Being far from home during the holiday season can be rough. The holidays may only increase feelings of homesickness, but despite what you may think, Christmas is celebrated in many parts of the world. It may be different than what you're used to, but if you're curious keep reading for common Christmas traditions around the world.
Christmas in France
If you're in France this Christmas, expect to see nativity scenes inside friends' homes. However, they won't be filled with wooden or porcelain figurines, they'll be clay figures called santons or little saints. These figurines are made by craftsmen in the south of France throughout the year and are sold during the holiday season at Christmas fairs in Marseille.
On Christmas Eve, instead of filling stockings with treats and small gifts, Pere Noel, the French equivalent of Father Christmas and Santa Claus fills their shoes, which are laid near the hearth. Pere Noel won't be dressed in a red and white jacket and pants -- he'll be wearing a long red hooded robe trimmed in white fur, carrying a basket of gifts.
After the family attends midnight mass at their church or cathedral, they will enjoy a very late supper called, la reveillon. The dinner menu will vary from region to region but it will most likely end with buche de Nol. Buche de Nol is a traditional Yule log-shaped cake specially prepared for Christmas.
Christmas in The Netherlands
You may be used to celebrating Christmas on December 25, but in The Netherlands, children look forward to December 5 which is when Sinterklass (St. Nicholas) brings them gifts. St. Nicholas' day is actually on the 6th, but most celebrations occur the day before. The name Santa Claus comes from Sinterklass.
On December 5, children leave their shoes and clogs by the fireplace or a windowsill and sing Sinterklass songs in hopes that he will come during the night with presents! They also leave bits of hay and carrots in their shoes for his horse. Usually, if they do that, they will get some sweets in return.
Christmas in Germany
In Germany, preparations for Christmas begin before December. In Germany, they also celebrate St. Nicholas' Day (Nikolaustag). On the night of the 5th, children put their shoe or boot outside the door and St. Nicholas goes from house to house on this night carrying a book filled with all the children's sins from the past year. It is believed that St. Nicholas fills the shoes of good children with treats and gifts and places twigs in the shoes of naughty children.
A Christmas tree is an important part of German Christmas traditions. The idea of a Christmas tree originated in Germany, actually. Children are not allowed to take part in tree trimming because it is believed the tree casts a spell on young eyes that rest on it before Christmas Eve. Tree trimming usually takes place on Christmas Eve, with the children kept busy in another room while a parent decorates the tree with apples, candies, lights, nuts, cookies and family treasures.
Christmas in Japan
In Japan, Christmas is observed on December 25 and is more of a commercial event than a religious one. Only about one percent of the Japanese population identifies as Christian.
Celebrations occur on both December 24 an on Christmas Day with preparations beginning several weeks before. Shopping malls are filled with people buying gifts for loved ones as well as those purchasing Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations.
Many people decorate their homes with evergreen trees and lights and end the Christmas season with a meal specially prepared for the holiday. The traditional meal eaten during Christmas is the Christmas cake -- a sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. Fried chicken is also eaten on Christmas Day.
Hotei-osho is the Japanese equivalent to Santa Claus. Hotei-osho is a Buddhist monk who is believed to leave presents in each house for the children.I is said that this benevolent monk has eyes on the back of his head which makes the children behave like he is nearby.
Christmas time in Japan is often similar to Valentine's Day in the U.S., as an occasion to express love to significant others by giving gifts and spending time in a romantic setting.
If you're spending time away from your home country this holiday season, don't focus on being away from family and friends. Instead, take part in a new tradition in your host country!