‘Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la la …’ It’s that time of year again where the sparkle of Christmas waves its magic wand and produces a diverse range of Christmas traditions from around the world.
A EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS CRACKER
England (Happy Christmas)
Supposedly when it comes to stirring the Christmas pudding mix, if it’s a wish you yearn to make, then each member of the family must follow the age-old tradition of stirring the mixture in a clockwise direction before the pudding is cooked. Whether or not this tradition is still carried out in England, if children were considered naughty, instead of receiving the usual gift of presents in their stocking, a lump of coal would be waiting for them instead!
Wales (Nadolig Llawen)
Some traditions never grow old and in several Welsh villages the practice of Mari Lwyd is performed, where one chosen villager has to parade through the village holding a mare’s skull on the end of a stick.
Italy (Buon Natale)
For many countries it is the arrival of Santa that brings joy to children, but in the case of Italian children, they get excited about Befana, the friendly witch arriving on 5th January to deliver hoards of sweets and toys.
Spain (Feliz Navidad)
If you’re looking to find a pure and angelic nativity scene in Catalonia, then think again. Look a little closer and you will find the rather bizarre addition of a small figure of a defecating man, known as the Caganer! Another rather curious Catalonian custom is the ‘Tió de Nadal’ aka the ‘pooping log’! The log is decorated with a blanket and a face and on Christmas Eve this log is placed midway into a fire and then beaten with sticks!
Portugal (Feliz Natal)
Similar to Halloween traditions that remember the dead, the Portuguese favour this remembrance on Christmas morning in the form of a breakfast feast known as the ‘Consoda’, whereby places are laid at the table for the living and the dead!
Austria (Frohe Weihnachten)
We’ve all heard of Dr Seuss’s The Grinch who abhorred Christmas. He might appear frightening and menacing, but he sounds like a pussycat in comparison to the Christmas Devil, Krampus, feared by children in Austria. Supposedly he beats up naughty children with branches!
Germany (Frohe Weihnachten)
Children might find themselves in a pickle on Christmas Eve in Germany whilst hunting the ‘Christmas pickle’ in the Christmas tree. The first to find the pickle is the lucky one to receive a small gift for the honour. Another strange tradition is for children to put shoes outside the house on December 5th, ready and waiting to be filled with sweets. Naughty children beware; you’ll only get a branch in your shoe if you haven’t behaved this year!
Ukraine (Різдвом Христовим)
The usual glitzy tinsel and baubles take back stage in a Ukrainian Christmas upstaged by a large artificial spider’s web and spider!
Poland (Wesołych Świąt)
Get ready to fast and feast on Christmas Eve, known as Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh) in Poland. Traditionally many Polish will not eat anything until the first star has been spotted in the night’s sky. The feasting, “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper) can then commence, which usually comprises a sumptuous spread of 12 dishes and 12 desserts, including a medley of platters consisting of fish (if you are a meat lover then you will be disappointed as this meal is meat free), cabbage, potatoes, pierogi (Polish dumplings), as well as mushroom or beet soup. This Christmas fare is symbolic of the 12 apostles and is meant to bring good luck for the next 12 months to all those present at the table.
Slovakia (Veselé Vianoce)
Rather like flipping the pancake on Shrove Tuesday in the UK, the most senior member of a Slovakian family takes a spoonful of their traditional Christmas pudding, the ‘loska’ and throws it up at the ceiling. The stickier it is the better!
Czech Republic (Veselé Vánoce)
Similar to some of the global Easter traditions where an act is carried out to see if marriage is on the cards for an unmarried woman, in the Czech Republic a shoe is thrown over the shoulder, and if it is pointing towards the door on landing then they will be fortuitous.
Estonia (Rõõmsaid Jõulupühi)
Whilst many might be having a gourmet meal or drinks on Christmas Eve, the Estonians head to the spa on the day before Christmas.
Latvia (Priecïgus Ziemassvºtkus)
Christmas in Latvia seems a little reminiscent of Halloween in that people dress in a myriad of costumes, known as ‘mummers’ who go from house to house to give blessings and in return will receive a treat.
Bavaria (Frohe Weihnachten)
If you’re looking for a quiet Christmas spot, then Bavaria is not the place to be as custom dictates the wearing of the national costume of lederhosen by Highlanders, whilst firing mortars into the air.
