Christmas and Holiday Traditions from around the World (and our House), from Quirky to Weird to Sentimental and SweetDec 24, 2020
Merry Christmas everyone! I love it when Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on a Thursday because it means that our post and podcast episode goes live and I get to keep you company through your headphones while you prepare delicious foods for the day.
This year you’re probably going to have a very different Christmas depending on where you are in the world.
For some Christmas means you get to share the day with one more household and that’s how it is every year, for others this feels like you have to pick which relatives get to come and that causes sadness and anxiety. Some may have chosen to stay in your Pj’s and have a yummy meal without any fuss. Others may be miles away from relatives and it feels like Christmas is cancelled.
For many across the world, this Holiday season has meant deep grief and sadness due to the unexpected loss of loved ones. My heart goes out to you in your time of grief, know that everything is allowed when it comes to dealing with that sadness in a time when many are celebrating. The Holiday season is always associated with some sadness for me, but through the years I’ve learned that traditions help me remember those lost, and although there will always be a little sadness, there is also a bit of joy in knowing I’m keeping a piece of them here, alive, and with me.
No matter what the situation is, the beauty of traditions is you can keep them going with adjustments, they can make even the strangest times feel familiar, and often it’s the strange years when the coolest, funniest traditions get started.
If you’re a long time listener of the podcast you probably already know that for many years when it was just my mom and I around our Christmas tree, Christmas Eve meant pizza, watching Home Alone, and then a yummy dinner I would cook on Christmas Day, eaten together with my grandpa. No fuss, just the simple joy of being together surrounded by twinkle lights and Christmas music, sometimes played by my mom on the piano, sometimes coming through the speakers. Traditions can be whatever you want them to be.
Whether this time of year you’re celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, or your celebration is secular, I wanted to share some cool traditions from around the world, as well as some fun ones we have in our family, in the hopes that they bring a little Holiday cheer and that some inspire you to create some new ones of your own!
Some Fun Holiday Traditions from around the World
Jolabokaflod · The Christmas Book Flood · Iceland
Did you know Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country? As many as 5 titles published for every 1000 Icelanders. This is in part due to their wonderful tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve, after which everyone spends the evening reading and eating chocolate in what is known as the Christmas Book Flood. I don’t need to tell you just how much I love this bookish tradition. It begins a few months before, when the yearly Bokatidindi is distributed. A free catalogue where publishers announce the new titles for the season, that each Icelandic home receives in their mailbox, and the book buying craziness begins!
El Gordo de Navidad · The Christmas Lottery · Spain
Every December 22nd, after Spaniards have spent months buying their favorite numbers for the National Lottery, two giant brass ball tumblers release the lottery winners and they’re read in a very particular chanting fashion by the children of a chosen school. Everyone buys and gifts lottery tickets and we’re all glued to the TV, watching the kids read out the numbers, and often cry when one child picks the ball that is “el gordo” or the biggest prize. Their reaction in this moment is always priceless and it is such a great honor for these little kids. You’ll find silent streets in Spain until all the lottery numbers are called, which takes hours!
Día de Las Velitas · The Day of the Little Candles · Colombia
Every December 7th, the streets of cities, towns villages in Colombia are lit up with millions of people lighting candles and lanterns to celebrate the festival of the Little Candles, in honor of the moment the archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to announce that she had been chosen before her birth, to give birth to Jesus Christ. It is the official start of Christmas in Colombia, and an incredible sight to see.
The lighting of the cross · Venezuela
Every December 1st at 6pm, Everyone stares out their window in the city of Caracas to witness the lighting of a giant cross in the Ávila mountain range that frames the northern face of our city. It marks the beginning of Christmas in Venezuela and the cross remains lit and keeps us company every evening during the Holiday Season. Often the only bit of light you can see in the deep dark mountains that hold it, which can’t be seen at night. In my family, this was when we’d put up our Christmas Tree, to ensure we’d be in the living room right in front of the window that overlooked it, with a first row seat to the second it is lit.
Boxing Day · United Kingdom (also celebrated in New Zealand, Canada and Australia)
Every year on December 26th, boxing day is celebrated (St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland) a tradition that originated because it was the day in which all the collection boxes for the poor were opened and their contents distributed. Now different countries also celebrate the day by watching certain matches or parades together, that are held on that day.
Christmas Crackers · United Kingdom
A well known Victorian Christmas tradition that continues in many families to this day, in which a paper contraption called a cracker is pulled by two people and goes off with a bang, revealing a small gift, sweets and even jokes inside. Often people sit around the table, cross their arms and everyone pulls on each other’s crackers at once.
The Hiding of the Brooms · Norway
In Norway, Christmas Eve coincides with local legends of witches and evil spirits arriving to town on that day. This makes everyone hide their brooms before going to bed on Christmas Eve, just in case.
