Santa Claus Around the World
Happy Santa Claus opening his Christmas gift at North Pole

The idea of Santa Claus can change greatly throughout the world.

Whether you live in Australia, Hungary, Brazil or Canada, the tradition of gifts during the holiday season is loved by everyone. Children and adults all love giving and receiving brightly wrapped presents. The character that brings those gifts might be Santa Claus here in North America, but he isn’t necessarily known by that name in other countries.

  • France and Belgium – Pere Noel
  • Brazil – Papai Noel
  • Italy – Babbo Natale
  • United Kingdom – Father Christmas
  • Sweden – Jultomten (Christmas Brownie)
  • Russia – Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost)
  • Hawaii – Kanakaloka
  • Turkey – Noel Baba

Saint Nicholas, who is considered to be the original Santa Claus, was born in a Turkish town during the third century. He was a devout Christian. His family died in an epidemic when Nicholas was quite young, but they left him a great deal of wealth. He used his inheritance to benefit the needy and the sick. He became known for his generosity, his love of children and his concern for ships and sailors. Nicholas was made a bishop in the church.

Nicholas was persecuted for his faith, as were many Christians in this time period. He was imprisoned for a while because he was a bishop in the church. However, we do know that he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This was the first Ecumenical Church Council, which was called to preserve the church. He died on December 6, 343 AD (December 19 on the Julian Calendar), and this date is now celebrated in his honor.

The custom of leaving gifts in the stockings or shoes is from a legend about Saint Nicholas saving three young girls who didn’t have a dowry. The family was poor, and the father didn’t have anything to offer prospective husbands for his daughters. It was possible that the girls would be sold into slavery, but three different times, a bag of gold was tossed into the family’s window and said to have landed in a shoe in front of the fire. The daughters were saved. Children began leaving stockings and shoes out and waiting for gifts from Saint Nicholas.

Thousands of churches are named for St. Nicholas. He is the patron saint of sailors. When Nicholas died, it’s said that manna formed in his grave. It was a liquid substance, believed to have healing powers. This magnified his legend. Both Protestants and Catholics celebrate his memory. He is a model of generosity and compassion.

Celebrating Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas, or “Sinnterklaas” as he is known in Dutch, came to North America as Europeans settled in the new land. Traditions became mixed up with so many cultural influences. Gift-giving is associated with Saint Nicholas and the Three Wise Men, or Magi. It was German and Scandinavian influences that favored celebrating December 24 as the holiday.

Traditionally, children hang stockings by a chimney, but in Brazil, where homes may not have chimneys, it’s common for shoes to be left outside to be filled with sweets. In Italy, La Befana, a Pagan character who arrives during the Christmas season, brings sweets and dried fruit to those children she deems good. All others get a lump of coal as a sign of her displeasure with their behavior.

Ded Moroz and his granddaughter Sengurochka (Snow Girl) come to the territories of Eastern Europe on a sleigh drawn by three horses. Ded Moroz rewards the honest and hardworking people with gifts and sweets. He punishes the ones who are lazy and immoral.

Take some time this holiday season to learn more about different customs around the world. It doesn’t matter whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule or Kwanza. We all need to understand how our neighbors celebrate to appreciate diversity.

Wedding Traditions From Around The World
Certain wedding traditions have been practiced for hundreds of years.

There are all kinds of traditions that continue through the world. Many have similarities while others can be vastly different.

If you’re trying to plan a unique ceremony for your special day, check out some of these special wedding traditions from around the world.




Wedding Traditions from other Cultures

  • Congo – Brides and grooms aren’t allowed to smile on their wedding day. When they do, it shows that they aren’t serious about the marriage.
  • China – The bride travels to the groom’s home in a decorated sedan chair. Attendants take care of the bride on the journey by holding parasols to shield her from the elements. They throw rice at the chair as a sign of prosperity and health. Female bridesmaids put the groom through a series of tests for him to prove his worthiness of the bride. He must give them envelopes of money before they’ll allow him to have their friend.
  • Fiji – The potential bridegroom must present his father with a whale’s tooth when he asks for her hand in marriage.
  • Jamaica – The bride is paraded through the streets. If the villagers go home, it means she didn’t look her best. She must go home and spruce herself up for another go.

