We’re a diverse bunch here at JFC. That’s what tends to happen when you work remotely—your colleagues can be spread out around the world.
That said, most of us celebrate Christmas in some form or another. So, we decided to ask our team members to share their beloved festive memories so we can conclude, once and for all: who does Christmas best?
Is it better to have Christmas in the dead of winter, or the heat of summer? Whose holiday food reigns supreme? Are there any unique cultural traditions hiding in Portugal or the Caribbean that we should adopt worldwide? Let’s find out!
The lead up to the big day
*ding ding* Round one: the lead up. You know, the weeks when Christmas carols float from every store, advent calendars are consumed, there’s an influx of Hallmark Christmas movies on TV, and Whamageddon… how do the weeks before Christmas play out for people across the globe?
Festive tunes and films are especially contentious: the same song or movie can be one person’s favourite, but turns another into the Grinch. Here are the best (and worst), according to the JFC Team.
Songs to add (or remove) from your Christmas playlist
- All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey
- Fairytale of New York - The Pogues
- Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
- Last Christmas - Wham (looks like a few of us are playing Whamageddon)
- Mistletoe - Justin Bieber
- Do They Know It’s Christmas? - Band Aid
Honourable mention to Katy, our Editor, who really had a lot to say about that last one:
Bloody Bono and the Band Aid lot with their "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Of course there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas, half of it is south of the equator, and the rest of it is pretty damn close. Oh, and I bet if you went into the Atlas Mountains there might actually be a flake or two.
Films to cue up on the big day (and which to skip)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- Home Alone
- The Muppet Christmas Carol
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- The Polar Express
- Any Hallmark Christmas film
You’ll notice that the Grinch made both lists, and Elf was close to doing the same. We’re a fickle bunch, it seems!
One of our favourite responses was from Flight Finder Olivia:
I don't hate any of them, but I think my mom would put a hit out on Frosty the Snowman.
Let’s go from frosty to something a little warmer. Here’s what the lead up looks like for those in the Caribbean:
Genora (Trinidad & Tobago) - In the lead up to Christmas, you’ve got lots of Christmas parties accompanied by Parang, which I describe as Spanish-style Christmas carols, but it’s a whole different genre of music. People used to go around the neighbourhood singing Parang, but now you’re more likely to find Parang bands in bars or in Paramin or Lopinot villages.
Lopinot village, Trindad & Tobago
Andrea (Antigua) - When you see the lighting ceremonies outside the front of stores, you know it’s Christmastime. We wear Christmas earrings, pins, bracelets, antlers, with one accessory for each day. If you know me, you won’t be surprised to learn I go all out in decorating my house.
Trailer-loads of imported trees are shipped to the island, and despite the extreme cost (some larger ones go for $1000), they always sell out. It means that the delicious pine smell is also associated with the festive season for us too, even though you’d never be able to grow one here naturally.
That brings up another controversial point: real or fake tree? If some people import real trees to places where they definitely don’t grow naturally, clearly there’s still an appeal for them! But according to Team JFC, the vast majority of us will opt for a fake Christmas tree instead (or, a real monstera which is Flight Finder Fran’s substitute). Only 3 people in the team said they bother with a proper, real tree.
Back to how the rest of us do the lead up:
Iris (Philippines/Dubai) - In the Philippines, the holiday season starts all the way in September, marked by the ‘Ber Months’ — September, October, November, December. People hang Christmas lights or parols, and play carols as early as August!
No Filipino Christmas is complete without the joyous sounds of caroling, where groups of children and adults go from house to house singing festive tunes.
I experienced various traditions during this festive season, and coming from a Chinese heritage, we received money in red envelopes from relatives.
After moving to Dubai, sometimes I feel nostalgic about these memories. That being said, there’s a diverse population here among the residents and visitors, so there are still Christmas trees and lights in the malls, and I'm now used to spending Christmas at the beach. Oh, and a Christmas light show at the Burj Khalifa, which kind of makes it look like the largest Christmas tree in the world.
Iris on a beach in Dubai
Snow, or sand?
