<div class="data" style="margin: 0px 0px 0px 1px; padding: 0.3em; border-width: 1px 0px 0px; border-top-style: dotted; border-top-color: #bebebe; outline: 0px; font-size: 12px; float: left; width: 441px; color: #666666; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 20.390625px;"><span style="color: #666666; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 16.796875px;">Christmas is truly a global celebration! Although the traditions and foods associated with it vary with climate, culture, country—even calendar—the spirit of the day transcends all such differences. From November onwards, it is impossible to forget that Christmas is coming. Coloured lights decorate many town centres and shops, along with shiny decorations, and artificial snow painted on shop windows. This month, we take a look at how other countries around the globe celebrate this holiest of events.</span><br /><span style="line-height: 16.796875px;"><br /></span></div> <p style="margin: 0px 0px 15px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; outline: 0px; font-size: 12px; color: #666666; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 16.796875px;">
Christmas is celebrated throughout the African continent by Christian communities large and small, and there are approximately 350 million Christians in Africa. On Christmas day carols are sung from the Congo on down to South Africa. Meats are roasted, gifts are exchanged and family visits made. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January (rather than the 25th of December) because they follow a different calendar. Those who can afford it will generally give gifts at Christmas but the holiday is not nearly as commercial as it is in Europe or the Americas. The emphasis is more on the religious aspect of celebrating the birth of Jesus and singing in church, than it is on gift giving. The most common thing bought at Christmas is a new set of clothes to be worn to the church service. Many Africans are too poor to be able to afford presents for their kids and there aren’t too many toy stores in rural Africa to shop at anyway. If gifts are exchanged in poorer communities they usually come in the form of school books, soap, cloth, candles and other practical goods.
As South Africans, we know Christmas a summer holiday. In December, the southern summer brings glorious days of sunshine that carry an irresistible invitation to the beaches, the rivers, and the shaded mountain slopes. Many South Africans have lunch in the open air, and most often a braai on the beach or in a park. For many more, it is the traditional dinner of either turkey, roast beef, mince pies, or suckling pig, yellow rice with raisins, vegetables, and plum pudding, crackers, paper hats, and all. In the afternoon, families go out into the country and usually there are games or bathing in the warm sunshine, and then home in the cool of the evening. Boxing Day is also a proclaimed public holiday usually spent in the open air. It falls on December 26 and is a day of real relaxation. Especially since we saffas tend to overindulge on Christmas Day with food and wine.
We have acquired several customs from England, and the first is the use of Christmas trees. This was made popular during the rein of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Prince Albert came from the country of Germany and missed his native practice of bringing in trees to place on the tables in the house, therefore one Christmas the royal couple brought a tree inside the Palace and decorated it with apples and other pretty items. The second custom is what is known as Boxing Day. It is celebrated the first weekday after Christmas. What this means is that small wrapped boxes with food and sweets, or small gifts, or coins are given to anyone who comes calling that day. Santa is known as Father Christmas, wearing long red robes and had sprigs of holly in his hair. Instead of mailing out their Christmas list, children throw it into the fireplace and Father Christmas reads the smoke. England is also where the tradition of hanging stockings by the chimney began, due to the fact that Father Christmas once accidentally dropped some gold coins on his way down the chimney which got caught in a drying stocking. Another interesting thing is that instead of opening up their gifts as soon as they wake up, English children wait until the afternoon. I don’t think any South African child could wait that long!
Christmas In Australia
For the majority of Australians, Christmas Down Under has all the glitter, tinsel and razzmatazz of a Christmas in New York, London Paris or Vancouver. The major difference is one of weather….Christmas Down Under is never White. Like South Africans, Australians are blessed with blue skies on Christmas Day, and depending on location, temperatures range from 25-38 degrees centigrade. Christmas is special to the majority of Australians for it is their Summer Holiday season and for Australian students this means SUN-SURF & SHOPPING. Their neighbours, the “Kiwis” or New Zealanders are actually the first ones to really celebrate the joyous day of Christmas as New Zealand is the first country immediately west of the international date line.
