How Different Cultures Celebrate the Christmas Holiday
It turns out that Santa Claus doesn’t visit the entire world. Officially, the Christmas holiday is on the 24th and 25th of December each year. However, in reality, each region and country celebrates Christmas at earlier or later dates based on their own traditions and beliefs. The Christmas holiday is often when families come together after working for the whole year. During this time, people who work or live far away from home go back to celebrate with their loved ones, no matter where they are. Each culture that observes Christmas also has different ways to make the holiday special. Some celebrations involve treats or dishes only eaten once a year, during the Christmas season. Some people give their loved ones gifts that have a particular meaning, while others decorate their homes in a specific way or hold parties or festivals to celebrate. Therefore, Christmas can look very different across the diverse cultures around the world.
Japan: KFC for Christmas dinner
In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, so observing it is relatively new, but Japanese people still find delicious and interesting ways to celebrate it. Instead of meeting together around a dinner table for a turkey meal, families go to their local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant or make a reservation there before the festive day. The concept of KFC for Christmas has maintained its popularity over the years, causing some people to place their orders a month in advance and others to stand in line for an hour to get the coveted fried chicken.
In Japan, Christmas is a time to spread happiness, though Christmas Eve is usually more celebrated than Christmas Day. During the holiday, Japanese people also eat strawberry shortcake, a light and spongy cake with whipped cream filling and festive frosting, usually sold as “Christmas cake.” The cake is a popular way to celebrate the Christmas season in Japan. The Japanese also celebrate by hosting or visiting European-style Christmas markets, such as the Tokyo Christmas market, or doing other special shopping. During this time of the year, Japanese malls are usually beautifully decorated for holiday shoppers.
Iceland: The Yule Lads
In Iceland, Christmas comprises a combination of religious and regional folklore. Iceland celebrates Christmas 13 days before the official date. Traditionally, their children get presents from 13 diverse Santa Clauses or “Yule Lads.” Every Yule Lad has their own distinct qualities, and they are a bit feisty. Each lad leaves either a sweet and presents or rotten potatoes at each house, depending on whether the children there behaved well throughout the year. Additionally, it is the Icelandic custom for families to set up a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in the living room, underneath which presents are placed. They boil fish and bake batches of small cookies together to serve to visitors. Traditionally, Icelandic people light one candle each Sunday in December until four candles are lit on the 24th. At 6:00 PM that evening, church bells ring to begin the Christmas celebration.
Finland: Cemetery celebrations
On Christmas Eve, families in Finland spend most of their time in the cemetery. This tradition is about celebration rather than mourning. People hold candles and place them at their loved ones’ graves or at special memorials to honor the deceased buried elsewhere. In Finland, Christmas Eve is the major occasion of the season, and the night Santa comes with his gifts. Families spend Christmas Eve together decorating the Christmas tree, drinking mulled wine, doing the quintessential Finnish things, and bathing in a Christmas sauna. It is also a custom of Finnish residents to attend a Christmas Mass.
Australia: Celebrations on the beach
In Australia, people celebrate Christmas on the beach. The holiday happens during the sweltering summer months in Australia, so many people go to the beach for a barbecue. Residents play a rousing game of backyard cricket and grill up fresh seafood on the barbie. They never decorate their houses with Christmas banners, but they do sing “White Christmas.” There are also many “carols by candlelight” events on Christmas Eve, where people meet and sing Christmas songs while holding candles.
United States: Santa Claus and Christmas trees
In the United States, people have the tradition of putting evergreen Christmas trees in their homes, which they decorate together with their family members. They use a variety of ornaments, such as string lights and colorful balls, and pile attractively wrapped gifts under the tree. At the top of the tree, they place a big shining star. People in the U.S. celebrate Christmas with a traditional dinner, where they habitually have a big roasted turkey with other cultural dishes. They also have gifting traditions, and children are usually most excited looking forward to this kind of activity. In the U.S., there is a fairy tale that if a child conducts themselves well for the whole year, they can write a letter to Santa Claus and ask for whatever gift they want. Later, the child will hang a sock over their bed and wait for Santa Claus to fill it with presents and fulfill their dream. The American Santa Claus is portrayed as an older man with a big belly in a red outfit, who comes in a sleigh on Christmas night to reward good children by offering them what they ask.
In conclusion, while decorating is the most popular tradition for celebrating Christmas, the Christmas holiday can vary widely depending on local traditions. The image of an evergreen tree adorned with strings of lights and ornaments is familiar to many people, and is seen every Christmas in malls, cinemas and even at home. However, in different parts of the world, people have different customs to prepare for Christmas, which can include things such as giving gifts, church attendance, traditional cuisines, and music. Although Christmas started as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, today, many people observe the holiday regardless of their religion. Therefore, in a world of different cultures, people all have their own ways of celebrating and having fun during the Christmas holiday.
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Benedine Kaptuya is a freelance writer from Kenya. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Information Science and holds a bachelor’s degree in the same discipline. Benedine loves volunteering, reading, writing and traveling.