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Thursday, December 17, 2009


Christmas around the world

Christmas around the world

When we think of Christmas, we think of eating turkey, exchanging gifts, red-and-white-clad fat men climbing down chimneys, and 25 December. But that's not the case everywhere. Here are a few arbitrarily selected examples.


4:52PM GMT 15 Dec 2009




Caganers Photo: AFP/GETTY


Caganers Photo: AFP/GETTY


Celebrated: 25 December

Gifts? Yes

Father Christmas? Yes, but more prone to wearing sunglasses and fur-trimmed red shorts

Food: A vast roast turkey is not so appealing in 40C heat, but some still go for it. Others serve it cold. Prawns are also popular.

Notes: A summer Yuletide feels a bit back-to-front for us Northern Hemisphere chauvinists, but Christmas Day on Bondi Beach is something to behold. Otherwise, it is much like a British or American Christmas – gifts, food, family, telly, booze and arguments all make their appearances.



Celebrated: 7 January

Gifts? No

Father Christmas? No

Food: Injera, a local sourdough pancake bread, with rich stews and meats. No turkeys.

Notes: The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is closely related to the Coptic Church, and still uses the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian as followed in the West. Hence their Christmas – or “Ganna” - falling 13 days later. 12 days after Ganna, they celebrate Christ's birth in a three-day festival called Timkat.



Celebrated: 25 December

Gifts? Yes

Father Christmas? Santa Claus, technically; while the British Father Christmas is related to Pere Noel, Santa Claus comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. They've become interchangeable over time, though.

Food: Lots of it, predictably. Ham or beef is more common than turkey, as the bird (native to the United States) is the traditional centrepiece at Thanksgiving, a month earlier, but there is a wide variety.

Notes: Turkeys, the red-and-white Santa Claus, and many of the modern “traditions” of British Christmas are directly taken from our cross-Atlantic cousins. Perhaps ironically, the pilgrims who colonised America tried to ban the celebration altogether in 17th-century Massachusetts.



Celebrated: 13 June. Not really. 25 December, obviously

Gifts? Yes

Father Christmas? Yes, although (see above) we have moved away from the green-cloaked “spirit of bonhomie” that Dickens would understand, to the red-and-white gift-bringer Santa Claus.

Food: Turkey! Lots of turkey. Although before the big American bird became commonplace over here, a goose was traditional (hence the carol saying “Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat”). Trimmings vary from household to household, although roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts are regular features, and the author of this piece would like to make it clear that Christmas dinner without bread sauce is just a warmed-up dead bird.

Notes: Christmas trees, carol singing, the Salvation Army, eating leftovers for a week, Boxing Day football, cold damp weather, the Queen's Speech (and Channel 4's irksome alternative), that infuriating bit between Christmas and New Year where you have to go back to work for three pointless days; it's British Christmas. You know how it goes.



Celebrated: 25 December (although they also celebrate St Nicholas's Day on 6 December)

Gifts: Yes – in a shoe, candy for good children, twigs for bad, on St Nicholas's Day

Father Christmas? No, St Nicholas; although as with so many places, the British/American tradition has taken hold strongly through films and adverts, so the red-and-white image is common.

Food: Hearty fare, as you might expect. Christmas Eve in Germany is called “Dickbauch”, or “fat stomach”, as tradition has it that those who go to bed hungry that night are tormented by demons as they sleep, so the big meal is late that evening.

Notes: Christmas trees first arose in Germany, and go up on 23 December – not a day before. They are decorated with sweets. German Christmas markets, which go up from the end of November, are a famous tradition, selling various oddments, meats and treats.



Celebrated: 25 December

Gifts? Yes, although adults exchange them on New Years' Day

Father Christmas? Oui, mais en France il s'appel “Père Noël”. He visits on 6 December, bringing small gifts, and again on Christmas Eve.

Food: Reveillon, the big Christmas meal, is held late on Christmas Eve and carries on past midnight (hence the name, which roughly means“waking meal”). Goose or turkey is common, but the French being the French they also get some lobster and foie gras in there.

Notes: The Nativity is a big deal in France (although not as big as in Catalonia; see below) and every home will display a small scene somewhere.



Celebrated: 7 January (the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar)

Gifts? Yes

Father Christmas? Not exactly; the rather more stern-sounding Grandfather Frost (“Ded Moroz”) and his helper, Snegurochka, split the duties. The exact relationship between Snegurochka and Grandfather Frost is ill defined. Some say she is his granddaughter. Some say....well, never mind. St Nicholas is a famous figure too.

Food: Goose, fish and pork are all served, together with various bean and cabbage stews

Notes: During the Soviet period, Christmas was not a holiday in Russia.


ISRAEL (specifically Bethlehem)

Celebrated: Well, generally not at all – it's a Jewish country, obviously – but in Bethlehem, things are necessarily rather different, and it is marked at various times by local Christians, tourists, and pilgrims

Gifts? Yes, but not for everyone; as it is such a key location in Christian mythology, representatives of all the churches – Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Coptic and more – appear in the town. So the traditions are many and various.

Father Christmas? Yes. And Grandfather Frost, Santa Claus, and Père Noël.

Food: Well; again, yes. Different kinds.

Notes: The Church of the Nativity is naturally the centre of most celebrations, and various denominations have a procession from there through the town. Christmas decorations are hung around the town like many Western countries. Because Christmas takes place at different times for different churches, the festive period lasts for quite a while: the last church to celebrate it, the Armenian, holds it on 18 January.



Celebrated: 25 December

Gifts? Yes

Father Christmas? Well; sort of... see below

Food: As elsewhere in Spain; there is nothing ubiquitous like turkey, although some do have turkey. Some sort of roast is usual, with soups and veg and so on. That's not the interesting bit though.

Notes: Catalan Christmas is notable for one thing: its scatological obsession.

Every Catalan home will likely have a Nativity scene; so far so standard European. But unusually (though not uniquely), they will all have an additional figure to the Holy Family, shepherds, donkeys etc – the Caganer. The Caganer is a small model of a man having a poo. Traditionally it was a Catalan peasant, but now may be the Prime Minister of Spain, Father Christmas, any number of celebrities – even Gordon Brown and Barack Obama have been immortalised, if that's the word, in Caganer form. It's not the only faecal part of Catalan Christmas: the Caga Tió or “s--- log” is a large stick thrown into the fire by children who entreat it to “s--- presents”.

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