The biggest holiday of the year is upon us. We can’t help but think about how other cultures celebrate this festive season. After all, winter festivities come in all shapes and sizes! So, we’re bringing you on a journey around the world to look at some alternative traditions to the usual Christmas stockings, turkey dinner, and gift exchange.
We’ve spoken to our friends from Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Israel, Japan and Russia to find out what this time of year means to them.
Colombia: Month-long Festivities
Christmas celebrations in Colombia begin on December 7, when Colombians celebrate Candle Day, where the whole family gathers at night to light candles in the streets. Homes are then adorned with lanterns and candles, and the festivities culminate in a display of dazzling fireworks. A little-known fact that we didn’t know about the Colombian Christmas is that instead of Santa Claus delivering presents to kids, it’s Baby Jesus.
Ileana, 21: What’s most special to me is the Novena, which is a Catholic tradition in Colombia. We recite a set of prayers starting 9 days before Christmas. Every evening, we gather around the nativity and read the corresponding prayer for that day. Christmas Eve is the most important day and that’s where you say the culminating prayer and have a big family dinner. Colombians go all out in decorating a very elaborate nativity scene. I remember my Grandma’s nativity used to take up half her living room.
Australia: Far from a White Christmas
Last year, I travelled to Australia to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family and friends there. Personally, I was tired of the snow and cold — aren’t we all? — so it was a welcome change for this chilly girl. While I found the Christmas traditions to be fairly similar (streets adorned with tons of Christmas iconography etc.) what struck me was how much the weather affected how Christmas was celebrated. Ditching the itchy Christmas sweater in favour of swimwear, we spent the run-up to Christmas lounging on the beach, taking dips into the pool to cool ourselves from the 40°C heat.
On Christmas day, I was even treated to a barbeque lunch. Think of all the fish and vegetables one could possibly grill, and add some fresh cold cuts of turkey and ham, and you’ll come close to the spread that Australians get to enjoy while celebrating Christmas at the peak of Summer. Apparently, Australians consume 45,000 tonnes of prawns in the festive season, which is a tradition I think we all should get behind.
Russia: Christmas on Their Own Time
In view of their Orthodox tradition, Russians follow the Gregorian calendar, which means that Christmas for them falls on January 7. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent, starting on November 28 and lasting until January 6 – making it 40 days long.
Sasha, 22: My family, like a lot of Russian families, go to church on Christmas Day. Afterwards, we usually sit down as a family to share a big meal. During the era of the USSR, religion, and by extension religious holidays, was not seen as a good thing. As a result, all festivities associated with Christmas – Christmas tree, presents, Father Christmas etc. were moved to be part of New Year’s celebrations, so the traditional celebration with tons of food was usually held on the night of the 31st of December. However, nowadays, since religion is more widely accepted and even embraced, we celebrate by fasting in the run-up to Christmas, which is celebrated on January 6 to follow the old Gregorian calendar. However, we still usually only exchange gifts on New Year’s, since Christmas is more about going to church and celebrating the religious part of it.
Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands: Presents before Christmas
For children from this part of the world, December 5 is the day they look most forward to. Why? That’s because December 5 is the day they get a visit from Sinterklass. Dating back to the 3rd century — believe it or not — Sinterklass originally came from Turkey as the Greek Bishop of Myra, St. Nicolas. You can guess where ‘Santa Claus’ comes from now. . Traditionally, he visits Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands via steamboat, carrying all the presents for well-behaved kids. On December 5, kids put their shoes by the fireplace and go to bed, eagerly anticipating Sinterklass’ visit. They often leave a little gift for Sinterklass, much like the traditional milk and cookies for Santa. This could be in the form of a letter or drawing; or sugar cubes and a drink.
Japan: KFC Meal
It’s not very traditional for the Japanese to celebrate Christmas in the way Christian- majority countries would. In Japan, perhaps what’s most associated with Christmas is fried chicken. Yes, you read that right. Eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on Christmas day has been a Japanese tradition since the 1970s when KFC ran an effective marketing campaign associating chicken with Christmas since turkey is not widely available in Japan. At Christmas, KFC also dresses Colonel Sanders in Santa Claus garb. With the white beard and all, the similarities are quite uncanny.
Shar, 23: Living in Tokyo, I would say that Christmas is not much different from celebrations you would see in other cosmopolitan cities. There are big fancy light displays by all the shopping malls. We don’t normally exchange gifts since Japan has its own tradition of oseibo, where gifts are exchanged between people to show gratitude for one another. This usually happens at the end of the year, which just so happens to be Christmastime. Something unique to Japan is that it is popular to have a KFC Christmas dinner, complete with cake and all. I’ve found that you have to make orders weeks in advance if you want a KFC meal during Christmastime.
Maybe you’re familiar with the traditions of Hanukkah, or maybe you could use a refresher. Hanukkah commemorates the 165 BC victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish army, over the Greek-Syrian oppressors, and the recapture of the holy temple in Jerusalem. When the Maccabees re-dedicated the temple, they could only find enough oil to light a lamp for 1 night. However, it burned for 8 days, in what is known as the ‘Hanukkah miracle’. Today, Jews all around the world celebrate 8 days of Hanukkah. We partake in traditions like playing with dreidels, lighting the Menorah and eating oily food (an allusion to the Hanukkah miracle).
Christy, 21: Hannukah is not a major Jewish holiday if you can believe it. It’s the time for the family to come together and eat lots of fried foods (donuts, latkes). We also light the menorah. The menorah is a lamp with 9 branches, so, on every night of Hanukkah we light one more branch. My parents usually give us small gifts like chocolate to us. Instead of a Christmas tree, we have a Hanukkah bush.
As you scour the shops to find your kids the loveliest presents and think about what sort of food you’ll be whipping up for Christmas day, think about all the other people celebrating with you, in their own special little ways. Do you have a special tradition this time of year? If you’d like to share them, as well as chat about all things family and technology with a whole group of like-minded parents, head over to our closed FamTech community and join us as we:
- Discuss the journey of parenting in a digital age
- Share the latest on all things family and technology
We can’t wait to hear your thoughts! Ho ho ho!