The holiday season is upon us in many parts of the world. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or Muhammad’s birthday, it’s a time for families and friends to come together and celebrate or simply get a few days of rest from their labours.
So today I wanted to ask you to share with us some of your own local traditions for celebrations at this time of year, or perhaps your personal family traditions (which may or may not be related to cultural background).
My family, for example, is a bit of a mongrel. We have lived in different countries and so we’ve absorbed many traditions and created a hybrid mix of our own. My children clean their boots on the eve of St. Nicholas’ Day (6th December) and in the morning they find them stuffed with nuts and sweets if they’ve been good or with sticks if they’ve been bad. The Krampus (in Austria), Père Fouettard (in France) or Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) in the Netherlands accompanies St. Nicholas and is the one who punishes children – good cop, bad cop. My children only received sticks once – and they really pulled their socks up and behaved impeccably in the run-up to Christmas, so it acts as a good early warning…
We also celebrate the Advent – a German/Austrian custom, whereby we light an additional candle each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas and add one extra bit of decoration around the house. We don’t set up the tree until the fourth Advent Sunday (which this year falls on the 20th) and we have to take all the decorations down on the 6th of January, the Festival of the Three Kings. We have also adopted the American custom of having an electric train going round the tree, with trees and houses and other fun rural landscapes. We enjoy searching for one extra bit of ‘landscape’ and one additional bauble for the tree each year.
However, when it comes to opening presents, we did not follow the Central European (and French) custom of doing it on Christmas Eve, nor the Greek custom of receiving them just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Instead, we leave a platter of mince pies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph and his reindeer friends by the fireplace (very English) and sleep intermittently until the morning of Christmas Day. This invariably means a VERY early morning start, lots of wrapping paper scattered all over the floor and staying in pyjamas until midday.
We don’t often dare to do this when we are in foreign countries, but when we are in Romania for Christmas, the children go round to all the houses in the neighbourhood with a star attached to a wand and sing carols, for which they receive nuts, dried fruit and candy. On New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day grown-ups come around with Capra – the Goat – someone dressed up in a goat mask, with singing and dancing. This ritual of possibly pagan origin symbolizes fertility, but also getting rid of all evil spirits which beset you the previous year and filling your house with fresh energy.
I’d love to hear some of your own traditions, whether they form part of your cultural heritage or are very personal interpretations. What do you like doing at this time of the year, when it’s cold and grey, when the nights are so long (at least in the Northern Hemisphere)?