For those who celebrate, Christmas is one of the most special times of the year. It means time off school or work for many of us, and more time to spend with family and friends. If you’re jetsetting off to experience another nation’s Christmas traditions this year, we have a few suggestions for you! Our version of the 12 Days of Christmas continues, these are the final six best places to go for Christmas!
In recent years, Christmas has become more widely celebrated in Japan. There aren’t many Christians in Japan, so most of the traditions are not religious in nature. The Western influence can even be detected in the sound of the Japanese Christmas greeting: ‘Meri Kurisumasu’.
In the absence of the more religious associations, Christmas in Japan becomes more about a time to spread happiness. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, and it is mainly couples who exchange gifts. It is almost the Japanese equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and is more likely to be celebrated than Christmas Day itself. The Japanese have their own workplace gift exchange tradition in December, oseibo. The New Year is much more widely celebrated, and is another gift-giving occasion.
Fried chicken is one of Japan’s more amusing Christmas traditions. For fast food giant KFC, Christmas is the busiest time of year. It is common for people to place their Christmas meal orders with KFC weeks in advance. This dates back to the 1970s, when KFC ran an obviously very successful campaign called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’!
Strawberry shortcake is the Christmas cake of Japan – good news for those who despise fruit cake! It is a delicious light sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. Keep an eye out for this Japanese Christmas treat – it will be hard to miss around Christmas time!
Christmas in New Zealand, like that of its Australian neighbours, falls in the beginning of summer. Due to this, the Christmas traditions in New Zealand are very different to the scenes depicted on Christmas cards.
Looking forward to a long summer break, many families go away for Christmas, to their bach (holiday home) at the beach or even camping! Most people enjoy a Christmas lunch rather than dinner, and it is rare to serve turkey. Instead, New Zealanders often eat baked ham or seafood, with lots of fresh summer salads to go along with it. Fruity cocktails, or champagne with a strawberry or fresh cherry replace mulled wine and hot totties. An outdoor activity often follows the lunch, like a game of backyard cricket, or even a water fight!
If you’re not running to the mall to take advantage of the sales, Boxing Day is a perfect day to head to the beach. Parents and adults get to enjoy the summer sun, and have a well-earned rest. The kids, meanwhile, will be eagerly taking their new beach toys, bike, or boogie board for a spin!
While most families still have a traditional pine Christmas tree at home, New Zealand also has a native Christmas tree. The Pōhutukawa has beautiful bright red flowers, which bloom between mid December and mid January. Christmas cards, decorations and other New Zealand Christmas wares often feature images of the flowers. For a beautiful and relaxing summer Christmas experience, New Zealand is the best place to go!
Merry Christmas in Māori is ‘Meri Kirihimete’.
The Spanish Christmas greeting, ‘Feliz Navidad’, is one that will be familiar to most of us. Puerto Rican José Feliciano wrote the song that made ‘Feliz Navidad’ an internationally recognisable phrase. That bit in the middle that you might never have known how to pronounce is actually ‘próspero año y felicidad’, which means ‘a prosperous year and happiness’. The perfect sentiment for a classic Christmas song!
Funnily enough, a huge Christmas event in Spain that signifies the start of the holidays is the Christmas Lottery. Because of the lottery’s immense popularity and huge cash winnings, it has been nicknamed ‘El Gordo’, or ‘The Fat One’. Schoolchildren sing out the winning numbers on a live TV broadcast on December 22. Spain could definitely be the best place to go for a little Christmas luck!
The Spanish are another culture that continue to celebrate after Christmas Day. December 28th is ‘Día de los santos inocentes’ or ‘Day of the Innocent Saints’. This is a day much like the Western tradition of April Fools Day. People play pranks on each other and try to trick each other into believing silly stories. Don’t believe everything you hear on the news that day, either – newspapers and TV stations also get in on the fun!
New Year’s Eve is ‘Nochevieja’ or ‘The Old Night’ in Spain. One uniquely Spanish tradition is the 12 uvas de la suerte (12 lucky grapes). People eat 12 grapes with the 12 strokes of the clock at midnight. This is thought to bring luck for every month of the New Year.
With its many classic Christmas traditions, the UK has to be on our list for best places to go for Christmas. But despite what the movies would have you believe, the UK doesn’t always get that picturesque Christmas snowfall. The UK Meteorological Office are the ones who get to decide whether it has officially been a ‘White Christmas’. As it turns out, a single snowflake seen falling during the 24 hours of Christmas Day is the only qualifying factor!
