This time of year is special, marked by vibrant traditions of celebration, hospitality and generosity across cultures. We asked a few of our international linguists to share their favorite ways to celebrate the holidays in their countries. You may be surprised at how similar- or strikingly different- these holiday traditions are!
ADVENT IN GERMANY
Our translation experts in Germany described Christmas memories that may sound familiar to the American ear. Many of our most popular Christmas traditions and iconography originated in Germany, including the Christmas tree!
Some German families pass down the story of Saint Nikolaus, a 4th century saint and predecessor to our own Santa Claus. On the night of December 5th, children leave their shoes out and awaken to find small gifts stowed inside. Our linguist based in Bavaria also mentioned Krampus- the vicious creature that often accompanies Saint Nikolaus to serve as warning to naughty children!
Advent is another important part of the local holiday tradition that our German linguists described. This celebration and preparation for Christmas occurs on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The advent calendar- a calendar countdown to Christmas featuring holiday artwork and small treats is a tradition that has become popular in America as well.
PARRANDAS IN PUERTO RICO
In Puerto Rico, the tradition our linguists described with the most fondness was the “parrandas,” somewhat similar to American caroling. Music and song are an important part of the Christmas season in Puerto Rico. During the parranda, friends gather late in the evening to parade through the streets singing, playing music and celebrating.
Neighbors are meant to be surprised and awoken, and either join the “parranderos” (those taking part in the “parranda”) or invite them inside for food and drinks. The caroling often ends at dawn!
FAROTAGE IN CAMEROON
One of our French linguists described “farotage,” translated to “money dance,” as a favorite New Year’s tradition. Families gather for a holiday feast and dancing, during which adults “shower” children with money by placing coins on their foreheads. Meant to bring luck and prosperity, this popular practice is common in many other African cultures during celebrations like holidays and weddings.
Our linguist described her holiday traditions of generosity and gift-giving among her neighbors in Cameroon. She reminisced on preparing food and embroidering cloths with her mother to share with their neighbors.
VASILOPITA IN GREECE
Greek families celebrate the arrival of Saint Basil, who delivers gifts to children on New Year’s Day. Another 4th century Saint, his legendary generosity and compassion for the poor is honored every year through this special gift-giving tradition, as well as St. Basil’s Day feasts.
Families serve vasilopita, a traditional cake, to celebrate the new year and St. Basil. A coin is baked inside, and the person who finds it in his or her piece is expected to have good luck for the coming year.
KADOMATSU IN JAPAN
Holiday wreaths are as popular in Japan as they are in America, however the elaborate “kadomatsu” are strikingly different in appearance. Made with bamboo and pine, these fragrant, freestanding holiday art pieces are commonly found in high end homes, businesses and shrines. If you’d like to see one for yourself, check your iPhone- there’s a kadomatsu emoji right beneath the shamrock.
On New Year’s Day, children are given cash in colorful envelopes featuring popular cartoon characters or made with traditional Japanese stationery. One linguist explained that the money could be used for gifts or spent throughout the year, and that they often received multiple envelopes from relatives.
After the holidays, Japanese communities gather to burn all New Year’s decorations in a celebratory bonfire known as “dondo-yaki,” meant to bring happiness in the new year.
We want to thank our linguists and their families for sharing their favorite holiday traditions! Though their experiences represent a small part of the vast number of seasonal celebrations across the globe, it’s incredible to see how many ways people have found to enjoy this special time of year. However you celebrate, we hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday season and a very Happy New Year!