Symbols of Christmas

Elizabeth Gould

It is Christmas time! The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and Christmas trees decorate the shops in Bolivia. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but many symbols of Christmas are recognizable to people from different countries and cultures all around the world.  Even people who don't celebrate Christmas would be able to identify Christmas trees with the December holiday season. Although many Christmas traditions and symbols are recognizable around the world, some traditions are more regional. Christmas time in Bolivia shows a mix of regional and Global traditions.

The process of Globalization is primarily driven by trade and technology, and also through cultural exchange. ´Globalization is the ongoing process that is linking people … This has resulted in our lives being intertwined with people in all parts of the world via the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the music we listen to, the information we get and the ideas we hold.´ (1). The Christmas symbols we all recognize have spread around the world and become part of global culture.

A few hundred years ago Christmas trees were unknown in most of the world except for Germany and parts of northern Europe. It was during the Victorian period that Christmas trees rose to fame. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria´s German husband made the tradition popular in Britain when he had one put up in Windsor Castle. ´In 1848, a drawing of "The Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle" was published in the Illustrated London News.´ (2). The same picture was also published in the USA and the tradition spread across the Atlantic. Through international media and trade, Christmas trees have spread around the world. This is just one example of cultural exchange which shows that Globalization isn’t a new thing.

Different countries seem to maintain their own traditions in parallel to global culture. In Bolivia, families often use fresh summer flowers rather than evergreens to decorate at Christmas time. With its roots in European pagan traditions of the Winter solstice, the tradition of Christmas trees has less potency in South America. While plastic trees are sold in most Bolivian supermarkets, it is the Nativity scenes which have a more traditional place in homes during the holiday season. The food at Christmas time maintains a typically Bolivian feel with most families eating a special stew called Picana (which has potatoes, different types of meat, corn and sometimes wine). In the UK many people celebrate by singing carols, whereas in Bolivia many towns have parades during the Christmas holidays where they dance in the streets. Bolivians often set off fireworks on Christmas Eve, and the main Christmas meal is on Christmas Eve. Whereas in the UK the main celebration is on Christmas day, culminating in a large lunch. British families don’t have fireworks during Christmas, but they still have small explosions during Christmas dinner; they have Christmas Crackers, which are small toys that you have to pull with a partner till they break with a bang, and the person with the longest side gets the toys inside (3). These are traditions which haven’t become part of global culture and maintain a regional feel.

Whether you see the season as a time for childlike delight and joy, or you perceive the encroaching commercial festivities with a Grinch-like horror, it seems that people will approach the season in their own unique way. While some things have become international symbols of the season, others have maintained their national flavor. However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate), Christmas could be seen as reflective of the balance between commercial uniformity, and regional differences in an increasingly interconnected world.






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