The Institute Presents: Traditions of Christmas
For our First Christmas together at the Institute, we wanted our members to describe a little bit their Traditions for Christmas. They may not be the same for everyone, but they help bring us together a little bit, and that's what the Institute is all about. So firstly from the Institute and the Youth Association for a Greater Europe, we wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Ana Popova - Ruse, Bulgaria
Celebrating Christmas in Bulgaria is all about a miraculous process of weight gain. The traditional Christmas’ Eve dinner is made of an odd number of dishes which should not contain meet. However, drinking 45% Mulled Rakia without the consumption of any animal would not meet the standards of a true Bulgarian. Your grandmother has at least put some effort into hiding the meat in pickled cabbage leaves and has created the wonder of Sarma.
The enjoyment of this dazzling array of tastes is followed by a heart-warming tradition called Koleduvane. Christmas Carolers visit the homes and sing songs wishing health and happiness, starting their rounds on Christmas Eve. The positive power of these wishes chases away the demons, which makes the visit of these young men an especially positive experience for Bulgarian households.
The whole evening in expectation of the Koledari singers is spent with the family around the fire, where a huge block of oak or cherry tree called Badnik keeps the house warm all night long. This embodies one of our oldest Christmas traditions which have been around since pagan times and is used to tell our fortune. If the stump burns heavily and bright, the year is going to be one of much health and fertility.
Lucia Nafziger - Cologne, Germany
In the morning of the 24th every child in Germany jumps out of bed to open the final door of their “Adventskalender”. The advent calendar plays a major role during the christmas festivities here. The excitement of receiving a small surprise everyday from the first day of December on, makes the waiting for christmas a tiny bit easier! The tradition can be traced back to the German Protestants who drew chalk marks on doors or lit candles to count the days leading up to Christmas. Next to the advent calendar we still light up candles to continue this tradition. On Christmas Eve the faces of everyone around the festively laid tables are illuminated by the four candles on the “Adventskranz”. Each one having been lit on one of the four preceding Sundays, on which we often sing carols. Not seldom however, the wreath fades into the background between enormous piles of “Plätzchen” (biscuits of various sorts) and different creations of “Lebkuchenhäuser”. The typical dinner on Christmas Eve varies between carp, mainly eaten in many Catholic families; potato salad with sausages or goose roast.
“Adventskranz” and “Plätzchen”
Abhivardhan - Allahabad, India
Allahabad, which these days, is known as Prayagraj, is popular for its Kumbh festival of Hindus and the Ganga-Jamuni culture, which an assortment of different religions and cultures. Different people from India in the North Belt live here and share a legacy since the British Raj after the Mughals and Nawabs in Lucknow. Allahabad is the centre of the North Indian Catholic Diocese and other religious institutions as well, which established a pro Indo-Western culture of Christmas here in a special way. We celebrate it no different, but we resemble it as pluralistic and one, which itself embarks a unity in diversity in our city. People here, whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Parsis, celebrate Christmas in their own Indian styles as they do with an International event like Kumbh at a city level like no other city in India. We have been that different and ironic over the relishing habit of regarding Christmas as a symbol of peace and diversity like Ramadan, Holi and other fests. Greetings for the same!
Adrian Waters - Rome, Italy
In Italy the Christmas festivities begin on 8th December when they celebrate the Immaculate Conception, i.e. the conception of Mary, as God absolved her of all sins when she was still in the womb according to the Roman Catholic tradition. On this day Italians put up their decorations and prepare the Christmas Tree. One notable aspect of Italian-style Christmas is the traditional model of the nativity scene, known as the presepe. It can be found in churches, in other public places and in family homes and often it depicts the town of Bethlehem in meticulous detail.
Most people associate Italy with good food. And as a matter of fact a lot of delicious food is consumed during this festivity. This includes panettone (a sweet bread with candied fruit inside), pandoro (which does not have the fruit, but it is shaped like a star and usually covered with icing sugar) and torrone (nougat). The most important meal of this festivity is on Christmas Eve when Italians cook a huge dinner, based mainly on seafood. Religious people often go to church for a mass after eating.
Diego Sánchez - Lima, Peru
Thanks to our cultural diversity, Peru hosts different traditions to receive and celebrate Christmas. Probably, the most common one shared by all cities in Peru consists of eating the famous “panetón”. Originally from Italy, this sweet and delicious bread found itself a place in most families’ tables within the capital city. Accompanied mostly with a cup of hot chocolate and butter, despite awareness of its impact on health, it represents a moment of joy to each family that reunites for Christmas’ Eve dinner (December 24th). However, apart from complementing the Eve’s dinner with a juicy and applauded turkey, including the champagne, many Limean families have started to prepare and bake a “lechón” (piglet), instead. Furthermore, a traditional Christmas in a Christian/Catholic family from Lima cannot exist without preparing a “pesebre” in their homes (Christmas Manger) that symbolises the birth of Christ. In spite of the strong religious influence of these practices, Limean families seek to have this dinner with joy and creativity, especially after the famous last hour rush on the 24th to buy presents and ingredients to make this dinner possible. Finally, this tradition cannot come to an end without the popular “recalentado” (to heat and cook all leftovers from Eve) that all families continue to share for the lunch on the 25th.
