Q4 and Q1 of each year are, without a doubt, a significant time of the year for businesses, but they’re also an important time for the employees. From October until March, countries and communities around the world celebrate national holidays of great importance, such as Diwali, Hannukah, Saint Nicholas Day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the Lunar New Year. We interviewed Jonckers staff from our offices around the world to hear about which holidays they celebrate, and the traditions and customs that make these holidays special for them.
We’re starting off in Slovakia, talking to Veronika Chmulikova, one of Jonckers’ Community Resource Managers in our Žilina office. Veronika celebrates Christmas throughout December, describing it as “a holiday filled with good cheer, joyful decorations, and time with family and friends, whether you are celebrating a secular or religious Christmas. To celebrate Christmas in Slovakia, you decorate your home, enjoy Christmas traditions with your family, and take time to give back to others; all things to get you into the Christmas spirit.”
In Slovakia, Christmas celebrations begin with Advent – the Christian season of preparation for the birth of Christ in late December. As much of the country are Roman Catholics, this marks the start of the important spiritual preparations for Christmas. Slovaks also celebrate St. Nicholas Day on 6th December. Veronika explains that “in Slovakia, he is known as Svätý Mikuláš. He visits our homes on the evening of December 5th and gives presents to good children. Young children place their shoes near the door so Svätý Mikuláš can fill them with sweets and fruit, or black coal in case kids were bad or disobedient!”
During Advent, Slovakians prepare for Christmas by cleaning the house, baking, shopping, and buying and decorating a Christmas tree. Veronika says “Slovak Christmas Trees are decorated with colored lights, fruit, hand-made decorations made of wood, baked goods made with honey in the form of angels, and other religious symbols and sweets. We keep our Christmas trees up until January 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings (also known as Epiphany).”
Veronika mentions that Christmas Eve (24th December) is the most important day during Christmas for Slovakians. “It is called the Generous Day (Štedrý deň), and the actual evening is called the Generous Evening (Štedrý večer). The whole Christmas Season is called ‘Vianoce’. Christmas gifts are brought to children by Baby Jesus (Ježíško); a common tradition is that the children have to leave the room when the presents are brought in by Jesus. When the gifts are ready, a bell is rung. Presents are usually opened after the main Christmas dinner.”
So, what is the traditional Christmas dinner eaten by Slovakians? “Christmas dinner starts with small bread wafers (oplátky) and a blessing,” explains Veronika. “Another small dish is a simple plain bread with piece of garlic. The main Christmas supper varies between regions and families. It normally has lots of courses including a fish dish and cabbage soup (Kapustnica). The cabbage soup usually goes with sausage, meat, dried mushrooms, and cream. Every family has their own recipe! Some recipes include ingredients that might seem unusual, such as dried plums and apples.”
“The fish dish I mentioned is often carp or salmon. Throughout the Advent season, you often see carps sold on the street from big tanks. After the fish course, we’ll eat potato salad with mayonnaise and vegetables such as peas and carrots. Some families can have some extra dishes such as ‘pirohy’ dumplings, extra vegetables, and plenty of walnut rolls or cookies.”
For dessert, Veronika explains that cookies are a popular choice during Christmas. “Some favorites include vanilla ones made with poppy seeds, and walnut and apricot cookies. Sometimes families will make more than 10 different types of cookies, which are given to visitors over Christmas.”
Next in our travels we’re headed to Mexico. Aline Martinez, Brand Ambassador, now lives in Brussels, Belgium but is originally from Queretaro and shares how Mexicans celebrate Christmas with colorful, vibrant traditions.
Aline says that Christmas is a special time for families, and that celebrations start in Mexico on 12th December for “the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. People from all over the country make a pilgrimage to La Basílica de Guadalupe. Then from December 16th to 24th we take part in ‘las posadas’.”
Las posadas is a reenactment of the nativity story played by a group of neighbors. There are nine households involved – one for each night from the 16th to 24th – and the neighbors (especially children) act out the story of Mary (María) and Joseph (José) travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem to find a place to stay.
Aline explains that it starts off with all the neighbors gathering in a corner of the street to make a procession to the first house. “We all walk down the street carrying candles and sparklers, with María and José at the front (sometimes María even sits on a live donkey)! We all knock on the door of the first house and sing a special song asking for place to stay for the night – this is us asking for a ‘posada’. The owners of the house sing back to you, saying ‘no you can’t stay here’. We continue like this at each house until we arrive at house that gives us the ‘posada’ and lets us inside. Here we pray the Rosary and the people who are hosting offer hot chocolate or rice with milk (arroz con leche) to everyone, and a bag of candy and seasonal fruit to the children. Each night, a different house is the one that gives the ‘posada’.”
Another Mexican tradition is the ‘nacimiento’, which is a display of the nativity scene Mexicans put up in their homes. Aline says, “the nacimiento usually includes figures of Mary, Jospeh, and Jesus in the stable, but some bigger ones can include the three kings, shepherds, animals, angels… even a river! There are competitions in Mexico for the biggest and most beautiful Nacimiento.”
