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Christmas around the world!

Christmas is a big deal. Its a big deal. I absolutely love Christmas, always have, always will. So, when I found out I would be spending my first ever Christmas away from home, I was a little worried, to say the least. Christmas to me is a traditional English affair. Morning is presents time, up at 5 and raring to go, running downstairs to see what goodies I’ve been good enough to get this year. Then we all play with whatever new things we’ve been given for a few hours before the ENTIRE family comes over for Christmas dinner, and the DVD game of Family Fortunes. What in the world would Christmas be like away from all that? Well, actually, it was pretty fun. I spent my Christmas that year in Tokyo, Japan – not even a Christian country, but still pretty hyped about good old crimbo.

Japan

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Christmas in Japan was an interesting time. Most people’s Christmas dinner is bought from KFC, and they line up round the corner to grab their Christmas buckets. No, really, I thought it was a joke too, until I saw it with my own eyes. Christmas here is all about the commercial side of things; presents, decorations, and food. And, weirdly, its not even a family holiday – its romantic! Christmas Eve is the most romantic night of the year in Japan, with couples booking up all the best restaurants for their candlelit meals. It’s also still insanely weird, as Japan usually is.

Thinking about the differences between my two Christmases, I wanted to know more about Christmas, or similar winter holidays around the world. So, I asked some of my fellow travel bloggers to fill me in on what Christmas is like in their home countries, or countries they’ve visited. Prepare to be filled with seasonal joy and goodness! Its time to travel discover what it’s like at Christmas around the world!

Iceland

by Stephanie of www.roadunraveled.com
Twitter – @roadunraveled

You might not immediately think of Iceland when it comes to the holidays, but I found two of my favourite traditions on that island: bonfires and Yule Lads.

Iceland takes New Years Eve bonfires seriously. Based on a pagan ritual, the fires were once fuelled by unwanted belongings that locals would toss in; they would literally burn away the old year so they could begin the new one with a fresh start. Today you won’t see people’s possessions feeding the flames, but the annual bonfires continue as meeting points for friends and families to watch fireworks, sing songs, and celebrate together.

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If a few hours of bonfires don’t provide a long enough celebration for you, another Icelandic tradition stretches for almost a month! The holiday season is governed by the tale of the Yule Lads, 13 troublemakers who are believed to live in the mountains. They make their way into the towns, one by one, beginning on December 12, and they begin the journey home in the same order on December 25.

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Each lad has his own distinct quirk—my favourites are the Door Slammer (who likes to startle people) and the Sausage Swiper (who steals sausages while they smoke). The Yule Lads don’t just play pranks on Icelanders, though. Each lad rewards well-behaved children by placing a small treat in their shoes while they sleep. Poorly behaved kids might wake up to a rotten potato instead of a treat. The Yule Lads’ likenesses are all over Iceland- I even saw animations projected on the sides of buildings!

Iceland has some of the most unique holiday traditions I have encountered- I highly recommend you grab a warm coat and plan a trip to experience them!

Germany

By Carrie of www.twosmallpotatoes.com
Twitter – @twosmallptaoes

The weather in central Germany might be dismal and grey in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but folks here have long devised a cheery method of warding off the gloom and doom. Starting with the beginning of Advent roughly four weeks before Christmas, locals descend upon even the smallest of town squares, transforming them with fir boughs, festive holiday booths, and sparkly strands of lights. Seemingly overnight, cold and empty streets devoid of shoppers are filled with bustling Christmas markets throbbing with celebration.

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Göttingen’s Christmas Market might not be able to compete with the likes of big cities like Berlin, which has 16 separate markets, but it’s still listed as one of the best in Lower Saxony. Centred around the town’s historic city hall and the famous fountain of the Gänseliesel (Goose Girl), the market radiates outward to neighbouring streets, their names lit in banners of lights. Sporting a small Ferris wheel and plenty of eats and sweets for sale, it’s not a bad place to bring the young’uns, but the market is clearly aimed at adults.

