Thanksgiving weekend tends to be the kick-off for Christmas traditions. This year we were in Grand Rapids, MI at my sister’s house, so we got to enjoy the Christmas tradition at Meijer Gardens – Christmas and Holiday Traditions from Around the World. Having worked on a very international team when we lived overseas, I, of course, made a beeline to all of those represented countries first. Not only did I find the traditions about candy in shoes, I found some other inspiring traditions while there, and… being 100% German… I had to find the pickle on the German tree! Not sure what I’m talking about? Keep reading! If you like any of these, maybe you can add a new tradition to your celebration this year!
Poland and parts of Lithuania
During preparation for the Christmas meal, hay is spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus Christ was born in a manger. An empty place setting is symbolically left at the table for the Lord or for a lost wanderer who may be in need of food or shelter (sounds like good advice Jesus gave us, actually). That reminds me, too, of the Passover tradition of leaving an empty chair at the table for the prophet, Elijah. Here’s another interesting part of their Christmas tradition: The supper begins with the breaking of the Christmas wafer known as “opłatek”, usually stamped with a picture of the nativity scene.
There are more elements to their traditions than that, but it struck me that this is very similar to communion – a Christian tradition of remembrance of Christ’s great sacrificial gift to us so that we may be restored to right relationship with him. Normally the remembrance is associated with Easter (the same time of year as Passover), although many churches participate at least once a month in communion. How striking it is to start the Christmas season off with a similar act of remembrance! After all, Jesus’ birth begins the culmination of his plan to redeem us!
The first thing I noticed about the tree, before reading any explanation, were the Christmas ornaments symbolizing the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I never associated that song with Ireland, but now I can’t help but wish I could hear it sung with an Irish lilt! I moved to the information plaque next to the tree and learned something new. When Catholicism was illegal in Ireland, the Catholic church wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to secretly teach church doctrine to their children. The “ten lords a’leaping” are actually the Ten Commandments! I’ve long known songs can make it easier to learn something, but a coded song brings in an element of cool that I had never thought about.
In France, the family fasts all day, and then everyone but the youngest children goes to midnight mass. Let me stop there. I have fasted in my life, and it’s a discipline. I’m not talking about a medical fast in preparation for blood labs or surgery. I’m talking about a fast intended to help you focus more on God. It’s one of those things that you have to decide to do because the meaning and the act of it are so important to you. The act of fasting tends sets the time aside for more intentional, more holy focus. You can’t help but think of the reason why you’re fasting. My favorite part about fasting is that it leads to anticipation of what is to come.
After a day of fasting, French families arrive to churches and cathedrals that are beautifully lit, and most display a lovely antique creche (Nativity scenes). Afterward, the family returns home to a nighttime feast that is called le reveillon.
A few days before Christmas, the family sets up their own creche on a little platform in a corner of the living room. Some families also decorate a Christmas tree, but the creche is much more important. You could say, Jesus takes center stage! In Provence, in the south of France, they also include delightful little figures from village life dressed in old-fashioned costumes. These figures might include a village mayor, a peasant, a gypsy, a drummer boy, and other colorful characters. Everyone is involved in the story!
Growing up, I always thought that we had a pickle ornament in our tree because we were German. I’m not sure why, but it was a hide-and-seek game in the Christmas tree. You have to find the glass pickle ornament hanging somewhere on the tree, and it does tend to move throughout the season. Sometimes there are similar looking ornaments that are intended to fool you. In Grand Rapids, my sister and I squealed with delight that we found the pickle so early, but upon closer examination it was a green fish.
With further research, I discovered (with a little disappointment), that the Christmas pickle ornament is actually an American tradition. There are a number of different origin stories attributed to the tradition, including an origination in Germany. This theory has since been discounted, and it is now thought to be an American tradition created in the late 19th century.
Other German traditions that are well ingrained in my Christmas traditions (not counting the pickle) are advent calendars, advent wreaths, and gingerbread. Of course, there are the famous Christmas markets, too!
I had to mention Australia. Having lived in the northern hemisphere all my life, it’s hard to imagine a warm Christmas. In Australia it is the summer season in December. While some families still have a traditional Christmas dinner (I heard sometimes there’s a favor baked into the ham for some lucky recipient), lots of families head for the backyard barbie to grill their Christmas dinner in the sunshine. Many families even go to the beach or to the countryside and enjoy a picnic of cold turkey or ham and a salad. Father Christmas has been known to show up in shorts to greet children at the beach on Christmas!
Oh, and the day after Christmas, December 26, is Boxing Day. Australians with British and Irish backgrounds leave tips for the grocer, postman, newspaper carrier, and others to thank them for their help in the past year. I like that idea! Giving a little extra to those who work a little extra for us year-round.
You Tell Me…
The final tradition that I want to share with you is from… Well… I can’t remember! If it sounds familiar, leave a comment below! Before opening the presents for Christmas, everyone in the family writes a blessing on a piece of straw and ceremonially adds it to the manger in the Nativity scene. This simple act of thankfulness and crediting the One who gives us blessings blew me away! Is anyone else familiar with it? My sister said they do something very similar in the Christmas program at her son’s Catholic school.
Thanks for reading! This is just one of the ways I put a smile back into the world!
- Posted by hellobabs
- On December 10, 2019
- 0 Comment