Image by Chad Madden
Words by Eve Davies
Christmas traditions vary from family to family, from religion to religion, and from country to country, meaning that although Christmas is a globally celebrated holiday, it is not a homogeneous experience for everyone. You might spend Christmas day at home and open presents in the morning, while your best friend spends the day at her grandparents’ house and opens presents in the afternoon. While some countries and religions wouldn’t worry over these intricacies as they don’t celebrate Christmas at all, such as North Korea, Libya, and Tunisia, where Christianity is not the most popular religion and therefore isn’t recognised as a public holiday. Also, Jehovah Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas because they believe the Bible would have said if Christmas observance was important. For some, Christmas is a religious event. For others, it is a time to relax and enjoy feasting with family. Essentially there’s no ‘right’ way to celebrate, and the different traditions around the world show this. In the northern hemisphere, we associate Christmas with snow, log fires, and ice skating, whereas down south, Christmas falls in the summer season, making their festive period a very different experience to ours.
In Argentina, the weather is warm at Christmas and many Argentinians are Catholic, so Advent is an important part of their Christmas celebrations. Argentinians are big on decorating their homes with lights, green, gold, red and white flowers, and Christmas trees, upon which they hang cotton balls to represent snow, even though Christmas falls in their summer. The nativity scene or ‘pesebre’ is also an important decoration in Argentinian homes. The main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve in Argentina. Many Catholics will go to church in the late afternoon. Following this, presents are given among families and in classic Argentinian style, dinner is served much later in the evening, usually around 10pm or 11pm! This meal is called asado, which is a barbecue with Argentine beef and thanks to their summer weather, Argentines enjoy this meal outdoors. After the meal families prepare their own firework displays, which start at midnight and continue until all fireworks have been set off. The next day (Christmas Day) is filled with more family meals, as Argentines are big foodies!
Likewise, in Australia, Christmas is a summer event, since December is the first official month of summer. In the UK, families are likely to spend Christmas Day in their living and dining rooms, around the fire, playing board games, watching films, and drooling over a roast turkey dinner. Whereas down under, Christmas Day is spent lounging around the pool, which most people have in their back gardens. My family live in Perth, Western Australia, so when we FaceTime them at around 10am GMT their Christmas Day is drawing to a close. It is 6pm there and they are usually chilling on the balcony after their ‘arvo’ snack of leftovers from the roast dinner. In the words of my cousin, “if it’s not a hot day, Christmas is ruined”. A hot roast dinner is paramount for traditional Aussie families, whereas others opt for cold meats and salads due to the heat. Some families use the barbecue to cook Christmas dinner, others stick to the stove. Being the chilled nation they are, there are not so many set Christmas traditions.
Since Christmas falls in the Australian summer, their lead up to Christmas differs significantly to ours as well. For us, the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with Christmas markets and winter wonderlands, but in Australia the lead up to Christmas is characterised by summer music festivals. Ice Cream Factory is the most popular festival leading up to Christmas. This takes place in Brisbane, Perth, and Melbourne, with different acts performing at each venue. These acts are British as well as Australian, with recent headliners including Example. However, sadly these festivals have been ‘canned’ this year due to the pandemic.
Coming back to Europe, Santa clause (or ‘Sinterklaas / St. Niklaas’) delivers presents to children in the Netherlands and Belgium on St. Nicholas’ Eve and St. Nicholas’ Day, which takes place on December 5th and 6th. The 25th December is left for religious festivities.
In other European countries, such as Spain and Greece, music is an important element of Christmas celebrations. Most people in Spain go to Midnight Mass or ‘La Misa Del Gallo’, meaning The Mass of the Rooster, to welcome Christmas Day. After mass the celebrations take to the streets, as everyone walks through the street carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums, while chanting the Spanish saying ‘Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir’, which means ‘Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping!’.
Similarly, on Christmas Eve in Greece, children often go out on the streets singing ‘kalanda’ (carols), playing percussion instruments as they sing. If they sing well, neighbours will reward them with money, nuts, sweets, and dried figs. Also, decorated sailing boats are popular alongside Christmas trees in Greece, a tradition started by King Otto in 1833. Celebrations in Greece officially last for 14 days, starting on Christmas Eve and ending on Epiphany (6th January) with the ‘Great Blessing of Water’, in commemoration of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan river. Midnight Mass is also important in Greece and after the service people go home to end their Advent fast.
Although I’m not sure all these traditions are going ahead as usual this year due to restrictions in place to combat Covid-19. All over the world Christmas looks a little different, but I’m sure every culture is making the most of the festive season, whether around a BBQ or log fire with close family and housemates.