During this festive season, much of the world becomes focussed on Christmas as a time of joy and tradition. However, while in many countries in the northern hemisphere people are wrapped up in coats as it is the middle of winter (leaving global warming issues aside!), in the southern hemisphere it is summer, so Christmas is a time for short sleeves.

Christmas celebrations in the southern hemisphere

When you think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is Santa Claus with his red suit, red hat and sled gliding across the snow. But in another part of the planet, in South America, the tropical zones, Africa, the Pacific islands, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and the rest of Oceania, the images of Christmas are very different…

While most of the Christmas traditions are the same as the ones we have in our hemisphere, some countries have adapted them to reflect their local traditions and customs. So, how do these celebrations differ in terms of traditions and experiences?

1. Climate and season

In the northern hemisphere, Christmas is associated with winter and snow, roaring fires and cold nights. Meanwhile, in the south, the celebrations take place under the blue skies and long sunny days that are normal in summer and ideal for outdoor activities. If you’re lucky, you could even spend Christmas on the beach. So, it’s no surprise that instead of meeting a snowman, you might find a sandman.

2. Different decorations

Despite the climate differences, Christmas decorations are the same in both hemispheres. You can still find Christmas trees in many southern hemisphere countries, but they don’t have winter decorations. Instead, they’re decorated with more summery elements, like seashells, tropical decorations or local flowers.

In some places, even the tree is different. In New Zealand, for example, instead of using a fir or a pine tree, they decorate the pohutukawa tree which is known for its stunning red flowers. And in South Africa, they swap the traditional pine or fir tree for a tree made of wire and decorated with indigenous symbols, like Zulu dolls.

3. Festive food

Traditional Christmas food reflects the seasonal weather. While in the north, people eat comforting winter dishes like roasts, soups and hot desserts, in the south, the tables are full of fresh produce and tropical flavours. Fresh seafood, consommé, tropical salads, fruit, lemonade and refreshing drinks can be found on offer. People also tend to have outdoors barbecues with friends and family. Amazing, isn’t it?

4. Family traditions

Regardless of the weather, in both hemispheres Christmas remains a special occasion for spending time with the family, giving presents and celebrating. However, outdoor activities and gatherings in natural settings are more common in the south due to the weather. These activities include spending time on the beach, a picnic in the park, swimming or going to outdoor events.

Santa Claus visits the children in the southern hemisphere as well, but obviously he changes his appearance and the way he gets to their homes. In Brazil, for example, instead of wearing warm clothing, he dresses in red silk. In Australia, he appears on a surfboard. Can you imagine children asking for presents that they can use when splashing around on beach holidays?

In Brazil, New Year’s Eve is celebrated on the beaches. Its inhabitants, dressed in white, usually start the year by dipping their bare feet in the water for good luck.

Challenges with translating Christmas in the southern hemisphere

As you have seen, Christmas in the southern hemisphere is a celebration that takes place in the heat of summer and an outdoor festive atmosphere that make this season a different experience.

But did you know that differences in Christmas celebrations also pose challenges for translation? Traditions and seasonal references must be translated with sensitivity to retain the Christmas spirit but reflect the different cultural and linguistic contexts. Our iconic images that are universal and symbolic of Christmas can be a real culture shock to people living in southern areas.

In our translation agency, we understand the importance of capturing the cultural and seasonal essence in our translations to convey the true magic of Christmas everywhere it is celebrated around the world. This is essential if you are looking for e-commerce translation services. If, for example, you send a December newsletter to your contacts to wish them a Merry Christmas, it might not be very appropriate to use an image of snowy trees or make references to cold weather, roast turkey or Santa Claus’ sleigh for those customers living in countries where the temperature is 30 degrees. This may seem unimportant, but it is vital if you want to maintain long-term business relationships.

Andrea Galiana

Author Andrea Galiana

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