Dec
19
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 12, Wales: Making Taffy

 

Once upon a time Christmas Eve was known to the Welsh as Noson Gyflaith, or toffee evening, an occasion when friends and families gathered to share a meal, tell stories and play games, as well as take part in a Northern Welsh Christmas tradition—making toffee, or taffy as it known more commonly called in the U.S.

The toffee, made from brown sugar and butter, was especially chewy. It was boiled and then pulled so it became nice and glossy. Many traditional foods of the Welsh were born out of hardship and a need to be practical. The holiday toffee is a good example of this. Because sugar was once very expensive, making toffee on Christmas Eve was quite a special event, and a way of providing a festive treat for Christmas. Though the tradition is rarely practiced today, toffee remains an important traditional part of Christmas history in Wales.

Dec
18
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 11, Mexico: Breaking the Piñata and Cutting the Rosca

Mexican Christmas celebrations begin on December 12th and end on January 6th (Epiphany). Children awake on the 6th of January to find gifts or toys that were left for them by the three kings. At midnight on Christmas Eve, fireworks, bells and whistles announce the birth of Christ. These sounds call families to Midnight Mass. Once mass is over, people return home to enjoy a traditional Mexican Christmas dinner. Many special dishes may be served, but some of the main traditional ones include tamales, bacalao (dried salted codfish), pozole (pork soup), menudo (beef soup) and atole (a hot, sweet drink made with corn).

On Christmas Day, blindfolded kids take turns trying to break open a clay piñata filled with sweets. Children who have been good will also receive gifts on Epiphany (January 6th). That is also the day when families take part in the  beloved tradition of cutting the rosca de reyes (“ring of kings”), a ring-shaped Christmas cake decorated with candied fruit and named for the three kings. The cake is often served along with corn tamales and hot chocolate. Hidden inside the rosca is a figurine of the baby Jesus, symbolizing a safe place where he could be born. Each person cuts a slice of the rosca, and whoever finds the figurine will be the host and invite everyone to celebrate Candelaria (also called Candlemas Day) on February 2nd.

Dec
17
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 10, India: Decorating the Mango Tree

 

Though the majority of Indians are Hindu, Christmas (called Bada Din, meaning “big day”) is still celebrated around the country by millions of people. A special tradition is attending Midnight Mass with family and friends. Churches in India are decorated with poinsettia flowers and candles especially for this important service. Afterward there will be a feast of different delicacies (often biryanis, a dish made with rice and meat), and gifts will be exchanged. Some families display small clay oil-burning lamps and decorate their homes with banana or mango leaves. Mango leaves are an important tradition because the mango tree is considered sacred, and its leaves are used to decorate for every special occasion.


Many people will start preparing for Christmas as early as a month ahead by cleaning their homes in preparation for guests. They will also make a traditional cake, or a sweet rice pudding called kheer, to be shared not just with family, but with neighbors as well!

Dec
16
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 9, Greece: Keeping the Kallikantzaroi Away

On Christmas Eve in Greece, children, especially boys, go out caroling, playing drums and triangles. Sometimes they will even carry small decorated boats, which is a very old custom in Greece. The boats honor St. Nikolas, the patron saint of sailors. The children go from home to home singing carols, and in return they are given dried figs, walnuts, candy and other small gifts.

Christmas trees are becoming more popular in Greece, but almost every house will have a shallow wooden bowl holding a little bit of water, with a piece of wire hanging across its rim. A wooden cross, wrapped with a spring of fresh basil, hangs from the wire. Each day for the twelve days of Christmas, someone in the household (usually the mom) will dip the cross and basil into holy water and sprinkle it in each room of the house. This is to keep Kallikantzaroi (bad spirits) away.  Having a fire burn through the twelve days of Christmas is also thought to keep the Kallikantzaroi away.

Typically on Christmas day, only a few presents are exchanged. Instead, it is an occasion to show generosity to those in less fortunate situations, like patients in hospitals or children in orphanages. Gifts are traditionally exchanged on January 1st, St. Basil’s Day.

Dec
15
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 8, Denmark: Nisse the Temperamental Elf

 

Christmas dinner usually begins with a rice pudding that holds a magical almond inside. Whoever finds the magical almond gets a prize! After the rice pudding, families in Denmark traditionally eat duck or goose, as well as red cabbage and browned potatoes, all followed by delicious pastries!