Kristi's family in the snow
Around 70% of the JFC team prefer Christmas in winter in comparison to summer. The majority of our team is based in the Northern Hemisphere, so it makes sense that we like what we’re familiar with. If you’ve grown up waiting in anticipation for the first snowflake to fall (or drizzly rain, as seems to often be the case in the UK), you likely can’t imagine spending the day on the beach:
Hannah (England) - In my 22 years of Liverpool Christmases, I don’t think I’ve ever had a “white” one. Rainy? Yeah, always, but you don’t hear Michael Bublé dreaming about one of those, do you.
And sure I wouldn’t say no to sipping on an icy cold drink, on the beach, in the sunshine, somewhere a little more picturesque…
BUT, nothing says Christmas like knowing it’s freezing cold outside while you’re wrapped in a blanket with your *compulsory* festive pjs on. Of course, you’ve also gotta crack open at least a few tins of Roses, Celebrations, or Heroes to dive into while you watch The Holiday or play cards with Last Christmas on in the background :-)
Hannah and Santa
Josh (England) - Not to sound too much like the Grinch, but Christmas in the UK to me is cold and wet. It’s nice when it does snow, but more often than not, we’re left with rain.
My twin brother is currently living in Australia, so it’s interesting to see how he celebrates the complete opposite way we would: BBQs and swimming in the sea. This year, we’ve decided to go away for Christmas to Norfolk, so I’ll also have a Christmas Day dip (though I’m sure it’ll be a tad colder).
Kristi (Canada) - Sure, everyone loves a warm vacay… but at Christmas?! No way.
If it isn’t white… is it even really Christmas? Canadians pray for the snow to melt from Oct-Dec 20th and then Dec 27th to April… but that middle week needs to be snowy.
Kristi in the Canadian winter
On the flip side, if you grow up in a country where December 25th falls in summer (or the temperature doesn’t really drop too low in December), you’re still flooded with the northern European symbolism around the holidays. Santa still has his red coat on, you still have a Christmas tree, and the songs that sing about it being cold outside are still played. That means you can usually imagine what a cold Christmas would be like, even if it’s not your reality:
Allan (Miami, USA) - To see everyone else talking about a white Christmas is so disheartening because it’s all I ever wanted. Every TV show, every movie, every song mentioned the snowflakes and the tinsel and the scarves and the mittens, and I never really got to experience that.
Miami is the opposite: when temperatures were in the low-60s Fahrenheit (about 15-17 Celsius) on Christmas Day, we would throw on our warmest clothes—a light hoodie—and enjoy the first and only chilly breeze we’d get all year.
Andrea (Antigua) - I know that when people think of Christmas, they think white snow and hot chocolate. While that’s great, imagine a Christmas of sandy beaches, cocktails and tales of how Santa will make it inside your house, since we don’t have chimneys.
Christmas in the Caribbean is magical because that same island energy and charm visitors crave follows us all straight through the season. Instead of snowflakes, we look forward to cooling raindrops to help ease the day’s heat.
We sing songs asking how Santa will find us, and if he would need to borrow our neighbour's donkey (since we don't have reindeer in our country). We have lighting competitions, and we drive around the island, with a pit stop for icy drinks and BBQ on the side of the road once you’re done seeing the lights.
So, which is supreme: sledding or surfing? Olivia and Lauren both have compelling points:
Olivia (San Diego, USA) - Having grown up in San Diego and always spent the holidays in California, I’ve never experienced a white Christmas. To me, snowmen were in the same category as elves and Santa – symbols of the holiday, but fantastical ones.
We spent most of my childhood Christmases in Pismo Beach. This is a tiny little beach town on the central coast of California, mostly known for clam chowder and surfing. Christmas to me means Pismo, so it’s a beachy holiday in my mind.
There was always a huge Christmas tree made of lights at the very end of the Pismo pier and in the mornings, my dad and I would get coffees and go walk out over the ocean to see it. The clam statues (yes, clam statues) would get painted to match the holidays, so in December they look like reindeer. You walk around town in flip-flops with boardshorts and a windbreaker. You’d unwrap a boogie board and then ride it that afternoon.
I think everyone from SoCal feels at home in beach towns like that, so it’s plenty cozy for the holidays. Why would I want it to snow on Christmas? How will I try out my new sand toys?
Pismo Beach Pier at Christmas
Lauren (England) - Okay, the idea of a warm Christmas does sound intriguing, I’ll give you that. But, ultimately, Christmas to me just needs to be cold and ideally with a generous dusting of snow—not that that’s ever guaranteed.
