Christmas traditions around the world
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Each country has its own unique Christmas traditions. It’s interesting to compare how customs differ from what I grew up celebrating. While children in the United States traditionally leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, in Ireland, wee bairn set out mince pies and a bottle of Guinness. I’m sure that makes for one exceptionally jolly Santa.
Ham with all the trimmings isn’t even on the menu in Japan. The preferred dining option Christmas day, is Kentucky Fried Chicken, but because this is so popular, reservations are required.
A favored tradition in Germany, is finding the pickle ornament hidden in the Christmas tree. The lucky individual who discovers it receives an extra present. I had never heard of this until a few years ago. I didn’t grow up with this particular custom, but have several friends who are excited for Christmas morning, to be the first person to rush to examine the tree boughs.
Norway hides its brooms Christmas Eve, as Norwegian folklore says evil witches and spirits emerge, and steal brooms so they can ride in the sky. The men folk are even known to fire shotguns to scare away the evil.
Because they block off the roads during this holiday, the people of Venezuela, roller skate to Christmas Mass.
In Greenland, residents like to eat kivack. Kivack is the raw flesh of 500 auk birds, wrapped in sealskin that’s placed under a rock to ferment for seven months. Not that that doesn’t sound extremely appetizing, but darn it, I’m fresh out of auk. They also eat mattuck, which is whale skin with some blubber still attached. Considering I have an abundant supply of my own personal blubber, that would be a polite pass.
The children in the Netherlands, eagerly await Sinterklaas and his helper, Black Pete, Dec. 6. If the little ones have left shoes filled with hay and sugar for Sinterklaas’ horse, he will refill the shoes with candy and nuts. My daughter, Hannah, and I were talking about this. She thought that was a bad idea, because you would never get all the sugar granules cleaned out of your shoes. I was more concerned, because I would just prefer not to eat anything out of anyone’s shoe.
In the Ukraine, instead of tinsel and lights, trees are decorated with spider webs. Uh, just NO! Though, it has a charming tale behind this custom. There was an elderly woman who wanted to decorate her outside holiday evergreen, but was too poor to buy lights and tinsel. When she woke up the next morning, a spider had intricately woven a beautiful web covering the tree and it sparkled brilliantly in the morning light. Still no.
A South African custom, is to eat deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor moth. That will make a tasty side dish to go along with the whale blubber.
In Catalonia, the figure of Caganzer is included in the nativity scene, along with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the three Wise Men. Caganzer is the statue of a man defecating. I’m not sure what the point of this tradition is at all, but it brings a whole new meaning to Yule log.
In Sweden, people have Christmas ornaments depicting the Yule Goat. Legend has it, that a man-sized goat led by St. Nicholas, had the power to control evil. Just the name Yule Goat makes me so happy.
In Austria, St. Nick has an evil counterpart called Krampus. Krampus is a demon-like creature, whose one task is to punish naughty children before Christmas. Men dressed in devil costumes roam the streets, carrying chains and a basket for abducting especially bad children, and hauling them to Hell. Wow. That’s not disturbing/mentally scarring at all. Between Krampus and clowns, a body doesn’t stand a fighting chance.
My childhood memories of Christmas, include making paper chains. We always seemed to have paper, so we would use crayons, and color multiple sheets red and green, cut the sheets into narrow strips, then paste them together alternating the colors. If we were lucky, we might have construction paper to use for a different option. We would spend hours constructing chains that would span the entire dining room.
Stringing popcorn was always so fun, perhaps because we ended up eating more than we ever ended up stringing. Cutting out paper snowflakes was always a great way to spend an afternoon, though mine never looked like the dainty, lacy creations everyone else fashioned. Mine always came out square. Paper snowflake cutting is obviously not my forte.
I also tried making ornaments using Play-Doh and cookie cutters. Frankly, looking at them now, they’re quite homely, but I remember the joy it brought me while making them. When Han was little, our Christmas Eve tradition was to sprinkle magic reindeer food outside before going to bed.
We mixed dry oatmeal with a bit of glitter, then once Han was asleep, I would sneak outside and use a stick to scratch around in the oatmeal, making it appear the reindeer had pawed the snow. One year, I outdid myself and went the extra mile by making hoof prints.
No matter how your family celebrates the holiday season, the traditions the children have grown up following, are what they will remember and cherish, and pass down to their own little ones. Happy holidays.