Christmas is a time of year when the world comes together in the spirit of giving, love and hope for mankind. This religious and cultural celebration is observed by billions of people annually on December 25. But while it has its roots in religious traditions dating back thousands of years, Christmas has become largely a secular holiday today.
Christmas traditions around the world do, however, vary from country to country. Many nations install and light Christmas trees, hang advent wreaths, and put out their Christmas stockings and candy canes. Christian countries re-enact nativity scenes, which depict the birth of Jesus Christ. They also partake in religious observances such as midnight Mass, with the month of advent being one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar.
But Christmas is not actually as global as you may think. In fact, there are many countries that don’t celebrate it at all. The following are just a few of the dozens of places around the world where December 25 is just another day. If you’re looking to escape the commercialism and hustle and bustle of Christmas, these countries just may be the perfect place!
You won’t be able to tell it’s Christmas in Qatar, a non-Christian country. Any celebrations which are organized are usually arranged by the growing expat community.
The availability of festive decorations in shops has increased over the years (Doha is, after all, a modern city with extravagant malls). But these are still relatively slim pickings. In a country which is known for its heritage souks, Islamic Art and monolithic sand dunes, perhaps it’s not too surprising that there’s a noticeable shortage of Christmas trees here.
Real trees in Qatar are very expensive and very rare. But for travelers craving the smell of a real Christmas tree, head to the Ritz-Carlton or a similar 5-star hotel. These hotels annually serve Christmas Eve buffets, if you’re looking to join a seasonal feast.
Mongolia is a country where travelers can witness first-hand the traditions of the ancient past, but Christmas is not one of them. Officially a Buddhist country, December 25 in Mongolia feels like any other day. People go to work, children go to school, and no carols play in the shops.
You may find one or two decorations strung up around main cities like Ulaanbaatar, but Christmas here is really a foreign affair. Which is ironic, since Mongolia in December looks like a picture-perfect Winter Wonderland, complete with wild reindeer! As with Qatar, Christmas celebrations in Mongolia are left to the expat community.
But Mongolia does celebrate the Lunar New Year. There are fireworks, street parties and a televised speech at midnight by the Mongolian President. The Lunar New Year is also celebrated with a “New Year’s Tree,” which bears uncanny resemblance to a Christmas tree!
Christmas in China is just another work day. Schools, offices and shops all remain open. But while December 25 is not celebrated as a festival or afforded a public holiday, the Chinese have picked up a few Western traditions over the years.
China is officially a non-religious state, so Christmas was once completely banned, along with Christianity. But while the government still places restrictions against observing a Western-style holiday, the country does share in the commercial season of buying.
The commercial version of Christmas in China is only celebrated in large cities (where more people can afford it), and it’s treated more like Valentine’s Day. It’s a day spent with friends, not family, and generally celebrated by heading out to the movies, shopping, or spending a romantic day with your partner. Christmas Eve is the biggest shopping day of the year here.
Outside of the large cities, Christmas isn’t even a commercial thing. With only 1% of Chinese people officially Christian, there is not much of a Christian cultural influence. So those in rural areas don’t celebrate the holiday at all. Christmas is a public holiday in Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong however, and these destinations celebrate the familiar western-style holiday.
There are plenty of opportunities to celebrate Christmas in Tunisia for those who want to.
Flower sellers will haggle over the price of a tree, vendors sell Christmas decorations and accessories, and you’ll never have any issue finding a unique gift in the huge variety of souks. Numerous local churches offer mass on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But, to the locals, Christmas doesn’t mean anything beyond an economic opportunity for their shops.
Head to Tunisia for an incredible warm climate and beautiful African beaches. But don’t go there expecting to catch the Christmas spirit: The holiday passes without much fuss.
Travelers head to Morocco for many things– hiking North Africa’s highest peak, camel treks, shopping, sleeping in a famous riad– but Christmas isn’t one of them.
The Moroccan people are primarily Muslim, so it’s no surprise that Christmas in Morocco is not a big deal. Instead of hearing jingle bells and people singing carols, you’ll instead hear the beautiful sound of the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer). Instead of seeing Christmas lights lining the streets, you’ll bear see hundreds of brightly colored lanterns.
So you may not be celebrating Christmas in Morocco if you visit. But you can pair mint tea with spiced lamb, and lose yourself wandering the many medinas and side streets. Head to Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech’s main square to pick up some souvenir trinkets to take home as belated holiday gifts.
Christmas in Egypt is celebrated by the 15% of the population who are Christians (called Copts). But as with Orthodox Christians in countries like Russia and Serbia, those who do celebrate Christmas don’t do it on December 25.
Coptic Orthadox Christians in Egypt celebrate Christmas on January 7, as the church uses the old Julian calendar for religious celebration days. From November 25 to January 6 (a.k.a. the 43 days of Advent), Copts fast, sticking to a Vegan diet for the “Holy Nativity Fast.” On Christmas Eve (January 6) they take mass around 10 pm, and most services finish shortly after midnight (though some continue until 4 am).
There are many other countries that don’t celebrate Christmas in the western way, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Cambodia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.
But travelers to Egypt have a unique choice: visit during December to escape Christmas, or visit at the beginning of January in order to celebrate Christmas twice! –Megan Jerrard
Megan Jerrard is an Australian Journalist, and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe. With a mission to inspire others to embark on their own adventure, Megan and husband Mike believe that travel has the potential to inspire change in people, and in turn inspire change in the world. They embraced travel as a lifestyle in 2007, and are dedicated to documenting their journey and observations through entertaining, candid articles and brilliant photography. You can follow their journey on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.
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