Although growing up in Worcester, England, you’d be surprised just how many white Christmases I saw. Sledging was by far my favourite festive activity. Nothing quite beats hurtling down an icy hill on a wobbly carboot-bought vintage sledge. Side note, if you're looking for speed, buy one with metal rails, they fly like lightning.
Any year that was light on the white stuff wasn’t that much of an issue, given that we lived relatively close to the mighty Malvern Hills. If snow didn’t come to us, we’d just drive up to it, but boy were those slopes steep.
Looking back, it’s nothing short of a Christmas miracle that I never broke a bone.
Lauren making snow angels
Maybe the fairest thing to do is to end with those in the team who have experienced both:
Allan (Miami, USA) - When I was 9, my parents got so sick of my begging that they let me and my brother go to Virginia with my cousins (not them though, they’re not built for the cold). Sure enough, I saw snow! Maybe too much snow … as we got snowed in our cabin by the biggest storm to hit the Appalachians in years. I bit off a bit more than I could chew.
I might have had one (or two or three) little asthma attacks, but I also got to sled like you, Lauren! It’s just that my sledding was in the middle of a forest on a popped air mattress that we had packed accidentally. So basically, the same, right?
Allan, happy to finally experience snow
Larissa (Australia) - Growing up in Sydney, Christmas is hot. On the odd occasion, the day itself is actually sunny, but more often than not, the forecast for Christmas Day is overcast and muggy, with a potential summer shower after lunch.
Celebrating Christmas in summer is superior, since it’s a clear ‘celebration’ built into what’s arguably the best season. Most people have a decent chunk of time off school and work, and they’re resetting for the new year in the sun, while swimming. Jealousy still stirs in me when my friends at home start flashing sunny snaps on my social media feed, just when I’m ready to go into hibernation mode.
I didn’t experience my first cold Christmas until I was in my early 20s, but now, living in London, I’ve had one every year for the past 4 years. Santa’s suit, festive jumpers, and ‘Baby, it’s Cold Outside’ finally makes sense, but it still feels a little funny to be participating in it all, kind of like I’m faking my way through.
Larissa, enjoying London's Christmas lights
Tristan (Scotland/Spain) - I’ve seen two unique versions of the holidays, which means I'm going to take the hated centrist position!
My pre-teen years were mostly spent in the Scottish countryside, which was exactly the magical experience you would picture it to be when it snowed… which wasn't super often.
Aside from the obvious (what Santa brought), the memories that stick with me are hoping and praying with bated breath each year for proper snowfall and what happened when it finally came.
No time was wasted digging out the sled and abusing it until you couldn't feel your fingers and toes. School was suddenly something to look forward to, as our teachers attempted to organize chaos by authorizing a carefully monitored hundred-person snowball fight.
As I got older, I started spending the winter holidays with my extended family in Barcelona, which was a disappointing change - but only at first.
My grandmother was absolutely the matriarch and as a teenager, I naturally felt the need to rebel from her rigid rules and expectations of the holidays. However, my will dissolved year by year as I matured and began to appreciate the traditions and ceremonies.
Testing the 50-year-old Christmas lights from the boxes in the attic, icing and decorating the cake, and carefully placing the cards evenly around the living room collectively all gradually transformed into something special.
Both versions of the holidays had their pros and cons, but at the end of the day, I'm glad I got to experience both. We know scientifically that novelty makes our lives more memorable, and few things are worth remembering more than time with people we love.
Kiran (India) - I never celebrated Christmas in India. I always saw the festive lights and carols on a small scale, but I’ve never participated myself. It seems like, for most people (since it’s a predominantly Hindu country), there’s no religious significance. So instead, it’s more of a commercial opportunity for businesses to sell or to get more customers.
So, my understanding of what Christmas is has been largely shaped by movies and TV shows: the snow, Santa, Christmas trees… it couldn’t be farther from my reality growing up. But, now I live in London and this year, I’m really looking forward to my first Christmas in the UK. And here, Christmas is everywhere: in the Christmas lights on the street, German-style Christmas markets, and even the potential of snow.
We've made it to Christmas day! What does it look like around the world?
Across the continents, most of our team spends Christmas at home with their family, or they travel to family especially for the holiday. Though a few of us like the idea of spending Christmas far, far away, in places like Morocco, the Canaries, or somewhere beachy.
