A Christmas story… from across the world

It’s raining outside. The office is quiet as only a few of us are still working – the rest already left to their home country some days ago to be with their loved ones for the festive season. Even if we’re meant to focus on our work, we can’t help counting the days to Christmas…

When you work in an international office like the one I’m working in, you’re bound to ask yourself what your colleagues’ Christmas must be like. (Do some of them even celebrate Christmas?) As a Maltese person, I’ve always seen Christmas as a celebration of love. It’s the time to be grateful for your blessings and to think of those who are less fortunate. It is also the time to eat a lot of great homemade food with your family. And for those who practise the christian faith, it is the celebration of Christ’s birth. So what about those who weren’t brought up with the same faith? Some of them are also on vacation… What are they celebrating?

I decided to use my two favourite tools: photography and words, to find out and share. Below are people from across the world who happened to be on our little rock, Malta, last week. They shared what Christmas means to them, and what their traditions around the festive season are.

I won’t share any spoilers, but all I’ll say is that the objective behind this project was to show how, despite our differences, we’re all unified by one thing: love.

Did I achieve that? Read the answers below and see for yourself!

But don’t stop there.

Leave a comment below and share what Christmas is to you, where you come from and what you’d like to see this year. I’ve only included people from a few countries so I’m sure you can add on to my project and mission if your country and its Christmas traditions aren’t included!

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Spyros Kanakis

Christmas in Greece - Spyros Kanakis

Christmas in Greece - Spyros Kanakis

Nationality: Greek

Christmas is… the warm smell of honey, cinnamon and roasted almonds that is filling the house coming out of the traditional Greek festive desserts: Melomakarona and Kourabiedes. Christmas is sweet!

How do you spend your Christmas?

With the people I love and care about. Cuddling and laughing in front of the fireplace.

All I want for Christmas is… Less bombings, less media terrorism, less Facebook revolutions. More caring, more understanding, more education and more love!

Neill Simpson

Christmas in the UK - Neill Simpson

Christmas in the UK - Neill Simpson

Nationality: British 

Christmas is… A time to reflect but not a time to neglect, hold your loved ones tight amidst the cold moonlights, replenish your glass without a moment’s glance as before you know it will be time to dance, Remember to give as that’s the most precious gift, for Christmas is a time to share a story not get stuck on boasting about Glory, but when the lights go out for that final time, remember to shed a tear for those that cannot be here…

How do you spend your Christmas?

With family, making sure the kids are content.

All I want for Christmas is… a hug and a kiss.

Mary Grace Cave

Christmas in the Philippines - Mary Grace Cave

Christmas in the Philippines - Mary Grace Cave

Nationality: Filipino 

Christmas is… in our hearts. It’s not about the beautiful decorations, the carols or the festive dinners. It’s about remembering those close to our hearts and thanking them for their love.

How do you spend your Christmas? 

In Philippines, Christmas spirit begins on September 1st up to Three Kings (yes, we have the longest Christmas celebration in the world)! It’s the time when we gather with our family, relatives, friends, former classmates, workmates – basically everyone important to us. As part of tradition, we go to masses called ‘Simbang Gabi‘ every 4:00AM from December 16th to December 24th where we can make a wish if we complete the 9 masses.

All I want for Christmas… now that I am in Malta is to be able to connect to my family and friends in the Philippines.

Mark Davis 

Christmas in the USA/UK - Mark Davis

Christmas in the USA/UK - Mark Davis

Nationality: American/British

Christmas is… a time to relax and be with family, friends, and loved ones. Being the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect on the aspects of your life that are most important. 

How do you spend your Christmas? 

Normally, I would be in Chicago with my parents, brothers, sisters, and a growing group of nieces and nephews. The kiddies have always gotten presents, but the adults made a pact many years ago that we wouldn’t buy gifts for each other. Instead, each person draws a name and gives that person a book – new or used, it doesn’t matter – just something that you’ve read or heard about and think the other person would enjoy. The holiday usually includes a visit to the nearby Chicago Botanic Garden, which, surprisingly, is buzzing with activity at this time of year with musical performances and beautiful holiday decorations. This year I’m staying in London to spend the first Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my partner, but I get the impression that simply buying him a book is not going to pass muster. We have lots of things planned over the holiday…a visit to the Tate Gallery, skating at Somerset House, NYE fireworks on the Thames, and, the most anticipated event of the season, tickets for the new Star Wars film at IMAX!

All I want for Christmas is… nice, tasty food to share with special people. I don’t need anything in terms of gifts. Except for splurging on a couple Apple gadgets, I’ve spent most of the last couple years downsizing my life. This is mainly the result of moving a few times within a 12-month period, but I love the sense of freedom that comes from paring down my belongings.

Claire Tribert and Malick N’Diaye

Christmas in France - Claire Tribert and Malick N'Diaye

Christmas in France - Claire Tribert and Malick N'Diaye

Claire Tribert

Nationality: French

Christmas is… my favourite time of the year! This is when I travel to my village in the South of France and spend quality time with my family. This is when I can eat my favourite French dishes and delicacies without any guilt! It is also when it is cold outside while we spend most of our time indoors by the family house fireplace and have all generations together playing board games and having a good laugh.

