CHRISTMAS AROUND THE WORLD
Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which stars Jim Carrey, tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, the world’s worst miser. Scrooge wants nothing to do with the good cheer and charity traditionally associated with the Christmas season but, after a visit from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, he wakes up a changed man. Charles Dickens wrote the original story of A Christmas Carol in 1843, which was also the year that the very first Christmas card was sent and three years before Queen Victoria and her family introduced the Christmas tree to Britain.
As it was in Charles Dickens’ day, Christmas remains Britain’s most popular holiday and is now an important and eagerly-anticipated date on calendars in most countries worldwide, irrespective of people’s religious beliefs. Yet if the Christmas spirit remains the same everywhere, different countries have very different approaches to gift-giving, Christmas decorations and food, and even the day on which Christmas is celebrated varies around the world...
December 25th is a legal holiday in Hong Kong and Macau but not in the rest of CHINA since 99% of the Chinese people are not Christian, the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year or ‘Spring Festival’ which takes place at the end of January. Nonetheless, Christmas decorations have become increasingly popular in China’s big cities in recent years and the country’s Christians traditionally decorate their houses with with beautiful paper lanterns and set up their ‘Trees of Light’, with paper chains and flowers, while children hang stockings and await a visit from Dun Che Lao Ren ("Christmas Old Man“).
Christmas begins early in GERMANY with Saint Nicholas’ Day, which is celebrated on December 6th. Saint Nicholas puts sweets and small gifts in children’s shoes and is accompanied at public appearances by the frightening-looking “Knecht Ruprecht”, whose job is to look out for children who’ve been naughty all year.
In HUNGARY, Tel-apo or Mikulas (Winter-grandfather) visits on the 6th December as well with a similar tradition. Children put their clean shoes outside their door before they go to sleep, and the next day, they are filled with red bags containing sweets and small toys. However, for naughty children, a golden birch is placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking, (but this is just for fun)! On 24th December, children are hurried out of the home as this is when Jesus brings the tree and presents to their house, then after a festive dinner of fresh fish with rice or potatoes, the tree is unveiled, everyone sings Christmas songs and gifts are opened.
In MEXICO, it is traditional for children to receive their gifts not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, in commemoration of the day the Three Kings brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Schools are also closed on that day.
In AUSTRALIA Christmas coincides with the height of summer and Sydney’s world-famous Bondi Beach is a popular venue for non-traditional barbecues and the occasional surfing Santa. Adelaide’s Christmas Pageant is one the most popular holiday parades in the world and annually attracts as many as 400,000 people.
Various Christmas customs in SLOVAKIA involve predictions for the future. Apples are cut crosswise and if a star appears at the core, next year will be a good one. A cross foretells bad luck.
Christmas Eve in BULGARIA is celebrated with a meal comprising twelve different dishes, each one representing a different month of the year.
It is traditional to hang a spider among the Christmas tree decorations in UKRAINE and to place stalks of wheat as a centrepiece on the dinner table.
The people of GEORGIA have their own variant on the popular Christmas tree: known as the “Chichilaki”, often made of a hazelnut branch carved to resemble a “Tree of Life” and decorated with fruit and sweets. The local equivalent of Santa Claus is known as “tovlis papa” or “grandfather snow”.
The people of ESTONIA leave the leftover food from Christmas dinner on the table over night for the visiting spirits of depart ed family and friends. It is traditional to visit graveyards during the holiday season and leave candles for the deceased.
As in many other parts of Northern Europe, Christmas Eve is the most important day of the holiday season in NORWAY. In some parts of country it is customary to leave a plate of porridge out for “Julenissen”, as Santa Claus is known.
Christmas Eve is the most important day of the holiday in DENMARK and the time-honoured highlight of the Christmas Eve meal is the serving of rice pudding at midnight. A single almond is hidden in the rice pudding and whoever finds it is entitled to a small gift and can expect to have good luck in the coming year.
According to Finnish people, Santa Claus lives in the north part of FINLAND, Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle and people from all over the world today address their letters to ‘Santa in Finland’. On Christmas Eve, people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup made from dried fruits and then decorate the tree and in the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner of casseroles containing liver, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey is eaten. Santa Claus then delivers presents on Christmas Day.
A thousand years ago in SWEDEN, King Canute declared that Christmas would last for one month, from the feast of St. Lucia on December 13th. On that day, the eldest daughter of the family wears a white dress with a red sash, and places an evergreen wreath with seven lighted candles on her head, taking hot drinks and cakes to each family member. Then on Christmas Eve, the tomte (a Christmas gnome), emerges from his home underneath the house with a sack of presents and distributes gifts to each household.
Children in ITALY receive their presents on Christmas morning and they are brought either by “Babbo Natale” (literally “Father Christmas”) or by “Gesù Bambino” (the baby Jesus). During Epiphany in early January children also get sweets and small gifts from “la Befana”, a kindly witch. Naughty children used to be left a bag of ashes instead.
In IRELAND Santa Claus is known as “Daidí na Nollagi” or simply “Santy”. As in England, families leave mince pies out as a snack for Santa Claus and maybe a carrot for his reindeer, but a bottle of Guinness sometimes substitutes for the typically English glass of sherry.
In the UNITED KINGDOM Santa Claus is more popularly known as Father Christmas and Christmas crackers containing small toys are still a distinctive national tradition at holiday meals. Christmas decorations stay up until January 6th in the UK, but it’s back luck to have them up any later.
In the NETHERLANDS Sinterklaas delivers his gifts on horseback and children leave their shoes out filled with hay and sugar cubes as a treat for Santa’s hardworking friend.
A popular Christmas treat in GREENLAND is called “Mattak” and consists of a piece of whale skin with a strip of blubber attached. It’s said to taste like coconut.
On Christmas Eve in the UNITED STATES children leave cookies out for Santa Claus and also carrots for his nine reindeer, the most beloved of whom is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Americans celebrate the day after Christmas by going shopping (the 26th December is the second busie st shopping day of the year in the US).
So on this note; why not wish your friends around the world a Merry Christmas in their own language!
Chinese: (Mandarin) Shèng dàn kuài lè
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest
Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
French: Joyeux Noel
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Italian: Buon Natale
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
And to understand how the miserly old man named Scrooge suddenly came to believe in the good cheer of Christmas and share in some of the above customs, visit your local cinema on (November 4th, 2009) to watch Disney’s A Christmas Carol unfold in 3D before your very eyes!
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