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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.

Featured

Slow Down this Season: Christmas Movies and Books for the Whole Family

How easy is it to get lost in the planning, gifting, and chaos of the holiday season? Do you find yourself exhausted? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Is the holiday season taking over your life (and not in a good way)?

I completely understand. The demands placed on people during the holiday sometimes seemed completely unrealistic. This can be especially true for deployed or separated families, single parents, parents of special needs children, and single people. It is so easy to get lost in the chaos.

How do we get out of the funk the demands can place us in? Change our focus. Stop thinking of “me”, and start thinking of others. If you are still having a little trouble getting into the season, try some old family traditions.

Part of the fun of the holidays is the books and movies that get pulled of the shelf and dusted off to enjoy. Growing up, my mom used to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to kick off the season. My dad would read Luke 1 to us prior to opening any presents. It was in these calm moments the real meaning of the season came alive.

I have continued this tradition in my own home. It is so special to pass this on to my kid and husband. These memories require no money, just quality time with those you love. When my husband was deployed during the holidays, this was one of the things he missed most about not being home. This is also what helps me stay grounded in the chaos when things start to get overwhelming.

So, I invite you to slow down with us this Christmas season.  Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, snuggle up (perhaps by a fire), and enjoy these fun movies and stories. May they bring you as much joy as they have our family.

MOVIES

BOOKS

I do hope these give you as much joy as they have our family.  What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

For more fun Christmas traditions, check out my Facebook page.

From “Give me” to “Give them”: 4 Simple Ways to Get Back to Christmas

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Hot cocoa. Chestnuts on the fire. Family and friends and loved ones.

Kids around the world have begun shouting at commercials, “I want that!” Toy catalogs are being circled with hopes and dreams of young and old.

But, for many, this year has brought heartache, fear, and darkness. Families and friends seem farther away than ever before. Fear clutches the hearts of even the most stoic.

But, it does not have to be that way. We can embrace the real and true meaning of Christmas – the greatest gift of all time. To celebrate this gift, my family has incorporated one of my favorite holiday traditions.  I thought I might share with you how we have changed our house from a “Give me!” to a “Give them” household.

  1. Elfing: It is better to give than receive – especially when you go out elfing.  This is similar to “Booing” (a Halloween tradition).  Many do this for friends and family, but my family likes to find those in need.  We like to find the families struggling to get by, but would never ask for help.  We like to find the families that feel so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, that the simple act of love changes their life.  Some years we choose a single-family and “elf” them weekly for the month of December.  Some years we “elf” a different family in need every week.  But, it is a weekly part of our Christmas tradition. All you need is a goody bag – or – stocking. Fill them with Christmas fun! Things like coloring sheets, crayons, candy, card games, elf hats, and ornaments are great. Cookies are a favorite of ours. **Tip: The Dollar Tree is a big money saver for small trinkets and fun children’s toys.  Have the kids help choose the filling.  Then wait till dark, load up the kids, and leave the gift on the porch.  Ring the bell and RUN! RUN! RUN!  The best part of “elfing” is no one “knows” it was you.

2. Christmas Caroling: Music is powerful!  I spent years studying how music is used to create culture.  But, of all music, there is something unique about Christmas music.  The way it brings peace, hope, and love to even the darkest places is incredible.  This year, with so many shut-ins, senior citizens, and families in quarantine, it is easy to think this tradition is out date.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  We have traditionally caroled with our Rotary Club and church groups, but this year, we are doing things, well, differently.  We are caroling via the internet.  Simply record yourself singing and send it to the same places you would normally go in person. If possible, make this a family event – my family loves singing together.

3. Give: This time of year is always a bombardment of “give me” from charities the world over.  Having spent more nearly 15 years in the non-profit sector, this is often the time of year where most of the budget comes in.  It can seem like everyone wants something.  We have learned to use that as teachable moments.  We present the different ways to give to our son, then we let him pick which ones should be a part of our giving.  He also saves all year a tithe (see my article on finances for more) and this time of year is when he chooses where to put it.  I highly recommend you look at the charities and non-profits in detail to know how they will spend that money – we ensure a majority of giving goes to the need (not the CEOs).  Charity Navigator is a great place to start.

4. Out with the Old: As a military family, we move a LOT. In 15 years alone I have moved 13 times.  We have discovered in moving, there is a lot we don’t use or need.  So, about five years ago we started a new practice (partly out of wanting to make moving easier and not having to purge a lot).  We decided that for every Christmas and birthday, for every 1 thing in, we donate 1 thing out.   This helps keep our house manageable but also allows our little to understand that the needs of others are year-long – not just once a year. 

So, whatever way you celebrate this beautiful time of year, I hope you find these simple ways to give away to remember what Christmas is all about.  May it help take off some of the “keeping up with the Kardashian” mentality at bay and bring us back to the heart of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!