What the month of December can teach us about culture

Christmas stockingMy post today has been prompted by a discussion that can be observed every year exactly at the same time: what do you have to write on your “end of the year” greeting cards, should it be” season’s greetings”? Or maybe “Merry x-mas and Happy New Year” as it used to be, or maybe even “Holiday greetings”? For English natives, this is easy as some expressions are more used in the UK, some others in the States or in Canada. But then, when you translate the wishes into other languages as good global citizens nowadays have to do, the problems begin… actually, this is not completely true. If I could choose on my own what I wanted to say, things would be more or less easy.

Once I have battled myself through diverse online dictionaries and discussion forums to find out what the most appropriate greeting for each language and country would be (yes, some countries have the same language but the greeting would slightly differ), the job is done. But normally, you cannot decide these things on your own as you have people in these countries who all want to have their say. What happens is that you get as many opinions as you ask people… funnily enough, every year, I am promising myself to simply keep the wording from last time (which I then forget in January at the latest) or to just send out cards in one language (which I then decide would be very sad being in Europe). Well, maybe I should just print out this post and take it out again next year as by now I successfully made it to the last round of card revisions for 2012….!

When looking at this particular period of time from a cultural perspective, greeting cards are actually not the only subjects of interest. Living and working in a multicultural environment, the second thing that struck me more than other years, was the fact that I am surrounded by so many different rites that I am not even aware of. For me, being German, it is normal for example to have a handmade advent calendar, an advent wreath, where every Sunday until x-mas a new candle may be lit, and, of course, to welcome Saint Nicholas to your house on the 6th of December by filling up a boot for old and young with sweets, tangerines and nuts.

Speaking with Lebanese neighbours the other day, I learned that this last practice does not exist. They have “Eid il-Burbara” on the 4th of December instead…whereas in Belgium and in the Netherlands the “Sinterklaas” even come to schools on the 6th. Nothing alike exists to my knowledge in the English-speaking and Canadian world but I am sure there are many more traditions out there that I don’t know of.

What it shows me again is that navigating through cultural waters really necessitates mindful non-judging and acceptance as we might see many things that appear “strange” or inappropriate to us. When keeping an open mind, inquiring and giving it a second thought, you will discover a true abundance of differences and cultural finesses, which are really enriching when you take the time to look. It will also give you the opportunity to meet new people and maybe even make new friends, who knows?!

What are your experiences around this time of the year? Please share them with me!