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Every other stand seems to be selling glühwein, hot mulled wine typically made with red wine, cinnamon, cloves, and oranges. In Germany, they don’t mess around when it comes to glühwein. Not only can you order the good old-fashioned stuff, but it’s also available with blueberry or cherry wine. Prefer a stiffer drink? Just add a Schuss – or shot – of rum, brandy, or liqueur to put a bit of hair on your chest. If you prefer something strong but sweet, try a Feuerzangenbowle, my personal favorite. A long cube of sugar is soaked in rum, then set afire above a warm glass of glühwein – as the sugar caramelizes, it drips into your glass. The end result is sinfully delicious!

Estonia

By Maria of www.tigrest.com
Facebook – Tigrest

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Estonia is quite similar to most of Europe – our winter holidays are around Christmas and end with New Year’s celebrations. The climate is rather cold, sometimes we even get first snow. If the weather is nice, a lot of people enjoy winter sports and activities – skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing and sauna afterwards. There are many SPA hotels with saunas and pools. They are very popular during winter months. Kids enjoy the snowball fights and build snowmen. As it gets dark pretty early (around 4 pm), families have early dinner. Traditional meal includes blood sausages, potatoes, fried cabbage and pork. Many families prepare hot wine with spices.

It is common to have Christmas tree – you can either buy one or get one from the forest yourself (for a fee). Giving and receiving Christmas presents is part of the tradition as well. Some people try to get away from the darkness and cold, so they travel to Egypt or Canary Islands. There are also cruises to neighbouring countries – Finland (3 hour cruise) and Sweden (overnight cruise). Special events are held during these holiday cruises, like concerted, parties, shopping festivals etc.
New Year is celebrated with fireworks and big parties around town and at people’s homes. 1st of January is a National holiday.

Catalan

By Jenn of Solivagant Soul
Instagram – thesolivagantsoul

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So, let’s be honest, we Catalans are special. We love to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world by having very strange traditions. And well, is there any season of the year with more traditions than Christmas?

Some people say that we have a weird obsession with rears. From an outsider point of view, it may look like it, but the truth is that we just have a very special sense of humor.

The first of our peculiar traditions is the “Caga Tió”. This little wood log wears traditionally a smiling happy face and a barretina (a traditional Catalan hat). The tió (the nickname used by friends) is set somewhere near a fireplace covered with a blanket and fed until Christmas Eve… When it poops. If that were not disturbing enough, the tradition says that the tió must be hit with a stick while singing a traditional song until it poops the presents underneath the blanket, were kids are supposed to fetch them.

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Even though everyone has had a tió while they were children, unless there are kids around, is not that common between adults. For those, we have the “caganer”. A caganer is a small figurine that we add to our Christmas Crib. The “special” part of this one is that this man has his pants around his knees and he is halfway in the process of pooping. The tradition started somewhere between the 17th or 18th century and today is still alive with some modifications: the figurine is still pooping, but instead of being a simple Catalan peasant, now it’s depicted as any public figure, from Darth Vader to Angela Merkel. Anything you can think of.

Christmas in Catalonia can be weird, but hey, they aren’t be boring!

Italy

By Martina of The Globe Eater
Instagram – theglobeeaster

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Christmas is probably the most important celebration of the year in Italy. Our traditions, however, differ considerably according to the region.

In the Northern part of the country December 8th is the day in which families start decorating the Christmas tree, set up Christmas lights and arrange a “presepe”. The latter originated in the South of Italy and spread all the way to the North along the years, turning from an alive representation of Jesus’ birth into an exhibition of small earthenware figurines. The older “living” version, called “presepe vivente”, however, still takes place at Christmas Eve in most small villages, where locals play the role of Biblical characters.

Christmas markets are organized throughout the whole month of December, the most renowned being those of Merano, Trento and Bolzano, where all sorts of Christmas crafts and foods can be found. Among the traditional sweets that are sold in this period of the year, panettone (a brioche cake with raisins and candied fruit) is surely one of the most popular, along with pandoro (a buttery cake), nougat, sugar cookies and Christmas log.

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Either on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas day, most Catholic families attend the mass at the local church and then a big meal – that can be both a dinner on the 24th or a lunch on the 25th – is held to celebrate together. The dishes that are served in this occasion vary considerably depending on the region of origin of the family and they range from lasagne to canederli, from cappone to arrosto, from tortellini in brodo to agnolotti, from baccalà to capitone.

Either before or after the meal, kids unwrap the presents that characters such as Santa Claus (Babbo Natale in Italian), St. Lucy, or St. Nikolaus brought them. Also, on January 6th, an old lady called Befana is also believed to bring charcoal to kids who didn’t behave well during the past year.

