By Paddy Bruell
For a great number of people around the world, the Christian celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the beginning of a new year are some of the most important and joyous festive days on the calendar. It seems that for a brief time at least, a majority of the people are united in celebration during these two events. Despite this feeling of unity, there are distinct differences between the types of celebrations that take place around the world during these occasions. Having experienced both Christmas and New Years in Germany and Australia, two very diverse countries with different cultures and traditions, I would like to share these experiences with other people and highlight the differences between the festive traditions.
In Germany, Christmas is traditionally celebrated with close family members and other relatives. Due to it being winter, it is dark early, as well as cold, and families come together in the warmth of their homes to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and exchange presents. Christmas church services are usually held on Christmas Eve in the evening and at midnight, and on the first Christmas Day. Both Christmas days are still spent with the entire family at home, since everything is closed during the holidays and almost the entire nation is at a standstill. Popular activities include taking walks through the countryside, sleigh-riding and building snowmen (the latter two can of course only occur with a sufficient amount of snow). This extended period of time spent with the entire family may however also lead to conflict: the second Christmas Day is one of the days in Germany with the most number of police operations due to family conflicts.
In Australia on the other hand, Christmas takes place during the summer. This means sunny and hot days, along with a modified version of “Jingle Bells” and folklore that Santa Claus arrives on either a surfboard or a Holden ute instead of a sleigh. Nevertheless, Christmas has the same religious meaning and is still celebrated with Church services, gift-giving and time spent together in unity. Whilst the Church services are similar to identical to those in Germany, the timing of the celebrations at home are different. Christmas Eve is spent with the family at home, but no presents are exchanged, unlike in Germany, where this takes place in the evening of the 24th. Instead, taking after English traditions, the gifts are delivered by Santa overnight and people wake up in the morning of the first Christmas Day (25th) to find the presents delivered. The rest of the day is spent with family and friends. Several families come together in one home to have Christmas lunch together, where everyone contributes something to the table. During this day, almost all businesses are closed. On the 26th, also referred to as Boxing Day, stores open again for the After-Christmas sales (Boxing Day Sales), which are extremely popular and see record expenditure by customers. Boxing Day also sees the start of several iconic Australian sporting events, which are followed all over the country. These include Day 1 of the Boxing Day Cricket Test and the start of the famous Sydney to Hobart boat race.
The types of celebration of a new year on New Years Eve are relatively similar in both countries, although the styles do differ. In Germany, New Years Eve is celebrated with family and friends, usually in the home of one of the families. At midnight, people have their own individual fireworks, which they organise and set off themselves. In some of Germany’s larger cities, organised firework displays are held by city councils in addition to those of the individuals. Fireworks may be purchased at regular supermarkets. Other popular activities include “Bleigießen”, a process where one person pours molten lead into cold water. The resulting shapes are then interpreted by the other people to determine how the year of the person will be.
In Australia, individuals are prohibited from lighting their own fireworks due to bush fire danger. Instead, the councils of the cities organise centralised fireworks displays. Leading this are the capital cities Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne with Sydney alone spending $7 million on its display. These celebrations draw large numbers of people into the cities to celebrate the start of a new year. Alternatively, people choose to stay at home with family and friends and watch the fireworks on television, as they are streamed live all over the world. It is important to note that for the traditional owners of the land, the Aboriginals, New Years celebrations have no meaning. This is because they follow the patterns of nature and do not divide the years into certain amounts of time.
Despite the differences in celebrations, Christmas and New Years both have special meaning in Australia and Germany. Both are supposed to be times of unity and happiness, with people coming together to enjoy the festivities. To add a personal note, I cannot say for certain which country I prefer to spend these holidays in. In Germany (and Europe), winter is (usually) marked by the cold and snow which makes Christmas a festival of warmth with family and drinking spiced punch at traditional Christmas markets. In Australia, the summer season means a Christmas spent on the beach and a sense of coming together of all people. It seems that the nation celebrates together, especially during the sporting events on Boxing Day. Celebrations in both countries are wonderful to be part of and the diversity of different celebrations in the world are a pleasure to behold.