for the Holidays
This holiday season, Cafe@Home for the Holidays is here to help you prepare for the festivities...
Have you ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated in other parts of the world? With the holiday a couple of days away, let's take a look at some of the traditions other people enjoy.
We'll travel to Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and more to see how other cultures observe this time of year.
Enjoy the similarities and differences in how we decorate, what we eat, and even the stories and characters we tell stories about.
Hit play on this Christmas Around the World Spotify playlist and come along for the festivities.
Christmas Traditions Around The World
Here in the United States, we've brought traditions from all around the world, and Christmas traditions are no different. Our Christmas trees and wreaths, our boughs of holly, the balls of mistletoe, and stockings by the fireplace are just a few of the things we do year after year to help us celebrate this most wonderful time. But where did these traditions come from, and how do other cultures decorate and otherwise observe the holidays?
Christmas in Europe
Most of our customs in the US as far as decorations, characters, music, and more come from Europe. The Christmas tree is one of these customs. Dating back to the Middle Ages, German households displayed decorated trees during Christmastime. This tradition was brought to the US in the early 19th century. The first Christmas tree lot was opened in New York in 1851. Today, it is estimated that US households display more artificial trees by a ratio of 4 to 1.
The decorations on the tree come from all over these days. We display everything from lights to garland or tinsel to balls and other baubles. Many ornaments show our hobbies like winter sports, superheroes, cartoon characters, and other fun pastimes. But some ornaments have a more interesting past. Take the German pickle ornament, for instance. This decoration is hidden on the tree, and the first child who finds it gets a surprise or can open the first present.
Equally as unique is the Polish spiderweb ornament. No, it's not a holdover from Halloween. The legend goes that a poor, hardworking mother couldn't afford ornaments for her tree, but when she woke up on Christmas morning, a spider had spun webs all over the tree, and when the sunshine hit the webs it turned them golden or silver. These ornaments symbolize prosperity today.
We all know the benevolent Christmas character Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Father Christmas. And many of us know the Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol. But how many of you know about the terrifying Austrian character Krampus? According to folklore, this scary half-goat, half-demon-looking creature whips naughty children with a bundle of sticks. That sure is an incentive to stay on the Nice List!
If you've never heard of the Italian Christmas Witch, La Befana, you might think her to be in league with Krampus. But you would be wrong. The story of La Befana goes that the Three Wise Men invited her along to visit the baby Jesus but she decided to stay back because she had too many chores. She changed her mind and went looking for the travelers with her broom and a basket of goodies so she could help Mary by cleaning and feeding her. As she ran looking for the wise men, her broom caught the wind and she took flight. Today, she visits every home in Italy looking for Three Wise Men and leaving behind treats in the stockings of the good boys and girls, and coal for the naughty ones.
Christmas in Hawaii
Mele Kalikimaka! Hawaiian for Merry Christmas, this is how they greet each other during the holidays on the tropical islands. Today, celebrations are very similar to those on the mainland though Hawaiians do still include some of the traditions from the older ceremony that took place during the same time period, Makahiki.
Santa and Mrs. Claus make an appearance, though in Hawaiian fashion. Shaka Santa, so named for the hand symbol for "hang loose", hangs around in his flip-flops and open shirt. He typically arrives by outrigger boat pulled by a team of dolphins. Once he reaches the shore, he reads off his naughty and nice list. Surfing Santa is also an expected sight throughout the season. And Mrs. Claus, or Tutu Mele, is known for her Hawaiian muumuu and a hibiscus flower in her hair.
Christmas trees are put up and decorated just like we do across the ocean, although getting them can be a bit tricky. All fresh Christmas trees are delivered to Hawaii via ship! Many places erect Christmas trees like businesses, hotels and resorts, and private residences.
Christmas in the Caribbean
Visiting the Caribbean islands during the Christmas holidays is a unique experience. Each island nation has its own customs. Like in the Dominican Republic where they shoot off fireworks From October through Christmas, with Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, being the biggest celebration of them all. With the still-strong ties to Britain, Barbados follows the British tradition of opening gifts on December 26th, Boxing Day.
They may not have snow in the tropics, but they can still have a white Christmas. Each year, on Grand Cayman, the traditional neighborhoods follow the tradition of delivering buckets of sand to the front yards of local houses. On Christmas Eve, the sand is spread over the front yard to resemble snow. No one may walk on the "sand/snow" until Christmas morning.
In St. Vincent, the festivities begin early with the Nine Mornings Celebration. As early as December 16th, the islanders get going around 5am and finish up in time to head to work around 7am. These activities include bike rides to the beach, parades, concerts, and ocean swims just to name a few.
If you visit Nassau during the holidays, be prepared for Junkanoo, a celebratory parade held the day after Christmas. Elaborate costumes, dancers, drums, horns, bells, and whistles all help to make a joyful noise as the parade winds through the streets of the island.
Christmas in Latin America
Each country has its own traditions but some of them stand out. In Peru, the Nativity scene is extremely important and a competition is held annually to allow the craftsmanship of these scenes to be celebrated. In Brazil and Costa Rica, a Christmas bonus is required by law so families can celebrate during the holiday shopping season. Chile has quite the unique tradition of calling Christmas Pascua (Easter) rather than Navidad (Christmas). They serve a soft, moist bread filled with nuts, candied fruit, honey, and ginger. This German and Italian transplant was brought to the island by immigrants.
Yet another 9-day celebration is the Podadas in Guatemala. This festival is held to commemorate the pilgrimage Joseph and Mary took to find shelter before the birth of Jesus. The festivities are all-inclusive with prayers for the religious, Christmas punch for the partiers, and pinatas for the kids! In Mexico, you can join in the celebration of the Night of the Radishes on December 23rd. Merchants carve radishes and form them into sculptures to celebrate the season. Mexico is also known for the origination of the poinsettia as a flower for Christmas. Known as the flor de Nochebuena, the first US Ambassador to Mexico, aptly named Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought the flower to the states.
In Colombia, they celebrate the Day of the Little Candles or El Dia de los Velitas on December 7. This dates back all the way to 1854 when the Pope declared the Immaculate Conception as the official dogma of the church. It is observed with candles strewn through the streets.
Christmas in Africa
Countries in Africa are known to observe Christmas with spiritual celebrations, often spending much time in church. Unlike the US, after attending midnight mass services, the party is on! Parades, dances, and general revelry pour through the streets of quite a few countries. It's not surprising that the second biggest tradition during the holidays is eating. It's no different in Africa. In Kenya, they feast on nyama choma or grilled meat and potato stew. South Africans enjoy special barbecues. Head to Tanzania for roast beef or goat served with home-brewed beer. Or visit Nigeria for chicken or goat, tomato stew, and fragrant rice are the delicious plates enjoyed for the holidays. Everyone is invited to celebrate these delicious festivities.
Santa is an extremely rare character in the African culture. The personality portrayed in Liberia is a devil, Old Man Bayka, that begs for presents rather than delivering them. In Ethiopia, they simply don't believe in any fanciful character while in Kenya they do believe in Santa who arrives by camel or bike! And gift-giving isn't usually a holiday past-time with donating items like clothes, toys, and books to churches and other good causes. If presents are exchanged, they are typically new clothes that are shown off at church on Christmas Day.