Unusual traditions are all about the viewing perspective. Many of us light up trees, decorate with ornaments, hang stockings and hide elves. Perhaps, in distant lands, someone else is writing about unusual Christmas traditions in the United States, thinking that what we do is novel and strange. Here are 12 Christmas traditions that are unfamiliar to us here in Hingham and the South Shore.
The holiday of Christmas is celebrated on different dates in France, depending on the location. In many parts of northern and eastern France, Christmas celebrations begin December 6th, and is also called Saint Nicholas’ Day.
The French have Christmas trees, but also fill their homes with flowers. December 5th is the eve of Saint Nicholas and children leave their shoes in front of the fireplace for Pere Noel, or the French Santa Claus, before going to bed. Pere Noel fills children’s shoes with small presents and candy, and also puts fruit, nuts, chocolates and small toys in the Christmas tree. He is believed to arrive on his donkey with all the gifts.
Many French towns have parades with detailed floats, multiple marching bands and costumed troupes.
Buildings are lit with colored lights and the streets are decorated with illuminations. One parade, in the French of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port, the parade leads Pere Noel to the Town Hall where the Mayor officially welcomes him with a key to the city. Fireworks for the family follow the event.
An old Christmas Eve tradition in Slovakia has the father of the family fill a spoon with pudding and throw it towards the ceiling. The more of the mixture that sticks to the ceiling, the bigger and more fruitful next years crops will be.
3. GREAT BRITAIN
Christmas pudding is served on Christmas Day but the tradition is in the manner of making it. All family members take turns stirring the pudding concoction clockwise while making a wish. Some drop a coin into the pudding mix and whoever finds it on Christmas Day is believed to have wealth bestowed on them. One might find a thimble in one’s serving of pudding which brings good luck, or a ring to bring marriage.
Christmas crackers, also called bon-bons, are cardboard tubes wrapped in holiday wrapping paper and twisted at the ends. Two people pull at opposite ends and wait for a bang. The cracker splits unevenly, and who ever has the longer end gets the luck, and the prize inside.
Children also send letters to Santa Clause, but not through the mail service. The letters are thrown to the back of the fireplace and hope the chimney draft carries them up and to the North Pole. If the child’s letter catches fire before it flies up the chimney, the child must write a new letter.
In Germany, the country we have to thank for our tradition of Christmas trees, each home often has more than one decorate tree. The Christmas season centers around Advent, so Advent wreaths and calendars are used to countdown the days until Christmas. Children not only write St. Nicholas, but also the Christ child asking for gifts. And on Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes outside filled with hay, carrots and outs for St. Nicholas’s horse. In return, the shoes often have candy and other treats in them the following morning.
From Italy we get two of our most popular Christmas traditions; Nativity scenes and Christmas carols. Children travel neighborhoods singing and reciting poetry, and shepherds wander about playing bagpipes and singing carols.
Christmas goes on for three weeks in Italy since there is much to do! But gifts are not opened until the Epiphany, on January 6, after Befana delivers them.
“Befana” is the name for a gift-giving witch in Italy. An old, and very kind witch, Befana was much like our Santa Claus, however she arrived by broomstick to leave presents for the children. Entering from the chimney, she used her broom to sweep the floors while she was it. This was believed to clean out all the difficulties from the previous year. Children leave out wine and food for the gift-bearing witch.
Kentucky Fried Chicken sales in Japan during the Christmas season are about 240,000 barrels, or 5 to 10 times regular sales. Fried chicken is reserved, and pre-ordered to ensure that everyone in Japan has the celebratory food.
Interestingly, barely 1 percent of the Japanese population is Christian, but clever advertising by KFC caused the ongoing craze for its products. Initially marketed as a “delicacy” in the 1970s, KFC chicken buckets are now the central them of Christmas in Japan.
The Christmas season begins on December 9 and ends in early January and combines traditions from Germany and the United States, along with their own. Christmas gifts are opened at midnight, usually following a mass and a large feast.
Homes and businesses decorate with poinsettias, also called “noche buena,” meaning “good night,” in reference to Christmas Eve. The poinsettia originated in Mexico as a reminder of new life. There are decorations similar to what we see here, but the most important Christmas decoration is the nativity scene.
Often left on display until February, the nativity scenes can look similar to those in the United States. Some include using Spanish moss on the base, or leaving the Christ figure out of the scene until Christmas Eve. Sometimes the baby Jesus figure much larger than the others in the scene. One will often see cactus, turkeys, roosters and figures of women making tortillas, in Mexican nativities. Their attention to the nativity makes for some elaborate displays, some with landscapes, villages, or representative imagery from all over the world. It is not unusual to spot igloos, African animals and other cultural icons in the scenes.
There are many public festivities celebrating the season in Mexico including Festival de los Rabanos (The Festival of Radishes). Radish figures line the central plaza of Oaxaca on December 23rd and 24th after being carved into figures by Mexican artisans. Another is the Mexico also celebrates the day of Los Santos Innocentes (The Sainted Innocents)on December 28. It shares some similarities with our April Fool’s Day in that you may borrow anything without returning it. As such the day is spent trying to coerce gullible people into lending out their possessions.
Christmas and spider webs go together in the Ukraine. There is a folk tale where a widow and her children woke up on Christmas morning to find a bare tree dripping with spider webs that shined silver and gold in the early sun. The widow found the Christmas tree growing in her yard the summer before, but she had no money to decorate it. So, a spider decorated it with silver and gold for them.
Now people living in the Ukraine hide spider webs in their decorated trees, and the finder will have good luck all year.
Only about 2.5% of Indians are Christian, so Christmas traditions are not widely seen. Christians who do celebrate decorate native trees like banana and mango for the month of December. The trees are decorated with lights on certain streets and often mango and banana leaves are used for house decorations. Christians in India gather for a midnight mass, and gift giving.
10. CZECH REPUBLIC
Fortune telling is central to the Czech’s Christmas traditions. One fortune telling medium uses walnut shells. It is believed that by making little boats using halved walnut shells, the future of the family can be predicted. Each walnut shell boat has a candle in it and is floated on water held by a large bowl. If the boat makes it to the other side of the bowl without tipping or sinking, then the family’s outlook is all positive. But, if a boat sinks, the future is ominous.
Another method of seeing into the future is for unmarried young women to with their backs facing a door. The woman tosses a shoe over her shoulder and if the toe is pointed toward the door when it lands, she will marry within one year. Otherwise, the wait is on until the following Christmas when she can throw another shoe. Another version has a woman put a cherry twig under water. If it blooms before Christmas Eve, she will get married within the year.
In Venezuela, before young children go to bed on Christmas Eve, they tie one end of a string to their big toe, and out the other end outside their bedroom window. Since streets are often closed for the next day, early morning Christmas mass, people on roller blades can tug on any strings that are still hanging from the windows, thus waking the children for mass.
Christmas in Finland has a different celebration of lights. The focus during the season is on those who have passed on. Lit candles are placed at the graves of deceased ancestors and family members in their memory.to Generally done for one’s family members and ancestors, those who have no relatives buried nearby can go to any grave to light candles.
Additionally, food is left out on tables, and people do not sleep in their beds on Christmas Eve. This is so the dead can have a place to sleep, and a nice meal while they visit.