As I am from the Maldives, Christmas is not a holiday I grew up celebrating. But the thing with Christmas is, even if you don’t necessarily celebrate it, its joyous spirit is infectious. I can’t help but feel tranquillised by the sparkling lights, decorations such as baubles, tinsels and delicate ornaments that adorn every corner and the merry music - all adding together to create a festive ambience. But perhaps what makes Christmas so special is the spirit of the people and the love and joy they spread no matter where you are in the world!
These last few weeks as we were preparing for the festive season here in Soneva Jani, I have been collecting Christmas stories. I spent a lot of time with the guests and mostly hosts - as they are away from home - from all over the world asking them about the special things they do to celebrate. Some things such as a roast dinner, ham and Christmas crackers are shared traditions whilst some are completely unique. I’ll start with my own story in Wales as someone who got to experience Christmas for the first time. So, here we go:
Christmas traditions from around the world:
It was when I was studying in Wales that I got to take part in Christmas celebrations properly for the first time. My fiancé’s family found out that I had never experienced Christmas and invited me to spend it with them. They went all out to make it as special as possible! On the first day of December, I got a handmade advent calendar from the grandparents stuﬀed with chocolate for each day. The oﬃcial countdown for Christmas began then! After we saw the first Coca Cola Christmas advertisement of the year, we put up the tree and decorating it was probably my favourite part. They had delicate heirloom ornaments passed down from generations which were packed in neat little boxes, ornaments collected during their travels and ornaments made by the kids in school which their mum had kept for years. I found that so special. Soon after we did the decorations, the bottom of the tree started filling up with presents from friends and extended family. It was most exciting.
On Christmas Eve, we all gathered in the living room by the fire with cups of hot chocolate and played some family board games. When it was time to go to bed, I got to put out a cookie and a glass of milk for Santa along with my Christmas wish-list and a carrot for the reindeer. No wonder kids got so hyper around this time of the year, I could barely contain the excitement myself.
Now, I am not a morning person at all, but on Christmas Day, I was up bright and early by 6 a.m! We made our way downstairs to find Santa’s footsteps which led to a giant pile of presents - I had my mouth open in awe at this point. Eagerly, we all opened our presents from Santa, family and friends. Turns out I had beena very good girl that year so Santa was rather generous.
After the presents, we had a small breakfast and began lunch preparations. For lunch, it was a roast dinner with a massive turkey, roast potatoes, boiled vegetables, honeyed parsnips, cranberry sauce and special stuﬃng which was a family recipe that had been passed down through generations. Then we opened the Christmas crackers which included a silly joke and a paper crown which we all wore whilst enjoying the Christmas pudding with ice-cream and custard. What a feast!
In the evening, we watched family movies from Elf, The Grinch to Die Hard (they are all strong believers of Die Hard being a Christmas movie - what is your opinion on this?!) with tea and all the Christmas chocolate. It was the most magical day of my life. - Malsa
England “The tree goes up on the 1st of December with all the decorations. We have a big roast dinner, Christmas crackers and play charades as a family. We also have a 500km cycle race between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve which has become sort of a tradition for us” - Maddy, Oppidan Education South Africa “We have Braai which is a special BBQ consisting of a roast chicken salad or a meat feast by the swimming pool. It’s hot, but we put fake snow up and my mum makes Santa’s grotto in the house including a 6 ft Santa in the house where everyone comes and visits which she puts it out straight after Halloween. My mum collects Christmas ornaments from every country she’s visited. I get to put the star up on the tree as I am the youngest in the family. We go to Winter Wonderland and ice-skating every year. On Christmas Day we all have breakfast together as a family, and open our presents. Then we spend the evening watching family Christmas films” - Courtney, Oppidan Education
"On Christmas Eve, we exchange gifts with our extended family. Around 11:30 p.m, we attend the Midnight Mass. For Christmas dinner, it is very important for the whole family to be present as we pray together before the meal. If you are away from home, you must try and be present via phone or Skype. Christmas dinner includes crackling pork, spaghetti, fried chicken, fish both steamed and fried and a condense milk-based fruit salad for dessert. Afterwards, we have a lot of beer and mocktails for the kids followed by karaoke all night. Christmas Day is spent with our own families. We go to church in the afternoon and usually go to a restaurant for lunch. In the evening, we watch family movies and nibble on the leftover food for dinner.” - Maria, Assistant F&B Manager
Ukraine “As we are Orthodox by religion, we have our celebration on the 7th of January. We make our table on the 6th of January which includes 12 dishes of food such as beans, rice, ravioli, cherry and cabbage. Strictly no animal products or alcohol is allowed on this day. We all sit at the table until we see the first star in the sky which is when we pray. Gifts are not a huge part and are small and not pricey at all. In the evening, kids go around the neighbourhood singing Christmas carols.
