As many of us are preparing this week to celebrate the Christmas holiday, we are decorating Christmas trees with various pretty things, buying presents for our friends and family, and baking and preparing enough food to feed an invading army twice over.

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And here, in the United States, they are all simply considered to be normal parts of the holiday season. Abroad, however, things tend to differ a little bit according to the websites of World Holiday Traditions and The History of Christmas. For example...

  • Czech Republic

    First off, observers of Christmas in the Czech Republic start their official celebration of the Christmas season on December the 24th, what we in the US would call Christmas Eve, that extra day of prepping before the big day. A Czech Christmas, called Vánoce, begins with an all-day fast until the family sits down for a meal of carp, potato salad, and Christmas cookies. After the meal, "a bell is rung to announce that Baby Jesus (Ježíšek) has come and gone and left presents underneath the tree." The following days, December 25th and 26th, are considered the first and second days of Christmas and are usually spent at home with family.

  • Germany

    The celebration of a German Christmas takes so long, that it takes almost the whole month of December to complete!

    The celebrations begin the night before December 6th, observed by Catholics both in Germany and now around the world as St. Nicholas Day. It is observed by having children place their shoes by the fireplace or by their door. During the night, it is believed that St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, "hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all of the misdeeds of the children are written." If the children have been good all year, it is believed that St. Nicholas will fill their shoes with Christmas candies. If the children have been bad, though, it is traditionally held that St. Nicholas fills their shoes with sticks.

    December 21st, believed to be the shortest day and longest night of the year, is known in Germany as St. Thomas Day. On that day, whoever sleeps in the longest or shows up to work the latest is referred to that day as the "Thomas Donkey" and gently mocked all day until the day concludes with iced cakes called Thomasplitzchen. The rest of the Christmas celebration consists of gift-giving and lots of food.

  • Israel

    The vast majority of the people of Israel do not celebrate Chtistmas, a holiday with direct roots in Christianity. Rather, they observe the eight days of Hanukkah, a Jewish celebration which varies from early November to late December in it's celebration time. To observant Jews, Hanukkah is a time of celebrating faith by lighting the eight parts of a special candle holder called a Menorah one candle each night to symbolize different aspects of the Jewish faith. One famous treat made during the time of Hanukkah is the Latke, a potato pancake. Many are made at a time and enjoyed among families.

  • Mexico

    In Mexico, more emphasis is put on the buildup to the day of Christmas than the actually day itself. It begins on the 16th of December; the time of La Posadas celebrates the journey of Mary and Joseph to the town of Bethlehem as observed in the Christian faith. Each night consists of a mixture of prayer and celebration including singing of many hymns and the breaking of the pinata, one tradition which has carried over to secular culture.

    After Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, known as "Misa de Gallo", many treats are shared. Some that are consistent among the varying regions are "tamales", atole (a sweet drink), and "menudo", a drink that is said to be "more sobering than strong coffee".

    On the day of Christmas itself, Many Mexicans have adopted the American secular celebration with Santa Claus and gifts under the Christmas tree.

  • Iraq

    The celebration of Christmas in Iraq puts heavy emphasis on the Christian spiritual side of the holiday. On Christmas Eve, families gather together. As one child reads about the birth of Jesus Christ, candles are lit throughout the group. After the reading is finished a pile of thorn bushed is set on fire and the families sing around it. Iraqi Christians believe that, if the thorns burn to ashes, then the next year is blessed with good luck. Wishes are made over the fire. Another fire is lit at church on Christmas Day. A Bishop leads the service, carrying a figure of Jesus as an infant. After the service, a blessing is spread throughout the group.