By Danielle Barfoot, mom to a 12-year-old son and has worked as a journalist, editor and PR specialist. She works at Impak Education, a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education.
If your children are at an age where they are starting to dread the madness that comes with visiting family this Christmas – think overbearing aunts, awkward gifts from distant relatives and the very loud (and off key) uncle who insists on singing every carol known to mankind – read on. Because learning what others do to celebrate Christmas might make your children appreciate their own weird and wonderful family and traditions a little more!
Transport: Our children are made to believe – mostly by Hollywood – that Santa delivers presents riding a sleigh pulled by reindeer. In Italy, however, a good witch called La Befana rides a broomstick instead of a sleigh to deliver presents, while in Australia, Santa has swapped his reindeer for ‘six white boomers’ (kangaroos). Kids in the Netherlands, on the other hand, expect the arrival of Sinterklaas by steamboat!
Decorations: Forget a plastic tree adorned with tinsel and baubles! Ukrainians decorate their Christmas trees with spider webs. Why? Because legend has it that a magic spider once visited a poor family at Christmas and turned the cobwebs in their home into gold. And if something smells a little off around the Christmas tree in Germany, it is because someone hid a pickle among the decorations. (The first person to find it receives a small gift.)
Presents: In Serbia, families don’t exchange presents on 25 December. Rather, two Sundays before Christmas, children tie up their mother, who then has to pay a ransom in the form of gifts to be freed. The following Sunday, it is the dad’s turn.
Food: Tired of having a braai or sitting down to a turkey with all the trimmings? If you lived in Greenland, your Christmas meal would be kiviak – a bird wrapped in sealskin and buried under a stone for several months.
Lost your appetite? In order to see a mystical ‘golden pig’ appear, Czechs are taught not to eat anything on Christmas Eve until a special dinner is served. In contrast, a traditional Polish Christmas feast consists of 12 courses!
Shoes: Strangely, shoes are a recurring Christmas theme. In countries such as Brazil, Poland, Germany and France, the regional incarnation of Santa leaves sweets in children’s shoes (instead of Christmas stockings), and in Greece, they burn old shoes at Christmas to ensure good luck in the following year.
Czech women are also hoping for a bit of luck when, on Christmas Eve, they turn their backs to their front door and throw a shoe over their shoulders. If the shoe lands with the heel towards the door, she’s “doomed” to be single for another year. If, however, the toe points to the door, she can start planning her dream wedding!
Naughty or nice: Your children might like the idea of spending the festive season in Iceland – there are 13 Santas! More mountain troll than jolly old man, these Yule Lads come down from the mountain one by one to leave presents for nice children. However, if your children have been naughty, they’ll be glad that they don’t live in Austria. There, children live in fear of Krampus, a Christmas devil who is said to beat naughty children with branches!
So, if your children complain about having the same meal for Christmas again this year, say that you’d be happy to give them kiviak instead. And if they misbehave, kindly remind them of old Krampus.