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Christmas around the world

“O Christmas Tree” or “O Tannenbaum” is a familiar German Christmas song.

Every family has its own Christmas traditions. Many of these come from ancestors from other countries. Here are a few of these traditions and where they came from.

Germany

From Germany we get the traditional Christmas tree. The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree was brought here by German immigrants in the 1800s.

Queen Victoria made Christmas trees popular in Great Britain. Her husband, Prince Albert, was from Germany.

In southern Germany, there is a devil-like creature named Krampus who arrives on St. Nicholas Day. He sometimes puts naughty children in a bag and takes them away. Another St. Nicholas companion is Knecht Ruprecht, who is kind of an anti-Santa. He has a dirty beard and wears a coat made of animal hides. Other companions include the Berchten runners, Hans Muff, Frau Berchta and the Riddle-Raddle men. These characters can be kind of scary. Some of them leave lumps of coal or dirt, rather than bringing presents.

Gingerbread cookies and houses originated in Germany, but are popular in other countries at Christmastime.

The four main holidays of the season are St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), Christmas, New Year’s Day and Epiphany (Jan. 6).

One of the most famous Christmas carols came from Germany. The lyrics to “Silent Night” were written in 1816 by the Rev. Joseph Mohr and put to music by Franz Gruber in 1818 after the local church organ was damaged by flooding. Mohr asked Gruber to create a melody and guitar accompaniment for the Christmas Eve Mass.

Gingerbread men and gingerbread houses are a German tradition.

Nativity scenes have been part of Christmas in Germany since at least the Middle Ages.

The Christmas season wraps up on Jan. 6 with Epiphany, or the Festival of the Three Kings. The “12 Days of Christmas” song refers to the time from Christmas Day to Epiphany.

Nativity scenes are a popular Christmas decoration in many countries.

The Philippines

The Philippines are influenced by many other cultures, including Spain, China, Great Britain, the United States, India and Japan.

The Christmas season begins on Dec. 16 and ends on Jan. 6. The Mass of the Rooster is celebrated at 4 a.m. on Dec. 16. This is the first of nine days of special early morning Masses.

Many Filipino homes will be decorated by a parol. This is a star-shaped decoration that may be lit by a candle or electric light. The parol represents the star over Bethlehem.

Groups of Christmas carolers in native folk costumes roam the neighborhoods. Sometimes the people being serenaded give the carolers some food or money.

The tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas originated in Germany and was brought to Great Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria. German immigrants brought the custom to the United States.

Christmas trees are popular, but most people use artifical trees, decorate a tree in their yard like a palm tree, or make their own tree. Decorations are often homemade and can include painted shells, wooden or bamboo carvings, and ornaments made from colorful paper.

Christmas time — and especially Christmas Day — is a good time for visiting family and friends. On Christmas Day, the family prepares a feast. Some families have raised a pig specifically for Christmas dinner. In the cities, it’s possible to buy a whole pig that is already roasted. Other favorite foods are rellenong manok — roast stuffed chicken, bibingka — rice cake, and leche flan.

Australia

This country’s location in the Southern Hemisphere means that Santa is more likely to get sand in his boots than snow.

Children leave lamingtons — sponge cake cubes covered in chocolate and coconut — for Santa, along with cold lemonade. The reindeer get carrots, vegetables or grass, and a bucket of water.

“The 12 Days of Christmas” gifts include 12 koalas clowning, 11 lizards leaping, 10 dingoes dancing, nine numbats knitting, eight quokkas cooking, seven mice a-marching, six penguins peeping, five crocodiles, four pelicans, three lorikeets, two wallabies, and a bellbird in a flame tree.

With Christmas falling during the southern summer, families can picnic outdoors or go to the beach on Christmas Day. Christmas parades are popular, as well.

Australia continues many British traditions, such as plum pudding, Christmas crackers and Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). A cracker is a paper tube that is tied at both ends. They usually contain a small toy, paper party hat and jokes to be read aloud. The name comes from the sound they make when pulled open.

Finland

Pikkujoulu is the tradition in Finland since the 1920s. It means “little Christmas.” Parties and preparation begin as early as October.

Some of the related holidays celebrate St. Ann on Dec. 9, St. Lucia on Dec. 13, and St. Thomas on Dec. 21.

The St. Lucia celebration is also held in Sweden, and has been carried to Webster County by Swedish immigrants. The celebration this year will be held at 2 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the Stratford Lutheran Church.

Homemade Christmas decorations called olkikruunu, or straw crown, are popular. They are made from rye straw. The straw is softened in a sauna and formed into fancy figures.

At noon on Christmas Eve, the Proclamation of Christmas Peace is read aloud and broadcast on radio and television. This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and cautions people against bad or disruptive behavior on Christmas.

At sunset on Christmas Eve, families visit the cemetery and light candles at the graves.

Christmas foods include pike, Yuletide prune turnovers and rice porridge.

The Holy Land

Christmas celebrations in the land of Jesus’ birth and death show a wide variety of Christian faiths.

The Eastern Orthodox Church holds the Church of the Nativity — where tradition says that Jesus was born. For them, Epiphany is the main celebration. But the Eastern Orthodox Church shares the site with other Christians.

Roman Catholics participate in a procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The distance is about five miles. The Patriarch of Jerusalem presides over a High Mass at St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church.

Nearby, other Christians, mainly Protestant, gather at what is called the “shepherd’s field.” The crowd sings carols together.

To learn more about Christmas celebrations in different lands, visit the Fort Dodge Public Library. Currently there are several sections of shelves dedicated to Christmas books in the children’s section. These include Christmas stories, Christmas around the world books and books of Christmas activities.