Elena Ruxandra Seniuc - Suceava, Romania
Christmas in Romania is all about visiting your relatives and eating as much as possible. These all-you-can-eat buffets are often compulsory and if you dare to engage in a never-ending food-denying process with your grandmother, I am telling you, she’ll win; no one refuses grandma’s food. Unlike Bulgaria, Romania’s Christmas food is mostly made out of pork (and sometimes there’s some rooster if you’re lucky). From Sarmale to Aspic or Cozonac (nutty sweet bread), these are all guilty of your latest weight gain. However, the star of the Christmas dinner is always the Russian/Romanian Boeuf (or Olivije) Salad. Made out of finely chopped boiled potatoes, carrots, parsnip, peas, gherkins and ham (or other meaty products), all mixed with industrial quantities of mayo, it represents the pièce de résistance of a good hospitable host. Late in the evening, the family gathers to exchange impressions and the latest family feud/gossip. The night ends with homemade sweets and cakes, a glass of wine, and watching with satisfaction the execution of the former Communist leaders, Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena, streamed on a yearly basis on national TV, hoping that some miracle will actually bring a change for the better for the future of this beautiful country.
Pablo Garfias - Catalonia, Spain
Catalonia, a region of Spain that has seen its fair share of participation in recent global news, has a rather odd tradition for Christmas; that of ‘el caganer’, or ‘the defecator’ in English. Literally, it involves a crouching figurine in people’s homemade nativity scenes, hidden amongst the different and more established characters of the three kings, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. There are likely many questions running through your head, the most probable being: ‘What? Why? When? How?’. Well, this eschatological image traces back around 200 years to somewhere between the late 18th century and beginning of the 19th century and its meaning is still debated; everyone seems to find their own meaning in this controversial albeit ironic figure in the otherwise holy scene. In the rural, agricultural communities, the caganer symbolises fertility and makes the chances of a good harvest more likely for those who choose to put them in their nativity scene. Others believe that he is meant to humble the authorities by adding humour and irony to the strict religious practice - a meaning that one might find most popular today if they were to stro
ll down Barcelona’s Saint Lucia’s Christmas market, where caganers are sold not only wearing their traditional white shirt, red trousers and red barretina (the Catalan hat), but also have the shape and faces of famous public people, whether political, cultural (yes that includes football) or religious. Adding to the ironic meaning behind el caganer is the idea that the feces were a birthday gift for Jesus “It was the only thing the little shepherd boy had to give the Baby… So it’s not at all disrespectful, it’s a great gift.” Nancy Duneuve told Rainsford. Its meaning has clearly been lost through time - or perhaps it never did have one. It might just be meant to be ridiculous, a reason to make the nativity scene more light hearted. I wouldn’t be making Catalan Christmas culture justice without at least briefly mentioning ‘el tio de nadal’, which directly translates to ‘the defecating log’ (you might be noticing a trend here). Every family and class at school gets their own log with a face drawn into the end of it, and much like the caganer, it too wears the distinctively Catalan hat, the barretina. After the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December, kids begin to feed this log candy so that he grows fat in the days before Christmas. On Christmas day, the back-end of the log is covered with a blanket, and all of the kids grab a stick (any stick they find will do) and begin to whack the log collectively whilst chanting a traditional song with rather interesting lyrics (will be linked below). After leaving the room for a minute to give the log privacy, the kids storm back into the room and lift up the blanket that had been covering the log, only to find stacks of chocolate, turrón (a typical Spanish treat), and candy. There are more Catalan references that tie in with the eschatological, though none more during Christmas. I never did notice the caganer or the tio de nadal being so weird until it was pointed out to me that having a little defecating figurine in the nativity scene, and a log that you would feed and then whack with a stick for candy and sweets was strange at all. Evidently, it’s a tradition that flirts with the line between the serious and the silly and fun - perhaps all too telling of what Christmas should be, a practice based on something old and symbolic with a little quirk that can bring a smile and all those present a bit closer together.
Philippe Lefevre - London, United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom we take Christmas to its Capitalistic best! The stores are screaming Christmas before Halloween is even over and you can bet the lights are on in every street. There’s always one person with so many lights you worry there’s going to be a fire and enough Christmas spirit to fill a swimming pool. If you can think of a single thing a coca-cola Santa Claus can be stuck on, be assured British Stores will sell it. Carols are also a major source of enjoyment (or not) at Christmas time, with amateur choirs belting out Carols left, right and center. The noise from cities can hardly be described as festive but more abusive with the amount of Christmas music blaring out of them. Still, it is a very fun time of year. Some of my favorites I remember being forced to sing as a Child include the Twelve Days of Christmas, Silent Night, and Away in a Manger. However, if little cute songs aren’t your choice we have a host of rocking Christmas songs too, my favourite being Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade, it’s not a proper Christmas without that one.
When it comes to the day, Christmas Eve is where the food gets going. Usually there’s a family get together with a whole host of delicious “treats” that everyone manages to force down themselves. Depending on what kind of family you are, it might be food on Christmas eve Dinner or Christmas Lunch, but both are definitely just as filling. The meal is certain to include Turkey or Chicken, straight out of Charles Dickens a Christmas Carol. Following that are Brussels (With a host of Brexit memes) Sprouts, Cabbage, Roasted Vegetables and enough alcohol to pickle an elephant. Pudding (Dessert for you non-Brits) usually consists of Mince Pies and Christmas Pudding, a Sponge cake slathered in Brandy and set on Fire, and subsequently eaten without the fire.
Traditionally, the presents are opened December 25th Morning, to the screaming of little Children, where they are spoilt rotten, and the parents might just get some socks if they’re lucky. The rest of the day is spent playing silly games such as Charades, where you act out something and others have to guess, or just generally trying to be as festive as possible without alerting the police.
The Queen’s Speech is another important part of the British Tradition, depending on your Republican Sympathies. She often doles out important messages for the year ahead, and thus we are reunited as a country. The TV is often a focal-point of the celebration, with Christmas Specials of Doctor Who and various other stereotypical British shows.
Overall our Christmas is awash with Media, food and Capitalism, all gloriously mixed together with Family, making the most magical time of the year. Some might take it more religiously, some might not, but nevertheless, it’s Christmas no doubt.