Translating Christmas


Christmas isn’t the same story for everyone around the world so we must focus on the multiple shared festivities instead of the more niche or regional ones.

Christmas is something that we can feel in the air. The traditional lights, often switched on long before the actual holidays, bathe the streets and buildings with their recognizable palettes. The ubiquitous soundtrack of jingle bells spilling out of every shop in an (often successful) attempt to encourage buyers to cross the door and spin them into a spending frenzy. And of course, families are reunited to catch up on life, share some good moments beside the fireplace, and possibly get a bit drunk in the process. A perfect seasonal snapshot if there ever was one.

But Christmas isn’t the same story for everyone around the world. The origins of the holiday are rooted in Christian religion, and while in the west this association has been slowly eroded due to the effects of secularization, there are large parts of the world in which this religious link was really never there in the first place. For this reason, what is celebrated during these days has been condensed into a handful of more global traditions that pretty much ignore the original religious background. Sure, Santa still pops down the chimney in Christmas eve, gifts are still offered, and loved ones still get together…but celebrating the birth of Jesus, well, not so much.

Right, but how does that affect translations?

Translations are required for many seasonal products, ranging from small gift cards to large marketing campaigns, and with all these different approaches to Christmas around the world, focusing on the multiple shared festivities instead of the more niche or regional ones will help to spread a message that more people can relate to.

Religious figures like the Three Kings are immensely popular in Spain, even more than Santa Claus, but far less so in the rest of the world, so using them to evoke the holiday spirit in an Asian market for example, will very likely fall flat. These regional differences can also be used to one’s advantage if the resources are there, but if efficiency is a must, it’s always better to play the hits.

Even if you’re only sending Christmas cards to clients around the world, but still want to get it right, always make sure to talk with your translator or translation agency to see what will fly and what won’t depending on the destination. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

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