Christmas is the day when Jesus was born.
Children hang up stockings on Christmas Eve.
Santa comes in the night and puts presents in the stockings.
People have pretty trees and lights in their houses.
Carols are Christmas songs.
A celebration is a happy time when people get together in honour of something special.
Different religions or countries each have their own celebration or way of celebrating.
Christmas is the time that Christians celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.
Christmas Day is celebrated on 25th December, but no one knows the real day Jesus was born. In many countries Christmas is in winter, but in other places, like Australia, it is in summer time.
The very first decorated Christmas trees were in Germany long ago and now people all over the world have a decorated tree in their houses at Christmas time.
In Denmark and in Germany, parents decorate the Christmas tree secretly and it is only at dinner time on Christmas Eve that the rest of the family sees the beautiful tree. The whole family gathers to watch as the tree’s lights are turned on for the first time.
The Christian story is that there was no room in a hotel, or inn, for Joseph and Mary when they arrived in Bethlehem so the innkeeper said they could stay in the stable. It was there that Jesus was born and a manger filled with hay to feed the animals was used as a crib for the newborn baby. Gifts are given at Christmas time, because three kings or wise men travelled to Bethlehem, each with a gift to give the newborn Jesus. They arrived at the stable on the twelfth night after Christmas, or 6th January. Many people make a small nativity scene in their homes with a stable scene. Some include the three kings and others also include shepherds and animals. Most churches have a big nativity scene, and the baby Jesus is placed in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve.
For many children, Santa Claus comes on Christmas Eve and leaves presents for them to find in the morning. Children hang up stockings for him to fill with goodies, or else Santa leaves the presents under the Christmas tree. Santa is also called Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas.
In Sweden Jultomten, a little gnome in a red hat, leaves gifts for children on Christmas Eve.
Children leave a bowl of rice pudding to feed him.
In Norway and in Denmark it is the Julenisser, or elves, who bring gifts.
In Germany a Christmas Angel called Christkindl brings gifts. When children hear her ring her little bell, they run to find the presents she has left.
The Christkindl is seen in Christmas decorations in the streets and in people's homes and on Christmas trees.
It is not always on Christmas Eve that gifts are left for children.
In Holland Saint Nicholas visits on 6th December and leaves small gifts for good children. His companion, Black Peter, is supposed to leave a lump of coal for naughty children!
In Greece, Saint Basil brings gifts on 1st January.
In Italy a kind old lady called La Befana brings gifts to children. According to an old legend, the three kings stopped at villages on their way to Bethlehem and people greeted them and gave them little gifts to take to the baby. An old woman said she was too busy doing her housework, but later realised who the baby was and rushed out, still carrying her broom, with some things she'd made. But the kings had left already and she ran after them but never caught up. So on the night before 6th January she leaves gifts for children because she missed out on giving them to the Baby Jesus.
A plant called mistletoe is hung up in many homes at Christmas. If two people meet under the mistletoe, they kiss.
Thousands of years ago, people thought mistletoe was a magic plant. If enemies met in a forest where there was mistletoe, they would put down their bows and arrows and leave the forest.
As for most celebrations, special food is eaten at Christmas. Different countries have different foods, and the feast is eaten on different days at different times. In parts of the USA, pumpkin pie is part of Christmas dinner, following roast turkey. In the Britain, plum pudding is part of a Christmas feast. It is a rich, dark pudding full of mixed dried fruit. To cook it, the pudding is put into boiling water for many hours. In Italy panettone, a special sweet bread with sultanas and mixed peel is served. In Greece, roast lamb and other meats is followed by a special cake decorated with a cross made of walnuts.
In Germany the Christmas feast is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, often a roast goose. Many delicious cookies are baked for Christmas, but the traditional ones are zimtsterne, star-shaped cinnamon cookies. A fruit cake called stollen and a tree cake, a tall cake with golden layers that are baked separately to resemble the rings of a tree are also eaten. Beautifully decorated gingerbread houses are also a part of Christmas in Germany.
In France, a chocolate cake is made in the shape of a log, called a Yule log.
Yule is an old word for Christmas. In ancient times farmers would put a huge log on the fire on Christmas Eve and left to burn until New Year's Day. It was the Yule log and any unburnt section was made into a wedge for the plough in the hope it would bring good luck to the harvest that year.
Christmas carols are special songs sung at Christmas. Some carols were written hundreds of years ago. Long ago, groups of singers went from house to house singing carols. They were given some coins and perhaps a warming drink.
In Australia Christmas is in summer so many people eat seafood and salads as part of their Christmas meal and many cook and eat their feast outdoors. Because it is summertime and people can enjoy being outdoors at night, Carols by Candlelight is very popular in Australia. Everyone holds candles at outdoor carols concerts, often joining in or just listening.