Just remember to leave a bowl of rice pudding or porridge for Nisse on Christmas Eve (also called Juleaften). Nisse is a mischievous little elf that is said to secretly live in houses and act as a guardian. If you’re nice to Nisse he will bring you gifts and protect you from evil. Nisse, however, is known to be easily offended, especially by rudeness. Make him mad and be prepared to have some pranks played on you!


Juleaften is a very special night for many other reasons too. Parents secretly decorate Christmas trees and do not let the children see until dinner time! It is the biggest occasion of the year and parties go on all night, involving lots of singing and gathering around the tree.

 

Dec
14
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 7, Spain: Parades and Epiphany

In Spain, most people go to Midnight Mass, also known as La Misa del Gallo, meaning the Mass of the Rooster. It got its name because a rooster is said to have crowed the night Jesus was born. Before attending mass, people feast on roast turkey stuffed with truffles. In other parts of the country, though, like Galicia on the northwest coast, it is a holiday custom to serve seafood, such as lobster or crab.


The fun really begins after mass, when people parade down the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums. It is a night dubbed Noche-Buena, Y no es noche de dormir, which means “tonight is the good night and is not meant for sleep!”


And if you’re celebrating Christmas in Spain, you might have to wait a few days to open your presents! Although some presents are opened on Christmas, most are opened on Epiphany (January 6th). Epiphany is, in part, a festival that tells part of the Christmas story, the visit of the three kings (sometimes called the magi, or the three wise men) to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. Kids write letters to the kings on Boxing Day, December 26th, and on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) they leave shoes on balconies or window sills to be filled with presents! However, if the children have misbehaved, the kings may leave pieces of coal (which are actually lumps of sugar dyed black with food coloring) along with the presents. So remember to be good!

Dec
13
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 6, Canada: Canada: Barely Candy and Chicken Bones

Although Canada is a vast country with many different cultural influences, we found Canadian Christmas traditions tend to favor their British and European heritage. Home decorating, caroling, gift giving, church attendance and big family dinners are part of many Canadian Christmas celebrations. However, we were able to find a few Christmas treasures unique to Canada.


Christmas in Canada would not be complete without the famous Barley Candy and Chicken Bones. A favorite with children, barley candy is a hard candy in a holiday symbol shape such as a Santa, or a reindeer or a snowflake. Chicken bones are pink-colored cinnamon-flavored candies with chocolate in the middle. Delicious!

Finally, Christmas trees are not unique to Canada. However, we think the fact that Canada produces all of their own Christmas trees and even exports them to many places around the world is pretty special. Do you know where your tree came from?

Dec
11
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe!

Day 5, Japan: A Time to Spread Love and Happiness

 

Christmas is not widely celebrated in Japan, however, they do get into the “holiday spirit.” Many streets are lit up with Christmas lights, stores decorate their windows, and love is in the air. Love? Yes, love.


In Japan, Christmas Eve is thought by some to be the most romantic day of the year. Who can blame them with the beautiful lights and decorations?

Christmas is not thought of as a religious holiday, or even a gift giving one, but an annual occasion to spread joy and happiness.

Japan is famous for serving a certain special dessert on Christmas Eve. If this was a tradition in my country, I know I would be happy! It is not a pudding, but a sponge cake topped with strawberries, whipped cream and sometimes chocolate. YUM!

Want to know more about Christmas in Japan? Check out our Japan Pinterest board!

Dec
11
2014

12 Days of Christmas Around the Globe

Day 4, Australia: Six White Boomers

Can you imagine looking up into the sky and seeing kangaroos pulling Santa’s sleigh? No? Perhaps you could if you lived in Australia and it was really hot on December 25th.


A Christmas song, “Six White Boomers,” tells the story of how the Australian heat is too much for Santa’s reindeer. The song, popular with school-aged kids, explains that Santa’s reindeer get a rest while six white boomers (boomer is Aussie slang for a male kangaroo) lead Santa’s sleigh through Australia! After all the toys are delivered, they even help a little joey (a baby kangaroo) find his mommy.


The Australian heat has inspired not only a Christmas song but also many of the holiday’s traditions. Christmas day dinner is typically cold meat, salad and a seafood selection, and the day is often spent playing sports such as cricket in the backyard and going for a swim.

While those in the Northern Hemisphere think of Christmas carolers all bundled up, people in Australia sing in the warm night air. If you are in Melbourne, you can even attend a famous outdoor concert on Christmas Eve–Carols by Candlelight at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Want to know more about Christmas in Australia? Check out our Australia Pinterest board!