Christmas traditions from across the world

The true meaning of Christmas can vary from person to person: gift-giving, gift receiving, relaxing, credit card maxing, family picture taking, sleeping in, and waking up early. All of these are types of traditions that make up what Christmas means. Union’s campus, as discussed in an earlier issue of Clocktower, is one of the most diverse in its category. As such, we have the opportunity to expand our Christmas conversation.

“Krampus,” a new Christmas-horror film, hit theaters Dec. 4. The movie is based on a German folktale that describes a hairy, horned, cloven-hooved creature that roams the streets with a chain and sleigh bells in one hand and a bundle of sticks in the other.

On the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, Krampusnacht (Krampus night), Santa walks the streets along with Krampus. As they stop in different homes, Santa rewards good children by filling a boot left out the night before with presents; Krampus, however, beats bad children with his bundle of switches and drags the children back to the underworld with him.

This Krampus tale has only recently resurfaced, Hollywood style. During World War II, and some years before and after, religious authorities suppressed the frightening children’s tale. According to National Geographic, Krampus owes his roots to Norse mythology as he is the son of Hel, ruler of the dead. Whether thanks to historians, hipsters, or haters-of-Christmas, many alternative Christmas characters and celebrations are being revived.

The Middle East is commonly considered as the “birthplace of Christianity”, yet today, Christians are considered a minority group in the area comprising around 5 percent of the population, says BBC. Some Christian groups choose to observe a fast that lasts from first of December until Christmas Day. The fast is broken by each family standing outside their home holding candles while a child reads the nativity story on Christmas Eve. Once Christmas day arrives, there is a large feast to celebrate.

Many eastern and southeastern Asian countries celebrate for commercial or economic reasons. In Japan, a 70’s ad campaign for KFC made eating a fried chicken meal on Christmas national custom, according to a “Why Christmas?” article on cultures. The tradition spread so rapidly that restaurants now take reservations months in advance.
And, on Vietnam, a traditional Christmas day is spent at the mall, or in shopping centers. The country’s government welcomes the commercialization of the holiday to give locals a taste of western culture, says VOA.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are nations like the Philippines, Pakistan and India that are predominantly Christian, for whom Christmas plays a more western role, complete with banana Christmas trees, gift-giving, and Jesus being the center of the season (according to “Why Christmas?”).

Methods of celebration vary greatly even within the U.S. due to racial and religious diversity within the country. However, it is a federally recognized holiday that many choose to observe. Many countries in the South and Central Americas have religious roots in Catholicism, and therein lie the major differences of Christmas observance.

Across the Atlantic, Christmas is also celebrated by 350 million Christians spread throughout the African continent. Christian communities large and small observe the holiday, participating in traditions like family dinners, gift exchanges and caroling in their neighborhoods.

In Ethiopia, many people still follow the Julian calendar, which places Christmas on January 7th, and also involves fasting the day before. In Liberia however, you’re more likely to hear about Old Man Bakya, a “devil,” who walks the streets begging around Christmas time. Due to harsh conditions in some countries outside of the many metropolitan areas in Africa, Christmas has become much more about celebrating Jesus’ birth and much less commercial than in Europe or the Americas.

Though Union’s campus provides a place for students from across the world meet, greet and become friends, sometimes we can forget how interesting cultures outside our own can be, especially during times like Christmas! So, to help you include others in your “Christmas conversation,” here are a few phrases to surprise your friends from around the world:

Korean: Jilgohun Christmas Bonoseyo
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swahili: Nakutakia Krismasi Njema
Tagalog: Maligayang Pasko
Thai: Sùk-sǎn Wan Krít-mâat
Starbucks: Red Cups
Nepali: Krismasako Subhakāmanā
Russian: S Rozhdestvom
French: Joyeux Noël
Hatian Creole: Jwaye Nwèl
Indonesian: Selamat Natal
Italian: Buon Natale

Setheesh is a sophomore mathematics and religious education major.