The next day, you can finally drink. We eat the leftovers from the day before but this time with meat included. We go to church and spend the rest of the day visiting our extended family” - Valeria, Jewellery Specialist
Madagascar “On Christmas Eve, we go to church in the morning. We have a family dinner with turkey, roast potato, riceand sweet wine. We also have an afternoon tea with homemade cakes. At night, we all get together and party.
On Christmas Day, we open the Christmas stockings personalised with our names on them which are stuffed with candy and sweets, followed by the opening of presents with family.”
- Sonieta, Barefoot Butler
Australia “The day before Christmas, we drive around at night to look at all the Christmas nights with family, stopping to admire the decorations of the neighbours. On the 25th, we open presents in the morning and start getting ready for Christmas lunch which is a huge deal. It is a massive BBQ with prawns, sausages and steak. We also have a roast and ham followed by a Christmas pudding with ice-cream and custard” - Bekki, Marine Biologist USA “The Christmas decorations are up straight after Thanksgiving is over. We leave carrots, cookies and milk for Santa. We do presents in the morning, followed by a huge turkey dinner with French onion soup. We do Christmas crackers and go skiing if it is snowy” - Guest “Christmas has become about adventure for us. Every year, we pick somewhere different to travel and explore different cultures. Even if we seek adventure, we have very busy lives and Christmas is the time weall calm as a family and really take the time to enjoy together. The kids write a note to Santa: this year was to give away toys to kids who are less fortunate” - Guest
Barbados “From the beginning of December, the whole house is pulled apart including curtains. They put the houseback up on Christmas Eve night with all of the Christmas decorations and especially new curtains. Theycook all night long into Christmas morning. They traditionally eat ham, you must have green peas and rice,jug jug, macaroni pie, chicken baked/fried or both, lamb, fish ‘basically everything under the sun that canbe cooked is cooked’ for a massive Christmas Day lunch.
Traditionally, people go to church on Christmas morning and go to Queens Park after the services in their Christmas wear (usually people wear new outfits to church on the day).” - Leandra, Learning & Development Co-ordinator
“We attend Church on the 24th for the Midnight Mass. The streets and houses are decorated with nativity scenes, Santa’s carriage and lights all around. The kids leave their shoes in front of their house expecting it to be stuffed with candy from Santa when they wake up on Christmas morning. We have Christmas dinner together as a family which consists of chicken soup, a chicken roast and of course, Christmas pudding.”
“On Christmas Eve, the family would meet up in the afternoon to spend time together, usually playing board games. The house is decorated with a beautiful Christmas tree with presents underneath which gets the kids very excited. After dinner, all the kids have to put on a special performance where they either sing a song or play a musical instrument. We open the presents after that. Before midnight, the kids go around the neighbourhood singing Christmas carols and there is usually a huge bonfire as it gets very cold. On Christmas Day, we have a late lunch, usually a turkey feast and go skiing the rest of the day.”
“We exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, followed by a performance by the kids in front of the tree which is usually put up four weeks ahead of Christmas to get everyone in the festive mood. The shoes are polished and put out for Santa to stuff candy and sweets. Cookies, milk and a mandarin is left for Santa and his reindeer. For the Christmas feast, we have red cabbage, duck, goose, boiled potatoes and pudding for dessert. We also bake Christmas cookies and spend the rest of the day in the snow with family with our sleighs.” - Christopher Pentzlin, Director of Culinary Services
“We celebrate Christmas on the 6th of December as it is a more religious occasion for us. Baked treats such as speculoos ginger cookies are served followed by a huge feast which includes venison, hare and rabbit." - Frédéric Brohez, General Manager
Everyone has their unique ways to celebrate, but what did all of them have in common? Spending time with family and loved ones. No matter where you are in the world, everyone makes time for their family during this time and I find that incredibly beautiful. It is also important to remember that this is one of the loneliest times for some people, so please don’t forget to check up on your friends and family who live alone and give them some festive love and cheer.
To everyone celebrating today, I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you have a blessed one.