Christmas is a magical time for everyone around the world and especially in Dublin since we now have such a diverse multi-cultural city. Our ‘rainbow’ city is now home to almost over 188 different nationalities according to reports.
The report of the non-Irish population, released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), found that the largest group was British nationals, who numbered 112,000, followed by Poles (63,200), Lithuanians (24,600), Nigerians (16,300) and Latvians (13,300).
The top 10 countries, which also include the US, China, Germany, the Philippines and France, account for 82% of the total non-Irish population. But there were 44 countries, including Guyana, St Vincent, Turkmenistan and Bhutan, represented by fewer than 10 people.
These countries not only add to the Irish culture, but they also give you some insight into others cultures practices at Christmas time. The City decided to take to the streets of Dublin and ask the people of Dublin what are their Christmas practices this year?
Poland – Traditionally, the Christmas tree is decorated on the Wigilia day – quite an event for children. The custom of having a Christmas tree was first introduced in Alsace (today a region of eastern France) at the end of the 15th century. Three centuries later, it was common around the world. Early on, the tree was decorated with apples to commemorate the forbidden fruit – the apple of paradise (the garden of Eden). Today, the Christmas tree is adorned with apples, oranges, candies and small chocolates wrapped in colorful paper, nuts wrapped in aluminum foil, hand-blown glass ornaments, candles or lights, thin strips of clear paper (angel’s hair), and home-made paper chains. The latter, however, has become rarer because commercially produced aluminum foil chains are being sold.
Christmas and Santa Claus Day are not celebrated at the same time in Poland, but rather three weeks apart. Santa Claus (called Mikolaj) Day is celebrated on December 6th, the name day of St. Nicholas. This is when St. Nicholas visits some children in person or secretly during the night.
Lithuania – Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas day in Lithuania. Dec. 24th is the shortest day of the year. All traditions are related to it. CHRISTMAS EVE. The house has been cleaning the whole week. Preparations for Christmas Eve take all day, food prepared not only for the special supper (Kūčios) but also for the first day of Christmas. People fast and abstain from meat. It is vitally important that the Christmas Eve supper include no meat dishes because it could then no longer be called Kûèios but an ordinary meal prepared for any other evening.
Nigeria – Christmas in Nigeria is a family event, a time when lots of family members come together to celebrate and have fun. Most families that live in cities travel to the villages where their grandparents and older relatives live. Many families will throw Christmas parties that will last all night long on Christmas Eve! Then, on Christmas Morning, they go to church to give thanks to God. Homes and streets are often decorated. Most homes will have an artificial Christmas tree.
Germany – The German Tannenbaum is usually put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, though some families opt to erect their tree during the Advent season. Traditionally, the Germans used the fir tree, but nowadays the spruce is widely used. Decorations may include tinsel, glass balls or straw ornaments and sweets. A star or an angel tops the Tannenbaum, and beneath the tree, a nativity scene might be set up and the presents next to it. Germans also usually continue to use real lit candles instead of electric lights on the tree.
In some parts of Germany, children write to the ‘Christkind’ (‘The Christ Child’ in English) asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
Russia – In the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time. Now Christmas is celebrated normally on the January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December). The date is different because the Russian Orthodox Church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so its 40 days long.
The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th. The Russian Christmas greeting is ‘S Rozhdestvom!’.
Some people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat ‘sochivo’ or ‘kutia’ a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!
China – In China, only about one percent of people are Christians, so most people only know a few things about Christmas. Because of this, Christmas is only often celebrated in the major cities. In these big cities there are Christmas Trees, lights and other decorations on the streets and in department stores. Santa Claus is called ‘Shen Dan Lao Ren’ and has grottos in shops like is Europe and America.
A tradition that’s becoming popular, on Christmas Eve, is giving apples. Many stores have apples wrapped up in colored paper for sale. People give apples on Christmas Eve because in Chinese Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (which means quiet or silent night) and the word for apple in Chinese is ‘Ping Guo’ which sounds similar.
Dublin will be a pretty spectacular time this Christmas for all its different cultures!
By Caroline Ewins