THE ‘NORDIC’ CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!
Iceland (Gleðileg jól)
It seems receiving new clothes before Christmas Eve will prevent the mythical Yule Cat that roams the Icelandic hills from attacking you in Iceland. However, on a more joyous note, if the children leave a shoe on their window ledges during the 12 days of Christmas, much like an advent calendar, they get to enjoy a daily portion of sweets or a gift that are left overnight.
Sweden (God Jul)
The star of the show in Sweden in the dessert category is the festive rice pudding. Similar to the Czech Republic there is a custom that tells whether you will be lucky in marriage the following year if you find a peeled almond in the middle of the pudding.
Finland (Hyvää joulua)
Akin to the Portuguese Christmas tradition that honours the dead, Finnish families make a tribute to the dearly departed by lighting candles at their graves, which makes what is rather a morbid sight in general, a rather beautiful vision at Christmas.
Norway (God Jul or Gledelig Jul)
Not a fan of cleaning? Then Norway is the place to be on Christmas Eve as cleaning is forbidden, all brooms safely hidden away so as not to tempt witches and evil spirits to whisk them away. Christmas Eve is also the main event for Norwegians, which involves dinner at home with the family, followed by the grand finale of opening the presents from underneath the Christmas tree.
THE SUN HAS GOT ITS CHRISTMAS HAT ON
New Zealand (Meri Kirihimete – Maori)
All dressed to the nines is a brightly coloured red indigenous tree of New Zealand, the Pöhutukawa, which graces many a Kiwi home at Christmas time, instead of the usual conifer. You also might find it hard to taste the delights of Christmas pudding over Christmas in New Zealand (not surprising since the festive period falls in summertime), as many Kiwis favour the lighter flavours of the traditional Kiwi Pavlova, a soft meringue nest laden with fresh berries, cream and raspberry coulis.
South Africa (Geseënde Kersfees)
Akin to the Aussies and Kiwis, the festive season falls smack in the middle of their summer season so the day might involve a swim in the sea or a trip out to the countryside to play outdoor games. As for the Christmas fare, be grateful that turkey is the shining star of the British Christmas Dinner, as the unusual delicacy of deep-fried caterpillars derived from the Emperor Moth whet some South African appetites on Christmas Day!
DECORATE SOUTH AMERICA TO THE NINES
Cuba (Feliz Navidad)
The Cuban city of Remedios hosts the Parrandas festival every December, which involves the city dividing into two and preparing for Christmas by way of decorating their buildings with a themed sculpture of light bulbs.
Venezuela (Feliz Navidad)
The usual tradition of attending mass on the run-up to Christmas Eve has taken a new turn in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas, with many people gliding into mass on roller skates!
Guatemala (Feliz Navidad)
Unlike the Norwegians who hide their brooms, the Guatemalans sweep their houses clean before Christmas to allow the neighbourhood to create a large pile of dirt to burn with the effigy of a devil atop.
SANTA CLAUS IS COMING
USA (Happy Christmas)
Christmas is often overladen with booze, but in this instance, it is done by way of a large bar crawl. Throngs of Americans dressed in Santa costumes take part in ‘The Running of the Santas’, drinking as they go.
Canada (Happy Christmas)
If you definitely want to receive a response from Father Christmas then in Canada if you address your Christmas letter to Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, HO HO HO your wish will come true!
THE MISCELLANEOUS CHRISTMAS CREW
Japan (Meri Kurisumasu (or ‘Meri Kuri’ for short!)
Whoever thought KFC’s 1974 advertising campaign would captivate a people so much so that its establishments welcome many a Japanese family through its doors on Christmas Eve? Plus if you’re a romantic at heart then you’ll be amongst many a Japanese couple on Christmas Eve celebrating the day much like Valentine’s Day. Couples may take a walk and revel in the vista of sparkling Christmas lights or enjoy a romantic meal in a restaurant.
Ethiopia (Ruhus Beal Lidet)
Christmas for Ethiopians is not traditionally celebrated on 25th December, but takes place on 7th January, whereby white clothes are worn and a fast-paced wooden ball game using sticks, ‘ganna’, is played by the men.
There are many more Christmas global traditions that could be added to this sack load of magical customs, but for now Peak Translations would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, December 2017