World of wonder

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 December, 2002, 12:00am

WHAT WILL YOU be doing on the night before Christmas? Will you be dressing the tree, indulging in a bit of noche buena, opening your presents, carolling, or settling down for another night in front of the television?

It all depends on your roots. Hong Kong is a melting pot of nationalities and at no other time does it become more evident than at Christmas. Here Kong families talk about the way they will celebrate.


Barbara Wolf is married to Michael. They have a son Jasper, aged five. 'Christmas can be quite a stressful time for the German housewife and mother. It all seems to be about cooking and giving gifts. Some women start baking as early as November. Traditionally, housewives would bake a gingerbread house but now they can be bought. The celebrations start on the first Sunday of December, Advent Sunday. On December 6, children receive a visit from St Nikolaus. This is not Father Christmas or Santa Claus, though he wears the same red and white costume. Usually, we persuade a neighbour to dress up and he reads from a book things parents have told him about their children such as, 'Jasper, I hear you don't like to go to bed early.'

If the children have been good they get a little present. If they haven't, they get a smack, just a harmless one, with a rute or stick. If no one plays St Nikolaus, the children just put out their shoes for him and again, if they've been good, they will find a little present inside.

On December 24, the Christmas tree goes up and it stays there until January 7 when the Three Kings visited Jesus. The first time the children are meant to see the tree is when it is fully trimmed with presents underneath. If you have a good husband or father like I do, then he'll take the children out while you get everything ready.

When the tree is ready, we ring a little bell telling Jasper it's the sound of Father Christmas' reindeers. In Germany, it is also the tradition to leave the garage door open so he can park the sleigh, and to leave a handful of hay for the reindeers.

The younger children will open their presents late afternoon or when the Christmas tree is lit up while the older ones will wait until around 8pm. On Christmas Eve we'll go to mass and then have a simple meal. The big dinner with goose or duck we save for Christmas Day.

It is a family occasion. Except for the weather, it's the same as it would be if we were in Germany.'


Mary Ann Reid is a Filipino married to Alan from Scotland. Their daughter, Lily Mae, is six.

'We have a half Filipino and half Scottish Christmas. Alan is happy to celebrate Christmas my way while the New Year, or Hogmanay as the Scots call it, we do things the Scottish way.

This means we open our presents on Christmas Eve as they do in the Philippines. First we'll go to midnight mass in Sai Kung. After that, we have a late meal called a noche buena of something like noodles, roast chicken or roast pig and sticky rice desserts called kakanin. Alan's quite happy to go without turkey and eat a Filipino meal instead. It's a big family event and even the little children stay up for it. Only then will we open the presents.

We have a traditional tree put up a couple of weeks before and we hang something called a parol, a star made of bamboo, outside the house to represent the Star of Bethlehem. We also have Father Christmas whom we refer to as Santa Claus.

Christmas Day is for visiting family. Children will wear their new clothes and go to see relatives and godparents to collect gifts from them. New Year features a meal that includes 12 round fruits: 12 for the 12 days of Christmas and round to represent money.

We also hang coins on our dresses or wear clothes with spots. It's meant to bring us money throughout the next year.

We have to have rice, sugar and salt on the table and run our car engines so that we never run out of food or transport in the coming year. This is important because a car is often a source of income in the Philippines. When the clock strikes midnight, we make as much noise as we can. In the Philippines this involves honking horns and even firing guns.

With Alan being a Scot, we also do something called 'first-footing'. This involves putting the head of the house outside just before midnight to be the first to set foot back in the house in the New Year. When he does come in, he must carry a piece of charcoal and something to eat - to make sure the house will have warmth and food throughout the year.'


Florence Belhomme is married to Fabrice. They have three boys, Bastien, five, Antoine, three, and Thomas, one.

'I am not religious so I don't go to mass and I don't even follow the tradition of when to take down the tree. I remember one year, I had two Christmas trees and when it came to January 7 the neighbours told me it was bad luck.

As in France, we open our presents on December 24. We all sit down for a family meal in the evening. This would usually be turkey and chestnuts but also special foods like foie gras or oysters with lots of wine. During the meal, we stop and tell the children that Santa Claus has arrived. This is when they open their presents. Then they go to bed and the adults carry on.

Not surprisingly, Christmas Day is much more relaxed. We get up late and have another nice meal usually because we have cooked so much the night before. Fabrice and I try to celebrate it like we would in France but on a much smaller scale.

This year we will spend Christmas in France. I'm looking forward to a Christmas surrounded by lots of family and snow. Bastien has never seen snow and I've told him if it's not there when we get there we will get in car and drive to the Alps to find some. He's very excited.'


Li Wai-shuen and Wong Cheong-yan have two daughters, Gi Gi, seven, Yo Yo, five, and a son Lokel, two.

'Christmas is not a religious celebration to us but it is still the biggest of the year when we get together with family for a party at my house. One of the party dresses up as Father Christmas and takes the presents from under the tree to hand out.

We don't have any traditional Christmas foods. We just serve things we like such as chicken or Japanese or party food.

The tree, we put up about a month before and usually the children help decorate it. It stays until mid-January, coming down before the Lunar New Year. It's a family event and the children look forward to it and get very excited.'


Louise Pilkington is married to Andy. They have three children, May, five; Lily, three; and Jamie, two.

'No matter how hard I try, it's impossible to make Christmas in Hong Kong feel like Christmas in England. Maybe it's the weather or that I come from a very big family and am used to having a house full of sisters and their husbands and noisy kids.

We do our best, mainly for the children. I'd like Christmas to be the same magical experience I remember when I was young. I always buy them an advent calendar - the kind with a chocolate for every day. It's not a big religious occasion for me but I am a Catholic and I have tried to tell the children about Jesus and why we are celebrating.

We put the tree up two weeks before. We play a CD of carols while we decorate it and let the children switch on the lights.

On Christmas Eve, we try to take them to church. Last year we took them to the special family service at St John's Cathedral - which was a typical Christmas event - full of screaming kids.

Before bed, the children will leave a snack for Santa - a mince pie and a glass of port or beer - and a carrot for the reindeer. They also hang big stockings by their bed which we fill with sweets and small gifts while they are sleeping. In the morning, the first thing they see are the stockings which they usually empty out on our bed. Then there's a race downstairs to see what Father Christmas has left under the tree.

The big meal is usually served in the afternoon in England and can last for hours. It's turkey and trimmings and plum pudding served flaming with brandy butter. Andy and I will probably eat it in the evening after the children have gone to bed, mainly because they're too young to enjoy it.'