How do you spend your Christmas?

We eat, eat, eat!

The tradition is to spend Christmas Eve at my grandma where she will cook for 13 family members Burbot and Lobster ‘à l’Armoricaine‘, a spicy tomato sauce based dish (tomatoes, white wine, brandy, salt, cayenne pepper and butter…). We always have old Christmas songs in the background and when we start to be a bit merry we usually sing and dance all together until late. We also have the midnight mass with the Pope on TV and we place baby Jesus in the traditional nativity scene together with my little nephews.

Christmas day is at my parents. My mum, sister and I get up early to start preparing the feast and lay the festive Christmas table. My dad prepares finger food, selects old French wines and spirits, and loads the fireplace.

All the family arrive usually around midday for a long “apéro” then we start the feast. We eat and drink until late evening…This is also the day we open our gifts that are by the Christmas tree.

One very special tradition we have in the region I come from, Provence, is the thirteen desserts. Yes thirteen! These are traditional desserts celebrating Christmas and representing the “big supper” with Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles.

All I want for Christmas is… food, cuddles, food and cuddles! Oh… and foie gras! Loads of home made foie gras!

Malick N’Diaye

Nationality: French 

Christmas is… the time of the year when I can be with my family. It’s a very rare occasion to all gather and spend some time together as we all live in different countries. Even if we are not a religious family, Christmas is sacred and we all look forward those few happy hours/days.

How do you spend your Christmas?

In the Caribbean islands! We have been living there for several years so we spend our Christmas under the sunlight of Guadeloupe enjoying local delicious food. A typical Christmas dinner will be composed of ‘accras de morue‘ (cod fish cake), ‘boudin creole‘ (creole black pudding), lobster and, of course, a glass of Ti Punch or Punch Coco. But what I enjoy the most is the atmosphere during the Christmas period, with all the singing and dancing. All the classical songs are revisited with a touch of Zouk and the main square of the village becomes a huge dance floor for kids and grandparents. And the next morning, we usually go for a swim and relax on the beach.

All I want for Christmas is… 10 days of holidays and a flight ticket to Guadeloupe! Unfortunately this year I can’t join my family so I’ll try to experience this through Skype, good luck to me!

Sebastian Steek

Christmas in Germany - Sebastian Steek

Christmas in Germany - Sebastian Steek

Nationality: German

Christmas is… the time of the year where the family meets and has awesome food.

How do you spend your Christmas?

Going to Rostock/Germany for a couple of days, visiting family and friends in my hometown.

All I want for Christmas is… to meet a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a while. And, of course, the awesome traditional German food my mother and my grandmother prepare for Christmas (Kartoffelsalat und Würstchen on the evening of the 24th December, and Duck with potatoes and red cabbage for lunch on the 25th).

Debbie Kooy

Christmas in the Netherlands - Debbie Kooy

Christmas in the Netherlands - Debbie Kooy

Nationality: Dutch

Christmas is… a bit of a cozy fuss. I like the Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit. It brings people together. I don’t really like the commercial fuss and people stressing to buy stuff.

How do you spend your Christmas?

This Christmas I am going to spend it with my family in Holland. Having some nice food and just having a good time. Maybe go for a nice walk on the beach and a hot chocolate after to warm up.

All I want for Christmas is… peace, love and happiness. Yes, I know, I am a big hippie. And I know I am blessed for I will exactly have those things. So I am wishing it for all those others in the world for who these things are not a guarantee.

Olga Ushanova

Christmas in Russia - Olga Ushanova

Christmas in Russia - Olga Ushanova

Nationality: Russian

Christmas is… lots of food that was left after the New Years celebrations.

How do you spend your Christmas?

Since Orthodox Christmas comes after the New Year – it is January 7th (as Russian Orthodoxy follows Julian calendar), the celebrations and gifts are happening on the New Year’s Eve. 

We usually decorate the fir-tree (small version of Russian pine tree) beforehand and call it the New Year’s Tree. 

All relatives and closest friends of the family gather at one table and we eat and drink non-stop. First we raise glasses cheering to the past year and saying good-bye to it, and then after 12 we welcome the New upcoming year! TV is always on – that’s an important attribute… it broadcasts the main clock from the Red Square Tower and our president speech which has been a tradition since the Soviet Union – the last minute of the year is dedicated to the president speech which broadcasts all over the Russian Federation. 

We usually meet for the New Year and Christmas in the countryside, surrounded by snow and nature. I love going to sauna the next day for detoxing.

On the Christmas Eve (January 6th), my mom usually goes to church and attends the Christmas service, which is held late at night. This is the way Russian Orthodox meets Nativity, the Birth of Jesus Christ.  

All I want for Christmas is… to be with my mum and old granny, and to eat my favorite Russian pies – ‘pierogi‘, which my 90 year-old granny still makes on a special occasion.

Henrika Jakobsson

Christmas in Finland -Henrika Jakobsson

Christmas in Finland - Henrika Jakobsson

Nationality: Finnish

Christmas is… the light and joy of the darkest time of the year.

How do you spend your Christmas?

