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No Christmas Is The Same

Published: 28. 12. 2018
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The most beautiful holidays in the year come in many differ-ent forms. The Czech Television's foreign correspondents know it too well.


RUSSIA 

Miroslav Karas: Whole generations of Russians had to forget all about Christmas

The best comes last, and it is also best to start with it. I look forward to Christmas that is at the end of the year, as I did when I was a child, but I also look forward to Christmas that is at the beginning of the following year. I'm lucky enough to celebrate it twice. In December, in the Czech Republic, in a cottage with a warm stove and a few days later at the Red Square in Moscow. At home with a pine tree, presents, Christmas cookies, eggnog and TV fairy tales. In Russia, at friends’ or in the streets of the metropolis, perhaps on the ice rink directly in front of the Kremlin. Just as Russians celebrate the October Revolution in November, they also have Christmas other days than we do, that is on the 7thof January. The Communists last allowed it in 1929 and then nothing. Just celebrations of the New Year’s Day, Father Frost and off back to work.

Only in 1991 could they celebrate Christmas at home again, until then it was a usual business day. Meanwhile, they would mark it secretly and used to give each other gifts on the New Year’s Day. Generations of Russians had to forget all about Christmas! So did they about their grandparents who used to go to church with a candle to pray, and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Then they came home and laid the best things they had at home on the table. The family met at a rich dinner, serving a duck on the table or a goose filled with roasted apples; the house owner brought a large jar of pickled tomatoes, gherkins, garlic and other vegetables. Russians could not enjoy this for decades.

When I was last January in the family of my friend, celebrating a second Christmas in just two weeks’ time, it was wonderful. I heard poems and songs about love and nature while tasting all kinds of goodies. Apparently, Christmas is soon to be back in the Russian holiday calendar. I would love them to have it; they have this inimitable atmosphere in Russia, like we do.


USA 

David Miřejovský: We’ll get Christmas presents from Baby Jesus even in Washington

My family wants to spend Christmas together. That’s for them the most important thing. And as we are going to celebrate Christmas this year the first time in the US, we have tried to explain some of the differences to our three sons. The kids found it quite funny that Santa Claus would bring them presents sliding down a chimney to the fireplace we don’t have. Moreover, they strongly refused to find them under the tree on 25h December. On the other hand, they are excited about the socks hanging in the living room. Finally, we agreed that our Christmas in the US will be the same as at home in Czechia. We’ll get Christmas presents from Baby Jesus even in Washington.

Our sons can invite their friends to sample Czech Christmas cookies during school holidays. In turn, they can go to see how their friends spend their Christmas.


BELGIUM

Lukas Dolansky: Christmas is a one-day thing

Christmas in Belgium is quite different from the Czech one. The first thing that surprises us is the lack of Christmas atmosphere. Belgians simply don’t take Christmas too seriously like we Central Europeans do. And it is no wonder. Belgians, both the French-speaking Walloons and the Flemish-speaking Flemings, still consider St. Nicholas to be their main holiday. That is the guy who together with his helper Black Pete gives presents to children. Sadly,this tradition has been disappearing in the recent years. Black Pete historically depicts a servant who, according to the legend, long ago arrived on a ship with St. Nicholas from Spain. And a black helper is not so cool today, well for the reasons of political correctness. As a result, these days St. Nicholas visits the houses of many towns alone. Nevertheless - St. Nicholas still remains the main holiday for Belgian children; they look forward to it and receive big presents. Christmas has traditionally been more of a religious holiday in Belgium.

Today, Belgians celebrate Christmas like all other nations. They've adopted the proper habits - Santa Claus brings presents and most households make turkey for dinner ... Still, Christmas is still a bit on the second track. This is evidenced by the fact that both the Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are regular business days, so there is only one single Christmas day in Belgium – the Christmas Day.

But if there’s something Belgians can really enjoy, it's food and drinks. It is not only at Christmas, but during it it's twice as good. Christmas markets are not as fabulous as in our country, Germany or Austria. But it is full of temptations, which are hard to resist. These are typical Belgian waffles, hot chocolate or pancakes. Separate chapters are seafood, especially oysters. These are an inherent part of Belgian Christmas. Having some outside at the square at a stall with a glass of champagne is an unforgettable experience. This experience makes a Central European forgive Belgium for not having Christmas with the true charming atmosphere.


CHINA

Barbora Šámalová: Carols are forbidden. People go to work like every other day

In China, Christmas was long forbidden, just like Christianity. The young generation, however, looks up to the Western culture, adopts foreign customs, and reshapes them a bit, which is often hard to understand for foreigners. As a result, Christmas has paradoxically become a popular occasion for celebrations in the atheistic communist state, even though it’s not official holiday. People go to work like every other day, but they find time to go out to dinner or go out to do something fun. However, the religious subtext is completely suppressed. Since the 1990s, when China began to prosper, Christmas has been tolerated virtually only their commercial benefit. Shops offer sales, which is for many people an opportunity to buy something expensive that they wouldn’t normally buy. The less spiritual subtext the Chinese Christmas has, the more everything has glitters and shines. Christmas Eve is reserved for fun with friends, not with family. The place to go to is the cinema, restaurant; young couples venture into amusement parks, karaoke bars and shopping malls; no one goes to a church service. The Chinese don’t care much for the birth of Jesus. Local Christmas is associated only with Santa and his "sisters," as they call girls in elf outfits who are known as Santa’s assistants from US-style shopping malls.

The state media has the habit of reminding that the West has its generous holidays thanks to China and its export. Apparently, we would not be able to celebrate Christmas in the West without it. So we should count our blessings and be grateful to the Chinese production when unwrapping our presents.

Carols are forbidden. Current leadership promotes nationalism, so Christians, as well as other religions in China, are experiencing difficult times. It is difficult to quantify how many religious people there are; many practice their faith secretly for the fear of persecution. It is estimated there can be up to 68 million believers, which is roughly 5% of the population. Chinese nationalists accuse the West of using Christmas as an instrument of imperialism as to infect Chinese civilization. Supposedly,they are like the Western missionaries a hundred years ago, who would have wished to be like them but they didn’t succeed. They call on the Chinese to boycott Christmas and resist the invasion of Western influence.

What Christmas is for us is the New Year for the Chinese. Millions of people go home to welcome it in a family circle with good food. Celebrations begin on the first day of the first lunar month - it will be 5thFebruary next year.

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