How Christmas is celebrated around the world
Whether you're staying in your study destination for Christmas, or you're going home, you should take advantage of celebrating the festivities in a different culture. Participate in these different traditions, especially if you're feeling homesick and you need something to take your mind off Christmas at home.
So, how do the UK, America and Australia celebrate Christmas and what do they do in the end-of-year, holiday period?
Americans are in the festive spirit from Thanksgiving at the end of November, through to December and for the rest of the month. The celebration’s roots belong to a literal Puritan giving of thanks for a healthy harvest in the 1600s. This sentiment is carried forward today, with families and friends gathering for a meal to give thanks for what they have. Turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie are foods traditionally consumed as part of this large meal. Several major cities will host public parades which are televised; one of the more famous ones is the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City. Watching American Football games on television are another tradition in homes across the countries, particularly amongst men.
The Friday after Thanksgiving (the last of the month) is considered the official beginning of the shopping season in the run-up to Christmas, and has been coined 'Black Friday'. In recent years, retail shops will have promotions beginning on this day to encourage shoppers to buy; you may be able to get a great deal on a piece of technology you really need.
Another Christmas tradition which you can expect in the weeks that follow is carol singing, whereby groups knock on doors in the local neighbourhood and perform festive songs like ‘Silent Night’ for those inside (usually for charity). Ice skating at local ice rinks and then enjoying a mug of hot chocolate indoors afterwards, is also a festive season treat.
In America, the general greeting to give others is "Happy Holidays" to save causing offence when wishing someone who is not a Christian (Americans can take political correctness quite seriously). One of the most popular Christmas films is It’s a Wonderful Life, an uplifting tale of reaffirmation in the human spirit which will certainly bring a tear to your eye.
However, take note that Americans do not celebrate Boxing Day as a public holiday, and many go straight back to work away after Christmas Day.
There is a lot of overlap between festive traditions in the UK with those in the US (listed above), especially when it comes to present-buying and the commercial side of Christmas. However there are a few Britain-exclusive traditions too. For one thing, you’ll find a little something extra on the table for your meal on Christmas Day: Christmas crackers! These are pulled in opposite directions by two people until they bang (don’t worry, they’re not very loud). The person who has the majority of the cracker is the “winner”. Inside is a paper crown hat, a small toy or gift, and a joke (which is usually notoriously bad).
Another British tradition is to watch the Queen’s Speech on televison, a recorded message from the Queen, in the afternoon after the lunchtime meal. It is watched by millions up and down the country, and in it, the Queen will reflect on the past 12 months, while looking ahead to the next year. More recently, that year's Christmas special of Dr. Who has become essential family viewing too.
Britain also has Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, which is also a public holiday. Boxing Day sales, similar to America’s "Black Friday", sees prices on retail goods slashed and mass-buying taking place to find a bargain.
If you get to experience Christmas in Australia during your life, carols about ‘riding through the snow’ definitely won’t apply! Rather than sitting around a log fire indoors and out of the cold, Aussies will find time to go to the beach as well (no change there then!) And because of the hotter climate, cold meats may be served instead of or in addition to hot meats. If you have an interesting ethnic background (e.g. Greek or Italian), there may be some exciting variations on food.
The Boxing Day test match is a big tradition in Australia, as is the case with anything cricket-related in the country. Having indulged with food the day before, you can settle down in front of the television and watch the match; or if you want to work off those calories, families will have a game of their own in the garden at a local public park or on the beach.
Cricket grounds across the country are not just for playing on. For over 70 years, they have been hosting Carols by Candlelight concerts on Christmas Eve, which see Australians gathering in huge numbers to sing Christmas carols alongside a live band. The biggest gathering presently takes place at Melbourne's Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.