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Christmas Decorations and Cultural Differences

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We are all familiar with traditional Christmas decorations. The Christmas trees, mistletoe and other red, gold and green ornaments. However, different cultures use different decorations; in this article we explore Christmas decorations that are typical for certain other cultures or countries.

First off to Portugal where people create a presépio that is placed under the Christmas tree. These little scenes usually only depict the Birth of Christ and feature clay figurines of Jesus, Mary, Joseph a cow and a donkey.


In Spain, this practice is common as well, but their nativity scenes depict the entire village of Bethlehem. Shepherds and the three wise kings are included in the scene and to give the scene a more authentic look, moss is even used as grass. Moreover, in certain regions of Spain, for example in Catalonia, a Caganer is included in the scene – the figurine of a defecating man. The reason for this is unknown, but it’s purpose might simply be to have a laugh or to bring good luck, as the Caganer is fertilizing the earth.

caga tió

The Catalonian culture features another lovely tradition that has to do with faeces. A fortnight before Christmas, a caga tió, or ‘defecating log’ is created. For this, a small log is hollowed out and given a face. In the fourteen days that precede Christmas, the log is ‘fed’ with sweets, fruits and nuts. At Christmas eve, the whole family gathers to sings traditional songs during which the log is hit with a stick. When beaten hard enough, the log will ‘defecate’ and spill its contents.

Spider on Ukrainian Xmas Tree

In Ukranian culture, people often decorate their Christmas tree with a slightly creepy decoration. Next to the usual fairy lights and Christmas-related trinkets, Ukranians hang a spider web, which includes a spider, in their trees. This spider web is not real, of course (how could you distinguish it from the tinsel?), but symbolizes good luck. The practice finds it origin in a tale about a poor woman. She had no money to adorn her tree with Christmas decorations, but when she woke on Christmas morning, a spider had decorated it for her with a web that sparkled beautifully.
holly wreath on a door

Many people place a ring of holly on their front door as a Christmas decoration. This practice actually originated in the Irish culture; during Christmas time, the poor people in Ireland had no money to buy any real decorations, but holly could be found in abundance. This meant that instead of actual decorations, people would use this plant to adorn their houses with.

Xmas candles at window

Another tradition in the Irish culture is placing a lighted candle in the window on Christmas eve. With this candle, Mary and Joseph were welcomed. In addition, by lighting a candle, people let the priests know it would be safe to perform a mass there during Penal Times, when masses were illegal.

How do you decorate your home at Xmas? Let us know at our Facebook page.
The Culture Vulture moved from Africa to work for Kwintessential back in 2007. His job is to fly around, keeping an eye on news, making sure you keep up-to-date with developments in the world of language, culture, localization and international business.