Some Other Cultures Practices

  • Guatemala – The groom’s parents host the reception party. The groom’s mother breaks a ceramic bell filled with grains to give the couple prosperity.
  • Germany – The guests break porcelain dishes in front of the new home. The bride and groom are to clean these dishes up together as a demonstration of working together to overcome anything.
  • Scotland – Gretna Green is the place to elope. In medieval times, Gretna Green would marry young couples who did not always have parental permission.
  • Kenya – The bride’s father spits on her as she leaves the reception. It’s thought to preempt fate by not seeming too supportive of the couple.
  • Greece – The best man (or groom’s best friend) shaves the groom before the wedding. The new mother-in-law feeds him honey and almonds.
  • Japan – A Shinto bride wears white from head to toe. The head covering is thought to hide the horns of jealousy toward her new mother-in-law. The white symbolizes her maidenhood.
  • Norway – The traditional cake is called kransekake. It’s a tower of almond cake rings stacked on top of each other. The center is often filled with a wine bottle. The bride may wear a gold and silver crown with small trinkets as part of her wedding finery. As she moves, the trinkets jingle, which scares off the evil spirits.
  • Russia – Couples partake of a sweetbread called karavaya which is decorated with grains of wheat for fertility. Whoever takes the largest bite without using their hands is thought to be the head of the family.

As you go through this list, you might notice that many of the wedding traditions are similar to customs we have here. It just shows that we’re more alike than we think.

Spring Celebrations Around the World
Spring Time Celebrations

Spring Time Celebrations

If you’re ready for asparagus, morels and fresh spring lettuce, you’re not alone. It has a been a long winter. Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie, famous weather forecasters from Groundhog Day, were no help in deciding whether winter would continue or not in the north, splitting the vote. Punxsutawney Phil sides with Sam in predicting an early spring. March 21 marks the spring equinox, and it’s hoped that the flowers will be in bloom soon after. Even if they aren’t, find a celebration of spring and enjoy this time of renewal.

Thailand Water Festival

In Thailand, in mid-April, come for the Songkran Water festival. It’s a huge public water fight held in honor of the new year. The water represents the cleansing of negative influences. It might be summer in the southern hemisphere, but you can still think of it being spring. Come for the festival and hope that the flowers will be in full bloom when you return.

Japan Shunbun no Hi

The spring equinox is a national holiday in Japan. They actually celebrate three days before and three days after, but the actual day when the equinox occurs is a day to honor nature and show affection for living things. Part of the Japanese tradition of Shunbun no Hi is to visit their ancestral graves and clean them up. People leave flowers and incense on the graves, then go visit with other family members as part of their spring festivity. They also clean their home and start new activities to renew their life. Farmers pray for luck for the upcoming growing season.

Granny March

In Bulgaria, Granny March or Baba Marta marks the arrival of spring. Legend says that the final snow of winter is just when Baba Marta is in the midst of spring cleaning and is shaking out her feather bed. Beginning on March 1, people give martenitsi, a red and white figure which can almost resemble a tassel, to wear until the first signs of spring appear. Once the trees begin to bloom, the martenitsis are tied to the branches in honor of the season.

The Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival

If you can’t wait until May for Tulip festival in Ottawa, take a trip south to Washington D.C. for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It begins March 20 and runs through April 17 in the capital of the United States. Much like the tulips are a sign of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, the cherry blossoms celebrate the ties of the U.S. to Japan. It’s spring and the flowers are in bloom. What better reason could you need for a break from all the snow?

Hindu Holi Celebration

In Southeast Asia, the festival of Holi is also called the Festival of Colors. Legends tell two different tales of why the tradition of throwing powdered pigments at each other got started, but the main idea is that good conquers evil. In one story, Holika attempted to burn her nephew, Prahlad in a bonfire, but he was saved by Lord Vishnu in a strange turn of events. In remembrance, Hindus light bonfires and celebrate Prahlad’s victory. Much of festival is fun, but it also has spiritual significance. It’s a time to renew friendships and forgive those who have hurt you in the past year.

Celebrate Renewal

It doesn’t matter when the first buds of spring occur, it’s just a given that the season will change and the earth will come alive. Enjoy the festivals of spring and remember that you’re given new opportunities to make your life all you want. Take time this year to think about the changes you need to make to make your dreams come true.