Christmas season in America means the Hallmark Channel, mall Santas, commercials begging us to buy a Ford to the rhythm of "A Visit from St. Nicolas," flashing lights, far too many cookies, the occasional Nativity scene, and amalgamated bits and pieces of Christmas traditions from the past couple thousand years. Let's see how other countries do Christmas--and maybe take a cue or two.
1. The Gavle Goat, Sweden
Straw goats are a staple in Swedish Christmas decorations. In 1966, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a giant version to attract tourists and attract customers to the Castle Square shops. Since then, the giant goat has been a yearly tradition, though it never lasts long: it has also become a tradition to try to kidnap him, hit him with cars, and most popularly, burn him down. Maybe a little arson could liven up our holiday season as well.
2. Hiding brooms, Norway
In Norway, there are superstitions that associate Christmas Eve with the arrival of witches. Therefore, all brooms must be hidden (so you don't end up accidentally play a part in taxi-ing around the servants of the devil). Who knows? A little more superstition might do us all good, plus this could prevent all that last-minute cleaning from being forced children by their parents.
3. Good-luck almonds, Finland
Finnish families sometimes celebrate Christmas with a traditional porridge made of rice and milk and topped with cinnamon. One lucky child will have a hidden almond in their serving, that's supposed to spell good luck--but sometimes parents cheat and put almonds in all their children's bowls.
4. Christmas turrón, Spain
Turrón is a traditional Christmas dessert from Spain made of almonds and honey. Can we please replace all fruitcake with this?
5. Day of the Little Candles, Columbia
"Día de las Velitas," or "Day of the Little Candles" is celebrated in Columbia on December seventh, to honor the Immaculate Conception. Thousands and thousands of candles are lit throughout the country, and for every candle, a wish is made.
6. Christmas Eve sauna, Finland
Another Christmas tradition in Finland is to end Christmas day with a trip to the sauna, for relaxation and to symbolize spiritual cleansing. No explanation needed for why this would be a welcome tradition.
7. Handmade farolitos, Mexico
In Mexico, families cut designs into brown paper bags to make lanterns, called farolitos, that light homes and streets with the spirit of Christmas--a bit more impressive than your typical paper snowflakes.
8. St. Lucia Day, Sweden
St. Lucia was a young girl who was martyred in 304 A.D. On December 13th, Sweden honors her with St. Lucia day, where girls who have been chosen to represent St. Lucia visit hospitals and nursing homes to bring carols, food, and Christmas cheer to the patients.
9. The red candle, Ireland
During a time of great Irish Catholic persecution, Catholic families would light red candles in their windows. This was a secret message to any priests in need of shelter that they were a Catholic family and would harbor them. To prevent suspicion over the lighted candles, the Catholic families would tell the authorities that the candles were to welcome Mary and Joseph into their homes during the Christmas season. Now, a lighted red candle in the window has come to symbolize hospitality during the holiday season.
10. Good-luck kutya, Ukraine
Kutya is another holiday dish meant to bring good luck for the future. It's made of wheat berries, sweetened with honey, and traditionally served on Christmas Eve.
11. Christmas picnics, Australia
In Australia, Christmas comes right at the beginning of the summer season, and is often celebrated out on the beach. For most of the U.S., this isn't an option, but if you live in one of the warmer states, why not give a Christmas picnic a chance?