Christmas traditions vary from family to family so it's no surprise to learn that, while Christmas is celebrated around the world, the way it is celebrated differs widely. From sprouting seeds in Armenia to fireworks in Argentina, Christmas traditions are as diverse and wonderful as the countries that host them. Here’s five TravelLocal favourites.
Christmas is predominantly a religious event in Armenia and many people begin preparations with a fast during the week before Christmas. The big day actually falls on 6th January in Armenia as they still follow the Julian calendar. Celebrations begin on 31st December when Santa (Gaghant Baba) brings presents and lentil or chickpea seeds are sprouted to represent the forthcoming spring. Then, on Christmas Eve, the fast is broken with a meal called ‘khetum’, consisting of light dishes such as fish, yoghurt, soup, rice, bread and nuts. These light bites are intended to break the fast gently and prepare the body for the Christmas Day feast.
One of the most important Christmas traditions in Guatemala is the Nascimento, or nativity scene. This stems from Spanish tradition but the Guatemalan people have put their own stamp on it, incorporating aspects of indigenous Guatemalan culture into the scenes. The figures are often decorated with the traditional textile patterns and the nativity story is acted out by children at church. One important element of the Guatemalan Nacimiento is that the baby Jesus should not be added until midnight on Christmas Eve.
The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are an incredible spectacle during major Coptic Christian celebrations. Christmas is no exception and it falls on January 7th according to the Julian calendar. Thronging with devotees dressed head to toe in white, the churches are the focal point of the Christmas celebrations and the atmosphere is sparkling with faith and joy. Pilgrims arrive from all over the land and set up camp in the environs of the town. Indeed, the whole Christmas period has an ancient and biblical ambiance which is enhanced by the swaying, singing and praying of the faithful. The dawn congregation on 7th January is a moving testament to the real traditions behind Christmas.
Christmas is not the most widely celebrated festival in Iran as it is a majority Muslim nation but there are pockets of Christianity scattered throughout the country. Iran’s Christians mark Christmas by visiting church and gathering family and friends for feasts, as well as exchanging presents. But the international influence of Christmas has not gone unnoticed by Iran’s retail sector and many large shops in the major cities such as Tehran embrace the commercial side of the event. Windows are dressed with decorated trees and Father Christmas mannequins. As a consequence, Christmas is widely known and understood in Iran and it is quite common for families to join in. Many give gifts and put up Christmas trees even though they do not participate in the religious aspect of the festival.
As a predominantly Catholic country, Argentina takes Christmas very seriously. Preparations begin on the 1st of December with Advent and houses are decorated with bright flower garlands. Another tradition in Argentina is the pesebre, an elaborate nativity scene which is arranged with care every year and holds more traditional significance than the Christmas tree. Christmas Eve sees the main celebration in Argentina as people attend mass and eat a celebratory meal late into the evening. These festivities are then followed by incredible firework displays to see in Christmas Day.
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