PolandMost, if not all, of the Christmas traditions in other cultures that we’ve explored over the last couple of weeks are grand celebrations of one kind or another. There are parties, there is singing and dancing, festivals and much merry making for all.  And, of course, in this way they are quite similar to the American way of celebrating Christmas. Lots of preparation and anticipation for both young and old, most definitely!

Today, however, we take a peek inside of a country that has a bit more of a somber note to it. In Poland, the Christmas holidays are a time to be very peaceful and to avoid the excess of anything. While feasts and parties and boisterous celebrations are going on in other parts of the world, Poland can often be found fasting, giving up their favorite food or beverage, and great effort is spent on remembering the real reason for the season.

Advent is a very busy time, tho! Lots of time is spent cleaning the house from top to bottom, washing windows and floors and carpets. It’s like spring cleaning! Everything must be clean for Christmas Day. This is common also where parties are held, but in Poland, there are no parties. It leaves one to wonder if perhaps the reason for the spic ‘n span home is to honor the Christ child himself.

Polish mealChristmas Eve day is a very important day. Traditionally it’s a day of abstaining from meat. If the Christmas tree hasn’t been put up yet, it is brought in and decked out with lights, tinsel and glass bulbs. And mistletoe! The Polish LOVE their mistletoe and love even more kissing beneath it! Overall, it’s a pretty quiet day…that is until night time.

Everyone is pretty hungry by now, and in order for their fasts to be broken, someone, anyone, must spot the first star in the night sky. You can bet the kids are out there, tummy’s growling! Once the first star has been spotted, a big meal is served and enjoyed by all. A place is often left open at the table, presumably for the Christ child.  The evening ends with attending a midnite mass.

At dawn on Christmas Day, it’s back to church for an early morning mass with special communion, a mass that honors Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Photo credit:  Flag, Table,

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summer campSummer camp was a regular thing for me as a kid growing up. The church camp I attended was about 3 1/2 hours from home, and I still remember riding in the back of the station wagon with my feet dangling out the back window, knowing that when we hit the dirt road we’d be almost there. The week ahead would include swimming, horse back riding, box hockey and of course mess hall.

There were also required services, and I remember many sweltering nights in the tent listening to the speaker. It seemed as though it would never end sometimes, and the heat and humidity made many young bodies restless. All we could think about in those moments was cooling off in the pool! It would last probably a little over an hour, but honestly it felt like 6 times that long.

church serviceThe people of Madagascar would have felt right at home. Living on an island located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar people never experience cold or snow at Christmas. Instead, it would be more like my summer camp experience. And since Christmas is far less about gifts exchanged and more about being in church there, nobody would become restless, not even the children. Their typical Christmas service starts at 5pm and goes until well after midnite! I guess we were just a bunch of whiners, haha!

pointsettiaAnother interesting fact about Madagascar is that pointsettias, a holiday plant here in the U.S., are not these small little indoor plants that only flower at Christmas. Nope. In Madagascar, they are extremely large outdoor shrubs that flower year round! In fact the pointsettia is their national emblem!

Photo credit:  Camp, Christmas Service, Pointsettia

 

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Minn NiceIt is a little known fact that the people are so polite, so nice in Minnesota that they have earned the title,”Minnesota Nice.”  Their politeness and willingness to go out of their way for others isn’t isolated in practice toward tourists either, even though the more industrious Minnesotans have created tshirts, mugs, key chains, etc. with the slogan on it.

Minnesota Nice is really just common courtesies in every day life extended  to anyone you might happen to meet without expecting anything in return. While this kind way of living has been lost in many other parts of the U.S., Minnesota has managed to retain it. It really is remarkable.

But, as it turns out, Minnesota is not the only state in the union that knows a thing or two about this. On December 6th, 1917, a massive explosion rocked the City of Halifax, destroying 1600 homes, killing close to 2000 people and injuring hundreds. Within hours, help came from across the border, a most unlikely place. The people of Boston, upon hearing the devastating news, were on the scene to lend a hand. A relief train with food, water, medical supplies, and workers to distribute them was dispatched, arriving on December 8 only slowed by a massive snow storm.

boston tree

Food and water were distributed, and medical workers relieved the Nova Scotia team, many of whom had been on duty since the explosion. Bostonians continued helping throughout the rebuilding process, forming an enduring bond between the two cities that still exists today!

That year, as a small gesture of their gratitude, Halifax sent a Christmas tree to Boston. Decades later someone decided that once wasn’t enough, and so since 1971 Halifax has sent a Christmas tree to Boston every year! Talk about Minnesota nice. And, being neighborly and grateful. This definitely gives Minnesota a run for their money in the nice category!

I’d love to see other cities trying to outdo the people in Boston, Minnesota and Halifax. That would put a whole new face on Christmas!

Photo credit:  MN Nice, Christmas Tree

 

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christmas loveI’ve been taking a look over the last couple of weeks at Christmas traditions in other cultures, and I hope you have found it as interesting as I have! I think my favorite ones have been those that, no matter what they do, there is a sense of community. While it is true that numerous countries believe that Christmas is a stay-at-home, private celebration, even those places have gatherings and visit family and friends and participate in community events either in the days preceding Christmas or the days following. It’s all about the love!

