Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat… or the carp, or the ham or the curry depending on how you roll. To get us all in the festive spirit we interviewed some people from different cultures (Kav, a Hindu, Oona from Finland, Darya from Poland and Phillipe from the Democratic Republic of Congo) to find out how they celebrate the festive season. Merry Christmas one and all!
Hinduism and new traditions
So, as we’re Hindu, we celebrate Diwali but on nowhere near the same scale as Christmas is celebrated.
It was just last weekend that I had to travel across the country to see my family. We have a prayer for about an hour in which we bathe all the statues of the Gods and feed them fruits and sweets (metaphorically). Then we all sing a hymn and light tealights all over the house (with complete disregard to fire safety regulations). We eat a ridiculous meal and light fireworks. The night normally ends with watching whichever Bollywood film is on the telly. We invite loads of people round – normally friends of mine and my brothers who like curry. This Saturday we had 10 people. None were Hindu because they have their own Diwali celebrations. Although Diwali is normally about 4 days long, we only celebrate the main day. We don’t do presents.
Christmas is basically a meal for us but, as we don’t celebrate it, the whole family is rarely together. If we’re all in the same city then it’s likely my Dad takes extra shifts at work because he gets lots more money for it. My mum tends to go to India because the weather is nice. We don’t eat meat in our house and my family hasn’t caught onto gourmet
non-Indian veg food. So there’s a bit of a shit pasta with Yorkshire puddings and mushroom soup. No presents. We just watch TV.
I haven’t been in the UK for Christmas for two years and this year I’m abroad again. Christmas in India was a ‘gourmet meal’ of eggless quiche. Indian Christmas is hilarious because brown people wear cotton wool on their face and give out balloons that say “Merry Christmas”. This year it’ll be curry for Christmas in Delhi again. Yay.
Almonds and alcohol in Finland
As a Finn, I celebrate Christmas on the 24th. The day plans out as follows: we wake up and decorate the Christmas tree as a family – usually the tree stands bare for a day or two in the house before my favourite box in the attic is dug out and I can coo over all the glitter and kitsch. Following the tree decorating we have porridge for lunch. An almond is hidden in the big pot of porridge. Whoever gets the almond in their bowl is granted a wish and good luck for the year. We then rest before the big-ass Christmas dinner. First course is a selection of different kinds of fish
and breads. The main meal is usually a gammon joint accompanied with potatoes, carrots and the Finnish equivalent of the dreaded Brussels sprouts – beetroot mousse. It honestly is just as hideous as
it sounds. A family tradition is to have a vodka shot (or two) between each course too, so by the time dessert rolls around, everyone is suitably merry and we end up throwing chocolates and plum puff pastries in our faces. Then we open the presents. As a child living in Finland, Santa would come to my actual house and deliver the presents I’d asked for personally. When we moved to England, my mother explained that Santa couldn’t possibly make it all around Finland AND England in one night, so that’s why we had to open the presents from him on Christmas Day.
Then we all frolic off to bed trembling with anticipation, wake up on Christmas Day, open the presents from Santa and are dragged on the dreaded hangover family walk. Afterwards we loll in front of the TV with a bottle or three of champagne. Perfect.
Carp in a bath in Poland
First of all, Christmas Eve for us is more important than Christmas Day itself. That day, you are not supposed to eat at all or you eat very little until the first star is in the sky. This is when the whole family gathers around the table and the Christmas Eve dinner begins. At the table we always leave a spare plate and seat for an unannounced guest. This also means that if ever someone would knock on your door that evening, you would invite them in and celebrate Christmas Eve with them. This seat can also serve as a reminder of those who were not able to join us on the evening and even those who are already dead. We only eat vegetarian and fish dishes that day. The actual tradition is to buy a live carp a couple of days before and keep it in the bathtub until Christmas Eve. Then you kill it and prepare it for the dinner. We have a lovely tradition where we share Christmas wafers. Everyone gets one piece of wafer and then goes around to talk to everyone else to give them your Christmas wishes. Once you’ve said your wishes, the other person breaks a bit of your wafer and eats it. This can be personal and very heart-warming. Afterwards we usually unwrap our presents which are normally left under a big Christmas tree. Finally, we have a midnight mass that night, where we all get a candle and sing our Christmas carols. This is done in order to commemorate the three Kings that came to see baby Jesus in the night. On Christmas Day, we then have a normal Christmas dinner where meat can finally be served as well.
Clubbing in the Congo
During the Christmas holidays, I usually go to Yaounde, Cameroon and Brazzaville, Congo.
Yaounde in the Christmas holidays is another version of Fresher’s Week. The diaspora and students (commonly known as ‘mbenguistes’) go home to spend the holidays with their relatives and relax. But for us students, there is nothing relaxing about it. Christmas holidays – it’s even more tiring than exam season! Having all of your friends around leaves you no time for being bored. As a matter of fact you are usually pulled into a nightclub within three hours after landing.
Once you arrive, you need to have the clothes to dress to impress and the money to pay for the tables for each of the nights out. Of course, boys, you need to get the VIP ones which are highly competitive, as every boy wants to be the “Baller of the Season”. When we are tired of the loud music, we usually organize house parties we refer to as ‘chills’. They are usually a great opportunity to comment on the drama that has happened during the hectic nights out and catch up with long-distance friends. Wedding crashing is also very popular.
Christmas Day is one of the only days I spend at home. In the morning, we usually go to Christmas mass. Then comes the family meal. It is always good to be around your loved ones. The African culture is about sharing and I usually bring gifts for everyone. Then, I hit Brazzaville, Congo, my home city. Christmas holidays here are far more relaxing. In Brazzaville, Christmas is very similar to Chinese New Year. We go from house to house, visiting our relatives and collecting red envelopes. Before heading back to Europe, I usually visit my family’s home village, Boundji which is seven hours away. Having a large family is never