How do we understand Christmas and we ask that question – what is Christmas all about? Surely, the answer depends on the individual, his or her religious beliefs, background and cultural understanding.

Many homes worldwide will have a Christmas tree, some kind of Christmas decoration, special meal, or some other festive treat during the holidays. Children send their wish lists to Santa Claus or the Three Kings and everyone starts talking about feelings of love, brotherhood, solidarity…

But Christmas is not celebrated in the same way worldwide. In fact, some traditions are a far cry from Christmas as we know it in Europe. Even within Europe, festivities vary from country to country. Many countries have substituted the figure of Santa Claus with another character in charge of bringing presents to children.

In Holland, this figure is called Sinterklaas, a kindly bishop wearing red robes and riding a white horse. In Spain, children await the arrival of the Three Wise Men. The Christkindl, a fair haired girl, brings baskets of presents to German homes, while in Italy a witch called La Befana brings children gifts and sweets during the feast of the Epiphany.

But what do we know about celebrations in other places?

Let’s look at some different Christmas customs across the world.

In the Brazilian Copacabana, the Filhas do santo (African priestesses) light candles and throw small boats full of flowers and gifts to the sea. If the tide takes them, it is a good omen, because it means that Yemaya, Goddess of the Seas, blesses the New Year.

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In Colombia, it is the Baby Jesus, and not Santa Claus, who brings gifts to children, and leaves them on the bed of the youngest child, who wakes up on December 25th happily surrounded by gifts.

When Christmas arrives in Japan, people rush to settle accounts and clean their houses and belongings, in an effort to prepare for the New Year, called the Omisoka.

While cold weather and snow are part of the Christmas scene in most countries, Christmastime temperatures range between 25 and 38 degrees in Australia, and Santa is given the antipodean treatment, often appearing in board shorts. Many families attend the “Carols by Candlelight” concert, a massive event held in parks and stadiums throughout Australia.

It is interesting to learn that while many people all over the world celebrate Christmas, they do so in very different ways. The main message remains the same but there are many different and fascinating ways of getting that message across.

Wherever you are, and however you celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that the holiday brings you joy and happiness!