PEARTREE LIFE: Experiencing Languages

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Christmas is without a doubt a great time of the year for many people around the world. From the beginning of December, we can see in full speed all the preparation for the big day. Many countries, religions and nationalities celebrate Christmas, but, thankfully, due to the variety of cultures we have, there are many different traditions and ways of celebrating Christmas (or even not celebrating the holiday at all).

We are proud to be in a multicultural school in which we welcome international students from different countries! So, we decided to have a closer look at different traditions of the most celebrated holiday.

Let’s start with Wales! 

Decorations are a big part of Christmas and people put them up at the beginning of December. For Christmas dinner, people will traditionally have roast turkey and vegetables, including sweet potatoes and the infamous Brussels sprouts. There are, of course, crackers (a toy that people pull apart, and comes with a gift, a silly joke and a paper crown inside). Finally, to finish the meal, people have some Christmas pudding. A dessert made with grapes and almonds in Brandy sauce.

On Boxing day, December 26, there used to be a tradition in which women on the streets would be beaten with holly by young men, generally until they bled! Luckily, nowadays women can peacefully go for a walk.

Another tradition which has started to disappear is Mari Lwyd (Grey Mare). Men would go to the street with a horse head, which they made, and a skull drawn on a blank sheet. They go door to door to recite Welsh poems and there might be a speaking battle. If the disguised man wins, he can enter the house.

What about other European countries? Let’s have a look at Slovakia!

Slovakia has many Christmas traditions which have been survived from times when Slovakians used to worship Slavic Gods and believed in bad spirits. The four-week period before Christmas is called the Advent and it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. During this period, the Slovakians need to clean their houses from the bottom to the top, bake loads of Christmas cakes and get ready for the most important day of Christian Religion, December the 24th, when Jesus was born bringing many presents.
The main Christmas Day is, therefore, Christmas’ Eve and, in the evening, the people have a big feast and even certain meals may have different meanings. Firstly, they have a starter, wafer with honey and, in some houses, with melted butter and garlic. This meal is eaten since honey and garlic are supposed to bring a healthy life for the next year.
The main dish is either lentil soup (to have loads of money in the future) or cabbage soup (again, to stay healthy!). Then they eat fish (mostly carp but, nowadays, there are different variaties), as a symbol of Christianity. The last course is an apple. The head of the family needs to cut the apple in half and if there is a star in the middle of the fruit (close to the core), the whole family will be healthy. If there is a ring it would mean bad times for the new year. Every member of the family then needs to have a small piece of the apple.

Christmas dinner is a very important part of Christmas as it brings the whole family together, but even in the past, this meal used to be the richest meal of the year and the one most people would look forward to.
Some of the traditions that are connected with Christmas’ day or eve are, for example, throwing walnut shells in the corners of the living room to scare off bad spirits or leaving a certain amount of money under the table cloth to bring more money into the house. If a single girl is looking for a husband, she needs to take the bins out and, apparently, if there is a dog barking, she needs to turn to the direction of the sound and her future husband would come from that place.

In western Europe, there are other traditions, like in France

In France, Christmas traditions start between the last week of November and the first week of December. Most French people buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it. In order to count the days before Christmas (and try to keep the children patient), they have an Advent Calendar full of milk chocolate. Nowadays, there are a lot of different options to avoid children getting sick of eating too much chocolate!

At the bottom of the tree, there is a Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is added to it only on the 25th of December. The figures are manufactured in
the city of Provence because there is a special kind of soil, a red one, which is perfect to make these figures.
Traditionally, French people have dinner with their families on Christmas’ Eve, they go to church and they attend a special midnight service. 
On Christmas’ Day morning, children sit around the Christmas tree and open their gifts. Then, all the family gather around for a big lunch. They spend hours at the table, eating and talking. On the menu, there are different starters: crackers, oysters and roast salmon. Then, foie gras with toasts generally served with champagne or, occasionally, white wine. The main course is a turkey stuffed with chestnuts and vegetables, and red wine for a drink. They continue with cheese, bread, lettuce and white wine to taste the cheese. For the dessert, they have a yule log. 
Finally, to finish Christmas lunch, the host brings some chocolate and coffee. Sometimes, it could also be fruit, like plum in brandy.
In Provence, there is a different tradition for the dessert. There are thirteen desserts which symbolise Jesus and his twelve apostles.

It’s time to cross the ocean and see what happens in Brazil.

Christmas in Brazil will probably look very different to what it does in the UK, it's summer after all and often quite hot! This doesn't affect the Brazilian Christmas feast though, as Brazilians will pretty much eat the same things people in European countries do (as most of the traditions were taken over there by the Portuguese). So, you may find the typical roast turkey, dried fruits, but a few different things such as cold mayo salad, rice with raisins, salad, tropical fruits and 'farofa' (toasted cassava flour with bits of boiled eggs, bacon and veggies).
As Brazil is such a massive country, you will definitely find local differences.
Normally, Brazilians celebrate Christmas' Eve with family and friends, the meal starts at 10 pm and, at midnight, people exchange gifts, hug and kiss each other (on the cheek). Even the children get their gifts at midnight (so 'Papai Noel' - Father Christmas - probably stops around there a bit earlier than usual).
After that, people might stop by at their neighbours, friends and relatives' houses to try some of the different meals cooked.
On Christmas' Day people get up quite late and have a late Christmas' lunch with the leftovers from the previous night.

To finish our Christmas tour, we have another ocean to cross to arrive in Japan

Many streets, buildings and stores are decorated with twinkling festive lights during the holiday season in Japan. As you probably already know, Christmas Day is not a national holiday in Japan.

Christmas in Japan is a little different to western countries. Traditionally, faiths such as Buddhism and Shinto are practised in Japan, but usually people there enjoy celebrating Christmas regardless of their religion. (Of course, there are some people who are more strict about religion.) Christmas in Japan is more like a festival and a commercial matter for many people, rather than a sacred event.

Typical Christmas food for most Japanese is cake and chicken. Cakes aren’t usually homemade but purchased, typically by fathers on their way home from work. Some people, however, order very luxurious cakes from famous hotels, while others just buy them at convenience stores.
In the past, people often made a comparison between Christmas cakes and what was considered to be the perfect age for a woman to get married, saying: “After the 25th, you can't sell it.” (which isn’t a very nice saying for women). As the typical marrying age is rising, people rarely say that anymore.

Fried chicken, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken now, has enjoyed increased popularity, boosted by its good image on TV commercials. At Christmas, many people eat both roasted and fried chicken these days, in contrast to people eating turkey, roast beef and so on in western countries.

And what about you? We will be happy to learn more about your own countries and customs, tell us if and how you celebrate this period!

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About Peartree Languages

Peartree Languages is a language school located in Cardiff.


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