The 24th December is an important day for Mexicans celebrating Christmas. Aline says, “the 24th is when we have a special dinner, but first we go to church and bring our figure of baby Jesus – we don’t put him into the nativity scene until he’s been born. At church, the priest blesses all the baby Jesus’ and when we go home, we pray the Rosary and sing to baby Jesus as we put him in nativity scene. Everybody kisses the figure and receives candy. Some people go to church at midnight, but other services start at 9 or 10pm – it’s after this that we eat dinner.”
Aline describes the typical Christmas food in Mexico which includes “tamales, turkey, romeritos, codfish, smoked pork leg, pozole, and barbacoa. For dessert, we eat an apple salad: this is made up of apples, raisins, pineapple, carrots, cream, condensed milk, and nuts. We drink fruit ‘ponche’ made of guava and hibiscus – you can also add tequila to make it alcoholic – and hot chocolate is popular at Christmas too. On the 25th December, families will get together for another meal, reheating the leftovers from yesterday.”
Much like in other Christian countries, Mexicans put their presents under the Christmas tree. Aline says, “my family opens presents after dinner on the 24th, but some families open them on December 25th. After dinner and opening presents, we have a party with singing, dancing, and a piñata; the piñata has seven spikes, to represent the seven deadly sins. Each person is blindfolded, spun around many times, and then has to try and hit the piñata until it breaks and fruit and candy falls onto the floor. There’s also a special song to sing while hitting the piñata.”
Mexico has special traditions for new year as well as Christmas: “We take twelve grapes, each grape representing one wish or goal for the next year. When it reaches midnight, we have to eat all twelve grapes at once, so you have a mouth full of grapes! Some people are also given yellow or red underwear: red is for love – for people expecting or hoping to find love next year – and yellow is for money – for people hoping to become richer next year. Some people also run around the corner of the street with a suitcase, symbolizing the wish to travel.”
Another important date in Mexico is 6th January – the Día de Los Reyes, to honor the day that the Three Kings gave presents to Jesus. Aline explains, “on 5th January, Mexicans write a letter with the gifts they’d like to receive and put it in their shoe under the Christmas tree – some people attach their letter to a balloon so that it flies into the sky. That night, we eat a special meal as a family including the ‘Rosca de Reyes’ cake: this is a sweet bread in the shape of a circle with a hole in the middle, decorated with dried fruit. Hidden inside the cake is a figure of baby Jesus – whoever eats the slice with Jesus inside has to pay for the tamales that we eat on 2nd February (for Candlemans Day). In the morning on 6th January, children open their presents that have been delivered by the Three Kings.”
From North America to Europe, Radka Slingova, Community Talent Finder, shares how she celebrates Christmas with her family in the Czech Republic.
She explains that “the main celebration falls on Christmas Eve (24th December). Our family of four eat a traditional Christmas dinner and share presents from Ježíšek (Little Jesus), who brings the gifts while we’re eating and leaves them under the Christmas tree. We try to fast during this day in the hope that we will see a ‘golden pig’ before dinner, but we don’t always succeed! The traditional festive meal consists of a fish soup and a carp with potato salad.”
One of Radka’s personal traditions is to drink mulled wine in the cinema with friends, but this was not possible due to the covid pandemic in 2020: “Instead, we went for a walk around Prague and we saw almost no tourists.”
She explains that there are many local traditions in the Czech Republic before and during Christmas. “It is mainly about family gatherings and loads of food. Some of the main traditions start with Svatý Mikuláš (Saint Nicholas) on 5th December and last for the whole of Advent. We light a candle on the advent wreath each Sunday until Christmas Eve, and we also go to concerts and other festive events. Before Christmas we bake lots of Christmas cookies and Vánočka (sweet braided bread).”
Some special traditions include “throwing a shoe over your shoulder on Christmas Day, or putting small candles into nutshells to float in a basin of water. If your nutshell stays at the edge of the basin, it means you will stay at home the following year; if it floats far you will leave your home; and if it turns over and sinks you will die!”
We’re now off to Asia, where Phoebe Nguyen, Project Manager in Hanoi, Vietnam, explains how she celebrates the holidays.
Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Vietnam, but Phoebe does celebrate with some friends and fellow alumni: “We get together on December 24th and 25th to eat traditional food like gingerbread and candy canes, to decorate a small Christmas tree, and to take part in a gift exchange. There are some small communities who celebrate Christmas in Vietnam: for example, there’s a church in Hanoi where people go and sing songs on Christmas Eve, and there’s also a street here that sells Christmas decorations.”
Vietnam’s biggest national holiday is new year; not the Gregorian new year on 1st January, but the lunar new year which falls around the end of January or start of February. Phoebe explains that “on 1st January I have a day off which I spend with my family and some stores sell fireworks and ornaments to decorate our houses, but mostly it’s not a big celebration – not like in Western countries.”
