Christmas is just round the corner! Oh my god, you need to get the presents, you need to avoid the in-laws, you need to argue who’s cooking Christmas dinner and best of all, you may have to sacrifice your comfy bed for the week for visiting relatives. Why don’t you pack it all in and head to abroad to a country that has different destinations? This guest post tells more:
We’re all familiar with the traditional Christmas – presents under the tree, stockings on the mantelpiece, overworked bank accounts gluttony at dinner time. Despite a clear knowledge that other countries are different – and, wow, Australia is warm at Christmas, how mad is that? – most people are still surprised when they come face-to-face with nations (or religions, or towns, or news stations), that don’t celebrate Christmas in the regular Anglo-US fashion: lots of presents, charity and some pseudo-spirituality thrown in for good measure.
We have Charles Dickens to thank for much of our modern views on Christmas. The whole secular, gift-giving, charitable aspect of the holiday only came about after the renowned raconteur published his most enduring tale: A Christmas Carol. Up until that point, 1843, Christmas was a much less Santa Claus-filled holiday. Sombre and religious, the word “merry” did not belong anywhere near the word “Christmas” and they certainly didn’t belong in the same sentence. Then Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, had a personality transplant and decided to wish everybody a “Merry Christmas” and a semi-secular holiday was born.
Of course, Dickens’ influence has almost certainly permeated through most cultures around the world and mixed with their own unique traditions to form a super Christmas mutant, similar and yet completely different to the way we do things in the UK.
So here are a random list of countries and their Christmas traditions.
Japan has a little problem when it comes to Christmas: less than 1 per cent of the population are Christian, which means their knowledge of Christmas and its traditions is not what it could be. This means that the holiday itself is only really celebrated in the bigger cities and then it’s not that big a deal. Shops don’t close, lights aren’t strewn around like phosphorescent confetti and the country does not come to a halt to watch Corrie or The Queen’s speech.
Also everyone eats chicken. This is due to one of the finest marketing campaigns this side of the Jupiter. Kentucky Fried Chicken managed to convince the people of Japan that it is chicken not turkey and ham that most people in the west eat on Christmas Day, thus a mendacious cultural phenomenon was born. Christmas Eve is also seen as a particularly romantic day of the year and is sort of like the Western version of Valentine’s Day.
Saint Nicholas (who grew up to be Santa Claus) was Dutch so it seems fitting that they would celebrate the holiday in their own unique fashion, after all if it wasn’t for Nicholas how would shops ever shift Brussels sprouts?
Appropriately enough they give their presents on the eve of Saint Nicholas day, which is December 6. So on December 5 all the good children of the Netherlands (and a few other European countries) get their presents. Sticking much closer to the actual story of Nicholas than most other countries, kids leave out shoes and clogs to be filled with presents and sweets, but only if you’ve been good. Also Nicholas doesn’t live in the North Pole, he lives in Madrid. Christmas Day is a much quieter affair, with dinner and maybe a church service afterwards.
Another European country that likes to do things differently is Spain. Like the Dutch, they don’t bother waiting around to celebrate; they kick things off nice and early. Of course, the Spanish are a little more Christian than a lot of places and thus their celebrations are still based around Jesus. In this case, the Immaculate Conception – when God popped a baby in Mary’s womb – is when the celebrations kick off. Lights and decorations tend to be kept to a more respectful minimum and generally include a lovely Nativity scene. On Christmas Day Santa will pay a visit but only leave a small present as the bulk of the gift giving happens in January (in line with the tradition of the three Wise Men paying the son of God their respects with some gifts to brighten up his crib). Presents are delivered on January 5 and kids wake the next day (Little Christmas: the last of the 12 days of Christmas) to find a load of presents have been delivered.
One of the principal traditions in Sweden that makes it stand out from the Christmas herd is the St Lucia festival, which is celebrated on December 13. St Lucia is otherwise known as the Queen of Light and thus plenty of Swedish lasses dress up in robes and wander through streets carrying lights and candles on her feast day. Christmas food is a little different too. Traditional Swedish Christmas fair includes pickled herring, meatballs with beetroot salad and lutfisk.
So yeah, it’s really hot and sunny, the days are long and there’s not even a hint of a snowflake. Otherwise though, a lot of the more familiar Christmas traditions persist. Christmas trees, lights and carols are all part of an Australian Christmas, as well as gift giving and Santa Claus himself. Of course one big difference is Christmas dinner, which is often a barbeque in the back garden or on a beach. Not quite the same as icy roads and below zero temperatures but, hey, you can’t have it all.