During the mid-semester holidays, most of our editors went home to celebrate. But with quite an international team, everyone did it differently. In this short piece, six of our editors tell you what their country of origin celebrates.
The Nordic Countries – by Annina Claesson
The holiday season in the Nordic countries is also the darkest time of the year. In the most populous areas of the region, you can expect to see only three or four hours of daylight through most of December. This means that a large portion of the end-of-year festivities are centred around bringing in some much-needed light. Most prominently, this happens through the Saint Lucia celebration, observed on the 13th of December in Norway, Sweden, and among the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland.
Since Viking times, the winter solstice has been marked by pagan revelries which were later combined with Christian religious rites. The 13th of December used to be the night where the female demon Lussi was said to rampage free, abducting children and wreaking havoc on households all around. The Lussi night was later combined with the Catholic Feast of Saint Lucy, a martyr from Sicily to transform the Lucia figure into a young woman with candles in her hair, bringing light and heralding the coming of Christmas.
Lucia processions are held in churches, schools, workplaces, and nursing homes. In many schools, being elected Lucia is a bit like being the prom queen. Clad in a white gown with a red sash and carrying a crown of candles on her head, Lucia leads a procession singing Christmas songs and offering gingerbread and special Lucia saffron buns. While traditionally thought of as a blonde woman, younger generations have pushed for a more diverse Lucia celebration in recent years. Today, you’ll find male Lucias and a wide variety of roles in your local school’s Lucia procession, bringing a bit of light to a cold and dark part of the world.
The Netherlands – By Meike Eijsberg
Like most other places, the Netherlands winds down during the holidays. But the Dutch do have a few peculiar traditions you might not find elsewhere.
Christmas in the Netherlands is a rather laid-back event, focused less on gift-giving and more on spending time with family. This is one of the reasons we have two (sometimes three, depending on the size of your family) official Christmas days in this country: the 25th and the 26th of December. Traditionally, one day is spent with your own family, and the other with your in-laws. It is also the one event in the year that the Dutch make an effort with their cuisine. Some popular favourites are shrimp cocktails (sounds more disgusting than it is), gourmetten (sounds fancier than it is), beef wellington (borrowed from our friends across the Channel), and a cheese platter and/or ice-cream cake to end the night with.
New Year’s Eve, or “Old and New” as the Dutch call it, is another event filled with strange but beloved Dutch traditions. We tend to spend it indoors, eating oliebollen (fried dough balls), watching terrible TV programs and crossing our fingers that we win the annual State Lottery. When the clock hits midnight, however, we flock outside to greet our neighbours and light our own fireworks. The next day, thousands head to the beaches to partake in what is most likely the freshest start to the new year you’ll ever experience: a dive in the 4 degree Celsius North Sea.
India – by Shireen Manocha
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and a reminder of the “victory of good over evil”, is the one holiday that my family and I eagerly await all year round. The mid-October or November celebrations provide an opportunity to spend time with family and friends, to share laughter and love, times made better with gifts and traditional Indian sweets. The day usually starts with decorating both the house and our own selves – the house with diyas, lanterns, candles, and fairy lights, and the self in traditional attires. Visiting family and exchanging gifts, stories and moments is followed by making the traditional Rangoli, (beautiful patterns on the floor using colours made of flour, sand, or petals of flowers), whether or not you have the talent to do so. Post the evening prayers, the streets, which are beautifully lit, get filled with the crackling laughter of kids and adults alike, who all look forward to the feast that waits at the dinner table.
Australia – By Darcy French
Christmas in Australia is special. Far removed from the cold winters of Eurasia and North America, the 25th of December brings us the warm winds of summer and the sound of waves lapping at the coast. Christmas is spent with friends and family around the barbecue with cold drinks, summer music and the bathers drying from a dip in the pool. To me, Christmas means cricket, it means burning sun, it means staying hydrated, it means long nights and beautiful sunsets. It means family. Whilst our Christmas is different from others, what brings us all together at Christmas time is time spent with loved ones and reflections on the craziness of our lives. Christmas is what you make it.
Italy – By Marta Massera
Italian Christmas vacations are all about food, families and friends.
In most cities, once the vacation bell rings on December the 24th, people start rushing to shops for last-minute gifts and food. In the afternoon, most Italians meet friends for a Christmas traditional aperitivo. Then, as soon as the 24th evening comes, people sit around a table in their big families to have their first meal together. Most of the time, this is a “light” dinner of seafood. This still means that one, or even more, pasta dishes are served after several appetisers, and then people have a main fish course. Good bread and wine are always on the table. At this time of Christmas, families have different special traditions. For example, my mother’s family has the curious habit of having, before the main dinner, a bowl of sparkling red wine with a little homemade spaghetti. My grandmother used to tell us that the tradition came from countryside families, for which this was considered as a form of penitence connected to the religious importance of Christmas Eve.
On the 25th, at lunch time, most Italians are ready for the other main meal of the holidays. In my city, Parma, the typical dish for the Christmas lunch is called “capelletti”. These are little round-shaped tortellini filled with parmesan cheese, bread, eggs and other ingredients. Some people add meat in the filling, some others just wet it with the meat broth. With my other four cousins and my brother, we have an annual tradition of taking a picture all together on a couch. When we were little, it was easy to sit all together in that little space, but as we are growing older and taller (at least my male cousins) we have always to squeeze in.
Last, but not least: after the big lunch, it is commonplace for many families to stay together and play board games. The conflict strategy Risiko and the Tombola are among Italians’ most favourite games. And at night, sitting in the cinema to watch a movie is the best way to start digesting all the food of the Christmas meals.
England – by Sophie Smith
Although supermarkets start selling Christmas chocolate around August, Christmas time in England usually begins around late November when towns across the country host the annual Christmas Light Switch-On, a large event consisting of school performances in the lead to the switch-on. Throughout December, the festivities continue; Christmas shopping, decorating the Christmas tree and eating mince pies, a sweet Christmas pie, are all part of the process. When Christmas Eve arrives, children hang up their stockings at the end of their bed and leave Father Christmas a mince pie and a drink, as well as a carrot for the reindeer. The next morning, families gather to open presents and breakfast is often skipped as we overindulge in chocolates. The main meal of the day is the infamous British Roast, which tends to consist of roast potatoes, roast parsnips, carrots and peas, stuffing, gravy, the unpopular brussel sprouts, turkey and yorkshire puddings (despite being called puddings, these are a savoury dish). Before everyone tucks into their meal, we pull open Christmas crackers – cardboard tubes wrapped in wrapping paper and twisted at each end – which contain a cheesy, festive joke and a fun surprise. Afterwards, families sit down to watch the royal Christmas message where the Queen gives her remarks about the year. The night ends with drinks and some light snacks. However, celebrations do not end on the 25th. On December 26, also known as Boxing Day, many Brits flock to the shops to take advantage of post-Christmas sales, ending up with many more gifts for themselves.