The Language of Christmas

12th December 2019

Not everyone around the world celebrates Christmas in the traditional, religious context. But Christmas is Christmas, and what’s life without a little Christmas spirit? Let’s look at how different cultures across the globe get into the Christmas spirit in their own, unique way.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, it is believed that many people with Portuguese roots start forming a chain at graveyards of churches and visiting different houses, dancing and singing though the street as one. In Yogyakarta, meanwhile, there is a tradition of priests telling the Nativity Story through traditional Javanese shadow puppetry. Villagers in Papua are also known to roast a pig in underground stone ovens and perform Christmas songs.

In Sri Lanka, the festive season is kicked off from 1 December with fireworks, traditional Christmas trees and the custom of making cribs of straw. And this is no casual crib-crafting session—households and businesses alike compete to win the prize for the most decorative crib in town!

A particularly interesting tradition is said to be followed in Japan, stemming from a popular KFC promo dating back to the 1970s! What has now apparently become an annual tradition, KFC meals at Christmas is such a custom that outlets across the country take bookings months ahead of Christmas!

In the Philippines, celebrations begin really early on, from September, with lots of religious rituals, street dancing, carolling, night-time masses, and traditional Filipino cuisine on offer. On the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando—the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines—hosts the Giant Lantern Festival, where various barangays (villages) compete to build the most elaborate lantern.

Christmas in India is also eclectic, representing the typical diversity of the country. Some people decorate mango or banana trees instead of traditional Christmas trees, while many light the small, oil-burning lamps, or diyas, typical of Diwali. Goa, the party capital of the country, has closer to western traditions of celebration with carol singing, nativity scenes, paper lanterns, and traditional fruit Christmas cake.

Meanwhile, in China, a popular tradition is the gifting of apples, most likely because Christmas Eve in Chinese is Ping An Ye, which is like the Chinese word for apple, Ping Guo. Chinese Christmas trees are called Trees of Light, and the Chinese name for Santa Claus is Dun Che Lao Ren, which roughly translates to “Christmas Old Man”!

And last but not the least when it comes to a unique Christmas in summertime—it’s Australia! The reindeer get replaced with kangaroos, the sleigh with the ‘ute’, hot Christmas dinners with cold, Christmas lunches, the snow with sun, sand and surf, and snow boots with thongs!

These popular local versions of famous Christmas songs say it all:

Aussie Jingle Bells by Bucko & Champs

12 Days of Aussie Christmas by Colin Buchanan

Ultimately, no matter how you bring in Christmas, it’s always fun and festive, so enjoy it in your style! Do share any amazing or unusual Christmas traditions you know of from any part of the world—we would love to hear all about it.

Until next year, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And speaking of Merry Christmas, we’ll leave you with some Christmas greetings in different languages. See you in 2020!

Graphic courtesy: Mega Caesaria (

Tags: christmas

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster