Time Out readers reveal some of their personal traditions and share the experiences of a festive celebration in their own country.
Australia and New Zealand
Euro-style Christmases, complete with trees and fake snow, are followed Down Under, despite the summer heat. There’s a nod to the climate with cold meats (turkey, chicken, ham) commonly served up as part of a traditional Christmas Day lunch, and more relaxed gatherings with friends and family around the barbecue are increasingly popular. Boxing Day (Dec 26) goes big on sporting events – the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is the big one, while in NZ horse racing always draws the post-Christmas crowds. Amanda Crawford: I’ll miss my family on Christmas day, but I’m planning a barbie on the beach with friends. With the sand and the sunshine, it’ll almost feel like home. Where to buy: Carrefour sells a range of BBQs.
Christmas comes early in this corner of Europe with a celebration of Sinterklaas (St Nic) on December 6, similar to the traditions of the country’s Dutch neighbours. A special sweetened bread called ‘cougnou’ – the shape of which is meant to resemble baby Jesus – is served on Christmas morning. Tessa De Caters: We celebrate with a big dinner on Christmas Eve. When you’re an expat it’s very rare to have all your family together and Christmas is the only time that happens – our family usually flies in. It’s very special for that reason. Where to buy: Pick up cougnou at Le Pain Quotidien, Mall of the Emirates (04 341 0041).
Der Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas) makes his first appearance on the night of December 5, when he places small gifts and sweets into shoes left out by children to discover the next morning. An ‘Adventskranz’ or Advent wreath is prepared at the beginning of December, with one more of its four candles lit every Sunday until Christmas. Fish or goose is served, along with Stollen – a fruit bread laden with marzipan. Ingo Bolle: I’ll be sitting down to Christmas dinner with German friends I’ve met in Dubai. We’ll eat fish as our main meal and will be celebrating on Christmas Eve. We like to celebrate Christmas in Dubai – it’s much more relaxed than at home. Where to buy: Karama fish market or Spinneys.
A relatively small festival in India, Christmas is celebrated with the decorating of a banana or mango tree as an alternative to the European winter pine. In southern India it is common to see small oil-burning lamps placed on the flat roofs of houses. In the north west, some groups go out for the week leading to Christmas for all-night carol singing sessions. Lajo Gupta: We always gather friends and family around – usually about 40-50 people. Everybody who comes brings an ornament for the tree, taking one that’s already there away with them. Where to buy: Spinneys sells pine trees.
Christmas in Pakistan is called ‘Bara Din’, which in Urdu and Punjabi means ‘Big Day’. December 25 is a public holiday, but it’s held officially in honour of Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder. There’s a procession through Lahore to the cathedral, where midnight mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, followed by fireworks. Mariam: We always used to order a special Christmas cake every year, so that’s the most essential thing for my family at Christmas. Now we live in Dubai it’s still the one thing that means Christmas. Where to buy: Waitrose sells traditional Christmas cakes.
The Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, which means that Christmas is commonly celebrated on January 7 rather than December 25, though ‘Western’-style Christmases are becoming more common. Ded Moroz (Father Frost) traditionally brings gifts to children on the New Year’s Eve. Maya Imamutdinova: ‘For Christmas, we eat pelmeni (stuffed dumplings), red and black caviar, and salads.’ Where to buy: Lucky Mini Store (Bur Dubai, 04 359 5159).
As America is a melting pot, Christmas traditions vary widely, depending on nationality. Unlike Thanksgiving, where everyone eats the same food (turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie), there are no real US Christmas staples. Italian-Americans may eat lasagne, others might change what they serve each year. What’s more important is that families come together for the holiday to have dinner. Jamie Waskey: ‘For my family, Christmas is a lot like Thanksgiving. We eat turkey both holidays. We basically just pick up the turkey from Spinneys.’ Where to buy: The major hotels offer prepared turkey with all the trimmings to take away.