By: Cheryl Lu, Social Media Coordinator
In the fragrances of gingerbread, hot chocolate and nutmeg, the holidays are finally approaching. The festive mood of Christmas, along with the following New Year’s Day, seems to have naturally come to many of us. Regardless of culture and language, everyone is finding ways to take benefit of the bubbly atmosphere and happy greetings in the malls, on the street, in our neighbourhood – everywhere. But have you thought about these holidays and festivals that are celebrated cross-culturally by people who speak different languages? What other kinds are there? Why are they celebrated this broadly? Here we’re sharing insights on a few:
One can hardly talk about cross-lingual festivals without mentioning Christmas. Since A.D. 336, countries speaking European languages have started observing Christmas as a Christian tradition. The subject of celebration at the time was the birth and life of Jesus.
The widespread merry and cheerful Christmas spirit that we are familiar with in the present time, however, was popularized in the Victorian Era. In the early 19th century, writers of English literature portrayed Christmas as “a heartfelt celebration” and a holiday emphasizing goodwill, compassion and family time. The phrase “Merry Christmas” and commercial Christmas cards were both introduced during this period. The developed industry of the British Empire as well as the political power over its colonies contributed to spreading the idea of a merry Christmas worldwide.
As the holiday sailed across the globe, the festival lost its religious overtones and became less British. The secular Christmas song, “Jingle Bells,” was copyrighted in the U.S. in 1857. The modern image of Santa Claus, reinvented from the Dutch Sinterklaas, was created in New York to symbolize the city’s non-English past. Today, Christmas has become one of the most celebrated and commercialized holidays of shopping, gift exchanging, feasting and a well-deserved year-end enjoyment.
“Merry Christmas” in different languages:
French: Joyeux Noël
German: Frohe Weihnachten
Dutch: Vrolijk kerstfeest
Croatian: Sretan Božić
Greek: Καλά Χριστούγεννα
Irish: Nollaig Shona
Italian: Buon Natale
Spanish: feliz Navidad
Afrikaans: Geseënde kersfees
Swahili: Heri ya Krismasi
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is a five-day holiday celebrated in the fall to symbolize “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.” Originating in the Indian subcontinent, this post-harvest festival following the arrival of monsoon was first documented in Sanskrit and celebrated by people who practice Hinduism; At the same time, over the centuries, it has become a national festival of India. It is celebrated by different religious communities and people speaking different languages, such as Hindi, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil, Bangla and Gujarati. The details of celebration, traditions and even gods that are worshipped during the holiday vary from state to state, religion to religion and language to language; Still, the rejoicing and the wish for a prosperous new year through light and fireworks are nonetheless the same.
Diwali greetings in different languages:
आप सभी को खुशियों और उल्लास से भरी दिवाली की शुभ-कामनाएं!
Aap Sab ko khushiyon aur ulaas se bhari Diwali ki shubhkamnayein!
ದೀಪಾವಳಿ ಹಬ್ನದ ಹಾರ್ದಿಕ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು
ಮೋಜಿನದೀಪಾವಳಿ ಹಬ್ಬದ ಹಾರ್ಧಿಕ ಶುಭಾಶಯಗಳು
Deepavali habbada hardika shubhashayagalu.
అందరికీ దీపావళి శుభాకాంక్షలు
Andariki Deepavali subhakankshalu.
எல்லோருக்கும் இனிய தீபாவளி நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்!
Anaivarukkum iniya Dheebavali nalvazhthukkal.Deepavali nalvazhthukkal!
শুভ দীপাবলি এবং সবাইকে শুভেচ্ছা। আশা করি এই দিনটি আপনার জীবনে আনন্দ নিয়ে আসবে
Sakalkeyi Diwali priti o antarik subhechha. Asha kori, ei Dibas apnar jibone Anando niye ashe.
દિવાળી અને નવા વર્ષની શુભકામનાઓ
Diwali ni hardik shubechao ne nutan varshabhinandan.
3. Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year marks the end of winter and the beginning of a new year in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Traditionally a two-thousand-year-old Spring Festival, it’s now celebrated globally in cultures historically influenced by China, also known as the East Asian cultural sphere.
