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20 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Across the World

I love Christmas. You cannot come to my home and not see Christmas in every room of the house (yes, even the bathrooms). But I also love culture. I got my master’s in political science with an emphasis on international relations. I love learning about other cultures and traditions. If you spend time at my house, it would be normal to watch documentaries on culture, anthropology, and archeology from all around the world.

Although I celebrate Christmas in the Christian way, I also like to see how the rest of the world celebrates. I like sharing this with my son, so he is more inclined to understand other people in the world and all the beauty they bring.

Toward this endeavor, we look at a different culture every week of the season and learn about their traditions, songs, stories, and food.

These are just some ways we have incorporated other cultures, traditions, and fun into celebrating the Christmas season.

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Christmas in China

  • Shen Dan Jieh (Holy Birth Festival): Families decorate their homes in evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The tree is decorated with flowers and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. Color is a big part of this celebration. We sometimes like to use the bright colored chains as our advent calendar to help count down to the big day.
  • Ta Chiu: This is a celebration of peace and renewal. The Chinese will make offerings to saints and read the names of everyone who lives in the area. We chose this time to find a non-profit to give to, give to our church, and remember those we love near and far.
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Christmas in England

  • Christmas caroling is a big tradition here. People give carolers little treats (little fruit and nut pies are especially delicious). All the wrapping of presents, baking cookies, and hanging stockings happens Christmas Eve. This is one fun tradition we do. I wrap (my husband builds toys and things), and we watch Christmas movies with a nice cup of Egg Nog, wine, or spirit-filled fun drink.
  • Writing Letters to Father Christmas: English children write letters to Father Christmas then put them in the fire, so the wishes go up the chimney. We tweak this tradition by having a mailbox to Santa by the fireplace. Our son puts his letter in the box on Christmas Eve and Santa writes by Christmas morning.
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Christmas in Ethiopia

  • Ganna: Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7 as the Ethiopians follow the ancient Julian calendar. For Ganna, people fast and dress in white, usually a traditional shamma (a thin, white cotton wrap with brightly colored stripes across the ends). They attend church at 4 am. We incorporate this tradition by dressing up on Christmas Eve in our finest clothes.
  • The Ethiopians do not exchange gifts during Ganna. If a child receives a gift, it is a small gift of clothing. To incorporate this, we do Elf-ing with our son. We find a family that needs a bit of extra love, and secretly help make the season better for them with food and small gifts.
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Christmas in France

  • Fasting: Christmas Day is a day of fasting and midnight mass. After mass, they come home and enjoy le Réveillon (nighttime feast). Growing up, I enjoyed attending the Christmas Eve midnight service. We move so much; it sometimes is hard to find one. So, we adopted my father’s tradition of bring coffee. and donuts to those security forces (local police) who have to work the holiday at midnight.
  • Christmas shows: Plays and puppet shows are popular entertainment (especially in Paris and Lyon). We always try to find a local production to watch (dance schools are great for this) to help get us in the spirit.
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Christmas in Germany

  • Advent Calendars: There is something fun about counting down to Christmas. In Germany, they use an advent calendar where children open a little number flap to see the Christmas picture hidden there. We do this with pictures, sometimes tiny candies, and verses for the season.
  • Christmas Tree: The tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany. Under the decorate tree, they arrange a manger scene. Instead of stockings by the fire, in some places children leave their shoes outside the front door filled with carrots and hay for St. Nicholas’ horses. We leave carrots and celery out for Santa with his cookies.
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Christmas in Holland

  • The Letterbanket: This is a letter cake made in the shape of the family’s last name. Some families give a little “cupcake” version to every member. We do this, but instead of our cake in our initial, we bake one for Jesus.
  • Poems: During the gift giving, the giver also recites a poem written by the giver about the recipient. We love this. We decided to do this all year round by having a dedicated notebook to little notes and encouragements to each other to read and enjoy.
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Christmas in Italy

  • The Italians use the manger scene in a lot of their decorations. We incorporate one in the center of the entertainment, so we are reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
  • La Befana: Legend has it, La Befana was too busy cleaning house to help the Wise Men on their quest to find the King, so now she spends January 6 (Thee Kings Day) wandering through the air on her broomstick looking for the Christ Child on the eve of Epiphany leaving gifts and candy in the shoes of little children. We do not do this, but we do watch movies about La Befana in the original Italian for fun.
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Christmas in Mexico

  • Las Posadas Buena Noche: Christmas Eve the children lead a procession to the church and place a figure of the Christ Child in the Nacimiento (nativity scene) and attend midnight mass. To incorporate this, we attend a city children’s parade.
  • Farolitos: This little tradition is when family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns. Families then place candles inside the bags, and the lanterns are set alongside sidewalks, in windowsills, and on rooftops outdoor to illuminate the community with the Christmas spirit. My family lights the entire yard with lights. My son also makes additional decorations for the tree (or anywhere).
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Christmas in Spain

  • Christmas Day Reunion: This is a day for families to come together and enjoy a great feast (having fasted Christmas Eve. As we cannot always travel for the holidays, we use this day to call, text, and zoo family across the world.
  • Urn of Fate: Names are written on cards and placed in a bowl. Then, two names are drawn at a time. Those two people will be friends to each other throughout the coming year. My large family does a similar thing via excel spreadsheet. Each name rotates so a new sibling gets to think about and take care of the other for Christmas the following year.
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Christmas in Sweden

  • St. Lucia’s Day: Christmas really begins here on December 13 with St. Lucia’s Day. The Swede celebrate the patron saint of light. The oldest daughter will get up before dawn, dress as the “Queen of Lights,” and go from bedroom to bedroom serving coffee and treats to each member of the family. The younger children help. We like this tradition, but we serve each other cinnamon rolls and coffee after getting the house beautiful for celebration. We work as family helping with chores, making breakfast, and enjoying a slower morning.
  • The Jultometn and Julbokar: This tiny Christmas gnome comes on a sleigh drawn by the Christmas goat, Julbokar. In some families, a family friends dresses up in a red robe and wears a long beard to bring toys for children. In other families, gifts are left behind on the tree. After gifts are open, the families dance and sing around the tree. We incorporate this little tradition by leaving notes for our son throughout the season and singing and dancing is a part of our life, so we listen, sing and dance to Christmas carols.