The Royal Christmas Broadcast is one of Britain’s longstanding Christmas institutions. The reigning monarch delivers a message to the people, broadcast over radio and television on Christmas Day. It is usually a reflection on the events of the year, with an overall message of togetherness. The tradition began with King George V and Queen Elizabeth II has carried it for the last 67 years. Except in 1969, when there’d been a documentary on the Royal Family earlier in the year. The Queen decided that, due to the documentary, there’d been enough of her on TV already.
The Brits tend to favour rich, heavy, warming food for their Christmas dinner. They particularly seem to enjoy mixing dried fruit with alcohol; usually brandy, whiskey, or rum. Christmas cake is traditionally made with currants, raisins and sultanas soaked in alcohol. Sometimes people soak the fruit for several days! Christmas pudding is a similar combination of flavours, but often includes nuts as well as fruit. To serve, the steamed pudding is soaked in brandy and set on fire for serving. A silver coin was traditionally hidden in the pudding, and brought luck to whoever found it – if you didn’t break a tooth first! Other quintessentially British Christmas foods are fruit mince pies, roast turkey and potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and pigs in blankets.
Pantomimes are a grand winter holiday tradition in the UK. They are an especially British form of comedy theatre and usually combine familiar children’s stories with silly vaudeville style antics and audience participation. The balance of child-friendly stories with sly, adult-friendly jokes make the holiday ‘pantos’ fun for the whole family.
America is home to a wide variety of cultures and religions. Therefore, there are many different traditions for those Americans who do celebrate. There is more debate over what is appropriate to say and display than some countries with stronger religious roots. For example, 26% of Americans feel that religious displays should not be allowed on government property. Many Americans also believe that ‘Happy Holidays’ is a more inclusive greeting than ‘Merry Christmas’. It is a mixture of the religious, cultural and commercial in a place as large and multi-cultural as the United States.
Many of America’s cultures have their own ways of celebrating the holiday season. Mexican-Americans might take part in Las Posadas, a procession that commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Swedish Americans celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day, with parties and pageants at home, in churches, and social organisations.
As with many things in the US, Christmas is celebrated with more noise, more fanfare and more spectacle than anywhere else! This makes America one of the best places to go for Christmas, as some of their festive displays are second to none. One of the most famous is the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre in New York. The lighting of the tree is a public event and a symbol of the holiday season. The decorations around Rockefeller Plaza are equally impressive, and thousands of skaters come to the iconic ice rink every season. Many people have elaborate Christmas displays outside their homes, from arrays of lights to enormous Santas, snowmen and reindeer!
Some more modern American Christmas staples are, of course, ugly Christmas sweaters, eggnog, and Hallmark holiday movie specials.
Like most countries in Asia, Christmas is not an official public holiday in Vietnam. However, Christmas is still one of Vietnam’s four major annual celebrations, along with Buddha’s birthday, the mid-autumn festival, and the Lunar New Year. Happy Christmas in Vietnamese is ‘Chúc mừng Giáng Sinh’.
Major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City go in for decorations with great enthusiasm, with light displays on trees and houses. Churches and cathedrals will often have life size nativity scenes! While not many Vietnamese are Christian, it is still a popular activity to attend Midnight Mass. Children put their shoes outside their front doors on Christmas Eve, hoping to find that Santa Claus has stuffed them full of goodies the next day.
Social charities also get in on the Christmas spirit. Organisations often take to the streets to deliver blankets, soup and gifts to the homeless, elderly, and poor. Sometimes one volunteer will take the role of Santa and distribute donated gifts among hospitals, orphanages and shelters. Charities also hold Christmas parties for the disadvantaged, and sell Christmas decorations to raise money. Christmas is a time for giving, and Vietnam is a place to get into that spirit in the best way.
In Vietnam, Christmas Eve is the big party day. People get dressed up, throw confetti, and share a Christmas dinner with their families. Chicken soup is a typical Christmas dish. As it is not a public holiday, most restaurants and cafes are open. Some people head to their local eatery for a snack or a bit of a party after attending church or watching a nativity play. In Vietnam, having fun with your family and friends is the true spirit of Christmas.