year’s Day. The event offers an incredible firework display and the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor ice-skating. The firework show on New Year’s Eve is one of the best in the world.
Christmas is celebrated differently all over the world. Each country has its own traditions and festivities that represent their culture and history. If you live in Chennai and are looking for places to visit, there are numerous places just a short drive from the city. For those looking to celebrate in the city, make sure to visit Feathers in Manapakkam. We have numerous events happening this month to ring in the spirit of Christmas, including a rooftop dining experience with incredible views at ‘Skyloft’. If you are looking for other fun things to do during the holiday season check out our complete Chennai weekend guide. Make sure to visit Feathers Hotel and enjoy our food and entertainment with your family and friends this holiday season.