The holiday season is a time most people cherish and consider the most wonderful time of the year! It’s when we tend to think of giving, of family and fun, and it’s typically the time we most often have fun, meaningful, and unique traditions! While here in the States we tend to share many of the same general traditions—colorful lights and trees, gifts and treats—not everyone shares all our common traditions. Worldwide, there are a number of fun, somewhat different, and interesting holiday traditions that you may not have heard of prior to now!
Have you ever spotted a pickle ornament hanging from a tree? An old tradition started in Europe (Spain and Germany) is to hide a pickle ornament somewhere in the Christmas tree. The first person to find the hidden pickle ornament in the tree on the morning of Christmas is said to be the lucky person to get an extra present from Santa Claus on Christmas day. Some stories say that the person who finds the pickle will also receive a year of good fortune!
If you find yourself traveling to Caracas, Venezuela during the dates of December 16 through December 24, be sure to take your roller skates! During this time, a very unique tradition is underway. The streets are completely closed from early morning to all motor vehicles, to allow the streets to be clear and safe for people to roller skate to the early morning Mass!
Christmas crackers, also known as bon-bons, might make you think of a food item, but actually is a tradition more similar to a fire cracker! This tradition is seen most commonly in the United Kingdom. A “cracker” is made of a cardboard tube nicely wrapped in festive Christmas wrapping paper. It’s then twisted at the ends to almost resemble a big piece of wrapped candy and can contain small trinkets. Two people each hold one side of the cracker and simultaneously pull on the end of the cracker, which causes it to “pop” or make a loud banging noise, similar to a fire cracker. Tradition says that the person left holding the longer end of the cracker gets the prizes within!
You might be surprised to learn that in Japan rice or fish is not part of the celebratory, traditional meal at Christmas! If you find yourself at a Japanese table during the holidays, don’t expect to be served the traditional ham or turkey (or vegan equivalent), but rather fried chicken! Many Japanese people celebrate by eating KFC and a light sponge cake (usually with strawberries and cream) on Christmas day.
On a healthier note, if you instead find yourself venturing to the plaza of Oaxaca in Mexico, be prepared to enjoy plenty of radish! On December 23rd and 24th a line of carved radish figures line the plaza. The radishes are carved by Mexican artisans and are made to look like Nativity scenes, dancers, historical events, and other such traditional things. There is even a festival, called El Festival de los Rabanos, which means Festival of Radishes!
In the States, we traditionally see witches being associated with the Halloween holiday. Well, this isn’t the case in Italy! Here, on Christmas Eve, kids go to bed anticipating a magical being to bring them presents, but this magical being is not Santa Claus, but a witch! In Italian legend, an old witch known as La Befana brings candy and presents to kids on what is called Epiphany Eve (which is on January 5th). She is usually described as an old lady who rides a broomstick and is covered in soot from going up and down people’s chimneys. Similar to how American kids leave cookies and milk for Santa, Italian children set out food and wine for the Befana witch.
Get ready to turn up the heat if you plan to participate in this Finnish custom! In Finland, most families have their own sauna, and because of this, it is believed a sauna elf lives in the sauna to protect it and to make sure the kids are behaving themselves!
Last but not least, if you decide to try a Christmas in the Philippines, be prepared for a bit longer of a holiday season! In this country, it is common for celebrations to last into the month of January! Kids leave their bright and nicely polished shoes with cleanly washed socks on their window sills for the Three Kings to come and leave presents in them when they pass through the house at night. The “Feast of the Three Kings” is said to mark the end of the Christmas celebrations.
So as the holidays come around, don’t be afraid to mix up your family’s usual traditions, and try something new and unique this Christmas season!
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