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Seeing Black, instead of Red during the Holidays: A Lesson in Website Localization
By Huiping Iler

Many North American businesses acknowledge the holiday spirit with various Website images and statements, in an attempt to warm the hearts of existing customers, and perhaps gain new ones worldwide. However, in todayís global marketplace, itís vitally important to understand a target audience and culture lest you inadvertently alienate or even offend the very people you are trying to court. Not everyone celebrates Christmas or if they do, they may not celebrate it in the way we do in the United States and Canada.

For example, many Australians celebrate Christmas, but the traditional images of snow, people ice skating, and warm furry coats are completely out of place. December 25th falls smack in the middle of summer there and people actually head to the beach instead of the fireplace. In fact, some say Santa comes in on a surf board in Australia and is accompanied by eight kangaroos. You can see why a Website designer certainly wouldnít want to use reindeer, images of snow, or children in mittens when trying to appeal to the folks down under.

Despite popular belief, Santa isnít always donning the red coat and Rudolph isnít always heading up his transportation. So, itís important to understand the image of Santa in each country in order to connect with readers.

A good example is Russia, where the reindeer take a back seat to three horses that carry Santa around. Known as Father Frost to Russians, he often trades in his red coat for royal blue and travels with a helper, his granddaughter the snow maiden. In Norway, Santa is known as Julenisse and itís best to stay on his good side. Superstition tells Norwegians he was one of the original settlers of the land and is there to protect it. On Christmas Eve, kids lay out Christmas porridge or even Christmas beer to make sure Julenisse is happy; a happy Julenisse means plenty of presents by morning.

If youíre advertising globally, itís also important to note that not all countries celebrate Christmas; in fact, many have strict rules banning recognition of the holiday. Christmas images donít go over well in Turkey. While Christmas is not forbidden there, a large part of the country does not celebrate it and any images promoting it tend to ruffle a few feathers. Many people there do celebrate the New Year, but if a company decides to go with symbols of the New Year, those images cannot be interchanged with Christmas. Otherwise, it might be considered a great insult.

When designing your Website for the holidays, one thing to keep in mind is there are many other holidays occurring in December, so it would be wise to at least include them in your design to help expand your audience.

Most business Websites already incorporate images of Hanukkah to honor the Jewish holiday that usually falls in December. Itís not uncommon to see an image of a menorah posted on a companyís site.
Holidays such as the Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day are extremely important in some parts of eastern culture. Many people in Japan take this day to honor Buddha attaining enlightenment. With more than 127 million people in Japan alone, it might be a profitable idea for a companyís representatives to educate themselves about the day and design accordingly for countries that recognize it.

Holidays involving a lunar calendar, such as Ramadan, celebrated by Muslims and Diwali, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists can sometimes occur near or in December. This year, however, both holidays will have come and gone well before November.

Kwanzaa is another winter holiday you might consider featuring on your companyís Website, depending on your audience. The seven day secular festival begins in December and recognizes African American heritage.
While the Christmas season traditionally has people thinking about red, itís easy to keep your company in the black, as long as you understand your audience. The days of ďone size or one design fits everyoneĒ are long gone. In order for business professionals to succeed in the global marketplace they must educate themselves by understanding the cultural differences of the world around them. If you can learn how to appeal to a cultureís beliefs and philosophies, Santa may just bring your company some new, very interested customers this holiday season.

About the Author:
Huiping Iler is the president of, a language service she started in June 1998 as a home-based, one-woman operation and built into a million dollar business. At, Iler has worked in linguist recruiting, project management, and online marketing capacities. She frequently speaks at international conferences on issues related to web site localization, cross culture communication, and search engine marketing for multi-language and multi-country sites. Iler holds a M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Windsor, Canada and a B.A. in English Literature and Linguistics from Xiangtan University in China. She also has a certificate in international business from the Forum for International Trade. She is also a graduate of Gerry McGovern's Killer Web Content master classes and Search Engine Marketing Workshops advanced training program.

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