The idea of trimming a tree isn’t universal, even in countries with large Christian populations.
Greece is 95% Greek Orthodox and you will seldom see a tree, except in a store window. The main symbol of the season is a wooden cross with basil wrapped around it, kept fresh using a bowl of holy water. A member of the family then dips the cross and basil in holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house, similar to the tradition of blessing new homes in Greece. The holy water in this case is believed to keep the Killantzaroi, a goblin who appears before Christmas, away from the home. The holiday in Greece and for a lot of Greeks is not the big one on the religious calendar; Christmas comes second to Easter.
We, as Americans, open presents on Christmas morning (or afternoon in my case, since I work in the morning and don’t get time off for Christmas). The children of Italy traditionally wait until the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6th for their presents. The idea of Santa was also not native to the home of Catholicism. A kind witch named Befana is said to deliver presents to the children of Italy. The legend says she was delayed because she couldn’t find the star over Bethlehem and got lost and has been flying around delivering presents to all children ever since.
I prefer to imagine the kind witch delivering presents by donkey, as described in the song by Lou Monte. Hee-haa.
The tradition in Mexico includes a celebration called La Posada, a religious procession that reenacts Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem. The congregants go house to house carrying images of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter, but all of the residents tell them there’s no room available. It makes me wonder, if you had a pregnant woman about to give birth show up at your door would you slam it in her face?
A midnight mass is also held in many Mexican churches called the la Misa Del Gallo, or Rooster Mass, because of the hour the rooster crows is generally when it ends. The tradition of the congregation singing lullabies to the baby Jesus is very sweet.
Great Britain is the home of many of the western traditions of Christmas thanks to one man: Charles Dickens. The stories he wrote cemented many traditions associated with Christmas in the western world. The idea of stockings hung by the chimney with care or at the end of your bed so Father Christmas can fill it up is a classically British. The opening of presents under a tree on Christmas morning is also a UK thing, as well as a big feast like the one Dickens describes taking place at the home of Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol”.
I’ve used the word tradition 7 times (8 including this one) in this post, and that’s what’s important this time of year. Whether you carry on a well-established tradition or create your own, such as our tradition of trimming a very small tree, it’s an opportunity to reflect and celebrate with the ones we love.