It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But does Christmas look the same across the globe? We asked people to investigate how six different countries celebrate at this festive time of year.
Think of Christmas and you’ll probably be conjuring idealised images of snow swept streets and the whole family huddling from the cold around the Christmas special of Dr. Who… Not in Australia.
I’d like to take the opportunity to point out that this isn’t just an article stuffed full of massive racial stereotypes, but is a personal account I retrieved from a genuine Ozzy.
Our upside-down counterparts are more likely to be found swimming in the pool or the sea under the scorching summer sun. Try that at Tynemouth and you’re asking for a one-way ticket to the emergency ward with a festive dose of hyperthermia. You’ll probably be expecting goon sacks and shrimp on the barbie, but not today: just as it is here, Christmas is for family. The cricket and piss-ups (which are probably the same thing) start on Boxing Day – in the words of one Australian, there’s “nothing better than playing cricket while watching the poms (that’s us) get flogged by Australia.” Well it’s alright for some…
It goes without saying that Christmas in India is far less celebrated than it is here. A majority Hindu country, the season is subject far less to the commercialisation which is common in western countries. However, there are elements of the Christmas season which have transported themselves over into the continent. One of the largest Christian communities in India belongs to Mumbai, which in turn has roots in the state of goa. While only accounting for 2 percent of all the people in India; this still amounts to 25 million people celebrating the season. Midnight Mass is widely attended, which is then followed on by wide feasting and the conventional gift-giving. Churches are decorated lavishly, and varieties of trees are set up in resemblance of the conventional furs which are common in the western countries. Because of this, banana trees and mango trees can sometimes be found decorating peoples homes and houses. Popular food includes Christmas cake that is rich in fruit, and traditional sweets might include pastries and toffees which, again, might be given as gifts to neighbours and friends. Christmas in India is largely similar to Christmas here, with lots of celebration between family and friends and communal fun all round.
In Jamaica, the main celebrations of Christmas take place on Christmas Eve, or ‘Grand Market’. In nearly all the cities in the country are large markets, where you can buy toys, food and clothes.
In the evening, the market transforms into a festival and party that continues throughout the night. Everyone is encouraged to look and dress their best, the buildings themselves being no objection as they are decorated in Christmas lights.
Traditional Jamaican foods eaten at Christmas include fruit, meat, fried plantains, curries and veg. Commonly eaten is a rum fruitcake which takes months to prepare, as it spends months soaking in red wine and white rum.
Spending Christmas in sunny Peru at 30 degrees Celsius was a surreal experience. Surprisingly, the set-up was quite similar to the UK: the streets were filled with fairy lights, and huge fake Christmas trees were hung in every mall window display. Even more surprisingly, the displays had cartoon images of snowmen with fake snow sprinkled over the artificial trees, even though it was most definitely sweltering bikini weather. The main difference, however, was that the day to celebrate Christmas was the 24th December which is the same, generally, as the European traditions. Families congregate together at 10 pm for ‘Misa de Gallo’ (Rooster’s Mass) in their local church. Afterwards, incredibly well-crafted routines of fireworks are set off and everyone starts handing around beers and ‘piso sour’ (whisky sour equivalents). I sat outside the house I was staying in at around midnight on the 24th, and the sights of the firework displays were nothing like anything I had seen at New Year celebrations in the UK. After almost an hour of firework festivities, Peruvians then eat la cena de navidad which is the traditional Christmas meal. The food that I remember most strongly from my experience were lechon which is a roasted suckling pig, along with tamales which are sort of corn dumplings (but a worryingly bright orange colour). Paneton, which is a sweet Italian cake, is served in every shop or mall in Peru for months either side of Christmas, and every Peruvian I ever met thought it was the best thing since sliced bread; although this may have something to do with the twelve pisco-sours.
As Christmas in the UK has become more secular, less spiritual and further from the nativity, (and closer to our love for Father Christmas and his elves) Spain has maintained aconnection religion in their traditions.
Most gifts are usually opened during ‘La Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Mages’ (the festival of the three kings) beginning the 6th of January. Children write to the Kings on Boxing Day, and on January 5th they leave out shoes to be filled with gifts. Just like we leave Christmas biscuits and sherry for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer, in Spain they leave a glass of cognac, a satsuma and some walnuts for each King, and sometimes even a bucket of water for the camels. The first morning of ‘La Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Mages’, a cake called a ‘Roscón’ is eaten. It is ring shaped, and can be filled with cream or chocolate and contains a small gift.
There are still some celebrations during Christmas itself, with midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It is sometimes called ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ (The Mass of the Rooster), because a rooster is said to have crowed the night of Jesus’ birth. The main Christmas meal is usually had before mass, with turkey stuffed with truffles (‘Pavo Trufado de Navidad’) as the traditional main dish. After mass, crowds of people walk through the street with instruments, making music and carrying torches. Although these traditions are very different to ours, and definitely more connected to the nativity, like ours they bring families together, and because of that, they are important.
Julia McGee- Russell
On paper, December in Iceland is pretty grim. With the temperature sticking between -1 to 4 degrees, and an average of around 5 hours of sunlight per day, its no wonder the locals make the most of things with some amazing Christmas celebrations.
Known as Jól (or Yule), the festivities stretch from the 12th of December until the 6th of January. The coming of the Jólasveinar, or the Yuletide Lads, continues until Christmas Eve. Originating in the 17th century, the Yuletide Lads are thought to be the sons of bloodthirsty ogres who leave presents for children in shoes on the windowsill. If a child has been naughty, they get lumped with a potato instead. Some translated names of these spirits include Candle Beggar, Pot Licker, and my personal favourite: Doorway Sniffer.
Aðfangadagur is Yule’s Eve, and when the celebrating really kicks off. Festivities start at 6pm, a relic from when old Icelandic tradition started the day at this time instead of midnight. Children open their presents on this day. Christmas Day, or Jóladagur, is mainly a day for feasting. Roast lamb is the dish of choice, accompanied by leaf bread (Laufabrauð) of which each family has their own unique pattern. Entertainment is considered inappropriate on these two days, so on Boxing Day public dancing is once again allowed.
The celebrations finish in January, on Epiphany (Þrettándinn). It involves dancing and bonfires and magical traditions; the dead are thought to rise from their graves and cows are believed to be able to talk. This is possibly why Icelanders light up their cemeteries at Yule!
(Merry Yule = Gleðileg jól )