Christmas traditions vary greatly in different countries around the world.
As Christians worldwide prepare to celebrate the most special occasion of the year, transplanted Stettler-area residents recalled Christmas traditions from their homelands.
Jan Koenraadt — Holland
Growing up in Holland, Jan Koenraadt recalls there were no presents on Christmas Day in his childhood. Gifts were exchanged on or before Saint Nicholas Day, on Dec. 6.
Christmas Day was reserved more for the religious aspect of the celebration, he said.
Sinter Klaas would arrive on Saint Nicholas Day to bring gifts for the children.
The Santa Claus known by North Americans today originated from the Dutch Sinter Klaas.
Koenraadt said children “set a shoe” — put out a wooden shoe — much like children in Canada hang their stockings. Children awake to find Sinter Klaas has filled their shoes with candy.
Legend has it that Sinter Klaas comes from Spain in a boat. There are no reindeer — Sinter Klaas rides a white horse.
Children leave treats for the horse to eat, Koenraadt said. Sinter Klaas enters houses by coming down the chimney.
Koenraadt said his family members didn’t have the big traditional turkey meal on Christmas Day. They attended midnight mass on Christmas Eve and when they returned home, they had a supper made up of mostly of cold cuts and salads.
Cookies and candy that were only made at Christmastime were enjoyed around Saint Nicholas Day.
Folks in Holland decorate a Christmas tree and it’s left up until Three Kings Day, the 12th day after Christmas.
Ursula Corpataux — Switzerland
“One big difference between Christmas in Switzerland and Canada is that there is no Santa Claus on Christmas Day,” Ursula Corpataux said.
In Corpataux’s native Switzerland, Santa Claus arrives on Dec. 6 for Saint Nicholas Day. Santa doesn’t have reindeer. Instead, he and his helpers, who are believed to live in the woods, travel by donkey. They go from house to house asking children if they have been “good.”
Children who have been “good” are given small gifts by Santa Claus, usually made up of oranges, chocolates and peanuts. “Bad” children get the switch. Children learn a verse to recite to Santa, Corpataux said.
She said the Christmas tree is put up the day before Christmas and taken down Jan. 6 — Three Kings Day.
Corpataux said Christmas Eve ranks as the biggest day of celebration. Families gather and presents are opened on Christmas Eve. A lot of baking is done, mostly special cookies and cakes, made especially for Christmas.
Corpataux said the Christmas Day meal “is not a big deal.” It’s not turkey or anything specific, but a favourite dish of the family. Gift-giving and decorating are much more lavish in Canada.
“Here, it is so commercialized — too much for my liking,” Corpataux said.
“There are no coloured Christmas lights in Switzerland. They are white or warm yellow.
“It took me a while to get used to the coloured lights here — at first, it reminded me of a carnival.”
Dr. Elizma Bouwer — South Africa
In South Africa, Christmas falls during summer vacation, said Dr. Elizma Bouwer. She was raised in a rural region of South Africa.
She said the Christmas season there is much more relaxed — not a big rush. School is out for summer vacation. Many companies and public services close for a couple of weeks during that time.
“It is less commercialized,” Bouwer said. “It’s a big family time and more focused about the real meaning of Christmas.”
In her homeland, many people migrate to the ocean and go to the beaches to find somewhere cool.
In the evenings, people gather around a campfire at the beach to sing Christmas carols. Entire villages would come to the beach to sing carols.
The Christmas meal was not a big turkey dinner.
“Our turkeys there were horrible,” Bouwer said with a laugh.
Instead, families would have leg of lamb or smoked ham, cooked ahead and served cold, along with salads.
“When it’s hot, people don’t want a hot meal,” she said.
There was not much baking done and you never heard, “Are you ready for Christmas?” because everything was done on a lesser scale. There were few gifts, and many were homemade. It was more the thought than the gift that was important. Gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve.
Bouwer said Christmas trees are not lavish in South Africa.
“When I grew up, we would get a small tree and if lucky it would be an evergreen,” she said. “Often, though, a twig was decorated — a real Charlie Brown type tree.
“In South Africa, there are way less decorations in homes. Using many candles was a popular way to decorate.
“On Christmas Day, following breakfast, we went to church, and after church, everyone headed to the beach. Often, we had a barbecued meal there.
“The beaches were extremely crowded, because whole families would vacation together for a week or more — not like spending one day together here.”
Clive Spechko — England
Clive Spechko spent the first half of his life in England, where many Christmas traditions are similar to those in Canada, while a few were unique.
The Englanders had a traditional turkey dinner with mincemeat pies and Christmas pudding with brandy sauce for dessert.
Spechko said a sixpence, a small silver coin, would be baked in the Christmas pudding and whoever got the coin in their serving would deemed to have “good luck.”
He said his people always had Christmas crackers. Before the meal, the crackers would be opened with a bang, and inside would be a novelty gift, paper hat and a joke. The jokes would be shared and everyone wore their hat for the meal.
“Mistletoe would be hung by the door and all the guests who entered got a kiss,” he said.
Spechko recalls wreaths were made with holly with its red berries. The holly grew abundantly in England and would be cut in the wild.
Another popular treat he remembers was the Christmas cake. It was a fruit cake topped with a marzipan layer and a hard icing, and festively decorated.
He remembers decorations were largely handmade, mostly made out of paper. Paper chains were made to decorate the tree and the home.
“On Christmas Day was church in the morning,” Spechko recalled. “Then we came home to open gifts.
“After breakfast, we had neighbours in for a Christmas drink. At about 4 o’clock, we had the big turkey meal.”