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Friday, December 16, 2016

Santa Claus and Christmas Around the World

Google Santa Tracker's Traditions interactive feature, describing Kyrgyzstan's version of Santa Claus

The Google Santa Tracker website (↗) includes an interactive feature (↗) describing Christmas traditions, and in some cases Santa Claus, in twenty countries. You may notice that most of the map's thumbtacks are not centered in each featured country. Instead, they are pinned over each national capital. Unfortunately, the website has not been updated with additional countries, as a majority of people in dozens of countries (if not over one-hundred countries) celebrate Christmas. Below is a synopsis of some traditions and beliefs related to Christmas and Santa Claus:

ARGENTINA — Families and other Argentine people host festivities; open gifts from friends, family members, and Papá Noel; and light fireworks at around midnight and throughout the morning.

AUSTRALIA — Australians celebrate Christmas soaking up the sun, especially on the beach or at outside at home with family and friends. Cricket matches are played, and prawns and other aquatic offerings are popular to have for lunch.

BRAZIL — Near midnight on Christmas day, Brazilians prepare bountiful dinners, celebrate the Rooster's Mass (Missa do Galo) at church, and open presents. Snowy decorations and scenes are common, even though Brazil always boasts warm tropical weather at Christmastime.

CANADA — Canadian children (most of them, anyway) love to go outside to ice-skate, build snowmen, and ride on toboggans. Milk and cookies are left for Santa by the fireplace or elsewhere in the home, while a carrot may be offered to his reindeer.

FINLAND — Locally known as Joulupukki, Father Christmas is said to live in the northern part of Finland. His workshop is believed to be in or around the Korvatunturi landform, located near Russia. His reindeer might be spotted in a pine forest, if you're lucky!

FRANCE — Kids' shoes are placed next to the fireplace or elsewhere so that Père Noël (Father Christmas) will place small goodies in them — hopefully the kids make sure their shoes are clean and odor-free inside! Père Noël might bring wrapped gifts as well.

GERMANY — Markets in many town squares across the country are open on Christmas day. Brass bands play and perform, while various goodies are baked and eaten: gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, various cookies, and other goodies. Mulled wine and apple cider are favorite beverages.

GHANA — Adults bring candy and goodies throughout the neighborhood while wearing vibrant costumes. Kids make paper ornaments and drawings to decorate their homes.

GREECE — The legend goes that small Kallikántzaroi (plural word) goblin creatures come out from their habitat in the Earth's center and cause havoc on Christmas: eating people's food, frightening and playing tricks on people, and hiding in houses. Therefore, Greeks perform various ceremonies to keep them away. This is not and advertisement, but see season 4, episode 7 of Grimm for a frightening, amusing interpretation of what Kallikántzaroi are — they apparently love fruitcake!

GUATEMALA — Guatemalans put on Puritina hats, eat tamales and other goodies, light off firecrackers and fireworks, and dance all night on Christmas Day.

ICELAND — Families give gifts of warm clothing to each family member. A legendary Christmas Cat is said to eat people who are not properly dressed for the cold and wintry weather — grab a thick sweater and mittens!

KYRGYZSTAN — Grandfather Frost (Ayaz Ata) visits homes at around midnight on New Year's Eve to bring presents under the New Year tree. Fireworks are lit at this time, too. Ayaz Ata is typically said to wear a woolly, ornate blue robe and a hat with curvy horns that point upwards. He might also carry a white ornamental staff (scepter).

LITHUANIA — Traditional Christmas ornaments in the shapes of stars, snowflakes, bells, etc. are made from straws or hay and displayed on trees and throughout the residence. Hearty meals are called Kūčios are consumed on Christmas Eve. Thrown on the table for decorative purposes, hay is later fed to farm animals. Various rituals and superstitions relate to marriage and animals. Those who sprinkle A sprinkling of wheat and peas in the barn is performed; this is done in hopes of the animals being healthy and well-behaved in the future.

MEXICO — Decadent goodies are made, Mexicans of all ages attempt to break pinatas with a long stick. Pinatas are typically colorful, star-shaped, and filled with candy, chocolate, nuts, and/or fruit.

NEW ZEALAND — New Zealanders love to eat barbecued or roasted vegetables and meat, especially roast lamb. Pavlova cakes with meringue, strawberry, and kiwifruit are popular desserts.

The PHILIPPINES — This Southeast Asian country might have the longest Christmas season. September, October, November, and December are considered to be Christmas months. Christmas carols may be heard starting in early September. As in other countries especially in Europe, Christians celebrate with the Feast of the Three Kings in early January. Catholic masses are celebrated before Christmas, too.

RUSSIA — Like in Kyrgyzstan, Russians decorate a New Year's tree. Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, Snowmaiden, deliver presents to children all across the world's largest country. Grandfather Frost is said to live in Veliky Ustyug, a town in northwestern Russia.

SOUTH KOREA — Christmas is a national holiday but is also known as a romantic holiday. Many couples go on dates in cities like Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Inchon, and Seoul — wowing them with dazzling Christmas lights and decorations.

UNITED KINGDOM — One whimsical tradition is the Christmas cracker at dinnertime. No, these are not snacks, but these crackers are colorful paper tubes (various sizes) with pull tabs on each end. After pulling enough, these tubes will emit a loud snap and reveal snacks inside (or candy), or possibly folded party hats or small toys.

UNITED STATES — Children are tucked into bed early on Christmas Eve and typically wake up next morning to find presents and goodies from their parents and Santa Claus under the heavily decorated Christmas Tree, as well as in stockings. The charitable and generous Saint Nicholas is Santa Claus, an overweight giver of gifts dressed in velvety red clothes with white, fluffy trim. Cookies and milk are left for Santa on Christmas Eve. Some kids are lucky in that they can open a couple presents on Christmas Eve. As in many other countries, carols are sang, cookies and desserts are made, and feasts are prepared.

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