Whether you are hosting guests from abroad and would like to make them feel comfortable, looking to reconnect with your roots, or simply would like to spice up your holidays by creating new traditions with your family, different cultures are a great source of inspiration for the holidays. If you prefer balloons to mistletoe, or foie gras to cookies, here’s your chance to try and convince your family to make a switch!
In Denmark, Christmas time is cold and dark, so the celebration of Danish ‘jul‘ (Christmas) is about lighting candles and drinking glögg, which is a hot and delicious sweet wine with almonds and raisins. Like in most other countries, people decorate their houses, which are filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies. For the children, a tradition is the yearly Christmas calendar tv series on national television, based on different stories each year and the 24 parts of the series which count down to Christmas Eve.
In Spain, spending time with your family and friends is the most important part of the holidays, whether it involves sitting around the fireplace in a rural apartment in the countryside or going skiing in the Pyrenees or Sierra Nevada to enjoy the snow and the winter season.
In Italy, the presence of the ‘presepe‘, a nativity scene displayed in churches, houses and public areas sets their holiday celebrations apart. The figures are often hand crafted by artisans around the country. Naples is the most popular city when it comes to finding the best (and most creative) presepes in Italy, where the displays often go beyond the cave scene and include the entire village in a huge setting with many realistic details, transforming them into mini art masterpieces and attracting people from all over Europe.
In France, the celebration usually happens on the 24th evening and they call it ‘le reveillon’. They gather around the table for a very long meal usually composed of several starters such as oysters, foie gras and salmon. As a main dish, the tradition is to serve a turkey with chestnuts. But France would not be France without its cheese so they offer a big selection and finally dinner is finished with a cake such as a ‘buche’, (Yule Log in English). Gifts for children are given either on Christmas Eve, or in the morning on the Christmas day.
In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas kicks off the festive season when he and his helpers (the ‘Black Petes’) arrive in mid-November from Spain. Sinterklaas and the Black Petes secretly leave presents in children’s shoes at night on December 5th. Typical treats include a chocolate letter or pepernoten (little gingerbread biscuits). After the big excitement of Sinterklaas, Christmas in the Netherlands is relatively quiet. A typical Dutch Christmas may feature a Christmas tree, a nice meal, a visit with family, and an afternoon of ice skating.
In Belgium, the highlight of Christmas Eve is a home-cooked meal with family. It is important to make sure your kitchen has everything needed to make traditional foods such as aardappel kroketjes (deep-fried potato croquettes), speculoos (spice cookies), and cougnou (bread resembling the baby Jesus).
Christmas in Australia definitely has a different look than what we are used to; With temperatures of 30 degrees (sometime going as high as 40), Christmas Down Under is as far from the traditional white Christmas as you can get, and is spent mainly outside. Many Australians head to be beach on Christmas Day to escape the searing heat, or have a barbecue either at home or at a local park. Christmas is definitely the one day of the year you’re most likely to hear the phrase ‘Throw another shrimp on the barbie – Mate’!
Would you rather be soaking up some sun, or enjoying a white Christmas?
In South Africa, October through February is summer, so the holiday season is spent in the warm sun. A traditional Christmas includes turkey, duck, roast beef, mince pies or suckling pig with yellow rice & raisins and vegetables, followed by a South African desert called malva pudding. Cape Town and the Western Cape are the top holiday destinations for tourists who visit in the summer. Popular activities during summer include golf, camping and sight seeing drives around Cape Town.
One of the more unique traditions of Navidad en Argentina is releasing balloons to the sky at night. Similar to those found in some Asian cultures, paper balloons are lit ablaze on the inside, and float upwards creating a magical effect above.
In Mexico, posadas are an integral part of Mexican Christmas celebrations. The word posada means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish, and celebrations commemorate Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to rest their heads in Bethlehem. Posadas are held on each of the nine nights leading up to Christmas, from December 16 to 24th.
One of the highlights of Colombia’s fiestas is on December 7, when communities take to the streets, place candles on the ground and come together, which marks the start of the holiday season.
In America, lighting up your home is taken to extremes – there are even Christmas light decoration competitions. The holiday season is never complete without the exciting task of gift shopping. If you’re looking to be creative with your holiday shopping, make some DIY gifts and find great deals, with the added bonus of avoiding those long lines at the mall.
Which of these traditions would you most like to incorporate in your family holidays? Would you prefer to trade a sunny holiday down under for a white Christmas?