Christmas Traditions Around the World
One of the best feelings that the holiday season offers is familiarity. You see the faces of your closest friends and family, you feast on the delicious dishes that you wait to eat again year after year, and you’ll lie restlessly awake on Christmas Eve, finding it hard to fall asleep before the big day at any age. Christmas is a time of tradition, a time where you celebrate with routine sentimental actions that make your Christmas celebration special to you. Maybe you open a single gift on Christmas Eve, maybe your family has a cooking baking competition, or maybe you leave an unusual snack out for Santa. Whatever it is, we all have one. And around the world, there are unique ways of celebrating Christmas that have never even crossed our minds.
Christmas crackers are a fun example, though not entirely unheard of in the United States; they are a traditional Christmas table treat that originated in London. A pastry maker, Tom Smith, invented them after a trip to France where he saw bonbons. The French sweet was a sugared almond individually wrapped in a pretty paper twist. Tom returned home to try and sell the sweets himself, but they weren't a hit. To fix this, he added notes and sayings inside the paper wrappings of his treats. But it still wasn't enough. Finally, Tom was struck with a wild idea as he sat one night by his fire. What if the treats released pops and cracks, like a fireplace when opened? He made it happen and the Christmas Cracker was born. They evolved into trinket-filled cardboard tubes, which when pulled apart let out a “pop!” and rip open to reveal prizes inside.
New Zealand is another place where Christmas crackers are often present on the table, though they are more likely to be served up next to BBQ. Here, a Christmas day barbeque lunch is a more popular tradition than a classic Christmas dinner, as we know it. This is because New Zealanders are celebrating during their summer season when their national Christmas tree, the Pohutukawa, is in full bloom.
Something wicked this way comes in Austria. Have you heard of Krampus? You’re probably better off if you haven’t. Good Saint Nick’s equal opposite, Krampus is a goat-like creature who punishes naughty children. This tradition sounds a lot more like one for American Halloween, as it is custom for men to dress up like Krampus in a frightening parade. While you may be tempted to board up the house on Christmas Eve to keep him away, he doesn't slip down the chimney like Nicholas. He is said to appear in the streets on December 5th, the eve of St. Nicholas Day, and enter the homes of naughty children bringing terrible presents, like switches.
In the Czech Republic, Christmas traditions take a bit of a happier turn, but only in some cases. Single women here perform a ritual on Christmas Eve day that determines whether or not they are receiving good or bad news for the coming year. With her back towards her home, she removes a shoe and throws it over her shoulder. It’s said that if the heel of her shoe lands pointed toward the door she will remain single for another year. However, if the heel points away from the door, she should start making wedding preparations!
Slovakia follows suit with superstitions during the season, only here they are throwing food. The head of the family table flings a spoon full of Loksa, a traditional Christmas bread dish, up at the ceiling. The belief is that if the amount of food that remains stuck to ceiling indicates the amount of crop growth the following year.