Christmas is such as special time of year predominantly because for most of us, it is rooted in the traditions that we share with our family and friends. These traditions differ between countries but also between individual families and communities within the same country. How many times have you heard someone exclaim: “you wait until when to open your presents?” or “what do you mean you don’t eat brussel sprouts!?” In the spirit of celebrating cultural diversity and the unique ways we all celebrate Christmas, we have put together some facts about the Yuletide season from a selection of countries from around the globe.
Nigeria – ikini ọdun keresimesi
Many parts of Nigeria are now predominantly Catholic and so celebrate Christmas with as much ardour as their counterparts in the UK. In Nigeria, the Christmas celebrations often centre on communal feasts, and weeks before the big day, people buy the livestock – hens, turkeys, goats and cows – that they will eventually be eating at Christmas. The animals are slaughtered on Christmas Eve and traditional meals are then prepared. Forget brussel sprouts and roast potatoes – in Yorùbáland, these festive meals will include pounded yam accompanied by peppery stewed vegetables.
As they visit their family and friends, many people in Nigeria will find themselves eating virtually the same meal three or four times – Yorùbán customs deign it extremely rude to decline food when it is offered to you. This is actually a sentiment that is felt strongly the world over: anybody remember Dawn French eating multiple Christmas dinners in the classic episode of The Vicar of Dibley?
The author of Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, is US/Nigerian of Igbo heritage and her award-winning picture book explores Anyaugo’s hilarious encounter with an enormous, and very mischievous, chicken on the eve of the New Yam Festival.
Malaysia – Selamat Hari Natal
As in many countries, Malaysians really only celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s a busy time of year for Malaysia and no sooner are the elaborate Christmas decorations taken down, then it’s time for New Year, quickly followed by Chinese New Year. Malaysians, like many people in the UK, flock to shopping malls over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year and these centres compete with each other to display the most ostentatious decorations. As it is warm in Malaysia over the Christmas period, literally hundreds of people will show up to witness the magic of ‘snow’ falling in public places – even if this is normally made from a soap-like substance! Given the unseasonably warm weather in the UK this year, we may have to resort to soap-snow ourselves.
Tutu Dutta was born in India and raised in Malaysia. Her picture book, Phoenix Song, is set in the rustling bamboo groves of Malaysia, home to the mythical Chinese phoenix, Cendrawasih.
Iran – کریسمس مبارک
Although Iran is a predominantly Muslim country where Christians make up only 1% of the country’s approximate population, Al-Monitor reports that over the past decade, celebrating Christmas has become increasingly popular with the younger generation of Iranians. That said, Christmas trees and decorations are sold as luxury items and can be very expensive! Old scrooges in the UK are often heard to moan at the exorbitant price of Christmas decorations but in Iran, a two-metre tree can fetch up to $1000, while even smaller artificial trees can sell for $100. During the Christmas season, these trees can be seen twinkling from the windows of Tehran and other provinces in the north-west of the country. Although this all sounds fairly familiar, the main difference between a British and an Iranian Christmas is that the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th, the date of Epiphany in the UK.
Mehrdokht Amini lives in the UK but has Iranian roots. Her unique and vivid illustrations for Chicken in the Kitchen bring alive the colourful New Yam festival in Nigeria.
France – joyeux Noël
Although France is just across the Channel, there are many differences between a traditional British and a traditional French Christmas. Intriguing food-related French traditions which may be unfamiliar to our UK readers include sprinkling a log with red wine on Christmas Eve to create an aromatic festive burning smell and in some parts of France, eating thirteen different desserts made from fruit, nuts and pastry.
Epiphany is also important in France and is often celebrated by eating a flat almond cake named ‘Galette des Rois’ (or ‘Cake of the Kings’). This cake normally has a toy crown inside (better watch those fillings!) and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown – a similar custom to burying a five pence coin in your Christmas pudding.
Jérémy Pailler, the illustrator of Dragon Dancer, hails from France and his evocative picture book conjures up the magic of many traditional Chinese New Year customs.
So while you’re decorating your tree and tucking into your turkey or nut roast, you can picture the customs that characterise Christmas in many other households around the world. And to further celebrate diversity in the New Year, all our multicultural picture books mentioned are available to purchase from our website: www.lantanapublishing.com/books.
Merry Christmas everybody!