Perhaps there is something here that you might do? May want to try? Let me know.

New Year New You: 5 Tips for a Happy Healthy New Year

Congratulations!  You survived 2020!  Whew!  If you are anything like me, it felt touch and go there for a while. 

Welcome, 2021!  After last year, it will be really easy for you to be better. 

But, how can we be better? Better physically? Emotionally? Mentally?

Five days into 2021 and the world was shocked by riots in Washington, DC.  I had a few friends reach out in utter dismal disappointment.  Five days.  That was all it took for them to feel like they had no hope in the world. 

I introduced this group of friends, whom I love dearly and have known most of my life, to one of the five practices I will share with you today.  That group text went from disappointment and fear to light and edifying.

How can we be the best we can be in 2021?  Here are five simple steps I use that may help you.

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  1. Live Loved: Don’t be a slave to emotions.  The last year was a roller coaster of emotions – fear, anger, depression, hope, joy, defiance.  We have all felt them in such intensity for so long, it is easy to forget the most powerful emotion, word, magic, verb in the world: Love. As Lysa Terkerst so aptly put it, “No one can soar to the place of living loved when it’s a performance-based endeavor.” It is time to stop treating ourselves like we are reacting vessels.  It is time to start acting.  Time to reclaim the gift you are to the world.  You are uniquely and wonderfully made for a purpose for a time such as this.  Claim this.  Love yourself.  Love all the uniqueness that is you.  Love the quirks.  Love the weaknesses.  Love the strengths. 
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2. Love your body: It took one hour for my inbox to be flooded with weight loss and exercise tips and workout boot camp invitations from when the ball dropped on December 31, 2020, and January 1, 2021.  First, let me remind you: the weight loss industry is designed for you to FAIL and they KNOW it.  So, ignore that. You know what you should eat and how you should work out. The healthiest thing you can do is start where you are and love your body. I love the above picture – she is so graceful and confident! Find one thing on your body you like and look yourself in the mirror daily and complement it. Eventually, you will come to love it and be able to find more things to love about yourself. When you love yourself, much like when you love a child, you want what is best for yourself.  See yourself as the healthier version of you now and you will find you start choosing the healthier food at the store, ignoring the food table at gatherings, and investing in the people you are with more. 

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3. Speak Life: This past year has brought out the worst in people.  Our language has turned against each other – our politics, our friends, even our families have been divided over how we view the state of things.  Division is high and our language isn’t helping.  Instead of listening to the views of others, we ignore them.  Unfollow.  Unfriend.  We spread hate and insult those who disagree.  We speak negativity and hate.  But, our words have power.  2021 is a time to take our tongues back.  It is time to speak love and life.  We are uniquely made, so we have different opinions.  That does not make one stupid and the other brilliant.  It means our lives are different and the realities of what is happening in them are different.  Stop. Listen. Then speak love.  When we change our language to love and light we open doors to unity, growth, wonderful friendships, and grand love.

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4. Be grateful: If follow me, you know how much I believe in the power of gratitude.  There is a change that takes place in the heart when we recognize things we are thankful for.  This year, thank you body.  Your body does amazing things all day with your consciously thinking about it.  Blood cells move to make sure organs work. White blood cells come to fight off bacteria and viruses.  You have completely new skin every 27 days! Thank your body.  Your family knows the worst of you (you know what I am talking about) and loves you anyway.  Thank your family. Your teachers, therapists, and doctors are working diligently (some more than 60 hour weeks) to help ensure a healthy and smart community.  Thank them.  I practice a discipline of gratitude daily.  I attempt to write out 3-5 things daily I am grateful for.  This is particularly helpful on those days I am tired or short-tempered.  It recenters me.

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5. Take Chances:  The new year is a great time to evaluate where we are and decide where we are going.  What will your path be this year?  One of anger and hate? One of love and acceptance?  One of accomplishment? One of excuses?  Be honest with yourself when you make this evaluation, and start moving those dreams to goals. Dreams are passing thoughts – goals are paths to reality.  Goal setting can be easy and fun. So dream big and start making the reality you have always wanted. If you are new to goal setting, pick a small goal.  Maybe you want to lose weight and have yo-yo dieted for years.  Instead of a diet, set a goal to drink more water daily, or eat less sugar.  This is quantifiable and you can it in baby steps. The single change will have a big change.  Maybe your goal is to write a book – but you are not sure you’re an author.  Set a goal to write 10-15 minutes two days a week.  This is measurable and will get you in the practice to write the book later.  Whatever the goal, if you survived 2020, you are set up with more grit, strength, and perseverance than you ever had in the past.  Claim that and use it as fuel to take chances of making your dreams a reality.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I ever knew and able to do great good.  I want you to know: you are loved.  You are smart.  You are important. You can do all you set your mind to. You are uniquely made for such a time as this. 

I would love to hear your goals and thoughts on how you are going to make 2021 the best year yet. Drop a comment.  If you like what you read, please share.  Together, we can make this world a positive one.