By Tiffany Doerr Guerzon
Tired of the same old Christmas routine? Take a trip around the world and learn how people from other cultures and countries celebrate the holidays. Not only is it fun to try something new, but new traditions are a great way to incorporate some learning into your child’s holiday experience.
During December in Mexico, farolitos are a common sight along driveways and on the porches of private homes. These lanterns, made of brown paper bags with pretty patterns cut into the sides, light up the night. The bags are weighted with sand placed in the bottom, and lit with real candles. Try making a kid-friendly farolito by letting the kids decorate brown or white sack lunch-sized paper bags. Add a couple of scoops of sand or gravel into the bottom of each sack to weight them, and then use a battery-operated tea light in place of a real flame. Amazon offers a kit of flickering battery-operated tea lights with bonus Luminary bags for purchase.
During the month of December, streets in the Philippines are lit up with brightly coloured parols, or paper lanterns. These 3-D star-shaped lights are traditionally made from bamboo sticks and rice paper. The star represents the star of Bethlehem the three wise men followed to find Jesus. Although this might be a tricky project for little hands, you can still celebrate Christmas Filipino-style by hanging decorated paper stars around your home. Simply cut out star shapes from paper or cardboard, punch a hole near the top for hanging, and then let the kids decorate with markers, glitter, paint and crayons. Or, purchase a kit for making a Parol by visiting myparol.com
Lucky German children celebrate St. Nicolas Day on December 6. St. Nicolas was known for giving to the poor and is thought to be the origin of Santa Claus, or St. Nick. According to legend, St. Nick will leave treats for young children in their shoes on the night of December 5. You can start off the holidays by adapting this tradition for your kids. Have the kids leave their shoes on the porch, or outside of their bedroom doors on December 5. Fill the shoes with treats after the children are asleep.
A Buche de Noel, or Yule log cake, is a traditional Christmas dessert in France. A Buche de Noel usually is made from a sponge cake baked in a jelly roll pan, filled with chocolate buttercream frosting, and then rolled into a log shape. Bakeries in France strive to create these desserts to resemble actual logs complete with mushrooms and lichen made from fondant. You can bake your own Buche de Noel and decorate it in a forest theme with sprigs of rosemary, red hot candies, and a dusting of powdered sugar for snow. For more history of the Yule Log Cake tradition and another recipe, check out: www.joyofbaking.com.
In Ireland, some families leave a candle on a windowsill and leave it burning throughout the night. The candle is a symbol of welcome, and helps the faithful to remember the story of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay the night before Jesus was born. You can try this fun tradition at home by letting the kids decorate a clear mason jar as a candle holder for Joseph and Mary. Use paint, glitter glue, or glued-on squares of tissue paper in festive colours. Place a battery operated candle or tea light inside and put on a windowsill on Christmas Eve.
In December, Italians enjoy manger scenes, or prescpios, in their homes. You can continue this tradition with your children by including a Nativity scene in your home’s Christmas decor. For younger children, check out durable, kid-friendly nativity sets such as Fisher Price Little People Nativity, Melissa and Doug Nativity, and Play Mobil Nativity, to name a few. You could even hide the baby Jesus and then secretly place him in his manger on Christmas Eve for the kids to find in the morning.
A fun Norwegian tradition is to celebrate “little Christmas Eve” on December 23. On this night, families gather and do activities such as trimming the tree or decorating gingerbread houses. Often, a traditional rice pudding is served topped with cinnamon, sugar and butter. An almond is hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds the nut will have good luck in the coming year. Other traditions involving the almond are that the finder must sing a song, or they might receive a pig made of marzipan. You could serve rice pudding on little Christmas Eve too, and choose a fun activity for the finder of the almond. Food.com has a great recipe for Norwegian rice pudding.
Danes enjoy a fun family tradition during the holiday season called “cut and paste day.” On this day, the whole family sits down and creates Christmas crafts and decorations. Often these projects include the Danish woven heart basket. These are made of paper strips, usually in red and white which are the colours of the Danish flag. Hold your own cut and paste day with projects tailored to your family’s interests and abilities. DTLK (dltk-holidays.com) has a tutorial for woven paper heart baskets.
England is the birthplace of Christmas Crackers. Traditionally given to diners at Christmas dinner, Christmas Crackers are made of cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper. When the ends are pulled apart, a cracker is activated, making a popping noise. Inside is a small toy or trinket, a paper crown (representing the three kings), and a joke. Christmas Crackers are great fun for kids and adults alike.
Not all Chinese celebrate Christmas, but those who do often decorate their homes with red paper chains, red paper flowers and paper lanterns to symbolize happiness. Christmas trees are becoming popular and are called “trees of light.” You can add a Chinese touch to your Christmas decor by making paper chains of red paper, red tissue paper flowers, or making your home glow with red lanterns. Oriental Trading Company (www.orientaltrading.com) offers these red lantern chains.