I have been living abroad for nine and a half years.  In the beginning I had to get home for Christmas but not any longer. For the past 4 years I have spent the festive seasons abroad: Ireland, Argentina and Malta. I have already gotten used to spend the Christmas period away from my family in Finland.  Christmas spirit is everywhere anyway.

This Christmas, like many previous times, I am going to cook traditional Christmas dishes such as rice porridge, swede, beetroot and carrot casseroles. While cooking, I am playing the Finnish Christmas songs. December 24th is the most important day, as Santa will visit in the evening. Should I receive any parcels this year, I would open them on Christmas Eve. I am looking forward to enjoying peaceful relaxed Christmas here in Malta.

All I want for Christmas is… good food, chocolate and some quiet time.

Zeki Gulluler 

Christmas in Turkey - Zeki Gulluler

Christmas in Turkey - Zeki Gulluler

Nationality: Turk

Christmas… doesn’t mean a lot to me because of the culture I grew up in, however I very much like the Christmas spirit I’ve experienced in Malta and in other European countries.

How do you spend your Christmas?

We do not do anything for Christmas in Turkey. In fact, some Turkish people think that Christian people put up the Christmas tree for New Year’s Eve as we do in Turkey. So yes, there are Turkish people who do put up the Christmas tree even if it’s not part of our tradition but just because it’s fun to have. Having said that, we do celebrate New Year’s Eve either at home or out with friends at a bar or a club, or even at a hotel. There are lots of special New Year’s Eve concerts and parties at city squares. Having said that, the typical New Year’s Eve for a traditional Turkish family would mean orange, tangerine and chestnuts as these are the main foods we’d have after a very heavy dinner. We also play bingo while watching New Year’s special TV shows.

All I want for Christmas is… world peace. It may sound cliché but I don’t think we need anything more than peace nowadays.

Linda Barreiro

Christmas in Portugal - Linda Barreiro

Christmas in Portugal - Linda Barreiro

Nationality: Portuguese

Christmas is… going home. It is the right time to meet the whole family. Two days of non-stop eating and drinking in the best company!

How do you spend your Christmas?

The tradition is to sit around the table for two days – these not only include eat and drink, but also speaking, discussing, hearing, sharing, laughing…

We used to give the presents at midnight; someone from the family would dress up as Santa Claus and give the children their gifts, but now everyone grew up and thus, Santa disappeared. This Christmas will also be the first one without my 95th Grandmother who passed away a bit over an year ago.

In my region, the tradition says to eat ‘Bacalhau‘ (boiled codfish with potatoes, egg and cabbage) for dinner on Christmas Eve. For desserts, the traditional Christmas sweets are: ‘Rabanadas‘ (sliced bread soaked in milk and fried, dressed up with cinnamon and sugar), ‘Bilharacos‘ (a pumpkin base with nuts fried and dressed with cinnamon and sugar), ‘Aletria‘ (a kind of sweet and creamy noodles with a cinnamon and lemon touch), and ‘Arroz Doce’ (sweet  and creamy rice – very similar to ‘Aletria’ in terms of tasting). We also have nuts and fruit at our table.

All I want for Christmas is… to make the most of the moment!

Robin Westerlund and Keemon Landsfeldt

Christmas in Sweden and in Denmark

Christmas in Sweden - Robin Westerlund; and in Denmark - Keemon Landsfeldt

Robin Westerlund

Nationality: Swedish

Christmas is… a mix of things. To keep it short, it’s the time of the year where I meet people I don’t see very much during the rest of the year. Christmas Eve spent with the family; lots of food, lots of TV and lots of catching up.

Catching up with old friends usually happens at bars/pubs/clubs the days after Christmas Eve. Going out on Christmas Day is a homecoming kind of tradition. Most people living  elsewhere in the country, or abroad, are home to celebrate Christmas with their families.

How do you spend your Christmas?

Christmas Eve has a few keystones. Food, TV and Christmas presents. Possibly also chocolate. Usually I meet up with the family at around 1.00 pm for lunch. After that we watch TV for a couple of hours. This is then followed by dinner, more TV and then Christmas presents.

All I want for Christmas is… all of the above plus some relaxation before it’s time to get back to work.

Keemon Landsfeldt

Nationality: Danish

Christmas is… “Hygge” (danish word meaning cozy) with your family and/or friends, with good food and good times.

How do you spend your Christmas?

Christmas is spent on the 24th of December. In the evening, we have great Christmas food, dance around the Christmas tree and finish off with opening presents. After that we eat risalamande in which there’s only one almond – the first to find the almond gets an ‘almond present’. After that we just chill, maybe watch TV, talk…

All I want for Christmas is… love.

Mateusz Kuzma

Christmas in Poland - Mateusz Kuzma

Christmas in Poland - Mateusz Kuzma

Nationality: Polish

Christmas is… the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

How do you spend your Christmas?

So we have Christmas Eve dinner. We share bread (wafer – the one they use in the church). If we were good enough we get some presents. Than at 24:00 we go to shepherd’s mass. On the 25th and 26th December we go to the church and we spend time with family.

All I want for Christmas is… lots of snow!

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