While you take a glance at these traditions, be sure to give a quick prayer for our Encompass Global Workers who live in these countries. Have a Merry Christmas! Frohe Weihnachten! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Wesołych Świąt!
“For to us, a child is born, to us, a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
In Germany, Christmas is considered to be one of the most important holidays of the year. The Advent Wreath is the most popular holiday decoration. These decorated wreaths are adorned with four candles, which represent the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day.
Since the 14th century, seasonal Christmas markets have become the best place for getting everything you need to celebrate the Christmas season well. The markets sell baked goods, Advent candles, glass-blown Christmas ornaments, wooden toys, and many other festive decorations.
Similar to the U.S., getting a Christmas tree is a must! Decorating the Christmas Tannenbaum has been a tradition since 1419. In fact, German immigrants brought the tradition of decorating Christmas trees to America.
On Christmas day, many Germans eat cooked carp or goose with a delicious fruit bread called Stollen.
On Christmas Eve, a big feast is made to enjoy with family and friends, but the meal cannot be eaten until the children of the house spot the first star in the night sky. Fried Carp is widely enjoyed during this holiday meal. Some families will buy the carp live and let it swim in the bathtub until it is ready to be butchered and cooked.
The meal will have twelve different prepared for everyone to try. The twelve has a variety of different meanings ranging from the twelve disciples of Jesus to the twelve months of the calendar year. After the meal, many families will sing and open presents.
Since there is no Thanksgiving celebration, Christmas decorations usually go up around November 1st. Christmas Day is usually spent with immediate family or relatives on December 25th.
The typical meal includes roasted turkey with vegetables, minced pies, English pudding, and Christmas cake. Similiar to the U.S., families will spend money on gifts and food for their families to enjoy.
On Christmas Day at 3 pm, the Queen always gives her annual speech, which usually lasts about 10 minutes. Many stop their Christmas celebrations and meal to listen. She usually summarizes the past year and tries to set a tone for the year to come.
“Carol services are a frequent occurrence in December and many people will attend at least one, it is a cultural expectation tied to the season (for many, it will be the only time they go into a church).” – Tom and Mary Ann
Also, December 26th is called Boxing Day. The name comes from the fact that most well-to-do families would take boxes of food or gifts to their servants on the day after Christmas. Typically, Christmas Day is spent with family, whereas Boxing Day is celebrated with friends and consists primarily of shopping.
Beautifully made Nativity scene ornaments are typically set up throughout the house. They are the most prominent Christmas decoration.
Many French families also participate in the yule log tradition using cherry wood, which is often burned throughout the twelve days of Christmas. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sometimes sprinkled with wine to make the log have a pleasing aroma as it burns.
On Christmas Eve, French children and adults will place a shoe or slipper under the Christmas tree before going to bed. In the morning, the shoes are surrounded by gifts because Père Noël (Father Christmas) visited the house.
“Le Reveillon is the big Christmas feast for French families, which often takes place late on Christmas Eve or even in the early hours of Christmas morning after midnight mass. The menu for the feast will vary depending on the region but Turkey stuffed with chestnuts will be a regular on tables, as will goose, oysters, and foie gras.” – Greg and Sandrine
“In France, Christmas started out as a religious holiday, celebrating Jesus’ birth. Over the years, as in many places, it has become very commercial and the real meaning has been lost for the most part. It is now a holiday where families gather to eat a wonderful meal and exchange presents, even though a very small minority still goes to midnight mass to celebrate the birth of Christ. We try to use the Christmas season to share with friends and neighbors about the Gospel through Christmas clubs, Christmas Teas, and giving away calendars with Bible verses on them.” – Florent and Lori
“Every year when all the Americans are in town we meet at one person’s house on the 25th (in France all ‘family’ Christmas is on the 24th). There, we have a birthday party for Jesus Christ with a cake and the youngest child present blows out the candles.” – Kevin and Cheryl
In Ireland, Christmas is spent similar to England. Catholic churches perform the midnight mass and the twelve days of Christmas, which officially ends with Epiphany on January 6th.
In some Irish towns, Epiphany is also called Women’s Christmas. Traditionally, the women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking. It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes!
Another interesting celebration is the Wren Boys Procession, which still happens in some areas of Ireland. The day after Christmas, people will dress up in homemade costumes and parade around with a wren (bird) tied to a long pole. The tradition goes back to the 1700s.
“On the day after Christmas, on Dec.26, Irish people have another national holiday called St. Stephen’s Day. It has its commemorative roots in the remembrance of the stoning of the first Christian martyr Stephen. The day has become highly commercialized, as with Christmas, and is usually spent with family, or attending horse races, taking walks, etc. The Christmas season is still a holiday in which the Irish diaspora will make extra effort to come “home” to be with family and friends.” – Roy and Holly
The traditional Christmas meal in Portugal is called Consoada, which is eaten during the evening of Christmas Eve and consists of codfish with green vegetables and boiled potatoes. This is normally followed by shellfish, wild meats or other expensive foods.
The traditional Christmas dessert is called the Bolo Rei (which means King Cake). Traditionally, a small gift and a bean are hidden in the cake. If you get the token you are allowed to keep it, but if you get the bean, you have to pay for next year’s Bolo Rei!