Malta

By Vanessa of Dream and Wander
Facebook – Dream and Wander

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Although the thought of spending Christmas abroad is very appealing to me (Christmas in NYC is on my bucket list!), so far I have not managed to bring myself to be away from my family on Christmas day. I fear that Christmas spent away from my family will be no Christmas at all. Besides, I love the spirit of Christmas in Malta. Here’s why.

Imagine this. You’re walking through the tiny beautifully lit streets while listening to the Christmas carols echoing in the background. You’re breathing in the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine that fills the air as you watch cheerful families all nestled up in scarves and hats walk up to church. This would be what you would witness at 11.45pm on Christmas eve in Malta. With the great majority of the Maltese population being Roman Catholics, here Christmas retains a strong religious element. Indeed, the midnight mass is a tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation in the Maltese islands.

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Another sweet tradition is the set up of a Nativity crib ‘Il-Presepju’. These are found in different churches across the islands and in almost every Maltese home. As with Christmas trees, the crib in each household would have its own distinctive features. Then there is the Christmas lunch tradition. This is my personal favourite since it is a wonderful opportunity for huge family gatherings and an excuse to eat way too much food (and diet later.. YIKES!). The traditional Maltese Christmas lunch serving is a Rooster or Turkey. Subsequently, the treacle ring ‘Qagħqa tal-Għasel’ is served for desert together with a hot Chestnut and Chocolate beverage which in Maltese is referred to as ‘l-Imbuljuta tal-Qastan’. This is made through the flavorsome mixture of cocoa, chestnuts, cloves and citrus zest.

Unfortunately, in Malta you have a higher chance of spending Christmas in short sleeves than of having a ‘White Christmas’ however these many unique Christmas traditions that us Maltese have definitely succeed to get one in the mood for the festive season.

Il-Milied it-Tajjeb! which translates into Happy Christmas! ☺

Canada

By Christine of Tapped Out Travellers
Instagram – tapped_out_travellers

What is Christmas? What is Christmas in Canada? As a born and raised Canadian, this is the hardest question I have ever been asked. What makes Christmas in Canada so different than others around the world? I don’t know much about other traditions so I actually had to look up what parts of my traditions were familial and what parts are Canadian.

Because Canada is such a large country, inhabited by a large variety of cultures and ethnicities, it is hard to pin point the true nature of ‘Canadian tradition’.  What I am presenting is what I know to be true through first-hand experience or anecdotal evidence from trusted friends within the specific culture mentioned. I will not attempt to research cultures’ traditions within Canada; we could be here for days.

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East Coast – it is tradition in Nova Scotia to donate the largest Christmas tree to Boston every December in gratitude for their help in the Halifax Explosion. On December 1917, two vessels collided in the Halifax harbour, igniting the fuel and ammunitions in one of the vessels cargo holds. The result of which led to 2,000 deaths and another 9,000 wounded. Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided assistance immediately after the disaster. We have been sending trees to their city centre ever since.

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Toronto Santa Claus parade – starting in 1913, has a record 25 floats and 2000 participants annually. This year, it will be held on November 20, 2016. We have it so early because any closer to Christmas, and we start running into Christmas work parties, vacation days and most importantly, mother nature. November 20 is already such a cold day to have the kids waiting to watch the parade. Christmas morning in the city has an average temperature of -5 degrees Celsius, the parade has been recorded at 2 degrees above freezing. I have been twice in my life; once when we lived in Ottawa and made the long trip down when I was young, and the second time when I went to university in Toronto and took my husband – then boyfriend – for a weekend in the city. We met my mom just before the parade; we are both such kids at heart that I couldn’t help but invite her.

Having been born and raised in French Canada, I had no way of knowing that the way my family celebrates Christmas is any different than the way other Catholics celebrate around the world. Naiive, I know, but that’s life in a small town. After moving to Germany and learning about the different ‘gift-bringers’ around the world through my son’s school assignments, I have a few found appreciation for my own traditions, but am completely open to incorporating German, Dutch and British customs into our home while we are here. When in Rome, right?!

Where have you visited over Christmas? How do you celebrate the holiday? Let’s Discuss!

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