It’s true that on December 25th Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, however, over time, it became to me more of a celebration of kindness, family, union and community. Beyond the decorated trees, the joy of decking the halls, the exaggeration of blinking lights on windows, and the religious tone of the commemorations, I wanted to know about the other Christmas and New Year’s traditions out there, and if, despite our inevitable cultural differences, we all shared that common ground. The post title describes them as “offbeat” because the traditions I’m sharing today go beyond the usual exchange of gifts and family members in Santa Claus costumes faking a climb down the chimney.
#1 Growing Wheat, Croatia
I have already prepared my wheat seeds and little dish to celebrate the feast day of St. Lucia on Dec 13th. What is the wheat for? Well, you see the tradition is that you want the wheat to grow big and tall. How big and how tall is believed to be in direct correlation to your luck and prosperity for the upcoming year. *Gulp* that’s what I call pressure.
No one said I can’t add fertiliser, just to encourage the wheat and ensure our good fortunes for next year! After watching the wheat grow until Christmas Day, I plan to make it the centre piece of my table, that is unless of course it fails to grow, in which case I’ll use a candle.
This is a contribution from Sarah-Jane and Mate Begonja, the couple behind Chasing The Donkey. On their blog, they share everything you need to know (and probably didn’t think of asking) about Croatia, making it my favorite resource about the country. Get your daily dose of Croatian inspiration following them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
#2 Sharing an Opłatek, Poland
In Poland, before everyone sits down to the sumptuous Christmas Eve dinner, everyone, grown-ups and kids alike, gets a piece of “opłatek” – kind of an oversized holy communion wafer with a Christmas scene imprinted on it – and share it with everyone present. As you break off and eat a piece of the other person’s wafer, that person breaks off and eats a piece of yours, and you wish each other Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, sometimes elaborating on the good wishes, and customizing them according to the recipient if you wish to.
I don’t know much about the history of this custom, and when and how it originated, but it’s a lovely tradition, that to me is the essence of happiness at being together or together again if you haven’t seen your family for a while. Also, having to talk to everyone individually, brings Christmas and New Year wishes to a more personal level, it gives you a few moments of one-on-one in what can sometimes be a large gathering.
This is a contribution from Jolanta Davis, the Polish-born blogger behind Casual Travelers. Together with her husband and two children, she experiences the world through travel whenever and wherever possible because “the world is too interesting to stay home.” Tag along on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
#3 Christmas Pageant, Soemngam (Thailand)
A Thai high school was one of the last places I ever expected to spend Christmas. I feared it would slip by as Thanksgiving and Halloween had, but Soemngam Wittayakhom School’s version of “Christmas Day” was not to be forgotten.
Unlike an ordinary school day, Christmas began with familiar carols, and halls decked with off-color tinsel. The oldest students constructed an entire set of scavenged materials and performed the
Nativity Play (an uncommon choice for Buddhist teenagers). The grand finale was a costume contest in which a 15-year-old boy dressed as a gorgeous Snow White took the grand prize — a 10lb tin of
cookies. It certainly was not the Christmas I had always known, but I suppose I didn’t go all the way to Thailand for that anyway.
This is a contribution from Taylor Record, the blogger behind Travel Outlandish, “an experiential travel blog about going now!” (I agree because the time and effort you put into finding excuses is exactly the same you can put into planning a trip). If you still need convincing to take that first step, check out how they do it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
#4 Solidary “Ginginha”, Barreiro (Portugal)
I absolutely had to feature my hometown on this post. I live in a city filled with creative spirit and I honestly think everything here is done with a lot of originality, a lot of soul, and a lot of commitment from a close-knit community. And, in the end, that is kind of why we celebrate Christmas: community.
Every year, on Christmas eve, just before everyone joins their families for dinner, people gather near the local market for catching up, to drop off a donation of food (a tradition within the tradition that started in 2014) and to have a shot (or several…) of “ginjinha”. This sour cherry liquor is not exactly an “official” Christmas drink, but that’s not why people start flocking to the small restaurant that started it, at around 4.00 PM.
#5 Hogmanay, Edinburgh (Scotland)
As a Spaniard, I believe my country displays some of the greatest NYE parties (and overall parties as a matter of fact) in the world. We are well known for our joyful lifestyle and for choosing life over work pretty much always and, therefore, sometimes we can get a bit picky with celebrations, nightlife, parties and festivals because we believe ours have to be always better.
Luckily, the more I travel, the more I find the above statement a nonsense. And Edinburgh’s NYE celebrations showed me that Scottish people do know how to throw a party as well.
Featuring a Torchlight Procession, a multiple stages festival all over the city centre on the 31st, the infamous Loony Dook on Jan, 1st and many other cool happenings all over the place, this city definitely needs to be in the lookout of everyone planning a different Christmas and NYE.
This is a contribution from Inma Gregorio. She was invited to experience Hogmanay by Edinburgh Festivals two years ago as one of the #Blogmanay campaign bloggers. She runs A World to Travel, a site focused in unique experiences around the world, photography, music festivals and the great outdoors. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Do you celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve? What is your town’s or family’s tradition?