My suburban neighbourhood is becoming more and more ethnically diverse. I love it. My husband and I grew up in small communities in rural areas but over the years we’ve lived outside major cities like Detroit, New York, Washington D.C., and Toronto. It’s given us the opportunity to experience a wide variety of food, music and customs, some of which we’ve embraced and incorporated into our own family traditions and celebrations. December is the perfect time of year to explore the diversity in your community and teach your children about Christmas traditions from around the world.
One tradition my family picked up many years ago is the “Christmas Pickle”. It’s exactly what you think – an ornament shaped like a pickle. It’s the last ornament on the tree and whichever of my daughters finds it first gets an extra present. I was introduced to it while living in the U.S. and was told it’s an old German custom. I have since been told by my German friends they’ve never heard of it and no one in Germany hangs briny vegetables – even fake ones – on their tree. Go figure.
Growing up on the east coast of Canada, my Christmases were often white. But, for my friend Joel, growing up in Australia, Christmas falls during summer vacation. In contrast to my family’s traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings, the Slater’s and their extended family would meet at a park. They’d barbecue, play cricket and exchange gifts. Aussies still follow many British traditions like Christmas crackers (bon bons), puddings, candy canes and fake snow on the windows. And, Santa still wears his traditional suit, despite the summer heat. Joel remembers the year Santa passed out as a result of that jolly red suit and the blazing summer sun. Now there’s a Christmas memory.
In Mexico, they celebrate Navidad for nine days (December 16-24) with Las Pasdas (processions). Celebrants go house to house with images of Mary and Joseph, re-enacting their entrance to Bethlehem seeking shelter. One delicious tradition is the Rosca de Reyes, a sweetbread decorated with candied fruit. Hidden in the cake is a tiny figure of Baby Jesus, symbolizing His need for a safe place to hide from Herod. The bread is sliced with a knife that symbolizes the danger presented by King Herod. Everyone carefully checks their rosca, and whoever gets the baby figurine will be the host of a celebration on February 2, Candelaria or Candle Mass Day, and a get new ropón or robe for the Baby Jesus in the Nativity scene. December 23 is ‘Noche de Rabanos’, the Night of the Radish in Oaxaca. It’s a tradition dating back to the 1800’s when vendors would carve vegetables to attract shoppers buying for their holiday feasts. To this day, artisans carve intricate figures out of radishes including Nativity scenes, conquistadors and mythical creatures.
My friend Trixia’s family is from the Philippines. Following Filipino tradition, at midnight on Christmas Eve they gather and “have a ‘feast’ called ‘Noche Buena’. We all still do it every year at my parents’ house with our immediate family and now my kids, my brothers and our spouses join as well (whenever they’re in town). I put “feast” in quotes because it’s really just a light snack of Filipino bread called pan de sal, sliced ham and this special cheese called ‘Queso de Bola” which is a hard cheese sealed in red wax.” Any tradition that involves bread and cheese is a winner in my book.
Image source: Urban Outfitters