Next up: do you open presents on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day? The vast majority of us open on Christmas morning surrounded by family, but those of us from Portugal, Brazil, the Philippines, and parts of the US open their first gifts on Christmas Eve.
Andreia (Portugal) - At midnight, we exchange gifts. If there are kids in the family, chances are someone will dress up as Santa and distribute presents around. In the early morning, after a third (or fifth) round of desserts, board games, and a drink or two, we all go to bed to rest up for the day after. Christmas Day itself is usually just spent at home, on the couch and watching films, recovering from our main celebration the day before.
Kristi (Canada) - On Christmas Eve, we play cards in front of the fireplace while holiday music plays and big white snowflakes drift down from the sky.
No matter how old we get, we will sleep over at my parents’ house so we are there for Christmas brekkie in our pyjamas. The kids (and I) rush downstairs to check stockings – but only once everyone is awake (those who wake up even slightly after the crack of dawn are awakened by sleigh bells jangling loudly outside their door). Armed with coffee or tea, we all sit on the floor around the lit tree and open presents one at a time.
Kristi ice-skating in Canada
Genora (Trinidad and Tobago) - On the day itself, we open presents, and either head to the beach or watch cheesy movies. People in the Caribbean are pretty religious, so many people still attend Christmas mass at midnight on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, hitting the sand and surfing during Christmas holidays is super common here, especially on Boxing Day.
Jo (South Africa) - Presents are opened throughout the day (not all in the morning, like in the movies). In our neighbourhood, the kids all play together with their new rollerblades, scooters, drones or RC cars.
Kash (Canada/Ireland) - As a child, my experience with Christmas was a bit of a mixed bag. My earliest memories were quite nice; extended family members piled in for a photograph on the staircase of my aunt’s farmhouse (she always made an effort at Christmas) and snowsuit waddles on the front porch before diving into a blanket of snow.
At the age of four, I moved to Ireland with my single mom and sister, so our big family Christmases were a thing of the past. Looking back, I know my mother was struggling with the pressure of perfection as well as grappling with the realities of being a single parent with a mental illness. And she did the best she could. We did try to make it back to Canada the first few years of being abroad, and that meant a lot.
After a few tough years when we experienced loss and I took on the subconscious stresses of organising the day, as a family, we’re now in a better place to celebrate. My sister has carried on the spirit of my aunt’s thoughtful Christmases for the sake of her children. It definitely inspires me to bring the festive spirit, as I would love for my nieces and nephews to have fond memories of the holiday.
Personally, it’s hard to ignore the pervasive influence of the commercialization of Christmas. I find myself yearning for simpler, more meaningful celebrations that focus on genuine connections rather than the accumulation of material gifts. That’s why I’m very intrigued by the idea of Yule instead.
In exploring the essence of Yule, there's a noticeable emphasis on nature, the changing seasons, and the interconnectedness of all living things. The celebration revolves around the Winter Solstice, the rhythms of the natural world, and the return of light. The emphasis on connection, both with loved ones and with the natural world, feels to me, like a genuine return to the heart of what holidays should be about.
So, what's on your plate?
It’s time for the final round (and one that is maybe the most important): food and drink. When we polled the JFC team, we found that most people have tried traditional wintery foods, even if they didn’t grow up in Europe or North America. Turkey or glazed ham with all the trimmings (Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, pigs in blankets, bread stuffing or bread sauce (which are two different things!), mashed potatoes and gravy) made the list again and again. Also, codfish got a special mention from a couple of us!
Surprisingly, the most famous (and divisive) of Christmas drinks, eggnog, was only mentioned by three members. And two of our North America & Canadian teams mentioned they use Christmas as a ‘Thanksgiving round 2’, with marshmallow and yam salad and green beans making an appearance.
Here’s what more of our ‘winter’ contingent had to say:
Kristi (Canada) - Christmas Eve is best spent inside, playing games and eating Christmas baked goodies. We gorge ourselves on so many cookies, Welsh cakes, and tarts that we always end up skipping a proper dinner.
On Christmas Day, it’s a big Christmas dinner of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and marshmallow salad. Yuuuuuuum.
Kristi's Christmas cocktails
Josh (England) - The heating is on, the turkey is cooking, and my extended family comes around to our house to celebrate.
