Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: The Philippines

Maligayang Pasko!


That’s ‘Merry Christmas’ in Tagalog, the most widely spread of the Philippines’ eight major languages. The Philippines is one of the Christmasy-est countries on earth. A Filipino will tell you that the Christmas season is during the ‘brr’ months, sorry, not ‘brr’ as in cold, but ‘ber’ as in September, October, November, and December. Yes, that’s right, one quarter of the year is Christmas season in the Philippines!


The Philippines is the only majority Christian nation in Asia, and most are Catholic. Most of their traditions are the same as Christmas in the West but to the extreme, more decorations, more masses (the first daily Christmas mass is on December 16 and the last is on Christmas day), more food and fiestas, etc. Christmas season officially ends the first Sunday in January, Epiphany.


If you decide to go caroling on Christmas Eve in the Philippines, don’t eat that day or maybe even the day before, because you get fed a feast at every house. Eating is a big part of Christmas in the PI, and the center piece of any banquet table is the big roast pig called lechon.


The most popular decoration is the parol, a beautiful star made from bamboo strips forming a star frame, then covered in Japanese colored paper or cellophane with lights inside. There is a huge variety of these, and they are lovely to behold everywhere from the dynamic decorations in the big cities like Manila to simple stars in the rural barangays. They are so popular that they are now exported and copied all over the world.


Christmas Eve, noche Buena, is celebrated with a midnight feast that can go all night till Christmas morning, with neighbors, family and friends dropping by and you visiting their feast.


Finally, there is a man who calls himself Santa R-Kayma Klaws, a 70-year-old who has been dressing up as Santa and going to spread Christmas cheer to the poor children in villages for over 50 years. He has a giant motor-sleigh, really an air-conditioned bus, that goes around visiting. He also has the only reindeer farm in the Philippines at Mt. Isarog in Camarines Sur; it is open to the public for free. You can find out more about him at


If you love Christmas, carols, masses and lots of food, don’t miss the ‘ber’ months in the Philippines.


Written by: Brent Adams

Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: Germany

Frohe Weihnachten!


Did you know that Christmas trees originated in Germany? They have been a part of Christmas there since the late Middle Ages. Traditionally, they were set up on Christmas Eve and, if there were children in the house, they would be secretly decorated by the mother in the night.


The most important part of the Christmas season in Germany is Advent and Advent calendars. There is a huge variety of these calendars and it’s a rare thing in Germany not to have some type of Advent calendar in your house. It contains 24 windows for each day of the month leading up to Christmas, starting December 1st.


There is some confusion over who brings Christmas gifts to children. They have the Christkind(the Christ child) and Weihnachtsmann(Father Christmas), and children write to both of them, hoping that at least one will respond positively, I guess. To further confuse the matter, the Christkindis a girl, not a baby Jesus. In Nurnberg, a young girl with blonde hair, wearing a crown, is chosen as the Christkindto ride in a parade, dressed in gold and white.


If those two are not enough, some children also hope to receive gifts from der Nikolaus(Saint Nicholas) on the night between Dec. 5thand 6th. He might even knock on the door and ask for a song or a story before giving them presents, usually sweets and chocolate.


In addition, in some regions, der Nikolaus is accompanied by Knect Ruprecht or Krampus, a big horned monster dressed in rags and carrying chains. He’s there to punish the bad children.


Whew! Scary! Magical! Over-populated! Christmas is a busy time in Germany!


Written by: Brent Adams

Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: The United States of America

Merry Christmas!


Christmas in the US is as varied as its population. While, like many Western European countries, there are carol services in churches on Christmas Eve, gift opening on Christmas morning, turkey and stuffing or ham and cranberry sauce at lunch on Christmas, there are some things that are different. Americans love to decorate their houses and front lawns with lights, Santa and his reindeer-drawn sled, snowmen, manger scenes, and many other things. It is a favorite pastime to go for a drive or a walk looking at the decorations. Some neighborhoods compete and have prizes for the most beautiful, the most original, etc.


There are parts of the US that stand out from all the others. While visiting the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina, I learned they had some unique traditions. For one, the town of Duck lights a stack of hundreds of crab pots in the shape of a Christmas tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving.


The town of Rodanthe has some other traditions that exist nowhere else, traditions that date back to American colonial times and earlier. In 1752, when Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar that we use today, Rodanthe just ignored it, so Christmas was celebrated 11 days later than the rest of the country. Now it’s known as the Rodanthe Old Christmas. That puts it on January 6th, aka Epiphany.


Christmas in Rodanthe, since the early 1800’s, has been celebrated with food that is suitable for a seafaring town, steamed oysters being the center piece, with lots of silliness and the mythical Old Buck. Old Buck is a bull who supposedly washed ashore from a sunk shop long ago and promptly went to work making progeny with all the cows on the island. Now a bull’s head with a people-populated cloth body appears every year and dances through town. There’s a similar horse effigy named Old Hob from a Welsh tradition that makes an appearance at the same time.


In the past, at Christmas, grudges were sorted out (sometimes with fisticuffs), women got to see their possible future husbands for the first time, and for some reason men sometimes dressed as women and women as men. But these traditions have passed away.


One tradition still exists, though! Right after Christmas there are big 30 – 50% sales all over the Outer Banks, just before the low season hits. Outer Banks Christmas, anyone?