The Finns have one of THE best Christmas traditions that I have read so far, tho. Being one of those countries that holds fast to Christmas being a private, family, stay-at-home event, there is something that many Finns do after a light Christmas Eve lunch. They go to the spa! Since the weather is so frigid in Finland, I think we can

finnland saunasafely assume that these spas are not what we think of in the U.S. More than likely, they are something of a hot house in the backyard. The Finns, perhaps in order to prepare themselves for the busyness of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, decide there is no better way to spend Christmas Eve afternoon that in the sauna. Whatever the reason, the practice is significant enough that a stamp was created in its honor!

When I was in Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I did something similar. Many of my team members wanted to walk down the strip, see the sights. It was nearly 100 degrees, and since I’m from Minnesota all I could think about was sitting at the edge of the pool! So, I stayed back while the others did the traditional Vegas thing, sunbathed and scheduled a Swedish massage! By the time my work event started that evening, I was rested, relaxed and ready to learn!

I think sitting in a sauna with the people I am closest to on Christmas Eve afternoon sounds like one of the most relaxing, refreshing ideas I’ve ever heard.

 

Photo credit:  Heart, Sauna

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massIt’s been fun discovering the interesting ways that other cultures celebrate Christmas and what traditions they hold to. If you’ve missed any of the posts in this series, take a look back…some of them will definitely bring a smile to your face. :) We’ve looked at Ireland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Japan. Today we’re moving to the country of Venezuela in South America to see their unique ways.

Venezuela, like most of the rest of South America, is largely Catholic, and so going to mass on Christmas morning would be very customary. Church goers, and even those who don’t attend regularly, would go very early in the morning. Nothing really unique about that. But, what is rather striking is the mode of transportation used to get to mass. The streets are even closed down to vehicles the night before in order to ensure safety. You see, everyone gets to mass on . . . roller skates!

Rollerskating-Venezuela

And, that’s not all. The night before, children tie a piece of string to their big toes and hang the other end out the window. As the roller skates go by the next morning on their way to mass, they yank on all the strings hanging out the window! You know this would never work in America because children are typically up before anyone on Christmas morning!

There is still more. On Christmas Eve, instead of the usual caroling from house to house, the people beat drums….and, at the stroke of midnight, people shout “Jesus is born!” Firecrackers set the sky ablaze, too. I like that!

 

Photo credit:  Church, Skating

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coke power of suggestionMy husband is a marketer’s dream come true. He sees tacos on the side of a truck on his way to work and comes home hungry for tacos. He sees a tv commerical for chocolate mint ice cream, and he can be found in the frozen food aisle instead of the couch.

It’s true that marketers are paid to conjure up desires and needs, all with the power of suggestion so that the unassuming succumb to their salesmanship. It’s a lot more prevalent than we might think, and I know my husband is not alone. I mean, are you thirsty for a soft drink right now? ;)

In Japan, the power of suggestion has been so successful that it pretty much dictates what people eat for Christmas Eve dinner. It doesn’t involve rice or stir fry or any kind of sushi.

kfc

Nothing traditionally Japanese, and even though it would never be considered fine dining, a reservation must be made in order to ensure this dish will be on the Christmas Eve table.

You will be as surprised as I was to know that it’s none other than a US fast food, made by the Colonel himself. Yep, the Japanese eat Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas Eve dinner.

That ad campaign in Japan back in 1974 was a smashing success!

 

Photo credit:  Coke, KFC

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food fightI raised three boys. Three rambunctious, creative, genius boys that all loved food. Food was the top thing on their minds most of the time, and the time not spent thinking about, playing with or eating it was a whirlwind of little boy action. The played hard, slept hard and ate a lot! I’m sure anyone who has raised little boys can relate.

We, of course, taught manners at the table, and as is often the case sometimes these manners were better exemplified at someone else’s house or in the junior high cafeteria. I once got a phone call from the junior high telling me what a pleasure it was having my two sons in the cafeteria line. As she told me the story, evidently my two little angels were the only ones to say thank you. Juxtapose that against our own dinner table that would rival any college cafeteria when all manner of food was flung up, down and anywhere else it would fly and hopefully stick.

loksaSo, what does this have to do with Christmas traditions in Slovakia? I’m glad you asked. Apparently a well loved, rather quirky tradition that still lingers today involves the throwing of food! It’s true. The legend states that loksa, a mixture of sweetened poppyseed, bread and water, would be served for Christmas Eve.  At the beginning of Christmas Eve dinner, the head of the family would take a spoon of loksa and throw it up at the ceiling.  Apparently, the more mixture that stuck to the ceiling, the better his crops did the following year.

Actually food throwing is a custom popular in many areas of Slovakia and the Ukraine, and it is a well-loved tradition by everyone (especially little boys?!) . . . except for the women who have to clean it up. Hahahaaaa!!  Why am I not surprised?

