Christmas is a magical time of the year when problems seem to disappear. It is a spiritual day when family and home matter the most and happiness seems so simple and real. I am sure you all know that feeling and even writing about Christmas brings nostalgic memories and a wish to be a kid again. Inspired by this magical time, I decided to find out more about the ways people celebrate around the world so if you fancy a change this Xmas, there are some great ideas to try.
The traditional dinner is usually served in the garden and the deliciously healthy meals include roasted turkey or peacock and stuffed tomatoes, with the popular treats of mince pies, Christmas’s bread and puddings. The Xmas drink is made of chopped fruits, mixed with juice and cider. A beautiful tradition is to light “globos”, colourful paper balloons that take off into the sky when lit from inside – a great way to add sparkle to your Xmas.
When it comes to presents, unfortunately, children have a long wait to go – they receive their presents on January 6th, known as “Three Kings Day”. On the eve of that day, kids place their shoes outside the front door to be filled with gifts by the Magi (the three wise men who visited Jesus after his birth). They also leave hay and water beside for the men’s horses. Many kids have adopted a more modern tradition of keeping their shoes underneath the Christmas tree or under their bed. So if you have forgotten to buy someone a present, you can always use the ‘Argentinian’ excuse :).
ScotlandIn some more traditional regions, the day is called ‘Sowans Nicht’ which comes from the word ‘sowans’, a dish with oat husks and fine meal steeped in water, usually eaten on this day. A famous tradition on Christmas Eve is burning the branches of a rowan tree to show that bad feelings between friends or relatives had been put aside . It is believed that if the fire goes out on Christmas Eve, the household would suffer bad luck in the coming year. Many children hang up stockings at their beds believing that Santa would come and fill them overnight. Some kids use pillow cases instead of socks, maybe hoping to give Santa more space to fill :).
The healthy meals on the Scottish Xmas dinner usually include Black buns (cakes made from fruits, almonds, spices and whisky) and Bannock cakes (made of oatmeal). Other delicious dishes are plum pudding, mince pies, spiced roast duck, smoked salmon coronets with prawns and seafood bisque (served with brandy sauce). A relatively healthy feast with the treat of proper Scottish Whiskey – seems like the Scottish Xmas is a real winner.
If you are not yet convinced, wait till I tell you that apparently Father Christmas has two addresses, Edinburg and the North Pole. If someone writes a letter and wants to send it to “Toyland” or “Snow land”, the letter goes to Edinburgh. But, if someone sends the letter to “The North Pole”, then it has to go to the North Pole because there is a place called North Pole. Now you know how to get Santa to your home – a glass with whiskey (not milk) and oatcakes (not cookies) are likely to please his Scottish nature :).
UkrainePeople believe that if you find a spider web in the house on Christmas morning, good luck will follow you throughout the year. According to an old Ukrainian folk tale, there once lived a woman so poor that she could not afford Christmas decorations for her family. One the morning of Christmas she found that spiders had trimmed her children’s tree with their webs. When the sun shone on them, the webs became silver and gold. Thus, people now often put artificial spider webs on their Christmas trees. If you want to try your ‘luck’ in the Ukrainian way, dig your Halloween decorations and give it a go – silver and gold might follow :).
The Greeks also enjoy Halloween motives at Christmas. According to their legend, malicious creatures called ‘Kallikantzaroi’ play pranks at Christmas and people must burn salt or an old shoe to make them go away. Other mysterious methods include hanging a pig’s jawbone by the door and keeping a large fire so they can’t sneak down the chimney.With the same aim, another well-known custom is hanging a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross in a shallow wooden bowl. During the day, the mother dips the cross and basil into holy water to sprinkle each room and keep the ‘Killantzaroi’ (mischievous spirits) away. Gift-giving takes place on St. Basil’s Day (January 1). On this day all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new “St. Basil’s Water’’ a ritual, known as the “renewal of waters”.
BulgariaStaying within Eastern Europe let me tell you how we do it in my home country, Bulgaria. The most iconic traditions happen around Christmas Eve. During the day we prepare a special, nutrient-rich dinner of an odd number of dishes (7, 9 or 11). Some say it is because there are seven ancient Gods in Bulgaria or 7 days in the week while nine symbolises the nine months of pregnancy.
Our dinner is vegetarian and includes cooked beans, a meal from rice and spices wrapped in cabbage, or vines leaves, different kinds of salads, cheese, dried fruits and my favourite Christmas bread, called “pita”. We put a coin inside and the person who gets it will be blessed with luck throughout the year. Another fortune telling trick is to crack walnuts and if the kernels are rotten, then a hard year might be expected.
The Christmas Eve dinner table is not cleared until the next morning to provide sustenance for the ghosts of ancestors who may visit before Christmas morning. Here is you excuse for not cleaning the table after dinner then :).
This meal marks the end of the fast and on Christmas day meat is presented on the table. It’s time to eat ‘Banitza’ a traditional cheese pie, along with roasted poultry or pork.In certain small regions, boys and non-married young men, called koledari (Xmas carolers) visit the houses, singing songs for wealth and health for the hosts who in return reward them with money and food. They also carry long sticks where they put ‘kravai’ (round breads with holes in them).
GermanyGermany is probably the most Christmas-obsessed country in its preparations and traditions. Preparation starts with the arrival of the advent calendar, on the first Sunday after November 26th (December, 6th) or St. Nicholas Day. On the night of 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve) children put their shoe or boot outside the door as the German legend holds that St. Nicholas spirit, the patron saint of children, goes from house to house, with his book of sins, containing children’s actions of the year. He will then fill the shoes of all good kids with delicious treats and leave twigs for all the naughty ones. A real excitement for the kids is it the advent calendar with pictures beneath each window to count the days until Christmas – a well-known Xmas tradition that we owe to the Germans.
The Christmas tree tradition also started in Germany. Interestingly, kids are not allowed to decorate the tree as it holds a mysterious spell for all young eyes looking at it before Christmas Eve. Hence, the Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve, prior to the dinner. The father usually keeps the children in a separate room while the mother brings out the Christmas tree from a hidden place and decorates it with apples, candy, nuts, cookies, cars, trains, angels, tinsel, family treasures and candles or lights. Next to the tree, beautiful plates are laid for each family member and filled with fruits, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits. Once, the decorations are completed, a bell is rung as a signal for the children to join.The Christmas Eve menu is not as healthy as the tree’s decoration through. It traditionally includes suckling pig, white sausage, macaroni salad, and “reisbrei” (a sweet cinnamon). The Christmas Eve is also called “Dickbauch” (meaning “fat stomach”). This comes from the myth that those who do not eat well on Christmas Eve will be haunted by demons during the night. So those of you who want to have that ‘cheat meal’ on Xmas, celebrating it like the Germans is your way forward – at least you have an honourable excuse – who wants to be haunted by demons all year around?! :).
These are the traditions I found most interesting to share with you, Xmas bees. If you come from any of these countries or know of any other interesting Xmas customs, feel free to share them. Sure we would all love something different on our Xmas menu this year.
HO HO HO from Me and Hope you all have a magically buzzing Xmas! Whatever way you celebrate, make sure YOU keep alive the Xmas spirit of LOVE, FRIENDSHIP and FAMILY.
With health & balance,