By: Hope Hefright
Whether it’s decorating Christmas cookies, competing to transform your house into the most ridiculous possible show of flickering lights and Santa blow-ups, or just watching A Christmas Story over and over again, Americans take great pride and enjoyment in their Christmas traditions. It is a time of year beloved by most, and companies that profit off of early seasonal advertising are surely not going to let us forget it. However, according to Libraryspot.com, over 160 countries celebrate Christmas! Christmas can be defined as “the annual Christian celebration celebrating Christ’s birth,” and seeing as 31.5% of the population identifies as Christian/Catholic, there’s a lot of different traditions and many special ways that people across the world celebrate this event. Though an examination of the holiday traditions in all 160 countries mentioned would certainly be… festive, we’ve decided to focus on our friends in the US, the UK, Australia, Japan, Germany, and Spain. To hear about some Spanish Christmas traditions right from the source, The Squire reconnected with former Eisenhower exchange student, Julia Raventόs, from Barcelona!
United States of America
America is a very multi-cultural country that shares countless Christmas traditions with other countries. One tradition that is flexible depending on your region is the American Christmas dinner. A common dinner will be eaten in the evening and is turkey or ham, with cranberries and pie. However, Southern Americans in Louisiana might cook up Christmas jambalaya, or families with Italian roots may do seafood, in a tradition called The Feast of the Seven Fishes. This is an Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafood, and it dates back to the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. Eisenhower Senior Lydia Giannini talked to The Squire about her family’s history with this tradition,” I’m not really sure when we started honestly, but I can’t really remember a Christmas Eve where we haven’t had seafood. My family is very Italian, so it of course makes sense for us to eat seven fishes.” Most Christmas traditions make very little sense in the context of modern day, but that’s what makes them traditions!
Most Christmas-celebrating Americans are Christians (though not all), and will go to church on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Santa Claus is also big in America, and is used in an abundance of popular movies and advertising. America is a country where Christmas shopping is a rite of passage, (big blowout Black Fridays) and we also indulge in Christmas cards, fancy light displays like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York, and parades.
Some fairly universal traditions include stockings, Christmas carols, and the joining of family.
The United Kingdom
A United Kingdom Christmas is celebrated with many of America’s traditions, such as caroling and turkey dinner, but has its own quirks. In the UK, for Christmas dinner, they dine on things that sound right out of the Harry Potter books. Mince pies, Christmas puddings, and Trifles. Trifle is a popular dessert at Christmas that’s made with layers of sponge, fruit, and custard. In Scotland, they make a “tipsy laird” version where the sponge is soaked in whiskey.
Santa Claus in the UK is most commonly referred to as Father Christmas, or Saint Nick. Instead of a massive Black Friday, shoppers in the UK have Boxing Day, a bank holiday the day after Christmas. It is a national holiday celebrated in the UK and Ireland and is typically used as an extra day of celebration with the family or a chance to snag after Christmas sales.
Christmas in Australia is very unique, as it takes place during their seasonal summer. Snow in North America and Britain during the holidays is normal, but not Down Under. Many families will spend Christmas or Boxing Day at the beach having a barbecue. Instead of a warm Christmas dinner, Australians often have salads, lunch meat, or seafood as their course. They also love large light displays and parades, which is one thing they share in common with Americans! One Australian way of showing festivity is to place bunches of “Australian bush” outside of your home, a native Australian tree with small green leaves and pale flowers that turn dark red as the season progresses.
Australians also sing carols, open presents, and make desserts, but are most likely the only country with a hugely popular Christmas song about Santa’s sleigh being pulled by six big kangaroos!
“Pretty soon old Santa began to feel the heat,
Took his fur lined boots off to cool his feet,
Into one popped Joey, feeling quite okay,
While those old man Kangaroos kept pulling on the sleigh.”
(“Six White Boomers” by Rolf Harris)
In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday, and is most commonly done as a non-religious celebration centered around happiness and love. Often, schools will have off of the day anyway, and the Japanese spend it practicing traditions acquired from the U.S., such as exchanging presents and cards. A very popular meal in Japan during Christmas time is KFC chicken! An advertising campaign for KFC for Christmas became very popular in the 70s, and that trend is still around. For dessert, the Japanese will make Christmas cake, which is a sponge cake served with strawberries and whipped cream.
