22nd December 2018 by

Cultural Christmas Celebrations

Merry Christmas everyone! No doubt you have been bombarded with Christmas activities over the past few weeks. From departmental Christmas parties, to Carol Services, and celebrations on Chancellor’s Court, there was always something going on around campus throughout December. With the big day fast approaching, we have decided to post about celebrations and traditions from a country in each continent to help everyone get into that festive spirit!

We all have our own Christmas traditions. I know that in my house, for instance, we always hang a celebratory decorative lobster to commemorate friends and family gone by. Why a lobster, we don’t know, but it’s important to us. With this in mind, I decided to do some research into different international traditions from across the world. Unsurprisingly there are a lot of ways that Christmas is celebrated internationally, but here’s some of the highlights from my research:

Europe: Ukraine – Legend of the Christmas Spider

In Ukraine Christmas trees are regularly decorated with small ornamental cobwebs and spiders. This comes from an old folktale, which could also explain the prevalence of tinsel on Christmas trees. The tale tells the story of an old widow who lived in a small abode with her children. One summer a pinecone fell outside their house and, delighted at the prospect they might have a Christmas tree, the young children cared for it. Unfortunately, when Christmas Eve came around, the children had a tree, but no way of decorating it! The children went to sleep both disappointed and disheartened. When they awoke in the morning however, they saw that the tree was covered in cobwebs. When the children opened the windows in the morning, the sunlight touched the webs and made them shine glorious silvers and golds. The spiders had decorated the tree for them and the widow and her children were overjoyed!

South America: Venezuela/Caracas – Roller Skating Mass

In Venezuela, for residents of Caracas, it is tradition to roller skate to Christmas mass! No one knows where this tradition originally came from, but it is believed to be an alternative to sledding because of the climate in the region.

Africa: Ethiopia – Ganna

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar, which means that Christmas is observed on the 7th of January, as opposed to the 25th of December. The name of the celebration of Christ’s birth is known as Ganna in Ethiopia. Many people take part in the Advent fast in the 43 day build-up to Christmas, starting on November 25th. This is known as ‘The Fast of the Prophets’, and typically only one vegan meal is eater per day of this fast. Around the time of Ganna, it is also typical for people to play a game called ganna–which is a bit like hockey in that it is played with a curved stick and a ball.

North America: Canada – The Santa Claus Parade

Like every country on this list, Canada is has a diversity of Christmas traditions and celebrations. However, it has one stand out celebration: the Toronto Santa Claus parade. Believed to be the largest of its kind in the world, the parade started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto. This parade has now been taking place for over 100 years, and has 25 animated floats with over 2000 people taking part. The parade is broadcast on TV across the world.

Asia: The Philippines – The Long Christmas

Christmas is one of the most important holidays in The Philippines. So important in fact that some retailers start playing Christmas carols as early as September. Typically formal Christmas celebrations take place from the 16th of December, when people go to one of the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. The final mass takes place on Christmas day, but the celebrations typically continue through until the first Sunday in January, or Epiphany. There’s also a traditional object called a ‘parol’ which comes from the Philippines. This is a star-shaped lantern made out of bamboo and paper, which represents the star that guided the Wise Men.

Australasia: New Zealand – Pōhutukawa

Although typically residents of New Zealand decorate their homes with standard Christmas trees, the Kiwi have their own, the Pōhutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa). This tree tends to grow extremely large, and has red flowers that are used for decorating Christmas cards. The Pōhutukawa is important for Maori culture, and has only really been associated with Christmas since the 1800s. Because of the density of the wood of the tree, the Maori used it for beaters and other small and heavy items. The wood was also used in shipbuilding.

And that’s the wrap – excluding Antarctica of course – if you have your own Christmas Celebrations, or know of any other cultural traditions that might interest us, please comment below or on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Also if you want to contribute details of your own celebrations to the Cultural Calendar Blog, please send drafts to: n.f.gallen@bham.ac.uk.

We hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and feel reinvigorated for the year of cultural celebrations to come!

The Cultural Calendar Team

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