How do they celebrate Christmas in…

Over the last two Decembers I have published a series of posts about how Christmas is celebrated in different countries. There are quite a few of them now, and I shall be continuing the series in future Decembers, so I decided it would be useful to have a round-up of them.

So, if you want to know what the Italian “urn of fate” is all about, who delivers the Christmas presents in Spain, what chilly tradition they have in Greece, how to say Happy Christmas in French, or what they eat for Christmas dinner in Greenland…click the relevant links below.

If you live in a country not yet covered and you would be interested in writing a post for next year in return for a link back to your own website then please get in touch.

Canada (West Coast)
South Africa
USA (New York)

Christmas in New York

Rockefeller treeAmerica being so vast, Christmas Day will vary a little state by state, especially when you think about the traditions of the southern states and the heat of California. So my contribution to this ‘Christmas around the world series’ is concentrating on NYC. Apart from the fact that New Yorkers see themselves as a separate entity to America (in a good way), a bit like London seems to be separating itself from the rest of the UK (in a bad way).

In any case, that’s where I’ve spent more Christmas days abroad and a couple of Thanksgiving days too. Which brings me onto my first point; in my 25+ years’ experience of visiting New York, Thanksgiving is decidedly more of a family orientated day off than Christmas. As it’s only a month before, if people have to choose just one flight home, they are more likely to choose Thanksgiving. Dec 25th is the only public holiday, as there is no Boxing Day in America and the only other one is New Year’s Day so people are more likely to stay put and get then and spend NYE with their friends too.

So what I have got up to on Christmas Day in New York? For the first time, I treated myself to a stay in Waldorf Astoria. The iconic hotel, as cosy as it can be for such a huge old building, is mainly full of, well-to-do, young American families who no doubt want to get away from domestic chores for a few days.

Rockefeller ice rinkOn Christmas morning, I skip out of my room (tiny – the cheapest, but still, it’s the Waldorf!!) and the maid says ‘good morning’ as I wait for the lift. I bump into a few people and everyone politely greets me, as I do them. It’s not until I go outside onto Park Avenue that a passing soldier smiles with a ‘Merry Christmas mam.’ So that is the first time ‘Christmas’ is uttered. Had it been Thanksgiving, everyone from the door staff, coffee shop servers and drug store cashiers would have said ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ Instead of ‘good morning’.

It’s my first time away from a family Christmas and I even pre-book my festive lunch in their restaurant (upwards of $100 for a roast turkey buffet even all them years ago) which is full. I’m seated within eaves-dropping range of a Florida doctor and his young family. I told all my friends that Jude Law was on the table opposite, sitting with a large group but that could have been a doppelganger of course. (I wouldn’t really know exactly what he looks like quite frankly but they chose to believe me).

On other visits, I have seen snow although that tends to come when the winter proper comes in January/February so Christmas is relatively mild. Although, unseasonably, my very first visit to New York for Thanksgiving, it snowed – for the first time in a gazillion years if I recall rightly. It did mean I couldn’t be asked to go to Macy’s Parade with The New Kids on the Block, yes, that’s how long ago it was. But I made up for that by going to the Parade some years later on a sunny blue sky, day.

Central parkIn America, the block buster films are released on December 25th so I have seen those once or twice but one of the best Christmas evenings ever was seeing Jersey Boys on Broadway. I’d tried to secure tickets the year before and this time, I’m so determined I ask an expert to assist. The ticket is bought, the gold knitted dress is packed – trust me, it looks much better than it sounds and comes out every year – and then I have a little disaster with the boots I was going to wear.

I’d been out for traditional long walk in Central Park after brunch and came back for a refresh before going out much later for a turkey lunch in a different local diner. When I went to pop my boots back on, the zip broke! The disaster being that I’d only bought one pair as I had fully intended to shop for a couple of new pairs after Christmas. These were the years I was building up my business and didn’t have time to do these things all through the year so not taking spares forced me to go and shop!

This being New York, which has a heavy non-Christmas celebrating Jewish population, especially where I base myself uptown, I knew there’d be shops open, just not the big chains. I put my jeans on over my boots for now, and go shopping on Christmas day. There are four shops that sell shoes within 10 minute from me. Most are selling trainers and casual shoes but one has clothes and a good selection of boots. I buy not one but two pairs of boots. The night is saved!

Jersey Boys still the best musical performance I have ever seen outside of regular bands; worth every cent for a special Christmas day.

City centre dweller Rickie Josen has been writing for 5 years, spending 6 months in New York to (mostly) attend writing school and get addicted to working out of indie coffee shops. So that’s where you’ll find her most days but being a big music fan, she’ll have her headphones firmly on! Rickie travels frequently and having written a book on her great loves, music and travel, the hunt is on to find that one agent that will say ‘yes’ or at least ‘yes, you have some potential. Maybe.’ If on the rare occasion you can’t spot Rickie in a coffee shop, you can find her readily on Twitter @RickieWrites or via her blog.