Written by: Brent Adams

Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: Spain

Feliz Navidad!


In Spain the big Christmas dinner is usually eaten on Christmas Eve. It can be Pavi Trufado deNavidad, which is turkey stuffed with truffles, or Pularda Asado, a young roasted hen, or even seafood. After eating, the family will usually go to Misa del Gallo, midnight mass on Nochebuena, the Spanish term for Christmas Eve.


In many places, after the mass, an old tradition is to parade through town with torches, playing guitars, tambourines, and drums and singing, Esta noche esNoche-Buena, y no es noche de dormir. ‘It’s Christmas Eve, not a night for sleeping.’ Some presents are given at this time but Epiphany, January 6th, is the main time for giving presents.


Dec. 28this Dia de Los Santos Inocentes, commemorating the night Herod the Great ordered the execution of all male babies in Bethlehem. Oddly enough, this is equivalent to our April Fool’s Day, and people try to get others to believe silly stories that day.


Finally, on January 6th, the Spanish celebrate Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Mages, or Three Kings Day. Children write letters to the three kings, hoping to receive gifts. They leave out shoes for the kings to put their presents in and leave food and drinks for the kings and their camels. If the children have been bad, they get coal in their shoes!


Well, the Spanish really love this season and stretch it out over two weeks! Fun! Spain for Christmas, anyone?


Written by: Brent Adams

Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: The United Kingdom

Merry Christmas!


How many ways can you say ‘Merry Christmas!’ and still be in the United Kingdom? Well, here are the ones we could find: ‘Blithe Yule’ in the Scottish dialect; ‘Nollaig Chridheil’ in Gaelic; ‘Nadolig Llawen’ in Welsh; ‘Nadelik Lowen’ in Cornish; ‘Nollick Ghennal’ in the Isle of Man.


Did you know the Christmas tree was introduced to the UK by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, when he decided to bring some of his German Christmas traditions across the Channel? I wonder if anyone said, ‘Nah, this’ll never catch on.’


In the UK families usually celebrate Christmas Day together so they can watch each other open their presents. Then they have a big traditional Christmas lunch, usually made up of roast turkey, vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and more. For dessert, there’s Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, a rich fruit cake iced with marzipan.


Santa or Father Christmas is an essential part of Christmas in the UK. Children write him letters and some people burn them in the fireplace, because Father Christmas has the uncanny ability of reading the smoke. Stockings are hung by the children’s beds and they wake up in the morning to find presents and treats inside.


There’s seldom a white Christmas in the UK, but if even one snowflake falls in the 24 hours of Christmas Day, people exclaim they had one!


Written by: Brent Adams

Language Case Studies

Holiday Season Round the World: The Netherlands

Vrolijk Kerstfeest!


That’s how you say, “Merry Christmas!’ in Dutch. In this festive season of the year, we at Cross Border Translation will be visiting different countries and writing about their customs and greetings. This is universally a very special time of year whether the country celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or just New Year’s. And let’s start with our home country, The Netherlands.


‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest!’ In the Netherlands, the biggest day of the season is Dec. 5th, believe it or not, when Sinterklaas gives all the children presents. Sinterklaas arrives in a different port of the Netherlands by boat from Spain each year on the second Saturday of November. He is accompanied by his helpers, the Piets, who have become controversial of late since they are played by white individuals with painted blackface. A huge procession through the port town where he has landed then follows.


The Piets keep record of good and bad children. Good children receive presents while children were told (in the past; we hope no one is told this anymore) that if they are bad, they will be put in a bag and carted off to Spain for one year to teach them to behave.


The evening of Dec. 5this called ‘Sinterklaasavond,’ or Santa Claus evening. The children receive gifts and candy, much to their delight.


Then, Christmas itself, on Dec. 25thand 26th, is a much quieter event in the Netherlands. Sometimes gifts are given again, but not always. They eat big feasts together along with Dutch Christmas delicacies, such as banketletter and pepernoten. On the second day it is traditional to go visiting family.

‘Vrolijk Kerstfeest to you all from Cross Border Translation!’


Written by: Brent Adams


Language Case Studies Translations

False Friends! Are There Different Types?

How are false friends created? The main way is that one language borrows from another or two related languages take a word from the same source. In time, the meaning in one of the languages may morph into something different or one meaning gets dropped.


For example, English took the word, friend, from the German word, freund, while the Scandinavians changed it to frände in Sweden and frændein Danish. The original word meant ‘someone one cares for,’ so it could refer to a friend or a relative. The word, in Danish and Swedish, however, means relative,losing the friend meaning while in English we have lost the relative meaning.[1]


I once teased my German wife, when she was filling out a questionnaire that asked how many languages she spoke fluently, ‘You’ll have to say none, since you haven’t learned English yet and you’ve forgotten your German.’ There was truth to my tease; she would sometimes turn to me, an American, and ask me how to say this or that in German.


One time, while we were visiting her mother with our kids, my wife explained to her mother that, after lunch we would ‘resten’ a while and after ‘resten’, we would like to go for a stroll. Her mother looked as if she understood, but thinking, ‘That’s not German’, I asked my mother-in-law what she understood from the word, ‘resten’? She pointed to the remaining food on the table and said, ‘Dies sind reste.’ We all had a good laugh. False friends in action.


Written by: Brent Adams