Thanks for continuing to read Part 2 of my Christmas World Tour. If you haven’t read Part 1, you may read it here. There is also a link at the end of this post.
People’s Republic of China
The bell-chime: Despite it not being a widely celebrated occasion, the Chinese have still managed to develop a little Christmas tradition of their own: giving apples as gifts (no, not the gadgets). There seems to be some debate as to whether it is a new trend or a rediscovered old ritual. For the reason to this ritual, some point to the Chinese word for ‘apple’ being close to that of the Chinese word for ‘Christmas’, and both these words are akin to the sound made for the word ‘peace’. Hence, in a homophonic sense, the apples are meant to symbolize the bringing of peace to a home that celebrates an occasion of peace. These witty word-to-gift associations are common in China.
What’s on the table: Spicy Steamed Beef, Mince Pie Dumplings, Peking Duck.
The bell-chime: ‘Sung Tan Jul’ (Christmas) in South Korea is not a holiday as the country is predominantly Buddhist. However, the Christian minority still manages to celebrate the season with their strictly family and religion-centered activities. Meanwhile couples take the joyous occasion to get romantic. It’s also probably worth noting that South Koreans prefer to give money instead of huge gifts, and Santa Claus’ Korean name actually makes him a Grandfather and…he wears blue.
What’s on the table: Kimchi, Korean BBQ, Bibimbap (equal parts rice, veggies, meat; mixed by yourself on a sizzling plate), Bulgogi (Marinated Beef BBQ).
The bell-chime: Christmas Cake and KFC. Yep, KFC. Some Japanese people have made it an unofficial tradition to have KFC chicken for Christmas after the widely-spread account of a foreigner who talked about settling for chicken over turkey for Christmas dinner in Japan as there was no turkey to be bought at the time. Christmas Cakes, on the other hand, are a household favorite as they’re beautifully decorated and delicious.
The Japanese has to order their buckets months in advance to ensure that they get they Christmas dinner, and to avoid the looooooooooong queues on Christmas eve.
What’s on the table: A bucket of finger lickin’ good KFC fried freakin’ chicken!
India (Goa, Bombay)
The bell-chime: Christmas celebrations in India vary by region. In places like Mumbai/Bombay and Goa, which are inhabited by many Christians, the celebrations are off the hook. These little states in the south of India are a true mosaic of Indian and former colonial influences. Indian Christians are quite religious so the merrymaking only comes after midnight mass at the local church. Goans take their Christmas Dinner preparations seriously and despite there being gift exchanges, the true gift-giving is in the house-to-house dinners. Sweets are also prepared and exchanged before the big day.
What’s on the table: Dukraa Maas (Tender Pork Curry), Sorpatel (Finely chopped pork innards in spiced pork’s blood), Saanas (Rice Cake), Vindaloo (Spicy Pork Curry).
The bell-chime: The Christian minority in Pakistan get a lucky break on the 25th of December as the day also marks the birth of the founder of Pakistan; so it’s a public holiday. Pakistani Christians prepare for Christmas by attending regular church services and preparing sweets that are to be distributed amongst family members both near and far. ‘Bara Din’ is what the Pakistanis call Christmas and it literally (and appropriately) translates to ‘Big Day’. And before the Big Day, there are processions to churches and family gatherings. After attending church services, families patiently await the clock to strike 12 before greeting each other. On the Big Day, children give each other Henna tattoos and families feast to their hearts content.
What’s on the table: Roast Lamb, Biryani (Rice and Meat dish), Haleem (Shreded Meat Stew), Kabab (Rolled, flame grilled meats).
The bell-chime: This little island country off the south of India has just as much fun during the Christmas season as any other place. Despite being a predominantly Buddhist country, everyone gets to take a bite out of the festivities with even the Buddhists sometimes setting up their own Christmas trees and decorations at home. Sweets are exchanged before the big day, and Christmas dinner platters are exchanged amongst neighbors. Fireworks are erratic around this time of year, with a grand display at midnight of Christmas Eve.
What’s on the table: Stuffed Turkey, Christmas Cake, Dinner Rolls, Salad.
The bell-chime: While most of the world is celebrating Christmas in cool weather, the people of South Africa are exceptionally festive at the peak of their Summer season (being that they’re in the South Hemisphere and all). Flowers are in full bloom during this time and they’re used for Christmas decorations.
