A Guide to Language & Customs at Christmas & New Years From Around the World

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Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can’t communicate with someone because we don’t know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we’re happy, tears when we’re not.

I’ve spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I’m sure I’m forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you’re celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don’t honor it at all. If you’ve grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you’ve never had a white christmas.

Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word “presepium” which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).

In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year.  The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.

In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.

Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.

In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo (“Early Morning Mass.”) In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.

In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don’t sleep in cradles.  Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.

And, you’ve gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as “first footing.”

In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.

An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.

I’m amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess…or flipping a coin.

Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn’t capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.

Afrikaans: Geseënde Kersfees en ‘n voorspoedige Nuwe jaar

Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr

Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)

Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)

Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)

Bulgarian: Честита Коледа (Čestita Koleda) Весела Коледа (Vesela Koleda)

Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ – (Danistayohihv & Aliheli’sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)

Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa’eEmona’e

Chinese (Mandarin): 聖誕快樂 新年快樂 [圣诞快乐 新年快乐] – (shèngdàn kuàilè xīnnián kuàilè) and 恭喜發財 [恭喜发财] (gōngxǐ fācái) – used at Chinese New Year

Chinese (Taiwanese): 聖誕節快樂 (sing3-tan3-tseh khoai3-lok8). 新年快樂 (sin-ni5 khoai3-lok8) and 恭喜發財 (kiong-hi2 huat-tsai5)

Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth

Corsican: Bon Natale e pace e salute  

Croatian: Sretan Božić! and Sretna Nova godina!

Czech: Veselé vánoce a šťastný nový rok

Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår

Dutch: Prettige kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! and Zalig kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat

Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou

Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!

Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année

German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten – und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr

German (Swiss):  Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte — und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr — Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus — Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis

German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht’n, und a guad’s nei’s Joah

Greek: Καλά Χριστούγεννα! (Kalá hristúyenna) and Ευτυχισμένο το Νέο Έτος! (Eftyhisméno to Néo Étos!) and Καλή χρονιά! (Kalí hroñá)

Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane

Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou

Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה – Chag Molad Sameach v’Shanah Tovah

Hindi: शुभ क्रिसमस (śubh krisamas) and नये साल की हार्दिक शुभकामनायें (naye sāl kī hārdik śubhkāmnayeṅ)

Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet

Icelandic: Gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár and Gleðileg jól og farsælt nýtt ár

Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru

Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season’s Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)

Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo

Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) — New Year greeting – ‘Western’ style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings – Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)

Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ botIvjaj (pl)

Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)

Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê

Latin: Natale hilare et annum faustum

Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų

Malay: Selamat Hari Natal (Christmas) and Selamat Tahun Baru (New Year)

Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba – Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida

Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa

Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)

Navajo: Ya’at’eeh Keshmish

Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना – (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)

Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)

Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear

Persian:  kerismas mobārak) ریسمس مبارک and (sale no mobārak) سال نو مبارک

Polish: Wesołych świąt i szczęśliwego Nowego Roku

Portuguese: Feliz Natal e próspero ano novo / Feliz Ano Novo and Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo / Um Santo e Feliz Natal

Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas – not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)

Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou

Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit

Russian: С Рождеством Христовым (S Roždestvom Khristovym) and С наступающим Новым Годом (S nastupayuščim Novym Godom)

Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou

Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou

Scottish Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr

Serbian: Христос се роди (Hristos se rodi) – Christ is born and Ваистину се роди (Vaistinu se rodi) – truly born (reply) and Срећна Нова Година (Srećna Nova Godina) – Happy New Year

Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok

Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!

Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas — Heri ya mwaka mpya

Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år

Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api

Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ – (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)

Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། – (Losar La Tashi Delek – Happy New Year)

Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta’u fo’ou monū’ia

Turkish: İyi Noeller ve Mutlu Yıllar
İyi senelerYeni yılınız kutlu olsun (Happy New Year)
Yeni yılınızı kutlar, sağlık ve başarılar dileriz
(We wish you a happy, healthy and successful new year)

Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)

Thai: Chúc Giáng Sinh Vui Vẻ và Chúc Năm Mới Tốt Lành

Welsh: Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda

Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo

Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר – (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)

Zulu: Ngikufisela uKhisimusi oMuhle noNyaka oMusha oNempumelelo

The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations.  They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.


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