7 Traditions From Around the World to Light Up Your Christmas
Christmas time is suffuse with tradition. Every family seems to have something they can’t do without during the festive season. I, personally watch A Muppet’s Christmas Carol every year without fail. But you don’t need to go far to find amazing diversity in these traditions. Here are a few of our favourites from around the world.
1. Carols by Candlelight, Australia
Carols by candlelight is a tradition many in the UK may recognise, but it began on the other side of the World. In 1937 the radio announcer Norman Banks was walking home from a night-shift. Supposedly, through a window he saw an elderly woman sat up in bed, singing along to Away in a Manger on the radio, her face lit by the flickering light of a candle. Banks was moved that there didn’t seem to be anyone to sing along with this woman, and he wondered how many around him spent Christmas alone. The following Christmas Eve, Banks hosted the first Carols by Candlelight in Alexandra Gardens. The event was an opportunity to bring people together at Christmas even if they had no relatives nearby. Money from ticket sales, donations, and candles also went to charity. The origin of the tradition seems truly to get to the heart of Christmas.
2. Spider’s Webs, Ukraine
Many Christmas traditions and tales seem to be based on the warmth and generosity of human nature. The only difference in this case is that the generosity does not come from a human. A folktale tells of a poor but hard-working woman in the Ukraine who lived in a hut with her children. One day a pine tree began to grow by the house and the children tended it carefully, thrilled by the prospect of having a Christmas tree. When Christmas Eve arrived, however, the family found they could not afford to decorate the tree. The children cried through the night from their disappointment. On waking up on Christmas morning they were amazed to discover that under the cover of darkness, a spider had woven an intricate and beautiful silk web across the tree.
Today, ornaments of spiders and their webs are still traditional decorations in Ukraine and are thought to bring good luck. It is also claimed that these webs are the origin of the tinsel we use today. Who knew spiders could be so festive.
3. Feast of St Lucia, Finland
In Finland, the festive season begins on the first Sunday in December. The 13th is also a special day as it is the Feast of Saint Lucia. St Lucia was a third century martyr who brought food to Christians in hiding. She wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible. Traditionally, a feast is held and the eldest girl in each family portrays St Lucia. With a white robe and her crown of Candles, the family’s very own St Lucia serves buns, cookies, coffee, or mulled wine to her parents.
4. Christkindlmarkt, Germany
Christmas markets are another familiar tradition in the UK today, but the most amazing markets can be found in their country of origin: Germany. The markets were being held as far back as the late Middle Ages. Today the markets offer many delights including a Nativity Scene and an abundance of local, seasonal treats. For those who have not tried Lebkuchen, I can highly recommend it.
5. Book Swaps, Iceland
According to the BBC “[Iceland] has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world… One in 10 Icelanders will publish [a book].” It may come as no surprise then, that the World’s most literary country had a Christmas tradition based on books. Each year Icelanders give books to one another on Christmas Eve, then spend the night reading. So ingrained in the culture is this tradition, that each year between September and December there is a Jolabokaflod – a “Christmas Book Flood” – when the majority of books in Iceland are sold.
6. Christmas with a bang, Sri Lanka
Although only around 7% of the population of Sri Lanka is Christian, the festivities are used as an excuse for the public holiday. The celebrations certainly don’t go unnoticed either as they begin on 1st of December with a bang (literally). Fire crackers are set off at dawn to show that the season has begun, and more are set off on New Year’s Eve. Christmas traditions have hints of the many cultures which have colonised the country over the years, but ultimately the people of Sri Lanka have made it their own, Christians and non-Christians celebrating alike. In Sinhala, Merry Christmas is “සුබ නත්තලක් වේවා”.
7. A very vegan Christmas, Ethiopia
Christmas in the UK has become synonymous with consumerism and gluttony to some extent. In Ethiopia, traditions are very different. Christmas is celebrated on 7th January. The 40 days prior to 7th (including December 25th) are observed with a fast. This means a vegan diet and only one meal per day. The church considers this a form of purification and spiritual preparation. Though vegan diets may only now be growing in popularity, they have actually been around for millennia.