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It's that time of year again. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve - all over the world people are gathering with their friends and family to celebrate the holiday season. We've asked Microsoft employees from all over the globe - from Thailand to Israel, from Brazil to the United Kingdom - to describe some of the cultural traditions that make the holidays special in their corner of the world. And from all of us here at Microsoft: Happy Holidays!
Marketing Manager in Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand, the land of smile, celebrates its holiday season differently than most Western countries. Because it is a tropical country located just above the equator, we experience summer weather almost all year round. It is currently about 85° F (29° C) in Bangkok, the capital city.
To celebrate the holiday season, we venture north for winter weather - a chilly 40-50° F (4-10° C). My family's favorite destination is up north in the coldest part of Thailand. The roses there grow to be more than ten inches across and a sea of low-lying clouds hover in the valley far below. My family and I will stay at a resort on a mountain top and have breakfast as the sun rises on Christmas morning. We are planning to spend most of our time sightseeing and shopping for local handicrafts like wood carvings - not to mention feasting on excellent northern Thai food!
The Jewish version for Christmas is Chanukah. Instead of a Christmas tree we have a channukia, which is a candle stick holder for eight candles. We light candles in memory of the Chanukah miracle. The origin of the holiday was during the days of the holy temple when the Romans attacked the Jews because of their beliefs. The Romans destroyed the supply of oil that was used for the temple ritual of eternal light. All that was salvaged was a small barrel, which was supposed to last for only one day of light but instead - by way of miracle - lasted for eight days and nights.
Unfortunately these are working days, we don't really have winter holidays here. The downside of the holidays is that we have fattening dishes like donuts (400 calories each!) and potato pancakes.
For me it is a special holiday, says Tsahi. When I was a child (about 5 years old) I placed the candles in my closet. The house burned down to the ground. I don't think my parents enjoy the holiday very much, it brings back certain memories they would rather forget. I think the insurance company feels the same way. The donuts were very well done that year.
Online Marketing Specialist, Reading, England
Christmas Day in England is a peaceful time where families get together for the traditional turkey lunch followed by games, TV or a long walk. It is our main holiday in the UK and the traditions have built up over many years.
The tradition of hanging out stockings is based on the story of Saint Nicholas. He wanted to give money to poor people but was very shy. One day he climbed on to the roof of a house and dropped a purse of gold coins down the chimney. This landed in a stocking that had been hung out to dry. Children still hang out stockings in the hope of receiving gifts.
The hanging of greenery around the house, such as holly and ivy, is an ancient winter tradition. The sweet-smelling greenery was brought into the house to lift sagging winter spirits and to remind people that spring was not far away. People also hang mistletoe in their homes - a practice that goes back to the ancient Druids where it was supposed to possess mystical powers to ward of evil spirits and bring good luck to the household. These days luck is only gained by kissing underneath it!
Boxing Day, 26th December, is also part of our holiday season. Traditionally it was on this day that the alms boxes at every English church were opened and their contents given to the poor.
Former Group Product Manager, Consumer Division in Redmond, Washington, USA, and author of "All I Really Need to Know in Business I Learned at Microsoft"
One of the fun things about having kids and starting your own family is creating your own traditions. You can continue the things you loved growing up - like Mom's potato pancake recipe - and ignore some others like singing Chanukah songs -- our voices are all abysmal.
My family has started a new tradition since we're 3,000 miles away from our parents and siblings. We hold a Chanukah party with our friends who are Jewish, Christian, interfaith - you name it! We light the menorah, spin dreidels (spinning tops) and give books about the story of Chanukah to the kids. Rather than thinking it's strange to participate in a holiday that is not theirs, our Christian friends enjoy learning about Chanukah and adding a little "cross-cultural experience" for their kids.
Web Editor in Sao Paolo, Brazil
In Brazil, Christmas falls in the summertime, Iggy explains. And it is "hot, very, very hot." Like their counterparts in the Northern Hemisphere, Brazilians decorate for the holidays with lots of blinking lights. The shopping centers are full of Papai Noel (Santa Claus) - "and lots of happy children," Iggy says.
New Year's Eve in Brazil.... People gather on the beaches to worship Iemanjá, the Queen of the Seas. "Everybody dresses in new white clothes for good luck and to follow the traditions from Bahia," Iggy explains, referring to the old name of the city of Salvador in eastern Brazil. Iemanjá requires her followers to jump seven waves, and make a wish on each wave. "You get out of the water walking backwards - not to give your back to Iemanjá.... The parties on the beaches end around 10 a.m. on January 1st," he said, and invited all to come.
Public Relations Specialist, Munich, Germany
In Germany, most people are on holidays between the 24th of December and 2nd January, or even 7th January. The most important day is 24th December. In the morning of the 24th, we usually put our Christmas tree in the living room and decorate it. On Christmas Eve, we have a nice dinner. If there are small children, we usually "perform" the coming of Santa Claus: Nobody is allowed to go into the living room before he arrives. Suddenly a bell is ringing, the children enter the living room and see the Christmas presents lying under the tree. Santa Claus has just left. Then we sing some Christmas carols and unpack the presents. Most families go to church later at night. On Christmas and Boxing day we visit our families and friends, and eat and drink with them.
Customer Information Center Manager, Seoul, Korea
Koreans have three holidays in winter: Christmas, New Year's Day and the Lunar New Year's Day. Lunar New Year Day changes every year because it follows the lunar calendar. We have Lunar New Year's Day on January 28th in 1998.
In Christmas, people send and receive cards and presents between friends and family. Most of all, children like Christmas because they believe they can get presents from Santa Claus if they do good things. Families get together for New Year's Day or the Lunar New Year's Day. About two-thirds of the total population move to their home town and cause heavy traffic jams all across the highways all day. We do "Sae-Bae"; that is, bow to our parents and grandparents and get good words from them as well as money in the morning on New Year's Day.