Whilst Christmas isn't celebrated everywhere, those countries getting in to the festive swing of things have surprisingly different traditions, customs, and even dates of merriment. Here's a quick look at some of our favourite Christmas holiday destinations, both around the globe and a little closer to home!
Christmas in South Africa is a hot, summer's day affair, celebrated by many with a good old South African Braii (otherwise known as a BBQ). Turkey or crayfish are most popular on the Braii, all washed down with a cold beer or chilled Sauvignon Blanc from the Franschhoek valley.
In fairly stark contrast, Russia celebrates Christmas on 7th January, according to the Julian calendar. So too do Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Ukraine.
In Russia and Ukraine, gifts are exchanged on New Year's eve, when Santa visits alongside his sidekick Snegurochka (his granddaughter), and the 'Christmas tree' is known as a New Year's tree! In terms of food, people fast until the first star appears in the sky and the whole meal is meatless. Then, a traditional dish called 'Kutia' (porridge with berries, honey and poppy seeds) is consumed. People then tend to go to church and also do a home blessing ceremony.
For a long time during communism (1917-1992), Christmas wasn't celebrated at all, so it's only now being re-established in the culture.
As mentioned, Ethiopian Christmas is celebrated on January 7th. Known as 'Ganna', it takes place in many of the rock hewn churches scattered throughout the northeast of the country. People in Ethiopia receive candles as they enter the church, and after lighting them, everyone walks around the church three times and then stands throughout the mass, which may last up to three hours!
Food served at Christmas usually includes 'injera'; a sourdough pancake like bread that also serves as both plate and fork. A spicy chicken stew called 'doro wat' is often the main course, scooped up with injera. Gift giving is only a very small part of Christmas celebration, with children usually receiving very simple presents such as clothing.
On a personal note, Miranda spent Christmas at Kipling Camp in India back in 2004. Here, they painted Tara the elephant with chalk, sat father Christmas on top and wandered into the camp distributing presents to all the guests and the staff!
The staff also put wonderful star lanterns up in the trees, and there was a 'Christmas tree' decorated in camp. The food was very traditional, as it was a colonial style lodge, so roast turkey, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, carrots and a burning Christmas pudding were served. The only difference was there was no Queen's speech - which was replaced instead with ridiculous old stories and songs!
In Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th December. One noticeable difference here is that the straw goat used as a Christmas decoration. This tradition traces back to the two goats that pulled the wagon of Thor, the powerful Norse god who made thunder and lightning by throwing his hammer in the sky.
If you're spending Christmas in London, there's lot's going on at various churches across the capital. The Finnish Church 'Lontoon Suomalainen Merimieskirkko' is going all out with Christmas fairs at weekends, traditional meals, and even a porridge party on Christmas Eve! The fairs sell Finnish products ranging from small toys and food through to high-end design items. Foods include rye breads, gravadlax, and totally wonderful Fazer chocolate. And if that's not enough, you can meet the snow queen and elf at the street market too, and sample reindeer stew and sausage with mustard and pickle with a Lapp beer 'Lapin Kulta'.
The Norwegian 'Sjømannskirken' church in London is celebrating on the 24th December with a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal, secret Santa, and entertainment.
Alternatively, for some typically English celebrations, there's free carol singing in Trafalgar Square daily from Dec 11th - 22nd. Christmas story for families at Westminster Abbey Crib Service takes place on Christmas Eve at 12 noon. The Snowman, and Peter and The Wolf are on at The Barbican on Dec 22nd and 23rd ; ideal for little ones in need of entertaining,w whilst Winter Wonderland fair is on until the 6th January with ice rink, rides, and plenty of mulled wine on offer.
Ice rinks are also found over the festive period at the Natural History Musuem, the Tower of London, Somerset House, Hampton Court Palace, and the London Eye.
For more information on unique holidays over the Christmas period, Contact Original Travel.