1. Poland: Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia (pronounced vee-GHEE-lee-uh). Traditionally, the house is also cleaned and everyone wore their best festive clothes. The main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening and is called "Kolacja wigilijna" (Christmas Eve supper). It's traditional that no food is eaten until the first star is seen in the sky! So children look at the night sky to spot the first star!
2. Ireland: Traditional, historic, Christmas food in Ireland include a round cake, full of caraway seeds. One is traditionally made for each person in the house. Now it's more common to have a Christmas Cake like those in the UK, a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and decorated with icing.
3. Sweden: St. Lucia Day. Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is St. Lucia's Day (or St. Lucy's Day) on December 13th. The celebration comes from stories that were told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means 'light' so this is a very appropriate name. Today the holiday is celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Small children use electric candles but from about 12 years old, real candles are used. Some custom has Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out 'Pepparkakor', ginger snap biscuits.
4. France: Yule Log made out of Cherry Wood are often burned in French homes. The log is carried into the home on Christmas Eve and is sprinkled with red wine to make the log smell nice when it is burning. There is a custom that the log and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and the baby Jesus come past during the night.
5. Mexico: Poinsettia. Poinsettia plants are native to Central America, especially an area of southern Mexico known as 'Taxco del Alarcon' where they flower during the winter. The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
6. England: Mistletoe. The custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from England. The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing! It is supposed to possess mystical powers which bring good luck to the household and wards off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that's where the custom of kissing under Mistletoe comes from.
7. Greece: Kalanda/Caroling. On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing 'kalanda' (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes the will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.
8. Romania: Caroling, known as 'Colindatul'... is a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house performing to the adults in the houses. They normally dance as well. The children get sweets, fruit, traditional cakes called 'cozonaci' and sometimes money for singing well. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.
A traditional Romanian Carol is the 'Star Carol'. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. In the middle of the star is a picture of baby Jesus or a nativity scene. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing. The words of the Star Carol are:
"The star has appeared on high, Like a big secret in the sky,
The star is bright, May all your wishes turn out right."
9. Chile: Traditional meal and drink. On Christmas eve, families and friends gather together for a big meal in the evening, eaten about 9pm or 10pm. Many people like to have 'asado' (barbecue) and chicken, turkey and pork. The Chilean Christmas Cake is ‘Pan de Pascua’ which is quite like Panettone. A popular Christmas drink is 'Cola de Mono' (or monkey's tail) which is made from coffee, milk, liquor, cinnamon and sugar.
10. Canada: Fir Christmas Tree. The Eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia is known all over the world for its fir and pine Christmas tree, so most families in Canada have a fir or pine Christmas Tree. One Canadian tradition is to send the biggest, best fir tree (grown in Nova Scotia) to Boston, USA because of the assistance given during the disaster, known worldwide, as the Halifax Explosion. This tradition has carried on for many years. Bostonians always love and appreciate the Nova Scotian Christmas tree. They place this tree in the city and then light it during a ceremony to begin the Christmas season.
11. United Kingdom: Christmas Cracker. The dinner table is decorated with a Christmas Cracker for each person and sometimes flowers and candles. They were first made in about 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith. He had seen the French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper). He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England and also included a small motto or riddle in with the sweet. Today crackers are filled with a paper hat and toys that crack when their fancy wrappers are pulled in half.
12. Iceland: Yuletide Lads. Onebig Yule custom is the coming of the 'Jólasveinarnir' or Yuletide Lads. These are magical people who come from the mountains in Iceland and each day from December 12th to Yule Eve a different Jólasveinn (Yuletide lad) comes Jólasveinar first came to Iceland in the 17th century as the sons of Grýla and Leppalúði, a couple of child-eating, bloodthirsty ogres!!! The Jólasveinar are thought of as playful imps or elves who like lots to eat and playing little tricks on people. They leave little presents for children in shoes placed on the windowsill. If children have been naughty, they might leave a potato or little message telling them to be good.
13. Germany: Christmas Pickle/Glass ornaments. Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets where all sorts of Christmas foods and decorations are sold. Perhaps the most famous German decorations are glass ornaments. The glass ornaments were originally hand blown glass and were imported in the USA in 1880s by the Woolworth stores. The legend of the glass 'Christmas Pickle' is famous in the USA, but it's that, a legend. Most people in Germany have never heard of the Christmas Pickle!
14. Norway: Tree decorations. A traditional Norwegian Christmas Tree decoration are small paper baskets called 'Julekurver' which made in the shape of a heart. It's said that the writer Hans Christian Andersen might have invented them in the 1860s!
15. USA: Christmas lights/luminaries. Towns and cities often decorate the streets with lights to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most famous Christmas street lights in the USA are at the Rockefeller Center in New York where there is a huge Christmas Tree with a public ice skating rink in front of it over Christmas and the New Year. In the Southwest USA, there are some special customs which have some similarities to those in parts of Mexico. These include 'luminarias' or 'farolitos' which are paper sacks partly filled with sand and then have a candle put in them. They are lit on Christmas Eve and are put the edges of paths. They represent 'lighting the way' for somewhere for Mary and Joseph to stay.
With so many countries and multiple traditions that are celebrated, this list could go on and on. Some of the traditions covered in this blog were actually featured in the Christmas Around the World December box through My Staycation Box.
What holiday traditions do you celebrate? Was it covered in this list? Please comment below with your favorite holiday tradition!
- Michelle Sholund, Founder of My Staycation Box
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