What’s on the table: Barbequed meats, Plum Pudding, Roast Beef, Roast Turkey, Mince Pies.
The bell-chime: Kenyan Christmas celebrations have evolved overtime, constantly reflecting its fast-developing economy. Today, Kenyans still travel all the way to their rural homes in droves to celebrate the ‘Krismasi’ season with their families. Homes are decorated with balloons, plants, and trees that would emulate the typical looking Christmas tree.
What’s on the table: Chapattis (flat bread), Pilau (various meats in rice), Roasted Meats, Christmas Cake or Pudding.
The bell-chime: The people of Burundi celebrate Christmas Day with lots of song and dance. Community leaders arrange gatherings at local event halls where everyone gets to sing, dance, eat and, simply make merry. Dancers often don clothes that are in the bright colors of their national flag.
What’s on the table: Rice, Roasted Meats, Roasted Veggies
The bell-chime: At this time of the year, Mauritius is naturally decorated and lit by a two-in-one combo: Flame Trees. These trees are in full-bloom during Christmas time as Mauritius is fairly warm in December. Fruits are also abundant during this time of the year and they sell quickly. Christmas gifts for kids are more often left under their pillows rather than under the Christmas Tree.
What’s on the table: Roast Turkey, various curries, rice, bread.
The bell-chime: Christmas in Brazil is just as grand as many of its other festivals. Where the Carnival of Brazil has, well…a carnival; Christmas in Brazil features a reenactment of the nativity scene and other plays related to the events around the birth of Jesus.
What’s on the table: Roast Turkey, Christmas Ham, Christmas Cake
The bell-chime: Portuguese kids address their Christmas letters to infant Jesus, instead of Santa Claus. Akin to many other Christmas Cake or Pudding traditions of other countries, the Portuguese hide two things in their Christmas cakes for guests to find: a ring or medal (to symbolize good luck) and a whole bean (to symbolize bad luck).
What’s on the table: Boiled Cod, Fihoses/Fihos (fried pumpkin dough), Roast Rabbit, Roast Pork, Roast Lamb, Bolo Rei (Christmas Cake).
The bell-chime: Local communities spend the evenings before Christmas in solemn processions called Posadas. The destination of this mock pilgrimage of the holy family is a different neighboring house every evening. The chosen houses act like innkeepers telling the pilgrims that there is no room. Eventually, on Christmas Eve, the pilgrims make their final procession and sing back and forth from innkeeper to pilgrims until room is symbolically made and the pilgrims get to enter the house and have a party. And, of course, to make this complete, there is a Christmas Star-shaped piñata waiting to be wacked for everyone’s enjoyment.
What’s on the table: Tamale (steam or baked cornmeal dough-wrapped meat), Guacamole, Burritos, Pico de Gallo (salsa), Quesadillas.
The bell-chime: A nasty little Spanish Christmas tradition for kids revolves around pet logs that poop presents. This takes places specifically in Catalonia, where kids are told to keep a log of wood warm with a blanket and…well fed. Doing so would eventually cause the log to poop presents on Christmas Day. The logs are nowadays sold with faces drawn and little wooden “legs” attached.
What’s on the table: Roasted Lamb, Roasted Pig, Turron (nougat), Seafood, Polvorones (Almond Cookies).
The bell-chime: The Bahamians conduct a Junkanoo as part of their Christmas celebrations on the 26th of December, Boxing Day. A Junkanoo is a huge carnival, akin to the Carnival Festival in Brazil. This lively celebration, which sees tons of people dancing in brightly colored clothes and raising the clouds with their music, has its roots in various conflicting historical events; though the most relevant seems to be that of one related to slavery.
What’s on the table: Barbequed Meats, Conch Fritters, Rice, variously cooked Seafood
The bell-chime: The Fijians celebrate Christmas by partying all month long. Tradition calls for everyone to gather at the largest community home and party from 2 weeks before Christmas until 2 weeks past New Year’s. There are also beach parties that last for weeks until after the 1st of January.
What’s on the table: Varieties of meats that are sometimes cooked in a stone oven. Palusami (Spiced Mutton in Coconut Cream), store-bought cakes, Cassava.
Haven’t read Christmas Around the World Part 1? Read it here.