Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Traditions Around the World

After growing up in Ireland and Portugal and now spending this Christmas in the South of France; In between all of that I’ve been lucky enough to have traveled and spent Christmas in a number of different places around the world which has given me a fantastic insight and passion for all of the regional differences in Christmas traditions. Below are a few of my favourites.

Luck and Good Fortune in France
This year I’m spending Christmas in the South of France as I’m pet-sitting a dog and a cat while their owners are away, something I was lucky to stumble across on the pet sitter network, This means that this year friends and family are coming to visit us and so we’re (my partner and I) expected to put together a traditional French Christmas dinner. In all honesty French Christmas dinner is a lot like dinner in the UK and US; a turkey or goose with a lot of trimmings. This has pleased partner Jemma, who’s from Scotland and wants to ensure there are ‘kilted sausages’, which from what I can gather is an alternative Scottish name for ‘pigs in blankets’. Where France differs then, is not in the type of food (although a few luxuries like oysters, escargots and fois gras often grace the table), but in its emphasis on food. Christmas dinner in France is known as Réveillon, and it involves a long dinner well past midnight in which one eats until one can’t eat anymore (traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve but now more common on Christmas Day). Not unlike the rest of the world you say then; but in France the belief is that the more you eat – and the better you eat – the more and better luck you will have in the coming year.

Everybody Poops in Spain
Spain is perhaps one of the strangest countries for Christmas traditions that I’ve come across, mainly for its huge emphasis on poo. There’s the Caganer for starters, which is quite simply a defecating boy that accompanies Jesus and the three wise men in the nativity scene. Its origins and meaning are confusing, although some suggest that it’s a reminder that Jesus could return at any moment. Whatever definition or justification you come to, it’s a fun tradition that the Spanish, especially the Catalan-Spanish, have never got out of celebrating. The festive fascination with poo doesn’t end there however, there’s also the Tió de Nadal, or pooping log. As part of the celebrations, children give the log something to eat every night and cover him with a blanket so he won’t get cold. Then on Christmas Day (after the parents have slipped the presents under the blanket) the child takes a stick and beats the log ordering it to poop out the presents while singing various carols. It is without a doubt the weirdest of all the Christmas traditions you’ll ever read about.

Ireland for me has one of the nicest Christmas traditions, but despite having lived there for around eleven years when I was younger, I have to admit it’s very rare to see this in practice. The tradition is to light a candle and place it in one of the windows on Christmas Eve. If anybody is passing on a journey and doesn’t have a bed for the night, the candle is a sign that they’re welcome to come and stay. It was also traditional for the youngest member of the family to light the candle and someone called Mary to put it out. These traditions are obviously a throwback to when people traveled throughout the year, even at Christmas, and when Irish families always had someone called Mary, and so without these factors the practice has gone out of fashion.

It’s always fun to read and learn about Christmas traditions around the world. What are some of your favourites that you’ve come across?


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