Christmas Around the World From A Translator’s View Point

Christmas in different countries

Christmas means different things in different places. Part of the reason for this is that it had a complex origin, partly pagan, partly Christian, then co-opted by commercialism and exported through colonisation and globalisation. Communicating the message of Christmas is a minefield for translators, but because Christmas is celebrated right around the world in so many different places, communication is an important part of this annual festival. So how is Christmas celebrated in different parts of the planet?

In Germany, St. Nikolaus (the Greek / Turkish saint whose name and deeds were part of the Santa Claus character) roams around before Christmas with a scary character as a companion. It’s a sort of good guy bad guy act. The scary looking dude is there to make sure that children don’t do bad things. Germany’s not the only country where this tradition holds. Austria, France and parts of Switzerland have similar characters. German translators have a fine job explaining the nuances of these characters to each other.

In Italy, rather than jolly Santa dishing out the presents on a sleigh pulled by reindeers, there’s a nice female witch called “La Befana”, who does the same thing, except she has a more uncomfortable means of transport – a broomstick. The bad kids get lumps of coal rather than presents!

In parts of Scandinavia, kids leave porridge out for the bearer of gifts who is more of a gnome rather than a guy in a red coat. Presumably the gnome likes porridge as well as kids!

In Australia and New Zealand, the seasons are reversed so Christmas is usually in the middle of the southern summer. This makes making turkey and eating prodigious quantities of food more uncomfortable and many people head for the beach or opt for a barbecue instead. It doesn’t stop the shops being decorated with snowy scenes and tinny Christmas songs relayed endlessly in the supermarkets in the weeks before Christmas.

In Greenland, where it is almost inevitably a white Christmas, despite climate change, there is a strange tradition of eating rotting birds that have been left to decompose inside a seal skin for several months. German translators might find that an interesting concept to communicate to the rest of the world!

In Brazil, children are told that animals are able to speak on the night of Christmas. Nice kids get their presents in shoes rather than stockings. In neighbouring Venezuela, there is a new habit of skating to morning mass on roller skates. Some people tie bits of string outside their windows, so if they sleep in on Christmas morning, their neighbours can wake them up for mass by pulling on the string.

Whatever the country and whatever the rather quaint differences, Christmas is almost always a time when people get together with friends and family and forget about their differences and troubles.