And like South Africans, Australians too are able to appreciate culturally diverse Christmas celebrations. Traditional dinners have been replaced with family gatherings in back yards, picnics in parks, gardens and on the beach. For many, it is the occasion to be with friends and relatives, to share love and friendship and not to forget, the exchange of gifts in the traditional manner. For many, it is of course a time to enjoy and consume massive quantities of food. A typical Christmas menu could include seafood, glazed ham, cold chicken, duck or turkey, cold deli meats, pasta, salads galore, desserts of all types, fruit salad, pavlovas, ice-cream plus Christmas edibles of all varieties such as mince pies, fruit cake and shortbread.
Christmas In South America
Throughout South America Christmas is celebrated in a deeply religious way. The main focus of the season throughout the continent is the presepio (“the manger”). Often a whole room is devoted to the presepio display, complete with landscape and tiny figures made to scale. Though the central feature is the manger at Bethlehem, elaborate scenes will include hills full of shepherds gazing upon the heavenly host, the Wise Men crossing the desert on their camels, water mills, grottos, electric trains, and even sailboats on the sea.
Christmas In India
Christians in India decorate mango or banana trees at Christmas time. Sometimes they also decorate their houses with mango leaves. In some parts of India, small clay oil-burning lamps are used as Christmas decorations; they are placed on the edges of flat roofs and on the tops of walls. While Churches are decorated with poinsettias and lit with candles for the Christmas Evening service.
Christmas In Bethlehem
The little town where Jesus is said to have been born is the site of the Church of the Nativity, which is ablaze with flags and decorations every Christmas. On Christmas Eve natives and visitors alike crowd the church’s doorways and stand on the roof to watch for the dramatic annual procession. Galloping horsemen and police mounted on Arabian horses lead the parade. They are followed by solitary horseman carrying a cross and sitting astride a coal-black steed. Then come the churchmen and government officials. The procession solemnly enters the doors and places an ancient effigy of the Holy Child in the church. Deep winding stairs lead to a grotto where visitors find a silver star marking the site of the birth of Jesus. Christian homes in Bethlehem are marked by a cross painted over the door and each home displays a homemade manger scene. While a star is set up on a pole in the village square.
Christmas In Japan
Christmas was introduced in Japan by the Christian missionaries, and for many years the only people who celebrated it were those who had turned to the Christian faith. But now the Christmas season in Japan is full of meaning and is almost universally observed. The idea of exchanging gifts seems to appeal strongly to the Japanese people. The tradesmen have commercialized Christmas just as our western shops have done. The story of the Child Jesus born in a manger is fascinating to the little girls of Japan, for they love anything having to do with babies. In the scene of the Nativity they become familiar for the first time with a cradle, for Japanese babies never sleep in cradles.
Many western customs in observing Christmas have been adopted by the Japanese. Besides exchanging gifts they eat turkey on Christmas Day, and in some places there are even community Christmas trees. They decorate their houses with evergreens and mistletoe, and in some homes Christmas carols are sung gaily. In Japan there is a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles our Santa Claus. He is always pictured as a kind old man carrying a huge pack. Oddly enough, though, Japanese people believe he is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
Christmas In Italy
The popularity of the Nativity scene, one of the most beloved and enduring symbols of the holiday season, originated in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi asked a man named Giovanni Vellita of the village of Greccio to create a manger scene. St. Francis performed mass in front of this early Nativity scene, which inspired awe and devotion in all who saw it. The creation of the figures or pastori became an entire genre of folk art. In Rome, cannons are fired from Castel St. Angelo of Christmas Eve to announce the beginning of the holiday season. A 24-hour fast ends with an elaborate Christmas feast.
The main exchange of gifts takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration in remembrance of the Magi’s visit to the Christ Child. Children anxiously await a visit from La Befana who brings gifts for the good and punishment for the bad. According to legend, the three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for food and shelter. She refused them and they continued on their way. Within a few hours the woman had a change of heart but the Magi were long gone. La Befana, which means Epiphany, still wonders the earth searching for the Christ Child. She is depicted in various ways: as a fairy queen, a crone, or a witch.
Whatever the date or the practices associated with it, Christmas continues to be the most universally celebrated holiday around the globe, transcending language, culture, and even religious beliefs. Regardless of your reason to celebrate the season, I hope you find the spirit behind the holiday every day of the year!