Despite its Christian origins, Christmas is enjoyed by many denominations and cultures around the globe. In its basic form, it is a time for family and friends to enjoy one another’s company and fill their bellies with delicious food. At its most complex, Christmas is a time of devout worship. As the winter festivities draw near, find out how three families from Russia, Germany and the UK celebrate Christmas in their home countries, and how they keep the spirit of Christmas alive while living in Beijing.
The Konovalov Family – Russia
Zhanna Raitina and her husband Eduard Konovalov are originally from Serbia but have called Beijing home for the past six years. Eduard is a businessman and logistics professional and Zhanna is currently working on several community projects. Their 10-year-old daughter Sophia goes to the Canadian International School of Beijing, while their 4-year-old son Arseniy attends Etonkids Kindergarten. Though they miss the snow of Russia, this family has plenty of friends in Beijing to help them feel right at home.
How did you celebrate Christmas last year?
Russians love Christmas and New Year. We especially love New Year’s Eve when family and friends get together for the all-night celebration. Last year, we had 30 guests in our house.
How is Christmas celebrated in Russia?
Russia follows the Orthodox calendar and Christmas is celebrated on January 7. People typically visit church before sitting down to a family dinner. Russia is famous for having snow and a cold winter – this is what we miss about Christmas in Russia. My husband and I were born in Siberia where the average winter temperature is about -25°C to -30°C!
What’s served at a Russian Christmas dinner?
At this time, Russian families enjoy a big feast – people cook and eat all the best dishes from their country. Every table in Russia will have Russian salad, caviar and frozen vodka. In Siberia, we definitely add Russian dumplings called pelmeny to the mix – a family tradition of ours.
The Peters Family – Germany
Simone Peters and her 7-year-old daughter Anna-Sophia have been in Beijing for over three years. Simone is a marketing and sales manager for events and exhibitions and Anna-Sophia attends the Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Though they’ll be flying back to their home country this year, Simone and Anna-Sophia still know how to celebrate Christmas in Beijing.
How is Christmas celebrated in Germany?
Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year in Germany. Special Christmas markets sell small presents, and serve hot wine with cinnamon. The majority of festivities take place on Heiligabend, or Holy Eve, on December 24. That afternoon, the Christmas tree is put up and decorated. We always have a real Christmas tree with golden-colored candles that are lit on the night of December 24. Typically, Germans enjoy a simple meal, such as potato salad and sausages on Heiligabend, while a bigger meal is served on Christmas Day. Our extended family gathers on the eve to feast on a late dinner of turkey, potatoes and red cabbage. We also have a family ritual of singing Christmas songs together. Bescherung, or the exchanging of gifts, is generally done after dinner. Also, in Germany, Santa Claus is called Weihnachtsmann.
What are your favorite Christmas foods?
Hot wine and Christmas stollen (German fruitcake) are typical fare right before Christmas. In our family, we eat turkey instead of goose, which is the more traditional choice. Our hometown is very close to the Dutch border, so around that time, we usually head there to eat gruenkohl, or green cabbage. Many families have fondue, raclette (a type of cheese) or fish.
How do you celebrate Christmas in Beijing?
On one of the Advent Sundays, we invite friends over for coffee and freshly baked waffles with cherries and cream. From December 1-24, Anna-Sophia has a special Advent calendar, so each morning she receives a small treat, such as chocolate or little hair barrettes. We also have a Christmas wreath with four white candles that are lit on each of the four Sundays of Advent before December 24. Finally, we bake cookies and brownies, so our home has that special Christmas smell.
The Jheeta Family – England
Both Neetha Jheeta and her husband Manjeet are of Indian descent, but were born in Birmingham, England. They grew up in the UK with the best of both Eastern and Western cultures and traditions. Neetha is a sonographer by profession and Manjeet is an engineering manager at Elekta Beijing Medical Equipment Company. They moved to Beijing over three years ago with their children Kishan (4) and Anraaj (14 months). Their son Kishan attends 3e International and their daughter Anraaj goes to a nursery at Dragon Bay in Shunyi. The Jheetas plan on celebrating Christmas in Beijing this year.
What’s a typical family Christmas celebration?
Being British, Christmas has always been a part of our life. When we were young, we would take part in the school nativity play. And our parents always made a big deal of Christmas: giving to charity, sending Christmas cards, decorations, presents and a traditional Christmas dinner.
Do you have any Christmas family rituals?
We tune in for the Queen’s Christmas day speech and watch James Bond movies. We continue to make Christmas day as enjoyable and special for our children as we remember it. On the days leading up to Christmas, we build up the excitement with stories about Father Christmas. The children leave cookies and a glass of milk for Father Christmas before going to bed. Christmas morning involves lounging in pajamas and opening presents. That night, a typical Christmas dinner is served.
What is Christmas like in your home country?
The weather is typically cold but the atmosphere jolly. Christmas carols are played in the shops and everywhere you go. Streets are illuminated by houses decorated inside and out.
What dishes do you enjoy during Christmas?
We typically enjoy two roasted meats: a turkey wrapped in bacon and gammon (the hind leg of the pig), both served with stuffing. There is also mulled wine, pigs in a blanket (sausages wrapped in pastry), and essential vegetables including roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and parsnips. Desserts include Christmas pudding with brandy butter or cream, mince pies and Christmas cake. The pudding is rich in alcohol and is traditionally lit on fire before being served.
Does religion play a role in your celebrations?
Christmas is a religious festival but we follow the Sikh religion. Both Christianity and Sikhism have the common ground that one should be charitable towards others. Christmas acts as a reminder of that message, so we always try to be charitable during this time.