As we set about celebrating Christmas at the beginning of summer, swapping the roast for the barbecue, and fir trees for pinus radiata, it’s good to know we’re not alone in creating our own unique version of this traditional event.
Even in colder climes there are unique aspects that are worth celebrating. Consider Greenland, which claims to be the actual home of Santa Claus, or at least where he spends his summer holidays! Inuit villagers get together to eat and drink, and exchange presents such as sealskin mitts or polished walrus tusks. How does mattak sound – whale skin wrapped around a strip of blubber? Apparently, it tastes like coconut!
For a real blend of Pagan and Christian traditions try Latvia. On the evening of 21 December people drag a yule log across the Old Town to gather up the town’s failures. After a ceremonial burning of the log, the town is able to have a fresh start to the year! An interesting tradition coming from the country claiming to have the first recorded evergreen Christmas tree, as early as 1510.
Fireworks play a part in the Christmas celebrations in many countries, such as in Bolivia, where they’re set off on Christmas Eve after midnight mass. For many Bolivians, Christmas is bonus time, as by law they must receive two or three times their normal salary in December!
Candles are a big part of Christmas in Croatia, with their traditional advent wreath made of straw and four candles. A fifth candle is often added in the centre, and lit on Christmas Day. On St Nicholas’s Eve (5 December), children leave their freshly cleaned (we hope) boots in the window, in the hope that St Nicholas will fill them with goodies. If children have been naughty, Krampus (a half-goat half devil monster with horns) leaves them twigs to remind them to behave!
Brazilians bring their diverse traditions and cultures to the table! They celebrate with Italian panettone in São Paulo, African style foods in the northeast, and Portuguese salted cod in Rio de Janeiro. Amigo secreto — ‘secret friend’ — sees the giving of gifts throughout December using a pretend name. On Christmas Day, all is revealed and secret friends are found out!
Ethiopia still uses the ancient Julian calendar, so Christmas (called Ganna) is celebrated on 7 January. People fast the day before then attend mass the next morning at 4am! Dressed in a traditional white shamma the day is celebrated with ululation, chiming church bells, dazzling umbrellas and lighted candles. After the Mass service, everybody goes home to break the fast with doro wat, a spicy chicken stew.
And lastly, spare a thought for the Kazakhs! While Kazakhstan was part of the USSR all religions were banned, so the focus was all on New Year’s Eve. While there weren’t Christmas trees, Santa Claus or presents, they improvised with a New Year tree, a ‘Snow Father’, and New Year presents, and New Year’s is still the biggest celebration, 20 years on!
However you celebrate Christmas, it really is a celebration of life in this wonderfully diverse world.