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Celebrating Christmas around the world

From roller-skating to Misa de Aguinaldo (early morning mass) in Venezuela to decorating mango trees in India, different countries all over the world have very different ways of celebrating Christmas. Bob Robertson, director of training at Robertson Languages International, looks at some of them.

In the UK, we are used to the notion that Father Christmas arrives on a sleigh to deliver presents, but in the Czech Republic and Slovakia it is said he climbs down to earth from heaven on a golden rope.

Here are some examples of how Christmas is celebrated in the rest of the world.

In Italy, the Christmas season lasts three weeks, starting eight days prior to Christmas (Novena) and extending until the Feast of Epiphany. Presents are exchanged on 6 January, but there is also a small gift given on Christmas Day itself.

Traditionally, fish is eaten on Christmas Day, although it is not unknown for meat to be eaten instead. (Buon Natale – Merry Christmas)

In Germany, Christmas starts on 6 December (Nikolaustag), when children leave a shoe out for St Nicholas, in which he is supposed to leave either sweets if they have been good, or twigs if they have been bad.

Christmas Eve is known as Dickbauch (meaning ‘fat stomach’), because of a German myth that if you do not eat well on Christmas Eve you will be haunted by demons for the Christmas period. (Frohe Weihnachten – Merry Christmas)

In China, Father Christmas is known as Dun Che Lao Ren, and children hang up muslin stockings in the hope of presents waiting for them on 25 December. Houses are decorated with lights and beautifully painted paper lanterns, some of which are released into the night sky. “圣诞快乐” (shèng dàn kuài lè – Merry Christmas)

In Vietnam, people celebrate the birth of Jesus Kito by attending an annual midnight mass. The children believe in Father Christmas and leave their shoes by the door at night, in the hope they will be full of treats in the morning.

Most people have chicken soup on Christmas Day, while better-off citizens have a traditional Western menu of turkey and Christmas pudding. (Mừng Chúa Giáng Sinh – Merry Christmas)

In Iran, Christmas is known as ‘little feast’, as it follows a 25-day fast from meat and dairy products. Christmas is not a recognised holiday, but people still take part by decorating Christmas trees and having a large meal on Christmas Day.

The main dish of the day is chicken barley stew, popularly known as Harrissa.

All over Malta, people build cribs which are filled with figurines, called pasturi. The figurines represent Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and the Angel Gabriel.

It is traditional to sow wheat, grain and canary seed, gulbiena, on cotton buds in dark corners in the house. These are left for five weeks before Christmas. White shoots grow out of them, and these are used to decorate the cribs and figurines.

The food eaten for a Maltese Christmas traditionally includes dundjan (turkey), qaghaq tal-ghasel (honey rings) and pudina tal-Milied (Christmas Pudding). (Il-Milied It-Taijeb – Merry Christmas)

Other ways to say ‘Merry Christmas’:

Hawaiian – mele Kalikimaka

Hungarian – boldog karácsonyt

Danish – glædelig jul

French – joyeux Noël

Bulgarian – весела коледа

Afrikaans – geseënde Kersfees

Spanish – feliz Navidad

Swedish  – god jul

Welsh – Nadolig llawen

Greek – kala christougenna

For a fuller list of Christmas greetings in different languages, go to www.robertsonlanguages.co.uk/christmas