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Christmas Traditions around the World

'Tis the season to celebrate. In fact, it’s the one time of year that we simply like to celebrate locally. But there are various Christmas traditions around the world, fascinating and fun.

People in Iceland often exchange books on Christmas Eve, then read them and eat chocolate the rest of the night. The tradition is called Jolabokaflod, or “The Christmas Book Flood.” Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country.

Greenland’s traditional Christmas dish, kiviak, takes seven months to prepare. Hollowing out a seal skin and stuffing it with 500 auks/sea birds to ferment, people feast straight from the seal when the holiday rolls around.

On Christmas Day, Lebanese children go up to any adult and say, “Editi ‘aleik!” (“You have a gift for me!”). Syrian children receive gifts from one of the wise men’s camels, the youngest and smallest in the caravan, who fell down exhausted at the end of the long journey to Bethlehem.

Christmas traditions in African countries such as Kenya and Uganda are much more religious and less commercial. Stones, leaves, and other natural items as birthday presents for Jesus are collected. Roasted goats are prepared for Christmas feasts, while South Africans feast on a seasonal delicacy -- the deep-fried caterpillars of Emperor Moths!

Ethiopia follows the ancient Julian calendar, so Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's celebration of Christ's birth is called Ganna. Everyone dresses in white and attends church. Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19, Ethiopians begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, commemorating the baptism of Christ.

In many regions in France, Christmas celebrations start with St Nicholas day on the 6th of December. On Christmas eve, children put their polished shoes out in front of the chimney and hope that ‘Père Noël’ (Father Christmas) fills the shoes with sweets. In the United States and England, children hang stockings on their bedpost or near a fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping that it will be filled with treats while they sleep.

A manger scene is the primary decoration in most southern European, Central American, and South American nations.

In Italy, a nativity scene, a ‘presepe’, is usually put up in churches, town squares, and often in houses. ‘Babbo Natale’, Father Christmas, hands out presents to children on Christmas Day, but gifts are exchanged only on January 6, the day of Epiphany.

Spain begins celebrating the Christmas season on December 8, with a weeklong observance of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Evergreens decorate the churches and outdoor markets, while tambourines, gourd rattles, castanets, and miniature guitars are for sale to enliven the singing and dancing in the streets. Children go from house to house reciting verses or singing carols for treats or gifts.