The giving of apples · China
In China, gifting apples wrapped in colorful paper with festive messages is a popular tradition.
The empty suitcase · Venezuela
On New Year’s Eve, the minute the new year has arrived, everyone grabs an empty suitcase and walks up and down the street as it is said to bring about lots of new travels in the coming year. It is an incredible sight to see, neighbours pouring out into the street, with their empty suitcases in tow. We all say hello and wish each other a Happy New Year, then off to have dinner it is. Yup! Dinner is after midnight on that day!
Surfing Santa · Australia
As Christmas falls in the summertime in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s common for many families to head to the beach on Christmas Day for a barbecue and if you’re lucky you get to see Santa relaxing after his gruelling night delivering presents, on a surfboard, riding the waves.
The empty Place at the Table · Poland
It’s customary in Poland to always leave an empty place setting at the table should anyone arrive uninvited, and dinner begins when the first star is visible in the night sky.
Of course there are countless other traditions worldwide, as well as so many that are religious in nature like the lighting of the Menorah for Hannukah in the Jewish faith, the preparation of the Kwanzaa display and lighting of the 7 candles, with 7 symbols within the arrangement, to symbolize the 7 principles of Kwanzaa, as well as many secular traditions people enjoy this time of year, and many other faiths and cultures who don’t have a specific tradition this time of year.
What about our Traditions?
We put up our tree on December 1st (still a tradition) or at least on the first weekend of December, and I leave a few special ornaments for last. They are ornaments of remembrance for my loved ones who have passed. I put “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland on, and place each of these ornaments carefully on the tree and I let myself remember them fully and vividly. I always cry, but that is life, twinkle lights along with tears sometimes. I remember the life I once had with them and give them the prime spot on our tree. This marks the official beginning of Christmas.
On Christmas Eve this year we’ll be having a delicious dinner for which we all cook our specialties. I’ll of course be cooking the vegan main dish, our braised BBQ glazed seitan, red wine mushroom gravy and two traditional Christmas salads in Carlos’s family, a Christmas no-chicken salad with delicious vegan chicken bites, potatoes, peas and carrots and a delicious mayonnaise based dressing, as well as their typical broccoli Christmas salad with raisins and crispy vegan bacon. Carlos’s cousin will be making the non-vegan mains (yup we’re a mixed eating family and we all live in peace and enjoy family dinners together, no problem), and a sweet chestnut purée and apple pie. Carlos’s mom will be making her classic and addictive wild rice pilaf with slivered almonds and mushrooms (so yum!), and my favorite “marquesa” a cake with tons of little layers of chocolate and graham crackers that is to die for.
We’ll be swapping gifts, and I have a few surprises up my sleeve which I managed to get together at the very last minute by some kind of miracle this year, and we’ll play our favorite game: steal the present.
Steal the present
For this game everyone brings an inexpensive, wrapped, gender neutral gift, and places it under the tree. We take numbers from a hat which will determine the order in which we’ll each pick a present. The first person picks and opens it. The second person picks, and opens, but they can decide to keep the one they’ve selected or steal any of the previous ones.
As if this didn’t fuel the fury enough, Carlos has added three bonus additions to the game this year. After the initial numbers are picked, we pick from another hat which has one paper with a shield, one paper with a sword and the rest of the papers blank. No one knows who gets what. The person with the secret shield will be able to protect him/herself from the stealing of their present (if they wish to use it because they like their present too much), but the swords break through the shield, leaving it unusable, proceeding with the stealing of the gift.
Then he added the wild card of “The Earthquake”, when picked at one point during the game, each gift has to move one place to the left, making all the gifts change hands and so the crazy game continues.
Fingers crossed that we are somehow, my some magical force of nature, going to have time for all of this before the COVID curfew. Wish us luck!
Before I let you go…
This has been a very hard year for most of us, myself included. This year I had to deal with so many changes, I lost my grandma, one of my few remaining relatives, in the middle of the pandemic (non-COVID related), and have been going through a tough time recently and have had to make some big life decisions that were incredibly hard for me to make (more on that soon), but in spite of all the things this year has brought, I turn to my right every morning and see my wonderful husband, always there, always supportive, always too lovable for words. I look up and see my two wild doggies wiggling their way past each other to sit on top of me and lick my face. I get to share this Christmas with some of the people I love most in the world, in spite of missing so many others, and it makes me feel very blessed indeed.
Hopefully 2021 will bring a whole new world with it.
One that is kinder, more inclusive, filled with recovery and opportunity, health and healing, that is our wish to you all.
May it be Merry…
May it be Bright…
even if just a tiny bit through the darkness.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our little foursome to you and yours!
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