While Christmas is a Christian ceremony, it is pertinent to note that the way it is marked across the world has become a reflection of the individual cultures of the societies.
The Christmas season is unique all over the world. For reasons still incomprehensible to man, the season has a special feel which not only gets reflected in the weather but also in the mood. While the arctic regions of the world often get overwhelmed with winter, the tropics get cooler with the dry windy weather called Harmattan. This combining with the mood, brings about what could be termed the ‘Christmas feel’, which over the years have left fond memories in the minds of people.
While the Christian doctrine sees Christmas as a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ, the various cultures of the world have come to re-adapt the period as a time for family conviviality, which however highlights a tradition of fashion, cuisine and social activities.
For Nigerians, Christmas is eagerly looked up to, and becomes an issue by the last quarter of the year, when the months begin to end in ‘ember’. Commonly, Nigerians call them the ‘ember months’, and they come with a renewed vigour towards making a success of the season. This has often been seen as the reason why accidents increase, because people seem to be in a hurry to become successful. While this is yet to be empirically proven, one fact remains that Nigerians love the Christmas season because of the holiday that comes with it. In the Southern part of the country which has a predominantly Christian culture, Christmas is celebrated with fanfare and avails the opportunity for people living in the cities to travel to the hinterland to stay with relatives.
Many families throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve while on Christmas Morning they will go to church to give thanks to God. Homes and streets are often decorated, and come alive with music in what has been dubbed, ‘street carnivals’.
The kids love to play with firecrackers during this period and the church choirs also stage Christmas carols. Christmas cards are sent to friends and family members. Presents are exchanged amongst family members and some families may take their children dressed in new outfits to see Santa Claus. All these put additional pressure on parents to muster enough financial strength to shoulder these responsibilities.
In Nigeria, the cuisine for Christmas is a reflection of a man’s financial muscle. A traditional Christmas meal in Nigeria may include beef, goat, sheep, ram but chicken is most common. Other dishes might include pounded yam, jollof rice, fried rice, vegetable salad and various flavours of stews. In major cities, like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, Christmas also avails the period for parents to take their children to tourist sites. In Lagos, the beaches become more popular and attract more visitors this period.
City centres also get busy with live shows parading many of the popular singers and comedians, with ‘Santa Claus’ often donned in the red and white wooly attire which has become an acculturated part of Christmas in Nigeria in spite of the fact that such attires actually suit the winter in such climes. Interestingly, in Nigeria, people are beginning to see black Santa Claus.
Christmas at other places in Africa has the semblance of what obtains in Nigeria. In Ghana, people celebrate Christmas from the third week in December to the first week in January with lots of different activities. Many people travel to visit their relatives and friends in other parts of the country. December happens to be the start of the cocoa harvest, an important produce of the country, and this also tends to give the period a special feel for the citizens. Christmas Eve in Ghana is usually the time when the celebrations really start with church services that have drumming and dancing. Children often put up stage plays on the birth of Christ. Then choirs come out to sing and people come out in front of the priests to dance. Songs are mostly sung in the languages that the people understand. On Christmas day, the churches are filled as people come out dressed in colourful traditional clothes specially bought for the season. After the church service on Christmas morning, people quickly go back to their houses to start receiving visitors and gifts. Traditional food for Christmas in Ghana includes stew or okra soup, porridge and meat, rice and a yam.
For most people in Zimbabwe, Christmas day starts with a church service, after which everyone has a party in their homes. People would go from house to house, visiting all of their family and friends on the way home. At every house, you have something to eat, exchange presents and enjoy the party.
Of course, everyone wears his or her best clothes for Christmas parties and such soirees afford people the opportunity to show off their new attires.
Children in Zimbabwe believe that Santa Claus brings presents early on Christmas Day, so they try to catch up with this ritual by getting ready on time. The special food eaten at Christmas in Zimbabwe is chicken with rice.
South Africa follows the same pattern as the schools are mostly closed for the Christmas holidays. It comes with carols, Christmas decorations and church services. Christmas Eve, is very popular in the cities and the Christmas meal is either turkey (or duck), roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice and vegetables. A special South African pudding called ‘Malva Pudding’ is also popular amongst South Africans.
The British seems to have one of the most intriguing Christmas traditions in Europe. Most families have a ‘Christmas Tree’ in their houses for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is seen as a family occasion, with everyone helping. Christmas Trees became popularised by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. He was German, and thought that it would be good to introduce one of his ways of celebrating Christmas into England. And since then, that tradition has blossomed. Lots of British churches also have carols by candlelight and church services. But Boxing Day is a very old custom that started in the UK and is now taken as a holiday in many countries around the world.
In Scotland, some people celebrate New Year’s Eve (which is called Hogmanay) more than Christmas! ‘Hogmanay’ comes from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve.
Also in Scotland, the first person to set foot in a house in a New Year is thought to have a big effect on the fortunes of the people that live there. So generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fairhaired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as ‘first footing’. In England it is sometimes said that a stranger coming through the door carrying a lump of coal will bring good luck.
Owing to the fact that United States of America has different traditions, Christmas time, has various reflections, coinciding with its multicultural nature. The traditional meal for Western European families is turkey or ham with cranberry sauce. Families from Eastern European origin favour turkey with trimmings, keilbasi (a Polish sausage), cabbage dishes, and soups; and some Italian families prefer lasagna. People in America like to decorate the outsides of their houses with lights and sometimes even statues of Santa Claus, Snowmen and Reindeer.
Of course, shopping is also popular, with major shops offering items at reasonable discounts during this period.
Christmas is not popular in China because only about one percent of the population is Christian. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in the major cities, like Peking, Beijing and Shanghai where there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus there is called ‘Shen Dan Lao Ren’.
Although, Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in the rural areas of China, it’s becoming more popular now, while it is pertinent to note that majority of the plastic Christmas accessories are made in China, where Christmas culture is not deeply rooted.