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18 December 2018

How different Cultures Celebrate the Festive Season

More than Cake and Gifts: Seasonal Celebrations and Festivals Around the World

December has arrived once again, and with it some of the best (and worst) aspects of modern life – Christmas parties, an extended holiday (for many), gifts galore, and a relentless parade of cake, chocolate and decadence. However, the holiday season is about more than parties and sweet treats – it is also a time for reflection and spirituality across the world, not to mention an opportunity to share quality time with family and friends.

Chanukah: The Jewish Festival of Lights

Chanukah (also known as Hanukkah) is an eight-day Jewish festival that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In 2018, the festival was held on 2nd – 10th December, although this can vary slightly each year depending on the lunar calendar. Jews light the candles in their menorah (a nine-candle candelabrum), one new candle every day, until all eight candles are lit by the eighth evening (as well as the attendant candle, the ‘shamash’, which is used to light the candles each day). The daily lighting of the menorah candles involves special blessings and traditional songs, and families often gather to share stories, exchange gifts and spend quality time together.

Fried foods such as doughnuts and potato pancakes are enjoyed as part of the festival, and gifts of money are often given to children (who are encouraged to share their gifts charitably).

Bodhi Day: Acknowledging the Buddha’s Enlightenment

Bodhi Day commemorates the awakening (bodhi in Sanskrit, meaning ‘enlightenment’) of the Buddha, a prince who gave up his life of privilege in search of peace of mind. After six years of searching, he grew tired of his journey; then, as he sat under a fig tree meditating, he finally realised enlightenment.

Bodhi Day is commonly observed on the 8th December each year, though there is some variation between Buddhist countries. Bodhi Day is a contemplative celebration, involving extended periods of meditation rather than loud celebration (though some people choose to decorate a fig tree or share tea and cookies).

Christmas: Festivals of Celebration Around the World

Chanukah and Bodhi Day are observed in the UK by Jews and Buddhists respectively, but Christmas is the celebration that dominates our high streets, airwaves and TV screens. Yet even Christmas is celebrated in lots of different ways around the world – sometimes even at different times!

Here are just a few examples:

  • Christmas markets

Shopping is closely integrated into Westernised notions of Christmas, but many parts of Europe in particular create festive shopping experiences that have their own party-like charm. Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Finland, Estonia and Spain, among others, all offer variations on the traditional Christmas market, and in some places you can wander the market stalls with a warming cup of mulled wine (or glögi) in hand – or a hot chocolate, of course – as you browse.

Christmas markets can be a treasure trove for unique, hand-made gifts that demonstrate true artisanship (such as a hand-knitted scarf or a hand-painted Christmas tree ornament). They are also often expansively decorated, making the whole experience magical.

Frankfurt is home to Germany’s largest Christmas market – but you will find no shortage of festive events across Europe and beyond. London’s very own Hyde Park Winter Wonderland also offers a wide range of attractions that capture the magic of a Christmas market, and plenty more besides!

  • Giant Lantern Festival, the Philippines

San Fernando – the ‘Christmas capital of the Philippines’ – hosts the annual Giant Lantern Festival, which sees enormous lanterns displayed across the city on the Saturday before Christmas Eve.

Christmas is a major event in the Philippines – they even have the longest celebration of Christmas in the world, because the countdown begins in September and celebrations last well into January! So, if you hear Christmas songs in September in the Philippines, that is actually the way things are meant to be. Honest!

  • Feast of St Nicholas

The story of Santa Claus originated with Saint Nicholas, who was known for giving anonymous gifts to help people in need. He was also known for giving sweets to good children, so the legend evolved to today’s Santa Claus/Father Christmas story, where good children receive gifts from Santa. The Feast of Saint Nicholas is commonly celebrated in parts of Europe on the 6th December.

You may be wondering about the bad children… What happens to them? In a related story, a devil-like creature called Krampus visits all the naughty children the night before (5th December), leaving them little more than a lump of coal as a gift. Not as nice as sweets and presents!

For many people in central and northern parts of Europe, the 5th and 6th December represent the main Christmas festivities on the calendar, and for many European countries (such as Poland), festivities begin on the 6th December and peak on Christmas Eve (rather than Christmas Day).

Some amazing festive stories have evolved to shape the way we think of Christmas – and many religions and cultures celebrate the season in other ways too, making December a special time wherever you are. To find out more about learning the languages of the world’s festive celebrations – or a language central to your new year business development plans – contact Simon & Simon today.

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How different Cultures Celebrate the Festive Season
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How different Cultures Celebrate the Festive Season
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In this article, we take a quick world tour to see what – and how – our global friends might be celebrating this festive season. As a leading professional language training provider, we thrive on multiculturalism and diversity and love nothing more than learning about different cultures around the world.
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SIMON & SIMON International
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