Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural phenomenon. It is formally celebrated by Christians as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. However, Christmas customs like exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and of course, waiting for Santa Claus, are celebrated very differently depending on which part of the globe you’re from.
We’ve researched some locations to cross off your Christmas Santa-Sack-List, and recruited international students from UNMC to share their cheer – read on to find out about the unique ways that different countries celebrate this jolly holiday!
1) Nott-y or Nice: Christmas in UNUK
Exchange mobility students at the University of Nottingham UK Campus may be homesick this Christmas, but the lights and festive atmosphere of Nottingham’s Winter Wonderland are a shiny distraction.
Within this English attraction is the Nottingham Christmas Market, with diverse goods and foods for sale. There’s also the naughty and the (n)ice, Nottingham’s Ice Bar – with sculptures, scenery and a Vodka bar with shots in actual ice glasses. Then there’s the Christmas movie-worthy ‘The Real Ice Rink’, the central feature of the city for the Christmas period.
So if you’re thinking of paying some friends at Nottingham a visit for Christmas, then let the idea of browsing carelessly along festive stalls, and taking in the sights and sounds of Christmas solidify your decision.
2) On The Fifth Day of December, Sinterklaas Gave to Me…
Karin, a 3rd Year International Bussiness mobility student, is looking forward to new memories this festive season. It is her first time celebrating overseas, far away from family. Besides it being a very different experience spreading joy and cheer in sunny Penang Island instead of the snowy earth of the Netherlands, Karin also says that her fellow Netherlanders don’t really do gifts on Christmas Day.
Instead, the most important day in December is the 5th, when Sinterklaas (Netherland’s version of Santa Claus) brings children their presents or coal. A little research into this fun fact reveals that on the evening that Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands, children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or sometimes a windowsill and sing Sinterklaas songs. Christmas Day itself is a much quieter day for Karin’s home country, with perhaps a Church Service and family meal.
Karin explains that even this family meal differs from the stereotypical Christmas dinner. There is no holiday turkey on the table. Instead, people gather around individual gourmet grilling devices, known as Gourmetten.
Almost similar to a Korean BBQ, families can cook everything at their dining table. These tiny little pans and spatulas are especially kid-friendly, and the warmth of preparing a meal together as a family brings enough Christmas cheer to last till the new year.
3) Silent Christmas, Holy Christmas.
For Yejin, a 1st Year student of Psychology, celebrating Christmas overseas is nothing new. Last year, she was in the UK, and this year she will be celebrating in Malaysia. Compared to her home of South Korea, both places are far and very different in terms of Christmas customs.
Yejin personally feels that Christmas celebrations in UK focuses more on the exchange of gifts. But in South Korea there are many devout Christians, even though the country is officially Buddhist. Christmas (Sung Tan Jul) there is more of a church-centered event. There is less emphasis on presents and decorations and more focus on the religious traditions underlying the holiday.
While in Malaysia, Yejin is looking forward to Pavillion Kuala Lumpur’s annual festive decorations. In fact, the shopping centre recently launched ‘Christmas Is In The Air’ – a joyous showcase to welcome Christmas and the New Year. Inspired by magical hot air balloons featuring Santa, this showcase will transform Pavillon into a golden kingdom of celebration from now until the 1st of January 2018.
4) The Singing Christmas Tree
America tends to set the standards for Christmas cliches and traditions. Yet it seems the country still has an unimaginable trick (or gift) up its sleeve.
Following a 32 year old tradition, members of the Mona Shores High School choir in Michigan, United States, come together in song. The result is a glorious candlelight a cappella: the Mona Shores Singing Christmas Tree concert.
Reaching up to 67 feet in height, a self-made giant framework of steel holds around 250 singers. This structure is decorated with 25,000 lights and 5,000 linear feet of greenery. Beautifully resembling a Christmas tree, the choir’s best seat undoubtedly goes to the vocalist at the top, who is known as “the tree angel.” Truly a sight to behold, this spectacle is a testament of how beautiful it can be when a community comes together.
It’s heartwarming to know that no matter where you’re from, this festive season is a time for love, joy and goodwill. Merry Christmas to those celebrating and Happy Holidays to all UNMC-ians!
Written by Masturah Merican and Amirah Qistina Hazrin.