The holiday’s origin can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – 220 A.D.). In ancient times, marking the beginning of spring, cleaning, seeking blessings from gods and ancestors and performing rituals for the following year’s good weather and harvest were considered essential practices for agricultural production. A month before the New Year’s Eve, people start to prepare for the celebration by storing food, making new clothes, shopping and dusting away the negative. The bright red colour is widely used to decorate rooms. New Year’s Eve is the night of family reunion, feasting and staying up until dawn. Fireworks and firecrackers are set off to welcome the new year. On New Year’s Day, people visit each other and exchange greetings and gifts. Money wrapped in red envelopes is given to the youngest generations of the household (value varies from region to region, from as little as a few bucks to thousands of dollars in CNY). The festive spirit lasts until the first full moon, usually on the 15th day of the first month, also known as the Lantern Festival.
As the years went by, local traditions of celebrating the Lunar New Year across Asia have evolved locally and individually. In China, couplets of New Year’s wishes are hand-written and hung on the door frames, along with the paper cutting of zodiac animals and other types of paper crafts. In Singapore, kumquat trees are placed in the room for their bright golden colour and symbolization of wealth. In Malaysia, the concept of friends visiting each other becomes government-organized open houses on a large scale. Apart from China, the Lunar New Year is also made statutory holiday in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
4. Eid al-Fitr
Eid-al-Fitr is the day that marks the end of Ramadan, a month of daily fasting, in all Islamic cultures. The day is determined by the Islamic Calendar and falls on the first crescent moon of the 10th month. During Ramadan, food is forbidden from sunrise until sunset to teach self-discipline, self-control and empathy for those who are less fortunate. When the month of fasting is over, people celebrate with family and friends where they practice various rituals of prayers, decorate their homes, and prepare sweet dishes and food for everyone to enjoy. Eid-al-Fitr is also a day of charitable works and granting and seeking forgiveness. Depending on the culture, the celebration can last from one to three days. In some Islamic cultures, Eid-al-Fitr is the most important celebration of the year, whereas in some, it’s the second after Eid al-Adha.
Eid-al-Fitr in different languages:
Arabic: عيد الفطر
Urdu: چھوٹی عید
Persian: جشن روزهگشا
Bengali: রোজার ঈদ
Hindi: छोटी ईद
Tamil: நோன்பு பெருநாள்
Malay: Hari Raya Puasa
Kazakh: Ораза айт
Kyrgyz: Орозо айт
Uyghur: Roza Heyt
Uzbek: Roʻza hayiti
Turkish: Ramazan Bayramı
Albanian: Fitër Bajrami
Senegal French: Korité
5. St Patrick’s Day
Celebrated every March 17, St. Patrick’s Day is originally an Irish religious holiday with a history of over 1000 years. Taking place on the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death in the fifth century, the day was celebrated in remembrance of the patron saint of Ireland and his efforts of bringing Christianity to the Irish people. Historically, the day starts with people visiting the church and is celebrated in the afternoon with food, drink and dance.
The first documented St. Patrick’s Day parade that takes the form we’re familiar with today, however, took place in North America in the 18th century. As people of Irish descent migrated across the world, the holiday and its celebration were brought to the new lands they were to call home as a way of showing patriotism, honouring their ancestry and alleviating homesickness. The colour green is widely worn and used for decoration along with shamrocks, which according to the Irish legend, is what St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity.
In the modern days, St. Patrick’s Day has often become a more significant celebration among the Irish diaspora in foreign lands than in Ireland. Similar to Christmas, commercialization has contributed to promoting the holiday to people of various cultural backgrounds and beliefs. Today’s St. Patrick’s Day usually involves parades and festivals, traditional Irish music, alcohol and wearing a lot of green. For a traditional observance, the day is very widely observed and popular among younger generations, as many of the parades have evolved to become like carnivals.
West or East, religious or secular, holidays celebrated by multiple cultural and language groups have a tendency to evolve towards being joyful, social, general and inclusive. Historical values, lessons, purposes and traditions with thousand years of aggregation, no matter how heavy, can find their ways of surviving the fast-paced modern world either by taking the shape of a grand banquet or through a light-hearted festival to win the next generation and to be passed on. After all, people always look forward to finding positivity in life, and all that’s needed, sometimes, is a reason to celebrate.