15 Christmas Traditions Across The World

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go!

At this time of year, each town gets that little extra pretty. Even Tinseltown itself ups the glitter and glamour. Yet spreading Christmas cheer across the globe, isn’t always about singing loud for all to hear! Christmas traditions differ widely from country to country.  And MSI Chicago is celebrating them all.

The exhibition of Christmas Around The World and Holidays Of Light is one of Chicago’s most popular events. At this time of year, the museum features a floor to dome Christmas tree. A center piece of the four storey building. Known as the Grand Tree, it is surrounded by an additional 50 smaller trees. These trees are all decorated by volunteers and designed to reflect the Christmas traditions of countries around the world.

This Chicago tradition started way back in 1942, during World War II. For the twelve days of Christmas a single tree was redecorated every day to reflect the countries fighting alongside America. It served as a reminder that even in difficult times, there are more things that join us together than divide us. It was a symbol of hope during uncertain times and MSI has continued to pay tribute to this every year since.

A visit to Chicago MSI will enable you to discover traditions from all over the world. We hope you can enjoy it with your family firsthand. However, if your Christmas schedule is already full up, we have created this quick review, so you don’t feel like you have missed out.

1. Armenia

The Armenian tree is covered in pomegranates. In Armenia, pomegranates are a symbol of wellness and happiness. This is reflected in the MSI display. Just like American children, Armenian children wait in much anticipation for Christmas Day! But hey have to wait a tad longer, with Christmas not being celebrated until the 6th January,

2. Austria

Did you know that the popular Christmas carol Silent Night was actually composed in Austria? Paying homage to this fact, a sketch of the chapel adorns the Austrian tree, along with paper tassel decorations which are an Austrian favorite.

3. Belgium

The tree representing Belgium looks particularly tasty.  Adorned with waffles, there are also pictures featuring the king and queen!

4. Bolivia

Perhaps this is the most authentic tree of the exhibit.  Each and every decoration has come from Bolivia. Collected over an 11 year period, the ornaments are in the shape of llamas, boats and native dolls. Not unlike US traditions, the celebrations center around the birth of Jesus. Jesus gives the presents and Santa Claus delivers them. The traditional meal features chicken, roast beef or pork and lots of tropical fruits.

5. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Both Christians and Muslims live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The tree showcases 3D snowflakes in honor of the winter Olympics held there in 1984. Whilst not everyone celebrates Christmas, all religions bring the New Year in together. The children typically get gifts at this time. The gifts are delivered by a Santa Claus type figure, named Grandfather Frost.

6. China

In America, we tend to buy many of our holiday decorations but in China they prefer the handmade variety. Our Chinese exhibit features many origami ornaments. These have been handmade by a girls scout group. There are also many lanterns, representative of a path leading to brighter horizons.

7. Estonia

Estonia is very proud of their national dress! Once every five years, the capital city of Tallinn hosts a song and dance festival. Up 27,000 participants arrive in the city  wearing the costume. To pay homage to this tradition, small dolls dressed in the traditional outfits decorate the Estonian tree. The garlands are actually made from the costume belts. The tree is finished with an array of snowflakes and icicles which marks the cold northern European climate.

8. Guatemala

The Guatemalan celebrations perfectly blend Christian and Mayan traditions. The main feast day is December 21st when there are parades, fireworks and dancing. Pole dancing takes on a whole new meaning as dancers test their skills by climbing a pole and then swooping down in circles on a rope.

9. India

The Christian community in India celebrate the feast by attending midnight Mass. They decorate their homes with beautiful nativity scenes. Many Indians are actually Hindus and they do not celebrate Christmas. They celebrate the festival of lights. This changes dates due to being based on the lunar calendar.

10 Ireland

Did you ever wonder why people kiss under the mistletoe? It actually comes from a tradition of the Celtic Druids. Whenever enemies met underneath mistletoe, they had to observe a truce for a 24- hour period. Therefore, the Irish tree at MSI Chicago is covered in mistletoe! There are also many other Celtic ornaments such as rings, Irish flags and shamrocks which represent the Holy Trinity.

11. Italy

Many countries have different versions of Santa Claus but in Italy, they have La Befana. La Befana is an elderly woman who flies above the country on a broomstick, dropping off gifts to children. The legend tells us that the woman was invited to visit the baby Jesus by the wise men. However,  she declined and to this day she flies about in search of the savior.

12. Norway

The Norway tradition is perhaps one of the best. During the holiday season, a total of seven elves visit Norwegian homes. The jolliest is Julenisse, who is a short elf with a red hat and beard. Very much like Santa, he brings gifts to children. The Norwegian tree features tradition folk art, painted ornaments and candles.

13. Slovenia

Slovenia is another country which sees the arrival of elves at Christmas. Yet perhaps a little more sinister than the elves of Norway. Parklji is an elf who comes to scare any naughty children who have been misbehaving in the year gone by. The Slovenian tree is decorated in pine cones, walnuts and wooden plates painted with native landmarks.

14. Thailand

You would not normally associate Christmas with Thailand. Less than five per cent of people are actually Christian. However due to a large western influence children may dress up in Santa costumes and play holiday party games. The Thai tree is filled with cultural symbols such as musical instruments and fruits.

15. Ukraine

At first glance the Ukrainian tree looks like we have made a mistake. After all, spiders do not really suggest Christmas…do they? The tree is actually a representation of an old folk tale. A poor family had no money for decorations and went to bed with a bare tree. Whilst the family slept, spiders spun silver webs around the tree. When the family awoke the tree was sparkling. Therefore, a spider is a sign of good luck in the Ukraine.

With 50 beautiful trees to discover at the exhibition, there is no shortage of things to see. Younger visitors might also enjoy the Brick by Brick exhibition by Lego. You are invited to build your own brick by brick ornament to take home with you. Children can pay a visit to Santa and watch as the snowfalls…indoors!

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