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in France, How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany, How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece

International Mother Language Day

Today is International Mother Language Day. On this date in 1952, a group of students were shot because they were demonstrating for their language to be recognised as an official language. The day is now used to promote the importance of different languages and cultures – a subject very close to my heart.

It’s not often I wish I had my own class, but on days like today I do.  If I had my own class and my own classroom (and if it wasn’t half term), we’d be going off curriculum for at least part of the day. There would be posters on the walls in a multitude of languages. EAL children would be allowed to write in their home language instead of struggling with English, and they would all have the opportunity, if they wanted it, of teaching the rest of the class a few words in their mother tongue. We’d have poetry and story-telling in different languages, and listen to music from all over the world. There would be dual-language books around the classroom so that everyone could see what their classmates’ mother languages look like in print.

If I had my own class and my own classroom….but I don’t.  I hope though that activities like these are happening all over the world today. If you have done anything to celebrate – let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.

How do they celebrate Christmas in Italy?

In Italy, Christmas celebrations begin 8 days before Christmas day with a period known as the Novena, which is a series of prayers.  During this time children dress up as shepherds, and go door to door singing, reciting poems and playing pipes and the householders give them money.

The man decoration is the nativity scene (presepio) and these are found in homes, shops and public squares. Sometimes the baby Jesus is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.

On Christmas eve, people go to Midnight Mass, and afterwards the family gets together for a meal of fish or seafood. In some small towns, especially in the mountains, bonfires are lit (the Luminari) to keep baby Jesus warm.

One last Christmas Eve tradition is the Urn of Fate. Inside the urn are boxes for everyone in the family. If it has their name on, they open it; if not they put it back in. Some of the boxes contain small gifts, and some are empty, although there is at least one gift for everybody. Family members take it in turns to draw a box out of the urn.

On Christmas Day they have another special meal (there is no set Christmas meal in Italy – it differs from region to region) and Christmas cake (panettone).

la befana - an Italian witch on her broomstickThe main day for receiving presents is January 6th. During the night of the 5th January, La Befana, a kindly witch, flies around on her broomstick leaving presents for the children.

Happy Christmas in Italian is Buon Natale and Father Christmas is Babbo Natale.

Related posts: Who or What is La Befana?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain?   How do they celebrate Christmas in France?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?   How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?

How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?

presents under a Christmas treeThis is a guest post from Anne Christine Jensen of RS Globalization.

Some of the most typically Danish Christmas traditions in December are: almost all families have a decoration with a “kalenderlys” (calendar candle) on which we count the days until Christmas Eve.

It’s also a tradition that the families have an Advent decoration with four candles – one for each of the four Sundays until Christmas.

Each evening in December it’s also a tradition for the children (and even some adults) to watch “julekalender” (a special “made for Christmas” series) on the television. There are 24 episodes, one for each day until Christmas Eve.  Most years there is also a special made “julekalender” for adults.

In Denmark we celebrate Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. Often families meet in the afternoon and drink coffee together and  “hygger sig” (have fun together). In many families it’s a tradition to go to church to a worship in the afternoon too.

In the afternoon it’s also a tradition to see the “Disneys Juleshow: Fra Alle Os til Alle Jer“ (“The Disney Christmas Show: From All of Us to All of You”). The show always shows the same shorts and some clips from films and at the end of the show a sneak peak of new movies or recently released Disney movies are revealed.

In the evening the families eat the well-prepared Christmas dinner together. It’s different from family to family what the traditional Christmas dinner consists of, but some of the most common dinners include one of these meats:  “flæskesteg” (pork), duck, goose or turkey. With that we eat white potatoes, sugar glazed sweet potatoes, cabbage and gravy. For dessert the traditional dish is “ris à la mande”, which is cold rice porridge with whipped cream, chopped almonds and warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is put into the rice porridge on one of the plates and the person that gets this almond receives a “mandelgave” (= a present) –it’s often chocolate.

After the dinner and a little pause, the families get ready to dance around the tree. Everyone joins hands in a circle around the tree and while walking around the tree, we sing traditional Christmas songs. When we have finished with the dancing and singing, we start getting the presents. In families with small children “Santa Claus” comes with the presents, but when the children are a bit older, the present are normally just under the Christmas tree and are delegated by a person from the family.

Thanks again to Anne Christine for this post. Anne works at RS_Globalization Services, which provides multilingual translation and localization services to SMEs and corporate clients. RS_Globalization Services is EN15038 certified.

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in France?  How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?   How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?