Though the celebration of Christmas is a recent development in the country, the Emperor’s birthday is a national holiday celebrated on Dec 23, and they have a New Year school break. Their Christmas is similar to what we have as Valentine’s Day, but the Japanese New Year is actually much like a western Christmas, and families will get together, pray, and send cards. The Japanese New Year is where their real cultural history and traditions lie.
Germany is rumored to have many unique traditions, like the “Christmas pickle,” a pickle shaped ornament which they hide in a tree on Christmas (although it has become a game that’s mostly used by modern Americans), and Krampus, the evil Santa. While the legend of Krampus did begin as a serious myth of Saint Nicholas’ evil counterpart that beats children into good behavior, modern day German celebration does not so much include that dreary story. Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic will involve a “Krampus night” where men run around dressed up as Krampus to scare children, joke around with teens, and get drunk on mulled wine. A recent commercialization and even celebration of the Krampus character has taken away all of his creepy power and left him something to laugh about in Germany.
Before Christmas, Germans will hold a St. Nicholas Day on December 5. On this night, children can put their boots/shoes outside their bedroom doors and wake up to see if St. Nick has left candy or gifts in them! And, of course, the naughty children may get coal in their boots.
Germans commonly have duck, goose, rabbit, or a roast for supper, but bring out all the best foods and desserts at the big Christmas Markets that happen around the holiday season. Expansive street markets are set up in various regions in Germany during the holidays where products like decorations or glass ornaments and vendors selling food are aplenty.
While doing research on Spanish Christmas traditions, we were pleased to get a chance to ask Julia Raventόs, a Spanish exchange student here at Eisenhower in 2016/17, how she does her holidays across the pond, and how those traditions compare to the Christmas she had here.
In Spain, many of the religious families will attend midnight mass, or “La Miss Del Gallo.” This means “mass of the rooster” because a rooster is said to have crowed the night before Jesus was born. There are a few different regional languages spoken in the country of Spain, so, for example, in Spanish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Feliz Navidad’ and in Catalan it’s ‘Bon Nadal.’
We’re not so different after all! Julia shared, “I’d describe it [Spanish Christmas] as a time to spend with all your family, where you eat a lot of food and get presents, basically as it was in the US.”
Although there are some similarities, Julia did note that the main difference in celebrating the holiday involved culinary traditions, “The main difference was probably the food, which I’m not sure if you have a specific food you eat on Christmas but here we do. And also I found the decorations very curious, which people in the US seemed to spend a lot of time on and they took it pretty serious, while here in Spain we don’t really decorate that much, we focus more on the getting together and eating part.” Julia’s family usually eats a Christmas lunch rather than dinner, around 3P.M. She noted, “The food we typically have on Christmas is this kind of soup with pasta, meat and vegetables in it. And then as a second dish it really depends on each family. My family usually makes like this weird seafood, “lagostinos,” with a really nice sauce with it. And we also have stuffed chicken. And then for desert it’s typical to have “turrón.” Turrón is a southern European nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts. It’s usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake.
If you feel like broadening your Christmas this year, try out this delicious looking turrόn recipe from nourishedkitchen.com!
1¾ cup roasted almond slivers, (preferably soaked and dehydrated)
1½ cups raw honey
3 egg whites
- Roast the almonds at 375F for 10 minutes mixing them up halfway through.
- In a medium sized saucepan; gently bring the honey, over medium heat, to a slow boil. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat off, and set aside.
- Whip the egg whites to a thick glossy meringue. Carefully, fold the meringue into the honey.
- Once the meringue has been folded into the honey, bring the mixture back up to medium heat constantly stirring for 15-20 minutes. The meringue honey mixture will soon increase in volume. As you keep stirring, it will condense itself until a thick caramel has formed. Also, the color will slowly change from a light brown to a deep burnt orange. The bottom of the mixture may start to burn a bit which is okay. It adds depth in flavor. *To test if your mixture is thick enough, add a bit to a plate and immediately place in the refrigerator. After a minute or so, if it hardens, your mixture is ready.
- Once the mixture has thickened add the roasted almonds and mix through. Quickly pour the turron mixture into a parchment paper lined dish. Place another piece of parchment paper directly on top of the mixture which will allow you to press it down and prevent anything from sticking to it.
- Cool in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours before slicing. Enjoy.
Thanks to Julia for talking to us, and Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weihnachten, and Merry Christmas from all of us here at The Squire!