In the final weeks of the year, many countries and cultures celebrate a myriad of holidays, and many honour Christmas in unexpected ways.
1. The Philippines
No other country in the world celebrates the season quite like Filipinos. The Philippines get Christmassy early - immediately replacing Halloween décor with Christmas lights by commencing celebrations in September — making it the longest Christmas celebration in the world.
The southeast Asian's Catholicism is a holdover from the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines, as are traditions like the marathon nine-day series of Christmas masses called simbang gabi.
So, too, are the festive parols, or star-shaped lanterns, that brighten windows during the entire holiday season. The lights, which are meant to reflect the Star of Bethlehem in design, are named after the Spanish word for lantern, farol.
In the Philippines, Merry Christmas is “Maligayang Pasko.”
The Yule Log is customary in European-derived Christmas traditions. But Sweden skips the wood and goes for the goat instead.
The Yule Goat isn't a real animal; it's typically made almost entirely of straw. In the Swedish tongue, the Christmas goat is known as the Julbok. The Julbok's origins are rooted in mythology, but it's been warmly adopted by Swedes as part of modern Christian tradition — perhaps too warmly.
The Swedish town of Gävle has erected a giant version of the Yule Goat since 1966. And every year since, people have tried to torch it, kidnap it and otherwise harass the apparently rather expensive symbol of Christmas joy. At least 28 of the 45 goats have succumbed to what the authorities dub as “vandals.”
But, according to The Local, an English-language Swedish newspaper, “half of (Gävle's) inhabitants take pride in the giant animal, while the other half take equal pride in attempting to burn it down.”
Merry Christmas in Swedish is "God Jul."
In Australia, Christmas falls right in the middle of some of the hottest weather of the year. Because of the extreme heat, Christmas is often marked by electrical storms and brush-fires rather than gently falling snow.
But that doesn't keep Aussies from getting into the Christmas spirit. A Canberra family recently broke a world record by stringing more than 31 miles of Christmas lights around its property.
Some Australians who celebrate Christmas honor the nation's Anglo-Celtic influence with English-style hot dinners more appropriate for colder climes. Outdoors, up to 40,000 Australians flock to Bondi Beach in Sydney at Christmastime — and beaches mean barbecues.
Carols by Candlelight, derived from a 19th-century Australian tradition, has turned into a big, down-under outdoor Christmas festival. Held on Christmas Eve in Melbourne for the past 76 years, the outdoor concert is now a fundraiser for Vision Australia. Similar events are now held around the world.
Finland seems made for Christmas. Reindeer run rampant in Finnish Lapland and Joulupukki, a bearded mythical figure who looks and acts for all the world like Santa Claus, is said to make his home where those same reindeer roam.
But it's not all snowflakes and sledges on Christmas Eve, when at noon the Declaration of Christmas Peace is read in a formal ceremony in South Finland.
The statement, which has been tweaked a bit since it was first read in the 13th century, offers a surprisingly emphatic reminder that any sort of unruly behaviour that challenges the holiday “shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offense separately.”
In other words, hooligans, don't mess with Finnish Christmas.
In Finland, people wish each other “Hyvää Joulua” on Christmas.
In France, Christmas Day is always preceded by a "Reveillon”, which means staying awake to usher in the next day, according to Susi Seguret, who leads the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts in several different cities, including Paris.
“This means essentially gathering with friends, often a dozen or more, and enjoying a multi-course dinner,” Seguret says. “This is a time to dress to the nines, even if at home, and to get out the best china and silver and crystal and all the candles.”
Merry Christmas in French is “Joyeux Noel.”
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