Christmas, today, is celebrated all around the world, whether the celebrations be religious or commercial. Over the years, globalisation greatly harmonised the ways in which communities spend the end of the year.
However, different cultures have still retained some unique traditions in the festive season, so how exactly is Christmas celebrated around the world?
How do the bells jingle around the world?
Christmas is most famously known as a celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. In many Christian-dominated countries, this translates into going to mass on Christmas Eve, making mini-nativity cribs and reuniting with family or friends.
Globally, Christmas means ordering advent calendars for the 24 days leading to Christmas, waiting for Father Christmas’s delivery of presents at the bottom of the Christmas tree, and, buying gifts for loved ones.
However, many countries have different norms and traditions when it comes to Christmas.
In Poland, for example, Christmas Eve dinner cannot start without the distribution of the “Oplatek”. This is a form of host, a thin piece of flour and water, with the particularity to have images of the Nativity carved into it.
Every single family member takes a piece and passes it on to the person next to them after saying a quick speech.
In Scandinavia, St Lucia’s Day is celebrated as part of Christmas celebration. On the 13th of December, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian people celebrate Lucia, a saint said to be one of the martyrs.
Commemorations take place with candlelit processions of girls wearing white gowns and wreaths.
Candlelit processions are also part of Ethiopian tradition, where people celebrate Ganna (Christmas) on the 7th of January according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar.
The processions takes place before mass, where participants wear a white scarf and walk around the church three times. In England, Christmas carols are deeply embedded in Christmas culture.
While officially created in the 19th century by a man who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury, Christmas carols were present in Roman catholic communities all around Europe since the first century.
Popular Christmas carols are now sung in schools and are blasted on radio stations.
Decorations and events
Although impressive Christmas trees, ice rinks and stockings are common decorations in Europe and Northern America, there are so many other types of festive ornaments present in other parts of the world.
In Singapore, the busy Orchard Road district lights up even more around Christmas time with beautiful candy cane, nutcracker and reindeer decorations, in an impressive Christmas village.
In the Philippines, the main decoration is the parol, a star lantern. It is present everywhere around Christmas, accompanying huge feasts and dinner parties after the Christmas Eve Mass.
Greek culture adds to the traditional Christmas tree decorating habit with the decoration of boats. This originates from the story of King Otto of Greece, who placed in the mid 19th century, next to a Christmas tree, a large, decorated boat to celebrate the seamen’s return to their families after long excursions.
Indeed, in Athens, Christmas trees are almost always next to lit up boats.
It is also impossible not to note the Germanic tradition of Christmas markets. Especially present in Germany, outdoor markets with chalet-like stands where you can enjoy pancakes and mulled wine while playing fair games are an important part of celebrations.
Stands with artisans selling Christmas presents also add to the festive atmosphere. Christmas markets are also very popular in Belgium, Austria and France. In fact, the largest Christmas market is located in Strasburg.
A significant aspect of Christmas traditions is food. The sharing of one or multiple meals with family or friends is an essential part of the celebration. Christmas food advertising is only just one testimony of this.
Depending on the area, Christmas food will be dramatically different.
The “Feast of the Seven Fishes” is a tradition from the Roman Catholic tendency to abstain from meat around Christmas time. While the meal is not set to a specific day, it is intended the importance of the number 7 in the Bible.
This tradition finds its origin in Southern Italy but is common among the Italian-American community in the United States.
Christmas pudding is a traditional English dessert, which people prepare usually 5 weeks before Christmas.
Mixed with alcohol and steamed, it is considered good luck that every family member stir the pot while making a wish and putting items in, such as rings and trinkets for prosperity.
In Central Europe, families share fish, specifically the carp, for Christmas Eve dinner. The tradition consists of leaving the fish in the bathtub for several days instead of eating it right away.
The scales of the fish supposedly bring good luck for the following year.
Southern African countries like Namibia, Botswana and South Africa eat Mopane worms and caterpillars during the festive period.
Rich in protein, the worms are harvested and preserved for a month. After this period, they are usually fried with onions, tomatoes and chili.
Christmas exported globally
Many other celebrations occur around Christmas time. For example, there are the Buddhist celebrations of spiritual enlightenment, or Hanukkah for the Jewish community.
On the other hand, globalisation drove countries to recently start incorporating Christmas in their culture. This is the case for Japan for example.
There,Christmas is treated similarly to Valentine’s Day in the West. People exchange gifts, share blessings and send holiday cards to loved ones.
The festive season is now a global cultural commodity. At least five new Christmas films come out every year in the USA.Santa Claus is a popular icon for so many children. Christmas decorations light up most shops, streets and public spaces in global cities.
It’s clear today, that Christmas is no longer just a religious, social or commercial event. It is now part of a greater global culture.