Festive traditions

Dec 2015
Throughout December our streets are adorned in lights and decorated trees; reindeers, Santa's and elves become regular features in shop windows, on clothing, and in our homes.

These are just a few of our festive traditions, but we thought we'd share some other traditions observed around the world.

In Mexico, the month of December is a time to celebrate Los Posadas, a tradition which ends with children being blindfolded and attempting to smash open a piñata. When it is finally broken, sweets and fruit spill out and the crowd run to grab a share.

The Nativity features heavily in Italian traditions; families often have ornamental cribs in their homes, but the figure of baby Jesus isn't added until the night of 24 December.

In Hungary, children do not hang up stockings, they polish their best boot and put it on the windowsill on 5 December to be filled by Szent Mikulas during the night with sweets, small presents and 'switches' in case anyone has been bad.

Here in the UK, our Christmas dinners generally involve Christmas crackers. These arrived in the 1840s and were created by sweet maker Tom Smith, combining his love of French 'bon bons' which came wrapped in pretty paper and sparks from the fire. His son Walter introduced the hats and presents after Tom's death.

Historically in Scandinavia, around the time of the winter solstice, was held the Festival of Juul. The festival saw fires lit to symbolise the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth, in honour of the Scandinavian god Thor.

The Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between 16-24 December called Misa de Aguinaldo. In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighbourhoods close the streets to cars to allow for a safer skate.

Hanukkah is celebrated across Jewish communities and in Israel this is marked by an eight day holiday. A focal point of the celebration is the menorah, a branched candelabrum. Each night, one candle is lit and gifts are given, games are played and food is enjoyed.

In the Ukraine, Christmas is celebrated on 7 January following the Orthodox Church calendar. The main meal is eaten on Christmas Eve, which is a day of fasting until the first star is seen in the sky, and then you may eat. The star represents the journey of the Wise Men to find Jesus, so as soon as the star shines it shows Jesus has been born and Christmas can start!

A favourite Christmas decoration in the Philippines is a 'paról'. This Christmas lantern is made from bamboo and paper, and it is star-shaped to remember the star of Bethlehem. From September onwards these lanterns are visible on the streets and in homes signalling the coming of advent.

So whatever traditions you observe or have already been observing in your household you've not got long to wait until the big day!