Christmas: a Cultural Tradition

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Though Christmas is traditionally thought of as a religious holiday, it has evolved into a universal winter celebration and is enjoyed not only by Christians, but by people of other faiths as well. It is based on religious beliefs for many people, while for others, it is a time of enjoying one’s own family and a great opportunity to encourage young children to behave.

Here is a look at how Christmas is celebrated in other countries:


Egypt’s main church, the Coptic church, is Orthodox. Unlike Americans, Christmas is celebrated on the Dec. 7 instead of Dec. 25. Most churches have four weeks of advent where four different candles are lit. The Egyptian advent lasts for forty days and people are expected to fast, though the majority of people fast during the last week of advent.
People buy new clothing to wear to a church service on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. The service lasts until midnight when everyone heads home for a special Christmas dinner consisting of bread, rice, garlic and boiled meat. On Christmas morning, friends and neighbors are visited.


Christmas in Mexico is celebrated with special church services. One unique Mexican custom is “Las Posadas,” a symbolic enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay while in Bethlehem. The children parade through the streets, singing special songs until they come to the home of a fellow church member. However, just as the biblical story, they are refused entrance into the home each night because there is no room for them. On Christmas Eve, at a prearranged home, they are told there is room and they are invited in. The adults have already gathered there and everyone enjoys a great party with plenty of food.
Also, in Latin America, Christmas was traditionally not a day for giving and receiving gifts. This was done on January 6, Kings’ Day, the day on which the wise men supposedly arrived in Bethlehem and gave their gifts to baby Jesus. But nowadays, many people have said that commercialism has influenced the region and that Christmas presents and Santa Claus are quite popular.


On the evening On Dec. 5, children put their clean boots by the front door of the house. A plate of bread is put out for Santa’s white horse. In the morning, children find nuts, oranges, apples, chocolates and small gifts. But if they were not good the whole year, they may only get a wooden stick.


It was St. Francis of Assisi who first had the idea of setting up the manger scene. The first manger scene contained real animals and people. The idea spread quickly and miniature manger scenes were created.
Children receive presents from “Befana,” a good witch who comes to their homes. The legend says that Befana said ‘no’ to the wise men when they asked her to join them on their journey. Later, she set out looking for Jesus but she never found him. She leaves gifts for children instead.


In Ukraine, Christmas Eve on Dec. 24, is the most important part of Christmas celebrations. The evening meal called the “holy supper,” consists of 12 dishes representing the 12 apostles who shared the last supper with Jesus. Foods that contain meat or dairy products are not eaten. It is customary to place hay under the tablecloth as a reminder that the Child Jesus was born in a manger. The meal consists of fish, mushrooms, cabbage rolls, borscht (soup) and Kutya (honey, wheat and poppy seed mixture).


In South Korea, China and Japan, more people are taking up Christmas traditions by decorating their homes and giving presents to friends and family. Most stores and shopping malls are decorated accordingly, and Christmas trees, Santa Clauses and special seasonal illuminations can be found in many public places. Children eagerly await the arrival of Christmas Day, as they hope to find many gifts under their Christmas trees.

In Japan and mainland China, Christmas is mostly a social tradition for non-Christians. It is understood that Japan has very few Christians while China is known to have a growing, yet minority population of Christians. Sending Christmas cards and decorating houses are considered fashionable. Some Christians in China celebrate by lighting their houses with paper lanterns and decorating their Christmas trees, which they call “trees of light,” with paper chains, paper flowers and paper lanterns. China’s Santa Claus is called the “Christmas Old Man.”
One person from Japan wrote on, “Christmas has, as you might expect, almost no religious meaning in Japan, but it is another good occasion and excuse for a party with friends, a romantic night with partners or an additional gift from parents. Santa Claus must come a long way to Japan for good children.”

Christians in South Korea constitute approximately 30 percent of the population, though the official religion of the country is Buddhism.

Christmas has become quite popular and is now observed as a national holiday. Like Americans, Koreans enjoy the tradition of giving gifts, but not in the same quantity as Americans. Also, the Christmas hype observed in America does not exist in Korea. Christmas carols may be aired on the radio a couple days prior to Christmas Eve, but celebrations end soon after. For non-Christian Koreans, Christmas represents a time to enjoy the company of loved ones.


Christmas has many meanings for Americans. Families have begun to celebrate the holiday in their own ways by creating unique traditions, such as assigning family members to other members for gift exchanges.
Many Americans wonder whether Christmas is a seasonal celebration of winter or a religious celebration honoring the birth of Christ. In fact, it is a mixture of both, as not all Americans who celebrate Christmas are of the Christian faith. One thing, however, is certain. As any economist will confirm, the American Christmas, whether Christian or not, involves quite a bit of shopping.