Language Matters December 2010: Christmas and Culture

Dear Language Friend,

Recently a friend asked me, “You don’t want to come home for Christmas?’’ My answer was that I would love to but a flight from Canada to Europe for a short stay in Germany over the holidays is just too expensive. How could she know how much I miss the Vorweihnachtszeit, the time before Christmas, in Germany? We have so many nice traditions, ranging from A, Adventskranz (Advent wreath) to Z, Zimtsterne (Cinnamon biscuits). This year, though, it is time to broaden my horizons and explore Christmas traditions all over the world. This is the focus for our December newsletter.

Contributed by Doris Anne Heidemann.

Thanks for reading.


Christmas Traditions all over the World Advent in Germany: A Time for Contemplation and Celebration

On the last Sunday in November, four weeks before Christmas, the first Advent is celebrated in Germany. This day introduces the Adventszeit, the holy time before Christmas. Advent means arrival and refers to the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. On the first Advent we light the first candle of our Adventskranz, the Advent wreath, which contains four candles in total. Each week one more candle is lit; so that on the last Sunday before Christmas all four candles burn. On Christmas Eve, it is the Christkind, not Santa Claus, who brings the presents for children and adults in Germany. This is why the most famous of all the German Christmas markets in Nürnberg is called Christkindelmarkt. By the way, there are more than 2,500 Christmas markets all over Germany and by now they can be found all over the world, even in Vancouver. The Glühwein (mulled wine) you can get here is also sometimes called Feuerzangenbowle, which is the name of a classic German movie people watch while drinking mulled wine and eating gingerbread or Christmas stollen. I could go on and on raving about Christmas time in Germany and not get fed up listening to the same old Christmas carols and reading the same stories again and again. My favourite Christmas story though is not German. It is O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1906) and this is a good transition to introduce what is going on beyond European borders…


Christmas in Australia and Japan: Fun on the Beach and Chicken Dinner

How different Christmas is in Australia! Here you can celebrate on the beach, for example on famous Bondi Beach in Sydney. Australians sit together at the fire until the middle of the night talking, laughing and singing Christmas carols. And what about Asia? Let’s move on to Asia and have a look at Christmas in Japan. A Japanese Christmas is different from that in other countries as only less than 1% of the population is estimated to be Christian. Despite this fact, the Japanese love festivities, including the Christmas celebration. What has surprised me most about Christmas in Japan when talking to some Japanese friends is the Christmas dinner, which is very often provided by KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken! Due to KFCs brilliant marketing strategy it is common in Japan to make reservations for the “Christmas Chicken” in advance. Many Japanese now believe that Westerners have a Christmas celebration with chicken instead of ham or turkey!


Christmas in Kenya: A Joyful Party in Midsummer

From Asia we will go to Africa and have a look how people celebrate Christmas in Kenya. Here it is mid-summer at Christmas time. Santa Claus is sweating under his white beard and hoteliers spray artificial snow on the window panes for the tourists. On Christmas Eve people have a feast. The children get busy cleaning and decorating the house and helping prepare the meal. Kenyans have bread and all kinds of meat, especially chicken, which is considered to be a delicacy. The same is true for goats. Kenyans sometimes will buy a goat months before Christmas when they are still affordable. On Christmas Day the goat is slaughtered in the morning and the meat is distributed among the family. Afterwards, they go from house to house wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. Then they dance joyfully until the early morning hours…


Christmas in Mexico and Ecuador: Colourful Processions and Jolly Fiestas

The last place we will travel to is South and Central America. Let’s see how people in Mexico and Ecuador celebrate Christmas. It was the Spanish who brought their Christmas customs to Mexico 300 years ago. The indigenous people kept at least part of their own traditions though. The festivals that were once a reminder of the arrival of the god Huitzilopochtli were later on celebrated in honour of Joseph and Mary. The Psadas, colourful processions, are part of the festivities. They represent Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn. Talking about a Mexican Christmas, we should not forget to mention the Piñata, a clay vessel filled with fruits and sweets, which is hung up by a string. Blindfolded children try to smash the vessel and get at the goodies inside. In Ecuador the indigenous people living in the highlands and mountains have equally colourful processions as those in Mexico. Dressed in their festive clothes they ride their brightly adorned llamas to their employers’ ranch houses. In front of a manger scene set up in the ranch house they array fruits and other natural produce. Children deliver pretty speeches to the Holy Infant to get a blessing for their family and their animals. After that, there is a big fiesta, which involves a lot of singing and dancing outdoors. The owner of the ranch gives gifts to all his employees and their families. There is also a huge meal consisting of roast lamb, baked potatoes and brown sugar bread. The indigenous people take the leftovers back home with them so that they are as heavily loaded on their way back to their villages as they were in the morning when they arrived with their offerings.


So there you have a glimpse of Christmas traditions all over the world. I hope you have enjoyed our little journey to the five continents! So much more could be said about what is going at Christmas time worldwide and if you have heard about a curious or a funny custom somewhere, send us an email and let us know! On behalf of LingoStar I wish you a Merry Christmas, un Joyeux Noël or, as we say in Germany, Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch!!!