Have you ever wondered how people celebrate Christmas around the world? More than a hundred and sixty countries celebrate this festivity, however, not everyone has the same traditions.
A year ago I experienced for the first time the many Christmas celebrations the UK has. Firstly, I found it quite unusual that the streets were decorated since October, but it gave the city a more colourful and bright spirit once they were turned on. My friends took me to the Christmas market where I tried mulled wine, mince pies and pigs in blankets. I also participated in a ‘Secret Santa’ gift exchange.
All of this was unusual to me as it is nothing like where I come from. It got me thinking how the Christmas spirit differs depending on where you are from. It made me even more excited about the beauty that it would be to incorporate other culture’s traditions into our own
Let’s embrace Leicester’s diversity and have a multi-cultured Christmas!
To know more about Italy’s festive traditions, I contacted my friend Charlie Seale from Florence. He is half Italian and half British so his family embraces both cultures during the holidays. He told me that a big tradition in his household is decorating their rooms with teddy bears and filling up their stockings with sweets, pens and chocolate. As a kid, he used to decorate the Christmas tree with his siblings always on the 8th of December, as it is the Catholic holiday of the immaculate conception of Mary.
‘As for food we eat with my uncle and aunt that live next door.’ said Charlie ‘We have meat, vegetables and at the end of the meal we eat this special cake called pandor. It is sort of a sponge cake but way lighter and it is usually topped with powdered sugar. Sometimes you can slice it and put some cream inside it so it looks like a Christmas tree!’
Apart from this cake, they also eat panettone which he confessed not to enjoy as much due to the candied fruit. The most interesting part is the never-ending dispute between team pandoro and team panettone!
Janice Kusters, Head of Playlisting & Scheduling at Demon FM, told me about how they celebrate this festivity in The Netherlands.
‘To be honest, we don’t usually celebrate Christmas as we have our own festive holiday called Sinterklaas. This happens from the end of November until the 5th of December and it is all about presents, magic and sweets.’
Sinterklaas, considered a holy man for the kids, is portrayed as a man with a book and a white horse. His helpers come from Spain once a year to bring presents which they put in their shoe next to the fireplace. Nowadays, the shoes are usually at the back door since lots of houses don’t have chimneys and fireplaces anymore.
‘We have to sing him a song each evening and if we behave well then he comes on his birthday, the 5th of December, to bring us, even more, presents which we open with the entire family.’
Even though they have their own festivity, she mentioned that there are still people who celebrate Christmas. ‘For those who choose to celebrate it, they usually eat with family on the first day of Christmas and with friends on the second day.’
The tradition is usually one family cooks and everyone comes over or they do something called gourmetten which consists of a lot of different foods in small proportions cooked on a hot plate on the table.
United Arab Emirates
Moving on to Asia, Amaan Rashid revealed to me the magic of Christmas in Dubai. They start by setting up their ten-year-old Christmas tree with red baubles and fairy lights. They are allowed to open one present from under the tree in the morning and the rest is opened in the evening.
They usually spend the whole day watching Christmas movies on a loop such as Fred Claus and Casper’s Haunted Christmas. He confessed that the most special movie is Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause.
‘For dinner, we dress up all formal and pull out the Christmas crackers. We have a classic Christmas dinner: mash potatoes, gravy, Brussels sprouts and chicken, instead of turkey, as it’s more juicy and flavourful.’
After dinner, they open up all the presents. Amaan told me that he typically receives games so he just spends the rest of the evening face to face with the small TV in the corner playing PlayStation.
‘When I was younger we had the whole family over. Kids had their assigned table and the adults had a separate table. Then we would have a talent show where the kids would showcase their talents, mine being dancing to Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca.’
Still, in Asia, I contacted my friend Carmita Solitario, native to the Philippines. She said that Christmas in the Philippines is usually celebrated in a big and unique way. Due to it being a Christian nation where 80% of Filipinos are Catholics, Christian traditions are normally followed. Carmita confessed that once the months ending in ‘er’ hit the calendar it is possible to feel the season starting. You will be able to hear Christmas music in shops and see the Christmas decorations being put up in houses.
‘One really important Christmas tradition for Filipinos is the nine days of misa de gallo or simbang gabi – the evening mass – that ends on Christmas’ eve.’
Native delicacies are prepared approaching Christmas such as puto bong bong, bud-bud Kabug, rice cakes and sweet glutinous rice. Patties are usually being sold everywhere during the misa de gallo outside of the church.
On Christmas’ eve, after the mass, food is already prepared in everyone’s home for the noche buena at midnight. People usually dress in festive coloured clothes for the season.
‘We play indoor games like a trip to Jerusalem, eating contests and end with the manito/manita which is the game of exchanging gifts.’
To Filipinos, Christmas day is for family reunion and bonding. On that day, there are carollers going from house to house and people give them money as a sign of sharing and thanksgiving. Christmas celebrations extend till the New Year and end on the first Sunday of the month of January, it being the ‘Feast of the Three Kings’.
From the other side of the world, Gabriela Folegoto tells me about the Brazilian traditions.
‘In Brazil, we celebrate Christmas Eve and the Christmas day. On Christmas Eve, we start celebrating around 8 pm. All the family comes together usually at the grandma’s house and we have a big celebration.’
The houses have the usual Christmas decoration and the classic Christmas tree. She told me Brazilian families have a meal with a lot of food that always contains turkey and chicken. It’s very common to play secret Santa with the whole family and the gifts are usually exchanged at midnight.
‘On Christmas Day, we have a big lunch with the family which takes the whole day. We usually eat pork or another meat. All the meals are served as a 3 dishes course and we have desserts, nuts and lots of panettone!’
Back in Europe, Anaïs Karayan from France told me about all the French Christmas clichés.
A big part of the population has the party on the 24th evening and usually opens the presents the morning after.
‘Food wise we have wine, foie gras, oysters, pâté, duck, all of that expensive stuff. And for dessert, we usually have buche de Noel, which means Christmas log.’
In terms of outfits, some people just wear pj’s and others fancy clothes, depending on the way they celebrate. Because France is such a multicultural country there are thousands of ways people can celebrate.
To know more about Poland’s traditions I talked to Anita Medynska.
‘We celebrate Christmas Eve, also known as Wigilia, as it is a Catholic tradition.’
It’s tradition to not eat any meat except fish on Christmas Eve. They begin the feast by breaking apart this wafer called opłatek and go around the table wishing everyone happiness, health and prosperity.
‘Polish households aim to have twelve dishes on the table – our family has like six- and it mainly depends on the region.’
After they eat, they open the presents, sing Christmas carols and spend time together. The next day is used to visit close friends and non-immediate family.
If you have any special traditions yourself or you are thinking of incorporating some of these into your own tweet us @thedemondmu and let us know how you are spending this festive holiday!