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A very Memrise Christmas

By Memrise Team

It’s the festive season once again, and the Memrise office is suitably decked out. We’ve got Christmas trees on every floor, Secret Santas prowling the corridors, and threw an epic Christmas party to boot. 

But we’re lucky to have people from across the globe here at Memrise HQ, who celebrate Christmas in many different ways. Here are some of our staff, describing in their own words how Christmas is celebrated in their home countries.


🇮🇹 Italy – Stefano

Christmas in Italy? Three words: tradition, food and gifts!

One of the most important traditions is the presepe, a miniature Nativity scene representation with small statues. The first one was created around 1200 by Saint Francis, and then it became tradition in all the Christian world.

At Christmas you eat. A lot. All the time. Without a break! The most famous sweet treat at this time of year is definitely the panettone, a type of sweet bread loaf. According to a Northern Italian tradition, you have to save one piece of the Panettone from the Christmas lunch and eat it on the 3rd of February, together with your family, as a defence against winter flu.

Last but not least, gifts! In Italy it’s not very clear who delivers them. The “competition” is between Baby Jesus, Saint Lucy and of course Santa Claus!

Italian Christmas expressions:
Buon Natale – Happy Christmas
Tanti auguri di buone feste – Best wishes for the holiday season

🇯🇵 Japan – Kana

Christmas is something of a couple’s event in Japan! Christmas eve is more important than Christmas day because that’s when most of the romantic dates take place. Having “plans for Christmas eve” is akin to saying “I am in a relationship”.

A typical romantic Christmas date usually involves going to look at Christmas lights in town, as streets and shopping malls invest a lot in these decorations. Going to see these illuminations can be a social event not only between couples but also for friends.

Another key aspect of a Japanese Christmas is KFC. Their marketing in Japan has successfully made KFC the symbol of a happy family Christmas dinner. Dads buy a big KFC bucket on Christmas eve to share with their families. Warm, family-friendly KFC TV ads  run up until Christmas. You often see big queues at KFC on Christmas eve.

Our current emperor’s birthday is the 23rd Dec, so whilst we don’t get the 24th, 25th, or 26th of December off, we still have a holiday to look forward to around the same time.

Japanese Christmas expressions:
クリスマスイブは空いてる? Are you free on Christmas Eve?
イブはちょっと… (Literally means “Christmas Eve is a bit…“) I’m a bit busy on Christmas Eve (a subtle way of declining a date)
プレゼントに何が欲しい? What do you want for your present?

🇬🇧 The UK – Rob

Here in the UK, Christmas has become quite commercialised. Though there are still many ties to the Christian tradition, it is also celebrated as a general, non-religious festival.

The main celebration happens on Christmas day (25th December) when we have a big family meal, with a turkey as the centrepiece. This is also when we get to open our presents. Everything closes on Christmas day, so we tend to stay at home with family, overeating and watching Christmas TV specials.

A very English foodstuff is Christmas pudding. It’s a kind of round fruit cake, which we pour brandy over, then set on fire! We also have mince pies, which, despite the name, do not contain any meat. They are small pastries filled with a mix of dried fruit and spices.

Once when I was very small my grandparents took me to midnight mass. This is what some more religious people do on the night of Christmas eve. It is not too different from a regular church service – except for the late hour, and the Christmas theme!

🇨🇳 China – Xia

Christmas is not a traditional festival in China, so has no history there, and no religious element, as only 1% of the country is Christian. It’s a fairly recent import, and is more popular among young people. Nevertheless, at Christmas time, the streets are decorated, and bars and nightclubs will have Christmas-themed nights.

It’s also more about friends than family, presenting a good excuse to hang out and celebrate with your friends. In big cities, people will go out onto the streets and count down together on Christmas eve; the atmosphere is similar to a carnival.

Some people will gift each other apples, though I’m not sure where that came from. And of course, Christmas is another excuse for a shopping spree in China. There are Christmas-themed commercial campaigns, and it’s one of the most vibrant shopping seasons of the year!

Chinese Christmas expressions:
圣诞快乐shèngdàn kuàilè – Happy Christmas
圣诞老人 shèngdàn lǎorén – Father Christmas
圣诞节 shèngdàn jié – Christmas (festival)

🇪🇸 Spain –  Rafael

The Spanish holidays are a mixture of Christian and pagan traditions. In Spain, the most important day for families is Christmas eve (Nochebuena), when we all gather around the table for dinner.

The day before, while parents prepare the dinner, young people normally party till late – which is risky, considering you should be ‘fresh’ for Christmas dinner. You shouldn’t ever skip this dinner if you don’t want to upset mum!

There is no specific food prepared for the dinner; the only rule is that it be a feast! In my family, my mum cooks so much that there are leftovers for 5 days. After dinner, we have a nice sobremesa with sweets and anis (special Spanish liquor). Then it’s time to dust off the old carol books for a family sing song!

Traditionally, families would go to midnight mass, though this is slowly dying out, with young people opting to go out with friends instead.

Spanish Christmas expressions:
Feliz navidad – Merry Christmas!
La misa del gallo – Midnight mass. Lit.  “the cock/rooster mass”, coming from the latin “ad galli cantus” (the cock crowing)


Merry Christmas from the team at Memrise!

To get into the festive spirit, we’ve got a present for you – 50% off a whole year’s subscription!