 

Photo credit:  food fight, laksa

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czech mapToday is our second post in our series about Christmas traditions around the world, and I’m going to tell you about some pretty interesting things that the Czech’s do. I’ve been reading up on different customs around the world, and there are some countries whose customs are fairly similar to ours here in the US. However, as we’ll see today, some are also very different!

A friend of mine got to travel to The Czech Republic recently because her husband was going on business. She was ecstatic to tag along, and no doubt had a real cultural shock as so many do when visiting other places in the world. Sometimes we get stuck in our own little world and think that everyone does things just exactly the way we do, but that simply is not true.

The Czech Republic is one of those places. The Czech people are very superstitious so many of the Christmas customs are also. Mostly revolving around foretelling some aspect of the future or the magical powers of certain foods, Czechs are very serious about it all. It’s not a lot different than the people who believe in horoscopes to help them prepare or plan for their future, really.  Or people who go to fortune tellers. But, the Czech Christmas tradition has a bit of a twist on that concept. Of course it has a twist. I like twists. :)

czech bootsI don’t know a single, never-married woman alive who at some point wonders if she will marry and if so, when. We may dream about who he’ll be and what our life will be like, too. Well, evidently Christmas is the time in the Czech Republic where single women can discover something about their romantic future. And they do it with a very logical object, really, when you think about it. Especially for women. They use their shoes!

The custom says that a single woman will take off her shoes, and stand with her back to the door. She then throws one shoe over her shoulder toward the door, and if the shoe lands with the toe pointing toward the door, it’s time to go shopping for the wedding dress! But, that is not all.

elder treeIf she wants to know where her future beau will come from, there is yet another custom for that. It’s true. She has to first find an elder tree. (It would behoove any father who wishes his daughters to marry to plant these types of trees in the yard when the girl is born, no?) Once she has found an elder tree, she simply shakes the branches. If, while she is shaking the branches, a dog barks, she will marry a man from the same direction that the bark came from. Lots of things could be said about this, but evidently in the Czech Republic, this brings hope to the young maiden, and perhaps a clue as to where she should be spending more time in the coming hear.

Photo credit:  Map, Boots, Tree

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I am sitting at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, waiting to board a flight to Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, the city of lights. I’ve been to Vegas a time or two before, every time for something related to work and this time is no different. But, I will never forget the first time I walked down the strip, eyes wide like a kid at Christmas. Everything was just SO big! The hotels are like cities in themselves, the signs for restaurants are as if giants were visiting the land and statues rival Lady Liberty in stature. If you’ve never been, it is quite an experience!

This got me thinking about how Christmas might be celebrated, not only in Vegas but in other parts of the world. We’ve all got stories to tell about interesting or even odd family or cultural traditions, no? Well, stay tuned for the next several posts as we explore traditions that will have you thanking your lucky stars for your own! Or maybe they’ll inspire you to go outside the box and create some new and lasting memories!

First up is Ireland. Christmas there tends to be more of a religious holiday than here in the states. Christmas celebrations last from the 25th of December until January 6 (Epiphany). St. Stephen’s Day is on December 26th, a day set aside to commemorate the life of St. Stephen, a Christian martyr. Many people stay at home spending quiet time with famiy. However, if you are planning on visiting Ireland during the holiday seasons, you’ll want to be prepared for Wren’s Boy Procession. Children go from door to door singing, much in a carolling sort of way, and performing traditional dances.

That is not so out of the ordinary, but it there is something more.  The children carry a stick that has a holly bush and a wren on the end of it! In times past a real wren was killed and fastened to the stick, but the tradition now allows for a fake one. The children sing and ask for money for the “starving wren”. Interesting!

And as you may have guessed, the money is collected for community, school projects or a favorite charity. This really does make me want to visit Ireland around the holidays!

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gift wrappingWhen I was little I remember my mom teaching me, painstakingly so, how to wrap presents. She would clear off our huge dining room table, get her sharpest knife out of the drawer and have that grin on her face like she was about to create something magical.

She was patient and taught me simple ways to measure how much paper I needed so there’d be no bulky look. She used no scissors, but instead would crease the paper with her fingernail, then slide the sharp knife in between the paper and swish, swish, swish, the piece was cut.

I thought, wow, this could be called art! She showed me how to fold the corners and to use minimal tape but at the most strategic places so as not to detract from the package. And, then came the bow.

It was all a pretty lengthy process, and once when I asked her why we take so much time to wrap, she said that the wrapping is part of the gift, it is a sacrifice of time and a thing of beauty. I never ever forgot that.

cranberry centerpieceNow, we aren’t wrapping any presents today or learning how to do it (altho that’s a great idea for a future post), but rather emphasizing that some things that may seem unnecessary or that border on obsession really make a difference. Whether it’s wrapping gifts, hanging just the right curtains or choosing a striking centerpiece, it all matters. ENTER: a cranberry centerpiece!

To make something elegant or jaw dropping beautiful or unique does not necessarily require great expense. If you have time (your most precious commodity), you have it all save a few simple craft tools: foam balls, hot glue and cranberries!

I think you know what to do. Have fun. :)

 

Photo credit

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