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From posadas to matching clothing, how Christmas is celebrated around the world

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN")

MICHAEL BUBLE: (Singing) You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout - I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

To a chimney near you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN")

BUBLE: (Singing) He's making a list.

SIMON: But before he takes flight, prominent citizen of the North Pole has agreed to let us take that sleigh on a brief spin to learn about a few Christmas traditions from around the world. Ho ho ho (ph). First up - Iceland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOLAKOTTURINN")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing in Icelandic).

SIMON: In the land of ice and fire, everybody gets a book for Christmas.

ALDA SIGMUNDSDOTTIR: So after everyone has had dinner and everything has been put away and the presents opened, people then retire to spend the rest of the evening reading.

SIMON: That's Alda Sigmundsdottir, author of "The Little Book Of The Icelanders At Christmas." She says this venerable tradition dates back to the Second World War.

SIGMUNDSDOTTIR: The Icelanders were actually quite affluent at the time simply because we had occupying forces here, so first the British and then the American troops. And they brought jobs with them. They brought money into the Icelandic economy.

SIMON: Because of wartime restrictions, there weren't many goods for people to buy except paper. So Iceland began to print books, and one holiday...

SIGMUNDSDOTTIR: Books were the Christmas present of the year, obviously. There was really nothing else available, and the tradition just sort of stuck.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: In Mexico, Las Posadas is already well underway, as it is another Latin American countries. Las Posadas means lodgings or inns. The tradition began as a religious procession through neighborhoods to symbolize Mary and Joseph's pilgrimage to Bethlehem to seek shelter, but they found no room at the inn. These days, many Mexicans, including filmmaker Alejandro Alvarez, celebrate Posadas at home or in restaurants.

ALEJANDRO ALVAREZ: You have a Posada every Saturday, every Friday, all of December. You have the Posada with the people you work with. You have the Posada with your friends. You have the Posada with friends and family from the mother's family side. We have the Posada with the family from my father's side.

SIMON: And any good Posada will have a pinata.

ALVAREZ: It can get rough out there, the pinata.

SIMON: Alejandro Alvarez says you better watch out.

ALVAREZ: Always there's, like, the kid who's got a whole lot of energy, and it's his turn in the pinata. And all of the parents get worried because he might hit someone because you're blindfolded.

SIMON: Yeow (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing in non-English language).

SIMON: Now to Nigeria where if you go to church, you're likely to see entire families resplendent in outfits tailored from the same cloth.

AKINTUNDE DISU: For Christmas, we like to wear our traditional cloth. And there's this phenomenon called ashroyabi, which literally means the cloth of my family.

SIMON: Akintunde Disu, a businessman, says this tradition creates a deep sense of belonging.

DISU: You buy the same material, and it's normally made out of just printed cotton. And you all wear that, so everybody - it looks nice and neat for the festivities, and it just shows you're all united and together.

SIMON: Now for our final stop, Australia, where it is summer...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) I pray that baby Jesus had a Merry Christmas...

SIMON: ...And roasting much of anything may sound just too sweltering.

NICK ANGELUCCI: Prawns is one of the biggest Christmas ideas in Australia to enjoy at Christmas Day.

SIMON: That's Nick Angelucci, who owns a barbecue company, and says that because of the heat in Australia this time of year, many prefer food that's chilled.

ANGELUCCI: We would sit there and have them all iced up and nice and cold, and it's just beautiful to sit back and drink a beer and eat a prawn and stay cool.

SIMON: Traditions are shaped by climate, by history and culture, different around the world, but so many growing out of a shared experience. Oh, and now somebody needs this sleigh back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN")

BUBLE: (Singing) You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout - I'm telling... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.