Pigs in blankets are a must and accompany the turkey, usually with another meat and plenty of desserts. Throughout the day, we go back for seconds, thirds and tenths.
Hannah (England) - Nothing, and I mean, nothing, compares to a warm bowl of jam roly-poly after a big ol’ Christmas dinner.
Hannah's edible Mrs Clause
And just because you’re technically in the Northern Hemisphere, doesn’t mean you all eat the same way:
Andreia (Portugal) - In Portugal, Christmas celebrations take place on the evening of the 24th. It's all about dinner! The cod is bought a couple weeks beforehand and left in water for days on end to remove the salt. Then, it's cooked and served with a side of potatoes and cabbage (for the brave), and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and pepper.
After dinner, traditional desserts like aletria (kind of like a rice pudding), or cakes like bolo rei and pão de ló (my favourite) are served, along with chocolate and sweets (looking at you, Ferrero Rocher).
On the 25th, lunch is served: usually suckling pig or grilled picanha (beef steaks), and the classic farrapo velho (a mix of cod leftovers from the evening before), which not everyone, including me, can handle.
Tristan (Scotland/Spain) - The re-fried rice using turkey leftovers on Boxing Day, Roscon de Reyes and the Christmas pudding we brought with us from the UK were all just as anticipated as a first snow day.
Okay! Now let’s hear from our team on the other side of the globe - how does the hotter weather affect what’s on your plate at Christmas?
Larissa (Australia) - Christmas to me means two things: tropical fruit piled high on top of a pavlova, and bowls full of fresh prawns. On the day, I have a long, leisurely lunch of cold meats and salads in the backyard of an Aunt’s house, surrounded by my extended family. Of course, the British influence was still there in the form of warm Christmas pudding, accompanied by ice cream, custard, or both.
I know there’s magic in how Europe celebrates Christmas, with German-style markets, mulled wine and the hope of snow. But there’s always a craving for a really good mango that I can’t quite satisfy with mince pies.
Genora (Trinidad & Tobago) - My family and I usually go over to Tobago for Christmas week. On the day itself, it's all about the food. The most popular Christmas foods are pastelles, black cake (otherwise known as rum cake), poncho de creme (the Trini version of eggnog) and, of course, the Christmas ham.
Andrea (Antigua) - In my family, we meet at my house for gift opening and breakfast on the big day. It's always made up of traditional Guyanese food (pepper pot and garlic pork) and a Caribbean favourite, ham (hey, Genora!). Then we still have room to get together for lunch with my extended family and friends.
On Christmas Eve, we would have Noche Buena and Media Noche by sharing a meal with the whole family.
Last year, I celebrated Christmas day on the beach with a picnic of lots of fruit.
Iris' Christmas picnic in Dubai
Jo (South Africa) - After the exciting magic of watching Veranda Santa with my daughter (thanks, Bluey), the day is filled with peppered beef fillet (or prawns, brisket and sometimes a turducken), potato mozzarella bites, avocado and feta salad and charred sweetcorn on the braai.
If you’re against sugar, my house isn’t the place for you. In place of the trifle, I make chocolate cheesecake with condensed milk and an Oreo base, a milk tart and a chocolate Cape Velvet (for the grown-ups).
Once the day has wound down and the little people are in bed for the night, the dishwasher is running for the 13th time that day, and counters are cleared, it’s finally time for the parents to unwind by sitting outside on the lounger in the evening air. With the leftover plate of something sweet. We hear music from all different directions in the dark, and know we aren’t the only ones enjoying the moment after a hectic day.
So who wins the final round? Well, while we won’t say no to a nice mango, South African BBQ or pastelles, it does seem like the Christmas food from most other countries continue to incorporate those more traditional ingredients, like turkey or ham. So clearly there are some ideas that spread across all continents, and for good reason!
According the majority of our team, a traditional wintery celebration seems to be the gold standard, with even those growing up in warmer climates incorporating some elements of a typical Northern European Christmas.
But, what do you think? Which celebrations are you going to try to incorporate into your Christmas celebrations this year? Let us know your thoughts and we might just add your contribution in a follow-up article, or in the Detour.
That’s the best thing about this celebration: whether you stick to traditions or you prefer to adopt a new way of looking at the season, (or an old way, in the case of Yule), it’s exactly what you make it.