Article by XIANEASE
One of the great things about life as an expat is that you are able to meet people that you would have never had the opportunity to meet staying at home. Along with the diversity of people comes a great variety of traditions and different spins on the holidays that can help you to celebrate in a truly international style. To better understand each other and where we are coming from, we interviewed several expats about how they celebrate the holidays back home.
We get together on Christmas Eve, watch some Christmas TV, and relax with some nibbles and drinks. On Christmas day, we open our presents and play festive music in the background. After that, we generally visit family members in the morning and then head home and have Christmas lunch early afternoon, maybe 14:00. For the rest of the day we relax and watch TV and maybe drink some wine. Generally speaking, it’s a very lethargic day and is a day of rest.
Boxing Day is huge for us! Boxing Day (Dec. 26th) is a big day and it involves all-day drinking. Generally, grandparents will look after grandkids whilst parents go out boozing. Alternatively, we will go to a family member’s house and drink all day.
In Kenya, generally speaking, the youth, those with 8 to 5 jobs, school-goers, and pretty much ‘life’ all happens in 3 cities. Things just aren’t as spread out across the country, so people are generally drawn towards these cities during the year, so for majority of Kenyans, when the 23rd, 24th, or even the morning of the 25th comes, it’s a mad dash back to the countryside for Christmas.
Travelling to my Grandmother’s place for Christmas has been tradition since I could remember. Such a trip would usually take about 2 and half hours, but around this time, the trip takes 3-4 hrs. Honestly though, no one seems to mind. Christmas mood and all.
Christmas morning is very relaxed. Until around 10-11AM, not much goes on. Some Kenyans like to go church for an early service, which usually ends by 10 or 11, while others just prefer to stay home and leisurely wake up. In my family, breakfast is not a priority. There’s all manner small bites and snacks laying around one could eat. Since my grandmother lives in a tea growing region, steaming hot milky tea served in metallic cups is a MUST. My grandmother still prefers to do her cooking over firewood, so her tea always feels ‘unusually’ HOT.
Presents, if any, are also opened around this time. When vegetables and knives start popping up here and there, things move up a gear. Eating roast, specifically goat meat, is a big Christmas tradition in many households across Kenya. So slaughtering a goat, skinning and preparing the meat also takes place around mid-morning. All kinds of dishes are prepared and the ‘feast’ is had around 2-3p.m and you eat until dark. My family likes sit around a fire and just chat while those who are of age get liquored up.
The 26th, which is also a national holiday in Kenya, is spent ‘recovering’ and traveling back to the city; back to reality.
December is the beginning of all the Colombian festivals, starting in Cali on the 26th, there’s just drinking, eating, dancing, and concerts from the most famous Latin music singers (salsa, merengue, reggaeton, bachata, etc.). Some cities, unfortunately, still have bullfights. After the festival/carnival in Cali is over by the beginning of January, it moves to another city, different traditions, celebrations, but at the end is the same – more drinking, dancing, and eating.
Prior to the 26th, it is a different story. Colombia is a deeply religious country, and Christmas is all about baby Jesus. At the end of November, many people will make a pesebre (manger) scene, which is traditionally the place where Jesus was born. Then, there is the Novena, or nine days of prayers from Dec 16th to the 24th, during which the families gather to eat special food, sing, dance, and drink after the prayers. On the 24th, everyone waits until midnight to open the gifts brought by Jesus.
We also assemble a Christmas tree and we put the gifts under it too, and while some decorations might include Santa Claus, many include angels and more divine and religious symbols,
December is a happy month, everyone is happy and friendly, and it is also a month for sharing.
Tracy, South Africa
Christmas Eve used to be the bigger celebration. The whole extended family would to get together at my grandparents’ house and we would have a braai or have a feast of some sort. We would always have my grandmother’s Trifle (secret family recipe). My grandfather used to dress up as Santa and sit by the tree and give out all the gifts. These are some of my happiest childhood memories. My grandparents are gone now, so this tradition has moved to my parents’ house.
Christmas Day is kind of like Thanksgiving for Americans. It is usually only close family. We have a roast lunch with all the fixings. Then we remember the meaning of Christmas and pray. Then a food coma and a nap. In the evening, we might watch a Christmas movie.
The next day is Boxing Day. We braai or eat leftovers again and watch Boxing Day cricket. This eating thing continues all the way until New Year’s …then we go on a diet.