After the meal, people go to church for the Missa do Galo or Mass of the Rooster service. During the service, an image of baby Jesus is brought out, and everyone queues up to kiss it. It is then put in the church’s nativity scene. These nativities get fairly elaborate. Some shops and clubs make huge nativity scenes with over one hundred figurines, waterfalls, rotating windmills, and lights! People will go out of their way to see these amazing scenes.
“The preparation of the Christmas season begins in Portugal with the Advent season four Sundays before Christmas. The Schwartz and Abreu families celebrate by highlighting Faith, Hope, Joy and Love themes each of the four weeks preceding Christmas Day.” – Sam and Traci
South East Asia
“Here in our country, people like the idea of Christmas but don’t know that much about it. We’ve found it’s a great opportunity to tell people about Jesus and the reason for his coming. We usually arrange 2-3 Christmas parties with other team members or co-workers. We always do cookie decorating. People seem to love that! People also seem to know a number of Christmas songs, either English ones or traditional English ones that have been translated into their language. These people love singing karaoke, so we’ll sing songs together. At some point during the evening, someone will explain where Christmas comes from and why the God who made the world wanted to send his Son to us.” – D & M
In Japan, Christmas has only recently been celebrated on a larger scale. Though it is still not considered a religious holiday, it has adopted many of the commercialized Western Christmas customs like the Christmas tree decorations and Christmas cards.
Oddly enough, Christmas is considered more of a romantic holiday like Valentine’s Day. Couples give each other gifts and take walks to look at the Christmas lights.
The Japanese Christmas dessert is a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream aptly called Christmas cake. Fun fact, the shortcake emoji on the iPhone is actually the Japanese Christmas cake!
Also, since KFC’s 1974 “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign, Fried chicken has been the most popular meal on Christmas Day. It is so popular that people need to place an order for fried chicken several weeks in advance to have it for Christmas Day.
“We celebrate with our House Church family (1 of 4 different disciple groups that we have) is to have a sushi meal together. When we have our Christmas Gathering on Sunday, December 18th, it will be a sushi meal, ordered “take out” from a sushi restaurant around the corner from us. Yummmmm!” – Ralph and Joan
“I started playing Christmas music in my coffee shop a few weeks before the Christmas holiday. We decorate the shop and put our traditional gift card tree. Customers can buy a gift card and give to their friends or family. We tend to see people’s attitudes lifted as they come into the shop and experience “Christmas” in a small way. Because Thailand is a Buddhist country, Christmas is not celebrated in any traditional way. However, we like to celebrate the 12-days of Christmas with our kids. My wife and I put a small gift in our kid’s stockings each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas. It has been something our older kids love doing and will probably do with their kids when they get their own families.” – Jason and Doni
“Many of the Filipino people attend the Mass of the Rooster or in Filipino Simbang Gabi, which is an early Mass that takes place from December 10th-25th. It can occur as early as 4am in the morning! After the last Simbang Gabi is performed on Christmas Eve, people go and eat a big feast called the Noche Buena. This is a big, open house, celebration with family, friends, and neighbors dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Most households would have several dishes laid out and would normally include: Lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes, and other sweets. There are some Western-inspired decorations, but the most unique to the Philippines are the Parol Stars. These decorations are homemade lanterns that are constructed with bamboo and paper. They hang on house and porches for everyone to see. Lights are placed inside of them to make them shine at night.” – Ted and Vivien
For a Cameroonian family, Christmas is not Christmas without chicken. The price of chicken more than doubles leading up to Christmas. Many families will buy their chicken a few weeks in advance when the price is lower and let it walk around their house until Christmas day.
“We are separated from immediate family on Christmas day. Our Encompass Family and other missionaries help fill that relational void over the holidays. We have carried over some of the same traditions from the states as we have our traditional homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. Our gifts to one another are all very simple and we really enjoy spending time as a family together.” – Jason and Christy
In Northern Africa, there are some Western Christmas traditions that have been adopted, the Christian community in Chad celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas and focus on spending time with family. A typical Christmas meal includes millet (a common grain) with cooked lamb.
“We are new to Northern Africa and it is our first Christmas away from all of our kids. We will learn the customs as they come this year. We did put up what was probably our best Christmas tree ever thanks to the former housemates who left a few boxes of decorations and a nice artificial tree (I have not seen an evergreen here yet).” – B & L
Performing Christmas plays called Os Pastores (The Shepherds) are very popular. In the play, shepherds comically search for the baby Jesus. The devil tries to stop the shepherds by tempting them along the way. In the end, the shepherds make it to Jesus with the help of the Archangel Michael who beats up the devil.
Christmas foods in Brazil include pork, turkey, pork, ham, and dried fruits. Everything is served with rice cooked with raisins and a good spoonful of farofa (seasoned manioc flour.)
Also, Secret Santa is a popular holiday activity where you give a person a gift under a pseudonym and then reveal yourself on Christmas Day.
“They sell cheap Christmas lights for your home. A few of the stores you can buy a Christmas tree but it is not a popular item. They play American Christmas music in the malls, all in English. Santa will also show up at the mall. It is a very commercial western model of Christmas. In the local churches, there is not much difference in their regular programming. New Years is the big event for the churches. They have New Year’s services with people singing and praying until late into the morning.” – Wayne and Ellen
“In Brazil, they shoot off fireworks that are loud. Brazilians celebrate all kinds of stuff by shooting off rockets.” – Bruce and Lisa