In many parts of the world, December descends into a flurry of festivities filled with gift exchanges, visits to see friends and family, tables of food and homes transformed by decorations. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid al-Fitr you celebrate as a strictly religious celebration, or take it as an opportunity to spend quality time together to reflect on the year just passed, expats are experiencing the holidays in very different ways to those they remember from their childhoods.
This festive season, we’re taking a look at some of the celebrations around the world – so you’ll know what to expect if you’re going to be somewhere new this year.
The Christmas culture shock
The most notable holiday in December for many is Christmas, but there are a number of countries where Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, and that can take some getting used to if Christmas is big back home. Equally, if you’re visiting somewhere for the first time where Christmas takes over, it can be a quite a surprise.
We spoke to expats in different parts of the world, and 13% said local holidays were what they missed most about home1.
Being in a different country over the festive period, whatever you’re celebrating, can mean bringing together your personal family traditions and the traditions from your home country with those from where you’re now living, too. One Hungarian expat living in Canada said her family celebrated Christmas and started putting their Christmas tree up on 12 December because it’s halfway between the 1 December, when the Canadians do it, and the 24 December when they’d do it in Hungary. She also said, ‘It seems that, Christmas in Canada means the whole family wears matching pyjamas.’
One Brazilian expat told us, ‘In Brazil, we take Christmas very seriously; with very elaborate decoration, and even if it’s 35°C we have fake snow and there’s a Nordic ambiance. But last year I spent Christmas in Stockholm and that was the real deal! They’re Christmas pros! There’s a natural Christmas feeling everywhere, there’s snow and the Nordic deco is real! I think it was one of the best Christmases of my life. Just like in Brazil, the main celebration in Sweden is on the 24 December, but curiously, it involves watching a Donald Duck cartoon!’
An expat from Pakistan told us, ‘My preconceptions about Christmas in the West were fairly basic, I had no idea about three kings riding on camels, and I’d never experienced anything like a yule log cake before!’