It’s finally here: December, the most magical month of the year. In the Netherlands we start off the festivities with the feast of Sinterklaas (a figure based on Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children). After all the gifts have been unpacked and our bellies have been filled with chocolate letters and Dutch pepernoten (tiny biscuits), we start preparing for the next holiday: Christmas.
We light up our homes with candles, wreaths, and beautifully decorated trees. We might visit a Christmas market, where, after a few rounds on the ice skating rink, we warm up with some hot cocoa (or mulled wine for mum and dad). For us Dutch folk, it’s not December without all of this. However, chances are that very few people outside of Europe will know who Saint Nicholas is or what pepernoten taste like – but they will have unique December traditions of their own.
‘Twas the night before Christmas…
If you are looking for a special way to celebrate Christmas, visit Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Be sure to pack your roller blades though, as it is a tradition there to make your way to church on the morning before Christmas in roller blades. Luckily, the chances of a white Christmas in Venezuela are extremely small, otherwise this could be quite a dangerous ride.
The Norwegians have another odd Christmas tradition. On Christmas Eve they hide all brooms, to prevent them from being stolen. This tradition originated centuries ago, back when people still believed in witchcraft. They were afraid witches would come by their house looking for brooms to ride on.
However, sometimes Christmas traditions do not turn out exactly like they were supposed to. Since 1966, the Swedish have erected a 13-metre tall goat made out of straw in the town centre of Gävle every December – and vandals have tried to set it on fire every single year. Trying to burn down the Swedish Yule Goat has become a tradition in itself, as it has successfully been destroyed a whopping 37 times.
The Catalan ‘crapper’
In Catalonia (Spain) the traditional nativity scene has a very unique addition: the so-called caganer (which is Catalan for ‘crapper’). That’s right: it’s a figurine depicted with his pants down and – well, you can guess the rest. The caganer is never placed at the front of the nativity scene, but is hidden behind a tree or put in a corner. Children have even made a game out of it: the first one to find the figurine wins.
Traditional Christmas barbecue
Sharing good food and drinks with your friends and family is a substantial part of Christmas. However, there’s a world of difference between what we eat for Christmas and what, for example, an Australian eats.
With an average temperature of around 26 °C, it’s summertime in Australia this time of year, meaning there’s a good chance their Christmas supper ends up on the barbie (or barbecue, for us non-Aussies). In South-Africa, the traditional Christmas meal is prepared on a braai, which is similar to a barbecue. If you are not big on barbecuing, you might like to try another typically African Christmas delicacy: fried caterpillar. Mmm, delicious!
Even though it has religious origins, for a lot of people in Western countries, Christmas has little to do with faith. In certain Christian communities, such as several East-African countries, Christmas has not commercialised at all and is still very much a religious holiday.
The inhabitants collect leaves and stones as a birthday present for Jesus, and the most popular Christmas gift for friends and family is a new set of clothing to wear to church. Quite different from our ‘western’ Christmas gifts – although it might explain why we get a new pair of socks every year.
The countdown begins
If you bought an advent calendar this year (yet another Christmas tradition), you are probably already counting the days until Christmas. Whether you spend the holidays opening presents underneath the Christmas tree or watching a family film with a nice big mug of hot chocolate and a blanket: there’s something for everyone. Maybe this year, in the spirit of multiculturalism, it might be fun to celebrate Christmas a little differently – by having a traditional braai, for example, or by roller skating to the Christmas mass.