“The lunar new year is the main celebration for most Asian countries – in Vietnam, we call it ‘Tet’. To celebrate Tet, families prepare trays of food consisting of chicken, sticky rice, spring rolls, and other traditional food, spring rolls. There are often parties on new year’s eve, and families come together to eat and drink wine – it’s not a holiday you typically celebrate with friends.”
In Vietnam, the lunar new year is about respecting the past year before moving into the new year. Phoebe explains that there are three days of Tet: “the first day is for the father, the second day is for the mother, and the third day is for teachers. We celebrate these days in lots of ways: many families visit grandparents and other relatives, and we often go to temple or to the pagodas. In Hanoi there’s the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu) which my family visit on third day of Tet. This is place to respect the teachers of history, to pray for health, and to pray for my younger brothers and sisters to get good results in their exams.”
Back in Europe, Melissa Kane, VP of Community Management at Jonckers, tells us about her Christmas celebrations at home in Wales, UK.
“We generally have a very traditional, British Christmas: we celebrate on Christmas Day, December 25th, and eat turkey with all the trimmings – roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, parsnips, stuffing, and gravy. We have a Christmas tree and decorate the fireplace – I go full on with the decorations! It’s usually a very sociable season for us with drinks parties and seeing friends, but the pandemic has meant that we can’t socialize as much as normal. Some of my family live abroad – my sister’s in New Zealand for example – so we try to see them if possible. This year my step-son is spending Christmas with his mum, so we’ll recreate Christmas when he’s home on the 28th December.”
A normal Christmas for Mel starts by making sure all her animals receive some nice treats! She explains “we’ve got loads of animals: our five alpacas will be having cabbage, watermelon, and carrots; then we have loads of chickens and peacocks too – they’ll get blueberries, cabbage, and papaya. The dogs partake in Christmas lunch, so they’ll eat the turkey.”
Mel’s family hang up stockings on Christmas Eve ready for Santa to fill with presents when he visits during the night – a classic Christmas tradition in the UK. Mel says “we open our stocking presents in bed, then Christmas Day continues with a big walk with the dogs, Christmas lunch around 2pm, followed by a nap to sleep off all the food! The afternoon is filled with turkey sandwiches, mince pies, and Christmas cake.”
Another typical British tradition Mel’s family follow is hiding a coin in the Christmas pudding (a dense fruitcake made with dried fruit, spices, and often brandy, so that the cake can be set on fire before eating). Whoever finds the coin in their piece of pudding is said to enjoy wealth and good luck in the new year.
In the weeks before Christmas, British schools often act out the nativity story in a play. Mel says “my step-son’s nativity play was a little different, as it was performed entirely in Welsh. Growing up in Wales means his first language is Welsh – this is the language he speaks at school, although he uses English at home with us. The school is very small, so when they put on the nativity play, they invite residents of the local retirement home to watch, as well as the schoolchildren’s parents.”
One Welsh tradition that Mel’s family don’t partake in is the Mari Lwyd: a horse’s skull attached to a pole, decorated with ribbons, holly, and ivy. Between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night a group of people take ‘Mari’ to different houses and sing to the homeowners at the doorstep. If the group of people go inside the house, the household is said to have good luck for the year. Mel’s views are that “the sentiment is nice, but the horse’s skull is really quite creepy!”
The Chinese Lunar New Year 2022 will fall on Tuesday, February 1st 2022, beginning a year of the Tiger. Ellen says, “the date is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar, which changes every year, but is always somewhere in the period from January 21st to February 20th. Each Chinese year is associated with an animal sign according to the Chinese zodiac cycle, which features 12 animal signs in the following order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.”
Chinese people celebrate the holiday in many ways, such as new year decorations, a special dinner on New Year’s Eve, firecrackers and fireworks, and the traditional dragon or lion dance – dancers carry poles which hold a long, flexible puppet of a dragon or lion. These dances are meant to bring prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year.
Ellen continues: “People give their houses a thorough cleaning before the new year, which symbolizes sweeping away the bad luck of the preceding year and preparing their homes to receive good luck. Red is the main color for the festival, as red is believed to be an auspicious color. Every street, building, and house where lunar new year is celebrated is decorated with red. Red Chinese lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; and red envelopes containing money are given to children and seniors in the hope of giving good luck to the receivers.”
Like most countries, there are traditional foods eaten to celebrate the holiday in China. Ellen says, “lucky food is served during the 16-day festival season, especially on the New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner. Fish is a must as it sounds like ‘surplus’ in Chinese and symbolizes abundance. Dumplings shaped like Chinese silver ingots are shared as a sign of the family unit and prosperity. People eat Niángāo (glutinous rice cake) to symbolize a higher income or position as it sounds like ‘year high’.”
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