Christmas… But which version?

Ah the old Yule Tide! Christmas t’is the time of year when traditions and clichés fall thick and fast – a bit like that snowy Christmas card scene that for most UK dwellers is as alien as getting through the festive period without stacking on a couple of extra pounds.

I must say it has been a very enjoyable year, working with clients old and new, not just in the UK but around the world. Approaching Christmas it is always customary to chat with people about their plans for the period. One thing I have found very interesting is conversing with colleagues and associates in different countries.

We tend to assume that everybody celebrates ‘like us’ and the differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes vast, are a reminder that in the world of business and politics it always pays to take an interest when your affairs cross national and cultural borders.

In the UK, we generally treat Christmas as if it is the end of world. By this I mean that from December 24th to January 2nd the nation slips into a state of self-induced torpor during which nothing of any consequence will get done. The national mindset turns to consumption to the point of burst – whether that be food, drink or the latest must have gadget!

In the US on the other hand, Christmas is the business end to a month of excess that is kicked off by Thanksgiving. While the Brits follow the big day of the 25th (and I mention the date because I will return to this!) with a public holiday on the 26th, our American cousins are back to work as normal.

Meanwhile, any Brit working between Christmas and New Year will be heard mumbling, “No point doing anything until the New Year”, as if it is a decade away, while probably using the dead time to extract chocolate flakes and mince pie crumbs from their keyboards.

I recently had a conversation with an associate in Germany who corrected me when I referred to Christmas Day as the big day. “You mean the 24th of course!” he laughed (at my supposed confusion). He was rather embarrassed to discover that, after all these years, he had assumed that der Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) and families gave presents on the 24th in the UK as happens in Germany.

While we were able to joke that we learn something new every day, the situation reminded me of a far more embarrassing faux pas committed by a new graduate recruit for a Magic Circle law firm, who chirpily enquired at a social engagement what a Saudi visitor was doing for Christmas…

That said, while Christmas may well be grounded in Christian ceremony, it has been successfully marketed to different pockets around the world. Coca Cola did much to establish Santa and the Japanese follow a bizarre Christmas tradition established by a 1970s marketing campaign by the fast food chain that gave us Colonel Sanders.

Yes, crazy as it sounds, on the 25th December, approximately three and a half million Japanese families sit down to a Christmas feast of KFC! (and there were us Brits sticking our noses up at Bernard Matthews’ boootiful turkeys!).

So the moral of this Christmas tale (said in my best Dickensian narrator’s voice) is next time you pass KFC, stop and take a moment to browse that menu. You never know, it could be a small talk deal breaker!

In the meantime, I wish anyone reading this blog a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2018!

Luan de Burgh

December 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.