I was out and about in Edinburgh the other day and heard someone mention Boxing Day. Boxing Day? I didn’t know what they were talking about so I looked it up. Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK on December 26th. If that day is a Saturday or Sunday, it is observed the following Monday after Christmas. Most sources site its origin in Victorian times when servants of the wealthy were given the day after Christmas off to spend time with their families and were also given boxes of food, gifts and goodies.
Ok, that’s how Boxing Day started, but in modern times, it is a retail holiday. I consulted the ultimate source, my hairdresser, and asked her what Boxing Day meant today. She said people went shopping and there were huge sales, sort of like Black Friday, and that most businesses were closed except for retail.
This got me recalling other holiday traditions we have experienced while living overseas and interested in researching holiday traditions overseas, especially unusual or quirky ones.
FRIED CHICKEN ON CHRISTMAS EVE: JAPAN
When we lived in Japan, we ventured out one Christmas Eve to a mall in Yokohama. Most Japanese malls or shopping areas have large food courts and grocery stores usually on the first floor or basement level. What we saw was surprising……lots of chicken, especially fried chicken, I mean A LOT of chicken. Apparently, it is tradition in Japan to eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve AND they think that it’s an American tradition to eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve. Since I don’t know of anywhere in the US that fried chicken is a Christmas Eve tradition, I can only assume that it was invented by KFC to sell more chicken in Japan!
CHRISTMAS EEL: ITALY
Eating fish on Christmas Eve is a catholic tradition and some parts of Italy, particularly southern Italy and Italian American households who observe the Feast of the Seven Fishes. While living in Naples, Italy we saw plenty of eel for sale in the fish markets, but especially on Christmas Eve. It was hard to wrap our minds around digging into eel, not turkey, on Christmas Eve, but when in Rome!? I mean Naples…..
BURNING THE YULE GOAT: SWEDEN
Every year since 1966 the town of Gvale, Sweden has constructed a wood and straw yule goat. For 35 of the 50 years that the goat has been a tradition, someone has burned it down.
SANTA’S POSTAL CODE: CANADA
Yes, Virginia, Santa does have an official post code, HOH OHO, and it’s in Canada. For 34 years Canada Post has run a letter writing program. Volunteers have responded to more than 24 million letters to Santa.
Photo by Tomas Castelazo (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
CHRISTMAS SEALS: DENMARK
Invented in Denmark in 1904 Christmas seals are placed on cards and letters at Christmas time and are sold to raise money for charitable organizations. They have been adopted by other countries including the US where the The American Lung Association began printing them in 1907. The Danish seals are designed by a specially invited artist each year and several were designed by Queen Margrethe II.
Gourmetten: The Netherlands
I consulted a Dutch friend in Edinburgh about Christmas traditions in the Netherlands. She said they always ate gourmetten at Christmas. Gourmetten is a method cooking rather then a particular food. It involves cooking food in small individual pans on a hot plate on the table. People can choose their own ingredients, meat, vegetables, egg and cheese for their pans and pancakes of course, which my friend said were the kids favorite!
Photo from http://www.culime.nl
Christmas in September: Philippines
The Philippines may not immediately spring to mind as having a lot of Christmas spirit, but with over 80% of the population being Catholic it has some very strong Christmas traditions. In fact, some places begin putting up Christmas lights in September! Christmas parols or lanterns are found every where. They originally were used to light paths leading to early morning Christmas masses, but now are for decoration.
Photo By bingbing (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bingramos/49794352/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Is there Meat in Mincemeat? and other UK traditions
Aside from Boxing Day there are other UK Christmas traditions that stand out. There’s a lot of mincemeat and Christmas pudding. What exactly is in mincemeat? While it originally included meat, probably coming about to preserve it with lots of spirits so it did not spoil, modern mincemeat does not usually include meat. It’s a mixture of dried fruit, spices and spirits. It’s usually put in small pies. Christmas pudding is more of cake than a pudding that also has spirits, usually brandy, and dried fruit and spices, yes, they have lots of fruit cake here as well. Do you notice a trend with dried fruit and booze! The pudding is also supposed to have a coin or token in it that brings luck to who ever finds it. Traditionally it was a sixpence coin that was put in it. Oh yeah, you can serve brandy sauce over the pudding as well in case there is not enough alcohol in it for you.
I can’t finish without mentioning the ubiquitous Christmas jumper in the UK. Do you remember in Bridget Jones’ Diary when Bridge first ran into Mark Darcy at her mother’s turkey curry buffet? Her Mr. Darcy was wearing a festive Christmas jumper with a huge reindeer on it. Now, I have been to one or two ugly sweater parties in the states around Christmas, but in the UK it is a holiday institution. Sam’s school even had a Christmas jumper day. Not to brag, but I think I my Christmas jumper could win awards as the best worst Christmas jumper. Who does not want to wear something with a Christmas squirrel on it? Can you believe I found it at a charity shop for only £4? I can’t believe someone would give up that beauty!
What are Christmas traditions in your household????