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In Spain they call it Nochebuena, in Poland the Wigilia, and in both cases they celebrate with loved ones. In England they listen to the Queen’s speech, and in Germany, after early December when St. Nick tells children whether they were naughty or nice, tradition and legend leads everyone to Christmas dinner to fend off the persecuted spirits of the night.
Even in Egypt they celebrate Christmas, but it is Coptic and their calendar has it fall on January 7th, while in Australia December 25th is peak summer, so people gather round in Bermuda shorts for a barbecue. In Scandinavia they sport spicy and sweet hot drinks, whereas in Peru chocolate is the icing on the cake for the holidays. Mexico celebrates with tamales and rompope, an egg-based liquor, for at least two weeks.
In Japan, Christmas wasn’t really celebrated but in the ‘70s Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken) managed to convince many people that chicken wings are the traditional food of the period.
The one constant of all the Christmases of the world is so trivial, but now quite so obvious. It’s togetherness, sharing, eating, laughing and joking. This is what happens in Italy, when Christmas lunch usually falls early in the afternoon.
At best, it lasts continuously until dinner: there really aren’t so many who are able to get up after six starters, a pair of first courses, two second courses and three side dishes, followed by dessert and two generous slices of sweet Panettone bread.
So what has occupied our time for years and years while sitting at the table? Board games.
After lunch the plates are taken away, replaced with mandarins and dried fruit, digestives and at least ten varieties of liquor to put in your coffee. The fireplace or stove is turned on, as the grandparents gather around to rest, and young and old head out to make a snowman from the fresh snowfall.
Others pick the names of the participants at random and the games begin: for those who follow tradition, bingo starts things off. But card games also take the stage, as you’ve got a chance to steal a few quid from your uncle. Then there’s the music challenge to see who’s on top of the scene this year, memory to see who’s been drinking a little too much, and finally puzzles, because who doesn’t get a kick out of that?
And then someone says, “All this playing’s got me hungry.” It’s dinner time.