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How Different Countries Celebrate Christmas

Ah, Christmas. The time of year where everyone, ideally, gets together and lays all of their petty arguments to rest, exchange presents, and if they are religious, go to church. These are time-honored traditions that many of us who celebrate cannot imagine living without, as they serve as a way to make all of us happier for a month or two, and give us a two week reprieve from school.
The above is how we typically celebrate Christmas in America, but many of us have no idea how it is celebrated in other countries. Generally speaking, most countries, while they have one or two aspects of American Christmas, have much different celebrations than Americans. 

Let us start with our northmost neighbor, Canada. The majority of the country believes in Santa Claus swap presents like we do. Something unique to Canada, though, is their special breakfast, which usually consists of ham, eggs, and pancakes. Their dinner consists of roast turkey, (stuffed or dressed), potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and of course, gravy (which is oddly very reminiscent of American Thanksgiving). Workers in Canada are usually entitled to a paid-day off on Christmas Eve or on Boxing Day, the day immediately after Christmas, on top of their break on Christmas Day itself. 

The United Kingdom’s celebration of Christmas is very similar to the U.S’s traditions and Canada’s traditions. They eat the same turkey meal that Canada eats, and they write letters to Santa and put up an obscene amounts of lights everywhere like in Canada. However, instead of milk and cookies for good ol’ Saint Nick, it is a non-alcoholic drink and a mince pie, (which is a blend of different fruits and spices called “mincemeat,”). We can’t have Santa drunk driving! A popular food is plum pudding, which can be made with plums or other dried fruits.

In mainland China, they are beginning to pick up on American and Japanese Christmas customs (because that’s one of their closest neighbors), and so far, like the Japanese, Christmas Eve is a more romantic day. Santa Claus in China is known as “Sheng dan lao ren”, or “Old Christmas Man.” A notable irony in Chinese Christmas celebrations is the fact that although very few not many of the Chinese people have Christmas trees, but they are one of the largest producers of Christmas trees! Many Chinese people love carol singing, and especially love the universally known “Jingle Bells.”

Now onto our neighbor immediately to the South. Unlike in the U.S., Mexico celebrates Christmas from December 16th all the way to January 6th! In Mexico, the children perform nine  “Posadas” (which translates to “inn” or “lodging”). These are meant to represent the journey of Mary (i.e. the Virgin Mary.) when she was travelling around the Middle East to find a place to give birth to her son, Jesus Christ. Children are given candles and a board and sing songs at their neighbors house until one of them lets them in, after which they have a party and eat lots of food. At the last Posada, they put up a nativity scene and go to midnight mass, and when Christmas Day starts, massive fireworks mark and celebrate its commencement. Children also beat a pinata of a ball with seven spikes that represent the Seven Deadly Sins. The people of Mexico use Christmas trees too, and the most popular ornament is the “nacimiento,” otherwise known as the nativity scene. Finally, Mexico has a Christmas-related holiday called “los santos inocentes” (i.e. Day of the Innocent Saints), which serves as a remembrance to the innocent babies killed by King Herod in his conquest to kill baby Jesus. 

In Trinidad and Tobago, a small country in the Caribbean, Christmas is a very jovial and joyous occasion. People start saying “Merry Christmas” to each other from as early as September, and everyone laughs, dances, eats, and drinks to their hearts’ content. “Parang” and “Soca” music is played everywhere, and everyone has a good time for the next four months. Much of the music is about what kind of food people want to eat on Christmas, as in Trinidad, people don’t like eating small meals. To put it in layman’s terms, eating a salad as a meal is a joke, and if you say that, people will laugh at you, then maybe give you a heavy meal, which would probably be roti, curry, and because it’s Christmas, ham. Occasionally people visit each other’s houses to have a small Christmas party, but it is customary to show up with food and/or drink (commonly alcohol). On top of Christmas ham and the usual roti and curry chicken, Trinis also eat fruit cake and sweet bread. Pastel is also another delicacy, which essentially a tamale with minced beef and Caribbean flavors. They also clean every inch of their houses, (and some even go as far as repainting the house), because some believe that angels will visit you if you had a clean house, and others just like a clean house. 

Japan has some aspects of American Christmas, but is different enough to be barely recognizable to Americans. To begin with, there are not  many Christian people in Japan, so Christmas has almost no religious connotation. It is oddly more celebrated on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day, as the Eve is seen as a more romantic holiday, comparable to Valentine’s Day in the U.S. and the UK. It’s custom for lovers to go on walks to see Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant, which is why it is almost impossible to get a table booked for Christmas Eve in Japan. A common food eaten on Christmas is one we all know, but would almost never eat on Christmas: fried chicken from none other than KFC.A popular attraction in Japan during the holiday season is Tokyo Disneyland to see all the decorations, lights, and to hear all the songs sung during this festive time of year. The Japanese also celebrate Santa Claus, along with their own holiday figure, Hoteiosho, a Japanese god of good fortune from Buddhism, who also brings presents to all the good boys and girls of Japan. Unfortunately, though, Christmas Day is treated as a normal working day.

In Russia, Christmas is a much smaller holiday because it was banned in the former Soviet Union in 1929 all the way to its collapse in 1991. Their version of Santa Claus comes in the New Year, and his name is Ded Moroz, who is often depicted with his daughter, Snegurochka. On New Year’s Eve, all the good boys and girls of Russia hold hands and call for Ded Moroz and Snegurochka, and when they appear, the lights on the Christmas tree are lit. Since many Russians are Russian Orthodox Christians, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, due to the fact that they use the Julian calendar. There are a few Catholics in Russia, so they celebrate it on the 25th of December.  Many Russians eat Kutia (a grain dish) from one bowl to celebrate unity. Another common dish is beetroot soup, and some Russian people even host a vegan potluck. Regardless of what the chosen meals are, there are usually twelve courses to represent the twelve disciples of Jesus. Vzvar, which is a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water, is served usually at the end of a meal to represent the birth of Jesus since Vzvar is traditionally consumed at the birth of a child. On Christmas Day, however, usually eat dishes like roast pork and goose, meat dumplings, fruit pies, honey bread, gingerbread cookies, on top of Kozulya, which are just goat and deer shaped cookies.

In short, Christmas is celebrated very differently, with different foods, like pastel or even KFC, different customs, like fasting before Christmas, and even different versions of Santa Claus, like Ded Moroz or Hoteiosho. 

Antonio “Tony” Mota is currently a junior in the Packer Collegiate Institute and the head of the technical side of the Packer Prism wesbite. He has written for the Prism before and is excited to continue contributing and to start managing the website. In his free time, you can find him hanging out with his friends, playing video games, browsing Reddit memes, or watching Netflix. A fun fact about Tony is that he aims to be trilingual, as he already knows English, Latin, and is beginning to learn Chinese. Tony can be reached at anmota@packer.edu.

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