Written By Pratichi Satpathy (Grade 8)
As we usher in the dipping temperatures and saunter into the month of December, there is an undeniable warmth in the air—the warmth of Christmas. Christians and non-Christians alike gear up together to celebrate this festival with pomp and show. Various countries celebrate Christmas in different ways, with unique traditions and rich backstories.
Christmas Eve marks the end of Advent, or the preparation for the festival, and the meal at night is meatless in Poland, but before the meal comes a flavourless but sweet tradition. A white wafer, made with flour and water pressed between two metal sheets, called the ‘oplatek’ is passed around the family table. This tradition began in the Middle Ages, when bread was hard to come by, but the spirit of Christmas persisted. During the Second World War, with families scattered all over the world, packages with the thin white wafer would rekindle hope.
Austrians like to keep their younglings on their toes by adding elements of horror to the Christmas celebrations. It is believed that good children will receive presents from St. Nicholas, while the naughty ones will be chased by the notorious half-man, half-goat, Krampus. Krampuslaufs, or Krampus runs, are traditional parades wherein people dress up as Krampus and scare the kids.
In Iceland, the folks celebrate thirteen days of Christmas, during which the children are visited by the 13 Yule Lads. They place their shoes at the window and are rewarded with candy if they are good and with rotten potatoes if they are bad!
In the continent of Africa, people do things differently. Kenyans are visited by Father Christmas—not on a sleigh, but on a bike, or sometimes even a camel! Liberians have a unique devil, or ‘old man Bayka’ who roams the streets, not giving presents but begging for gifts from people.
Most people go to church on public transport, or maybe in their cars, but the people of Caracas (the capital of Venezuela) put an athletic twist to the tradition. They skateboard to church, and the tradition is so popular that many roads are shut down to allow the skateboarders, cyclists, and walkers to peacefully make their way to church.
Let us now jump across the globe to China, where gifts are replaced by apples. But why? The answer lies in the second most widely spoken language in the world, Mandarin. Apple, in Mandarin, is píngguǒ which sounds like the Mandarin for Christmas Eve, Ping’an Ye. Chinese families also decorate plastic trees, called ‘trees of light, with paper flowers and lanterns.
The Southern Hemisphere is struggling to get through summer at Christmas time, so the Kiwis of New Zealand just spend their Christmas on the beach with barbecues. They decorate Pohutukawa trees, which suffice for the practically non-existent pine trees in New Zealand.
Regardless of how different people celebrate Christmas, it is a festival of great joy and cheer. The spirit of Christmas brings excitement for the upcoming year. It lies not in the gifts we give or the food we eat, but in the people we share our moments with.
Featured Image Courtesy – Good Housekeeping