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Christmas – Unique Celebrations & Traditions in Alaska, Africa & Australia!
Christmas is an event celebrated in many countries around the world. Here are three countries, Alaska, Africa and Australia, all located in very different regions of the world and each with their own unique traditions and celebrations. Here are some of their fascinating traditions and celebrations.
Alaska – “Carrying the Star” is a traditional Christmas procession. Young and old wear baubles decorated with eight-point tinsel, usually as large as umbrellas. They are highlighted with a central picture of an angel or nativity scene. They are transported for three nights from January 7 over icy snow roads. The stars represent the angels who announced the birth of Christ. Families cherish the stars. Some are more than a hundred years old!
Africa – There are about 350 million Christians in Africa who celebrate Christmas. The emphasis is more on the religious celebrations of the birth of Christ than on the giving of gifts. Although the most common gift (if nothing else) is the new clothes to be worn in the church service. People in many African countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo believe that it is an absolute must to go to church on Christmas Day, even if they never attend the rest of the year. An annual Christmas pageant as well as groups of carolers singing Christmas carols within the villages is now part of the celebrations.
Churches in Africa begin intensive preparations for Christmas many months in advance. No one escapes the yuletide feeling as it has been said that it feels like the whole country is preparing for the birth of baby Jesus with such joyful and active community preparation going on! The streets are alive with music, as well as on the radio, television and almost everywhere you look! People happily visit their friends and relatives in the spirit of community celebration, regardless of religious beliefs. It’s common to see brightly colored and decorated trucks, cars, and buses, and homes, schools, churches, and neighborhoods often boast creative holiday displays made of colorful crepe paper. Alive and alive with joyous celebration is Africa! The ancient and spectacular masquerades locally called “Agugu” now play a major role in Christmas celebrations. Usually held after the Christmas Eve service is a joyous procession of dancing and music through the streets led by local groups of dancing masquerades (usually young boys dressed in ornate and colorful costumes) and Christmas entertainers. People parade with large, intricate lanterns called “fanals” usually in the shape of houses or boats.
In Ghana Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu (a thick dough like meal) and okra soup and in Liberia rice, beef and biscuits are the order of the day. Zimbabweans make sure there is plenty of bread, jam and tea to go with their prized goat meat, which is the traditional Christmas roast. On the west coast of Africa, most homes have an oil palm for their Christmas tree.
Austria – Saint Nicholas is widely revered and appears on his feast day on December 6. In Austria this is a separate holiday from Christmas. He appears in his traditional flowing robes and long Bishop’s mitre, carrying a shepherd’s staff and a thick book. It is believed that the good and bad deeds of children are recorded in his book! It used to be tradition to hold an elaborate ceremony on Christmas Eve where Saint Nicholas and the fearsome Ruprecht (a demonic creature who wears a skin, has glowing eyes and a long red tongue) both appear on Christmas Eve. The children gather together and sing a hymn to welcome the Saint. Then, one by one, the children join the saint at a family table where he checks their textbooks and then asks them to repeat a prayer he says. This ends with the kids kissing his Bishops ring as he tells them to go put their shoes outside and watch them when the clock strikes ten! Ruprecht stands over the door watching the children’s every move! Before Saint Nicholas leaves, he blesses the children as he sprinkles them with holy water and then quietly and quickly leaves. Then the children very excitedly ran to put the shoes outside their houses. In ten steps the children run outside to find their shoes filled with apple and nut treats!
Austria is a predominantly Catholic country known as the land of the sound of music and the home of Mozart, Strauss and Schubert. Included in the Christmas celebrations is the Advent Concert Series in Innsbruck. It features groups of family singers and instrumentalists similar to the famous Trapp Family from The Sound of Music. Another famous Christmas party is in Salzburg where the hottest ticket for this season is for the “Salburger Adventsingen”. This is a program of future music and popular knowledge that began more than half a century ago. They receive more than 100,000 requests each year for the 30,000 precious tickets available for admission. Carp fish is served for the traditional Christmas dinner.
Austria is famous for its miniature nursery figures. Almost all families have a nursery with miniature figures of the holy family, and often several animals are included. Many nurseries are hundreds of years old, precious heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next!
Epiphany celebrations in Austria – boys and girls on the day of Epiphany (which commemorates the Three Wise Men from the east who were looking for the newborn Jesus) dress in oriental costumes and sing traditional songs. They move from house to house receiving small gifts including gifts of money. They carry a lantern called the “shining star of Bethlehem” to guide them on their way. It is popular to see people chalk the initials of the wise men “CMB” (Casper, Melchior, Balthasar) on their doorposts!
Austria’s fun Krampus Day tradition – in Salzburg December 5th is known as Krampus Day. Krampus is believed to be an evil spirit. He is usually dressed in scary fur, wearing deer antlers, a mask with a long red tongue and bulging red eyes, and carries a staff of birch wood. He storms through the streets in a loud racket using large cowbells and rattling chains as he screams menacingly at onlookers. Thousands, including many children, flock to the streets to witness the medieval event. With much laughter and fun, whenever children and adults see Krampus, they throw snowballs at this menacing figure. The town hosts a fun-filled “Krampus Run” every year with lots of teasing, poker and laughter. It is said that the purpose of Krampus is to remind children to be good!
Lately in some communities Krampus actors have to wear a number so they can be identified under their masks in case they lose control. It is known for some to pass out after drinking too much schnapps or beer. A prominent Austrian child psychiatrist has argued for a ban on Krampus. He suggests it’s “a happy old fear” for children. However there have been few known cases of “Krampus trauma”!
Australia – Christmas falls in the middle of summer and the heat can be more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is common for people to have barbecues outside for the main Christmas party and often the parks and beaches are alive with family celebrations. It’s not uncommon to see the head chef (usually the father of a family) wearing thongs, shorts, a beer in hand and a Santa hat at the Christmas BBQ, which is almost always followed by Australia’s favorite desert, the Pavlova. It is as light and delicate as Anna Pavlova, the famous Russian ballerina for whom it is named.
Australian Carols by Candlelight – an Australian Christmas carol service started in 1937 by radio announcer Norman Banks. Famous performers gather to sing at ‘Carols by Candlelight’ held in Melbourne each year. An extremely popular annual event televised across the country. The chants are performed on a stage for a large audience where thousands of people participate outside holding lighted candles.
Beach visits on Christmas Day in Australia – up to 40,000 people visit Sydney’s Bondi Beach on Christmas Day! It’s the middle of summer in Australia and with the heat soaring, lunches on the beach and BBQ swimming are popular while you wait for Santa to arrive by boat on Christmas Day!
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