It has been a strange year in more ways than one and as we approach the end of 2020, many of us are now wondering what Christmas will be like this year; will we be able to see our families or will the traditional British Christmas, be the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic?
But if the traditional British Christmas is in jeopardy, how about Christmas in other countries and on other continents? To cheer us all up, we’ve taken a festive trip around the 7 continents to see what other families would traditionally be doing at Christmas.
We know how we celebrate in the UK, but Finland is a snowy place for much of the year, and you can be guaranteed a white Christmas if you visit the country in December. Many Finnish people (and others) believe that Father Christmas lives in the north of the country, in Lapland, so a lot of children send letters to him each year, which are delivered by the Finnish post office.
Christmas Eve is the most important day at Christmas and people traditionally eat a porridge made from rice and milk, often topped with more milk, cinnamon or butter. Sometimes parents hide an almond in the puddings and children love it if they ‘win’ the almond.
Finland gets dark at around 3pm on Christmas Eve and a growing Christmas tradition here is to visit the graves of family members and light candles of remembrance. Cemeteries are often lit up with hundreds of candles burning brightly as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day. And what do the Scandinavian people do after that? Well many of them warm up in the traditional way – in the sauna!
In the southern hemisphere, Christmas comes at the height of summer, so many people in New Zealand and Australia celebrate Christmas with a BBQ on the beach. Towns hold parades and there is a carnival-like atmosphere with marching bands and decorated floats. Santa still traditionally visits with his reindeer and many people leave out some refreshments, but it is just as likely to be a bottle of beer and some pineapple chunks as some sherry and a mince pie! One Christmas present that has gained popularity in this part of the world in recent years are ‘jandals’ which are New Zealand sandals - even Santa is seen wearing them at times!
Christmas in North America is like the one we know in the UK, with similar traditions of Santa Claus delivering presents to children who leave out their stockings by the chimney. Many people decorate their houses with lights and groups go around the neighbourhood singing carols to raise money for charities. Some communities place lit candles on their pathways to signify ‘lighting the way’ for Mary and Joseph to find a safe place to rest for the night (or to help Santa find his way too of course!)
South America is predominantly a Catholic continent, so Christmas celebrations here revolve around celebrating the birth of Jesus. Many people attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve which can end at 1am on Christmas morning. Fireworks are also big ways to celebrate Christmas too. In Brazil, many people get a 13th month salary or bonus at Christmas, so they get double their salary at this time of year. The 6th of January is also widely celebrated in South America as Three Kings Day or Epiphany, when the Three Kings traditionally visited Jesus and left him gifts, and many children do not get their Christmas presents until this time, celebrating with a special Christmas sponge cake called the kings’ cake.
In many Asian countries, Christmas is celebrated as a secular holiday rather than with any religious significance. However, traditions are emerging, nevertheless. In Japan for example, Christmas Day is largely ignored but Christmas Eve is considered a day for romantic couples akin to Valentine’s Day here, where couples eat out in restaurants. An advertising campaign in Japan by KFC in recent years has also made this a popular choice of Christmas dinner too!
In other parts of Asia, such as Bali, Christmas trees are made from chicken feathers and fireworks are part of the traditional Christmas fun.
There are many different religions in Africa, and Christianity is only one of them. Many Africans practice Islam and so do not traditionally celebrate Christmas in the same way that we do in Christian European countries. However, in countries like Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa, where Christianity is the majority religion, Christmas is celebrated by going to church, exchanging gifts and a chance to spend time with family, and share special meals. Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on January 7th as they follow the Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar) as opposed to the Gregorian calendar we use. And in Senegal, which is mostly a Muslim country, Christians celebrate Muslim holidays and vice versa so Muslims often put up Christmas trees in the mosques, complete with tinsel and Santa Claus.
Finally, in Antarctica, Christmas comes in the middle of summer, characterised by 24 hours of daylight. Even in the most northerly parts of Antarctica, there is only about 1 hour of ‘dusk’ at this time of year and the only people living here are scientists or tourists. However, Christmas does not go unmarked although the celebrations are more muted since most people are on working contracts, and there isn’t the same commercial build up that exists in more populated areas – (after all, what would the penguins do with wrapping paper?) Antarctic research also tends to be a multinational affair, so Christmas traditions can change with the research crews but simple gifts are exchanged and there may be a special meal and crew party. Snow is guaranteed and the wildlife can make Christmas in Antarctica a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience, connecting humans together with their home planet in a simple, communal way that is unrivalled anywhere else on earth. But shh, rumour has it that this is what Christmas is really all about anyway!
We hope you have enjoyed our sojourn around the world – perhaps you could find out about the Christmas traditions of families at your setting and share them with the children.
Whatever you do, Happy Christmas!