Winter Holidays Around the World
By Sarah Lange
Celebrated on December 25th, Christmas is an annual holiday honoring the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, in accordance with Christian religions. Although the holiday itself remains the same from country to country, the methods of commemorating the occasion vary, with each country often establishing their own distinct traditions. Observing how other parts of the world practice Christmas can not only help realize what we have in common, but it can also celebrate the differences that make every part of the world unique.
In Germany, the main focus of the Christmas celebration is Advent, which is observed on the 24 days of December. The Advent calendar, featuring 24 small boxes, each filled with a small gift, and the fir trees, which are decorated in houses and towns, are all part of what makes Christmas in Germany special. Your Christmas night might end with the sounds of carolers singing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) or “O Tannenbaum.” (O Christmas Tree)
Continuing into Europe, Italy celebrates Christmas with visual depictions of “presepe,” or the nativity scene. These scenes are often featured around town, in homes, or in classrooms, and they utilize items found commonly in the country, such as pine cones painted gold, colored construction paper, and small candles. To wish your family and friends “Merry Christmas,” you would simply say ‘Buon Natale.’
If you were to take a trip to Ghana, your Christmas celebrations would be centered around the cocoa harvest, which begins in early December. Late on Christmas Eve, you can hear the sound of drums, dancing, and ethnic music coming down the streets as parades march by to celebrate the coming day. The night would end with fireworks and a celebratory dinner, stew or okra soup, porridge and meats, rice and a yam paste called 'fufu'.
In China, less than one percent of the population is Christian, so awareness about the holiday is very limited; as a result, Christmas decorations are often only seen in the busier cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai. According to tradition, 'Shen Dan Lao Ren' (Santa Claus) comes to deliver presents to some families. Ironically, plastic Christmas trees are rarely set up in China, despite the fact that China is the #1 manufacturer of holiday decor in the world.
Many Christmas traditions in Brazil are similar to those in America or Europe, including their fondness for Santa Claus (called “Papa Noel” in Brazil) and the games they play around the holidays, such as “amigo secreto,” which is similar to the popular game in America called “Secret Santa.” The majority of Brazil is Catholic, therefore Christmas Day usually begins around 2 am to attend Midnight Mass. After returning home, they sleep until the morning, when they open presents and eat their favorite foods. Their meals often consist of multiple types of meat, including pork, ham, steak, or chicken, paired with salads, types of rice, and fruits. Although all age groups can enjoy Christmastime, Brazilian adults particularly look forward to December, when they get paid two month’s wages, affectionately referred to as their “13th salary.”
Since it is summertime during Christmas, Australia celebrates the holiday differently than many other countries in the West. Celebrations in Australia include caroling to local neighbors, which has become such a popular celebration that it turned into a national event; in each State capital city there is a “Carols by Candlelight” service, featuring Australia’s most popular bands and singers, including the Wiggles, Anthony Warlow, Colin Gery, and numerous others. These events also function as charity fundraisers, which is a great way for the public to give back around the holidays. Instead of Santa’s reindeer, children are raised hearing stories of Santa’s “six white boomers” (kangaroos).
Compared to other Christmas celebrations, India’s is much smaller due to the small amount of Christians. The majority of the population is Hindu, however, approximately 1% (25 million) people are Christian. Midnight mass, followed by a feast at home of curries and flowers is how many families prefer to spend their Christmases. Following the heavy meal, people will give and receive gifts from loved ones and then walk the town, which is typically decorated with candles and Poinsettia flowers in honor of the Mass.
And last but not least, America. In America, everyone celebrates the holiday with their own personal traditions; for example, some families like to go caroling, whereas others may watch animated Christmas classics, such as A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and A Miracle on 34th street (1945), or Hallmark movies, typically featuring a feel-good story about a couple who finds love during December. Both of these types of movies are watched with the intention of bringing the perfect amount of nostalgia and happiness to your life. These personal traditions are often blended with elements of religious observations and modern family practices, typically featuring regional elements from where you originated from or currently live. For the majority of Americans, shopping is a symbolic focus during the Christmas season. Gifts are typically purchased for all members of the family and additional friends, teachers, or co-workers, resulting in the noteworthy economic significance of gift-giving.
All differences aside, there are many unique cultures that blend traditional and religious aspects to form their own Christmas celebrations; further, while none are the exact same, all are important in their own way and deserve to be celebrated.