Learn English: Christmas and New Year around the world

Christmas is, probably the most widely held celebration in the world. The day of the birth of Jesus Christ – actually, it probably wasn’t, but we’ll let that pass. The sharing of Christmas greetings is found at Christmas around the world.

Some people follow a traditional Christian approach to the festival. Others like to dip into some of the most wonderful aspects of the Christian element of the event, such as attending a Carol Service or going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. For some, it’s just an excuse to be merry and share time (and gifts) with family and friends.

Whichever, when we learn English language online, we look to study English in the real world. But Christmas is more than real, it is magical, and it has it’s own language to celebrate this.

Happy Christmas – From Around the World

Geseënde Kersfees (Afrikaans), Kirismas Wacan (Somali), Eid Milad Majid (Arabic), Sheng Dan Kuai Le (Mandarin), Glædelig Jul (Danish), Hyvää joulua (Finnish), Anandi Natal or Khushi Natal (Gujarati), Nollaig Shona Dhuit (Gaelic)…we could continue with ‘Happy Christmas’ said in different languages as people celebrate Christmas around the world.

Happy Christmas – In English, In All Its Forms

In fact, in English, there are numerous ways of wishing somebody a happy Christmas, all of which largely mean the same thing.

  • ‘Happy Christmas.’

  • ‘Merry Christmas.’

  • ‘Christmas Wishes.’

  • ‘Christmas Greetings.’

  • ‘Season’s Greetings,’ to name but a few.

christmas around the world

New Year

These days, Christmas is often celebrated along with New Year festivities. This is not a Christian event, merely a way of seeing in the new and saying goodbye to the old. Traditionally in the UK, people have a lot to drink and sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight of New Year’s Eve, a song to which nobody knows more than the first verse and which even less than nobody understands.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year,’ is a common phrase, although more often written than spoken. ‘Happy holidays,’ is a good way of expressing greetings if no religious theme wishes to be communicated.

More specifically, a greeting of ‘Have a wonderful Christmas and all the best for 2019,’ is a way that covers most scenarios. The same is true for ‘Have a great Christmas and best wishes for 2019.’

For those recognising that Christmas is a time of relaxation and joy (unless you are in charge of cooking the turkey, of course) the warm ‘Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year,’ is a good choice. For those wishing to cast an aura of sincerity, how about: ‘May all your hopes and dreams come true this Christmas.’? This can be followed by ‘Have a truly wonderful New Year.’

Christmas At School

There are a number of Christmas traditions which, although generally celebrated to some extent or other, take on extra significance for the British Christmas.

If you have children, expect their curriculum to go on hold from about the beginning of December as classes, especially of younger children, prepare for the festivities ahead. A likely event for the youngest children is a Nativity Play. This is traditionally the telling of the Christmas story in some form or other. All the children take part, with the key parts of Mary and Joseph much fought over.  However, there is nothing wrong with being ‘fourth star’; parents still get to make the costume and as Nativity Plays are generally pretty dreadful, some embarrassment can be saved.

Older children may well take part in a school carol service at the local Church. This trend is falling away as Britain becomes more multi-cultural, but the notion of Christmas being replaced by ‘_Winterva_l’ as happens in some more politically correct schools, is generally derided. Most of society, whatever their religion, see Christmas as a time of joy and giving and are happy to participate. If you get the chance to attend a child led carol service, it really can be the most wonderful of occasions.

Calendars, Cards, Lights and Decorations

The Advent Calendar is another Christmas staple, these days often filled with chocolate. A small window is opened every day from December 1st, to reveal a Christmas-like picture, or a piece of chocolate.

Christmas cards are sent to friends, family and lots of people you no longer see. It is largely thought as best to use Charity Cards these days, or home-made ones from younger children. A Christmas tree and some decorations are normal, and there is a growing trend for people to light up their houses with extensive and what many see as rather garish lights.

However, a visit to one of these houses is always entertaining – look from the outside – most towns and villages have one or two such homes. Even the smallest of towns has the switching on of their Christmas lights, usually conducted by a local or minor celebrity, to great cheers and late-night shopping.

christmas lights

Lunch, The Queen and English Comedy (from the 1970s)

On Christmas Day in Britain, Christmas lunch features turkey and brussel sprouts, which almost nobody likes but most people eat for one day of the year. Pigs in a blankets is another strange sounding dish, and is actually made of a small sausage wrapped in a piece of bacon. Christmas crackers contain terrible jokes, paper hats and pointless, and cheap gifts, but are all part of the fun.

Traditionally, after lunch families will listen to the Queen’s Christmas Day speech, which is shown on both BBC and ITV. Traditionally, but not so much in practice these days. A tradition more observed in thought than keeping.

Television forms an important part of Christmas Day. Anybody wishing to develop an understanding of British, English humour and culture should watch an episode of ‘The Morecombe and Wise Show.’ Sadly, both Eric Morecombe and Ernie Wise are dead now, but constant Christmas Day repeats are shown of their comedy classics.

Certainly, for families, it is a tradition to play a board game on Christmas Day, although again this is more a tradition celebrated in word rather than deed these days, when the attractions of electronic and online games have replaced the board game.

Christmas lunch

Many of the traditions listed above can occur in other Christmas around the world, but it is certainly the case that they are enjoyed to a more excessive extent in Britain.  From the office party to mince pies Christmas is about doing what we have always done. Christmas pudding (a peculiarly heavy dessert, to which we both set fire and insert a coin to break the teeth of the lucky – luckless perhaps – finder) is one such example. It is hard to find anybody who really likes this dessert, especially after a huge lunch and a few glasses of wine, but it still continues to sell well.

But perhaps the strongest tradition of all surrounds Santa Claus. The character is celebrated around the world and is known in Britain as Father Christmas as well as his more traditional title.

It might be strange to celebrate an overweight man who creeps into children’s bedrooms at the dead of night, leaving behind one of his stockings, but that’s Christmas. Enjoy. Christmas Greetings to everyone!