Celebrating Christmas across Cultures

Matthew MacLachlan

23 Dec 2011

Christmas is celebrated in many cultures around the world in December each year. Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ however there are an increasing number of non-religious Christmas customs and traditions that people celebrate at this time of year. Every culture, denomination of Christianity and even family celebrates Christmas slightly differently – from what they eat and buy to what they do over the Christmas period. Working effectively across cultures requires an awareness of the importance and impact of this holiday celebrated by more than 2 billion people around the world.

Here are just a few examples of traditions and customs that are celebrated during the Christmas period in the UK, Norway, Italy and France.

Christmas in the UK

In the UK people start getting ready for Christmas right before the start of December, though you may find that decorations and shops start preparing for Christmas even earlier. People will traditionally have a Christmas tree in their home that they decorate with ornaments and lights at the beginning of the month. They may also hang lights outside their house and wreaths made of leaves, pinecones and holly berries on their door.

Family, friends and colleagues will exchange Christmas gifts as part of the celebrations. Some people will also buy an advent calendar filled with chocolates for each day in December until Christmas. Companies will organise Christmas parties in December where employees have the chance to spend time together eating, drinking and often dancing to celebrate the holiday and the end of the year.

Christmas Eve is usually celebrated by enjoying food and drinks with family and friends. On Christmas Day on the 25th of December people will spend time with their families opening gifts, enjoying mulled wine and minced pies and preparing a big meal. The most common Christmas meal in the UK consists of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, vegetables and Christmas pudding or Christmas cake for desert. The day after Christmas in the UK is also a public holiday called Boxing Day when people don’t go to work and instead spend time with family and friends to continue the celebrations.

Christmas in Norway – Jul

Norwegians are very enthusiastic about Christmas celebrations which they refer to as Jul. After Norway’s national day, Christmas is the biggest celebration in the country. Norwegians typically start baking julekaker (Christmas cookies) almost a month before Christmas to make sure they have a large number and variety of them.

The big celebration happens on the evening of the 24th of December when families gather together for dinner. Many families have traditions of dancing around the Christmas tree, singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts. On Christmas day families usually watch their favourite Christmas films like “Three Nuts for Cinderella” “From All of Us to All of You”or “The Journey to the Christmas star”.

Christmas in Italy – Natale

In Italy Christmas is usually spent with the family. Italians start preparing for Christmas almost a month before the event by decorating their houses with a tree and often a Presepio (nativity scene). On Christmas Eve, families gather together for dinner. Fish is usually the main ingredient accompanied by pasta and vegetables. For desert they enjoy typical Italian deserts such as Pandoro, Panettone and torrone, a sweet made of honey and nuts.

Families typically open presents on Christmas Day and then share lunch. The food varies from region to region, however the typical meal usually includes pasta, meat, vegetables and typical Italian desserts. The Christmas holiday ends on the 6th of January when la Befana (the good ugly witch) brings sweets to children who behaved well in the last year, and coal to the children who did not behave very well. Different to the UK custom where Santa Claus puts presents in stockings hung by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, the Italians have their stockings filled in January by la Befana.

Christmas in France – Noël

In France Christmas is a time for family gatherings and traditions. Christmas celebrations vary greatly from one region to another. In Northern and Eastern France people usually start the Christmas period by celebrating St Nicholas’ Day on the 6th of December. Most people in France decorate their homes with a tree and a nativity scene called a crèche. In Southern France this crèche is made of small clay figurines called santons that show the life of a provincial village.

The huge Christmas feast is called Le Réveillon and is held on the evening of December 24th. Traditional French Christmas dishes are usually oysters, fois gras and turkey stuffed with chestnuts. A Yule log-shaped cake, mainly made of chocolate, is the traditional dessert all around France. Children usually open their gifts before or after attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is a bank holiday.

The way Christmas is celebrated around the world can significantly influence international business and anyone working across cultures. Showing an awareness of the religious and cultural traditions that form part of Christmas celebrations around the world will help you to make a positive impression when working across cultures and build better relationships with your international counterparts.

Make sure you understand and respect the Christmas traditions of the country you are working in as this will reduce the risk of frustration and misunderstandings with your colleagues. Find out whether it’s appropriate to give your colleagues, clients or suppliers a small gift or Christmas card as a way to send them Christmas greetings.

Wherever and however you celebrate Christmas this year we hope you have a lovely holiday!


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