Localising Christmas: On marketing, and how seasonal traditions vary worldwide
It’s easy to assume that long-established traditions, like Christmas, are the same around the world. What could “localising Christmas” even look like? After all, we all know that Christmas consists of shiny baubles, decorating a Christmas tree, gathering with family members for a turkey dinner, exchanging gifts, etc. Think again. Christmas is probably the most celebrated holiday worldwide, but our modern Christmas is a product of hundreds of years of both secular and religious traditions from around the globe, many of them centred on the winter solstice.
As such, skilled marketeers have long understood that while Christmas is celebrated in many countries, the local traditions and customs vary wildly. If you want your content to resonate with local markets, it’s vital to acknowledge that.
Japan: ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’
In 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken launched what has become, arguably, one of the most successful marketing campaigns… ever! Japanese consumers were encouraged to eat “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!). Nearly 50 years later, ‘Colonel Sanders’ has become synonymous with Santa Claus, and it is an established tradition that families head-out for fried chicken on the 25th of December. In fact, it has become so popular to eat KFC on this day that some people to order their boxes months in advance, or risk queuing for up-to two hours, for their food. And this is despite the fact, that in Japanese culture the 25th is not a national holiday, and the Christian festival of Christmas, is not celebrated. Now that is some quality product localisation!
So if you’re hoping to break into — or corner — a new market during the holiday season, here’s some unique traditions that you should consider when localising your Christmas marketing
While China also does not celebrate Christmas, there is a tradition with the giving of apples. It’s seems that this tradition stems from homophones. In Mandarin, ‘Christmas Eve’ translates to Ping’anye (平安夜, the evening of peace), which sounds a bit like the Chinese word for apple, pingguo (苹果). Over the past decade, giving apples on Christmas Eve has become so popular that the price of the fruit rises every December 24th. “Christmas Apples” are usually wrapped in boxes or colourful paper and decorated with ribbons, or Christmas messages.
The Philippines: ‘Maligayang Pasko!’
Every year, the city of San Fernando holds Ligligan Parul (or Giant Lantern Festival) featuring dazzling parols (lanterns) that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Each parol consists of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky. The festival has made San Fernando the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.”
Iceland: ‘Gleðileg jól!’
The Christmas festival is known as ‘Jól’ (Yule) in Iceland. The Jól season in Iceland is celebrated for thirteen days. Jól Eve starts at 6.00 pm, and traditionally, Icelanders exchange books as gifts. Playful elves or imps called Jólasveinar are thought to eat a lot and play tricks on people. They may also leave presents for good children on the windowsill, or a potato for the naughty children!
Germany: ‘Froehliche Weihnachten!’
In Germany, many people do their Christmas shopping, with a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a bratwurst in the other, at festive outdoor markets. These decorated, seasonal markets pop up all over the country providing great opportunities for artisans and other local sellers.
Interestingly, the tradition of Christmas trees originated in Germany. Decorating evergreen trees has long been a part of the German winter solstice celebrations. The first “Christmas trees” explicitly decorated and named after the Christian holiday appeared in Strasbourg (Alsace) in the beginning of the 17th century. After 1750, Christmas trees began showing up in other parts of Germany, and soon became popular in the UK, North America and beyond.
Sweden: ‘God Jul!’
The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and Northern European symbol and tradition. Its origin is from Germanic paganism and has existed in many variants during Scandinavian history. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw. The most famous is the giant Gävle Goat (Gävlebocken) — a traditional annual display at Slottstorget (Castle Square) in central Gävle.
The Christmas feast or ‘julbord’ eaten by the people of Sweden consists of cold fish, herring served in many different ways, gravlax which is salmon cured in sugar, dill, and salt, and smoked salmon.
Finland: ‘Hyvää Joulua!’
Many Finns spend time in the sauna on Christmas Eve! Families often get together to listen to the national “Peace of Christmas” radio broadcast. It is also customary to visit the gravesites of departed family members.
Norway: ‘Gledelig Jul!’
Norway is the origin of the Yule log, and it was part of the ancient Norse celebrations at winter solstice. “Yule” comes from the Norse word hweol, meaning wheel. The Norse believed that the sun was a great wheel of fire that rolled towards and then away from the earth. The Yule log is probably the origin of all the log-shaped cheese and cakes that people in many countries make during this season.
Venezuela: ‘¡Feliz Navidad!’
City-dwellers in Caracas have a tradition of roller skating to mass on Christmas Eve. In fact, the city closes several streets and dedicates them to the skaters. Las patinatas — ”the skating” — dates back to the 1950s.
While the majority of Canadians celebrate in much the same way as the United States. In the far north of the country, Indigenous Inuits celebrate a winter festival called Sinck Tuck, which features dancing and exchanging gifts. Marketing to Canada? It would be respectful to acknowledge that there’s more than one festival taking place.
Australia & New Zealand
Of course, it’s the middle of summer in Australia right now, and that has resulted in many localised traditions. Consider Surfing Santa, Christmas barbecues, and family gatherings on the beach. If you’re planning a festive campaign for this part of world, forget the snowy landscapes and cosy winter jumpers — this will not resonate with your target audience. Localising Christmas, means a summer theme!