Christmas Traditions from Around the World: Fun Ideas that Your Family Can Try Out
By Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
Take a trip around the world and learn how people from other cultures and countries celebrate the holidays. Not only is it fun to try something new, but new traditions are a great way to incorporate some learning into your child’s holiday experience.
During December in Mexico, farolitos are a common sight along driveways and on the porches of private homes. These lanterns, made of brown paper bags with pretty patterns cut into the sides, light up the night. The bags are weighted with sand placed in the bottom, and lit with real candles. Try making a kid-friendly farolito by letting the kids decorate white lunch-sized paper bags, brown bags, or plastic milk jugs (with their tops removed). Add a couple of scoops of sand or gravel into the bottom of each sack to weight them, and then use a battery-operated tea light in place of a real flame for fire safety.
Amazon offers several kits of flickering battery-operated tea lights with bonus Luminary bags for purchase. In the Amazon browser search: yard, flickering, luminary.
During the month of December, streets in the Philippines are lit up with brightly colored parols, or paper lanterns. These 3-D star-shaped lights are traditionally made from bamboo sticks and rice paper. The star represents the star of Bethlehem the three wise men followed to find Jesus. Although this might be a tricky project for little hands, you can still celebrate Christmas Filipino-style by hanging decorated paper stars around your home. Simply cut out star shapes from paper or cardboard, punch a hole near the top for hanging, and then let the kids decorate with markers, glitter, paint, and crayons. Or, purchase a kit for making a Parol at myparol.com.
Lucky German children celebrate St. Nicolas Day on December 6th. St. Nicolas was known for giving to the poor and is thought to be the origin of Santa Claus, or St. Nick. According to legend, St. Nick will leave treats for young children in their shoes on the night of December 5th. You can start off the holidays by adopting this tradition for your kids. Have the kids leave their shoes on the porch or outside of their bedroom doors on December 5th. Fill the shoes with treats after the children are asleep.
Kinderschokolade is a yummy chocolate treat that is popular with German children. You can purchase this German specialty at amazon.com. Search for Kinder Chocolate by Ferrero.
A Bûche de Noël, or Yule log cake, is a traditional Christmas dessert in France. A Bûche de Noël usually is made from a sponge cake baked in a jelly roll pan, filled with chocolate buttercream frosting, and then rolled into a log shape. Bakeries in France strive to create these desserts to resemble actual logs complete with mushrooms and lichen made from fondant. . You can bake your own Bûche de Noël and decorate it in a forest theme with sprigs of rosemary, red hot candies, and a dusting of powdered sugar for snow.
Visit amazon.com and search Buche de Noel. You can find everything from pre-made cakes to molds for making your own. For more history of the Yule Log Cake tradition and another recipe, check out this site: joyofbaking.com/YuleLog.html
In Ireland, some families leave a candle on a windowsill and leave it burning throughout the night. The candle is a symbol of welcome and helps the faithful to remember the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay the night before Jesus was born. You can try this fun tradition at home by letting the kids decorate a clear mason jar as a candle holder for Joseph and Mary. Use paint, glitter glue, or glued-on squares of tissue paper in festive colors. Place a battery operated candle or tea light inside and put on a windowsill on Christmas Eve. Flameless tea lights can easily be found on amazon.com and often at the Dollar Store.
In December, Italians enjoy manger scenes, or presepios, in their homes. You can continue this tradition with your children by including a Nativity scene among your home’s Christmas decorations. For younger children, check out durable, kid-friendly nativity sets such as Fisher-Price Little People Nativity, Melissa and Doug Nativity, and Play Mobil Nativity, to name a few. You could even hide the baby Jesus and then secretly place him in his manger on Christmas Eve for the kids to find in the morning. For free shipping grab one from Amazon.
A fun Norwegian tradition is to celebrate “little Christmas Eve” on December 23rd . On this night, families gather and do activities such as trimming the tree or decorating gingerbread houses. Often, a traditional rice pudding is served topped with cinnamon, sugar, and butter. An almond is hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds the nut will have good luck in the coming new year. Other traditions involving the almond are that the finder must sing a song, or they might receive a pig made of marzipan (doesn’t sound too bad considering that marzipan is delicious if you like almond flavor). You could serve rice pudding on “little Christmas Eve” too, and choose a fun activity for the almond finder. Food.com has a great recipe. Check it out: food.com/recipe/norwegian-rice-pudding-risengryn-grod-169479.
Danes enjoy a fun family tradition during the holiday season called “cut and paste day.” On this day, the whole family sits down and creates Christmas crafts and decorations. Often these projects include the Danish woven heart basket. These are made of paper strips, usually in red and white, which are the colors of the Danish flag. Hold your own cut and paste day with projects tailored to your family’s interests and abilities. Need help? Check out the DTLK tutorial: dltk-holidays.com/valentines/mwoven.htm
England is the birthplace of Christmas Crackers. Traditionally given to diners at Christmas dinner, Christmas Crackers are made of cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper. When the ends are pulled apart, a cracker is activated, making a popping noise. Inside is a small toy or trinket, a paper crown (representing the three kings), and a joke. Christmas Crackers are great fun for kids and adults alike. You can order your own from Amazon. #