Delicious food, cheery music, and colorful light displays. These are signs of the holiday season. We all have exciting traditions that we share and create with our families. But it is equally exciting, in season of sharing and giving, to teach our children the importance of traditions around the world. The best part about these holiday traditions is that they happen every year and you can visit these countries on a family vacation and see these holiday traditions play out first hand!
Ecuador – La Navidad
Traditional Christmas in Ecuador is a religious occasion where families gather for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. As mass begins, eucalyptus branches burn in front of the church and families proceed into the church. Families carry figurines of Christ, sing carols, and place the figurines at the Nativity in the church. Ecuadorians attend morning mass on Christmas Day and bring more figures to place at the Nativity. In homes, you see nativity scenes and dinner tables with large Christmas Eve meals including variations of rice – like rice with stew, spicy rice, rice with corn, and arroz Navideño (Christmas rice). Christmas trees are not traditional in this Andean region. People adorn fake trees with lights and ornaments.
Ireland – Christmas
Christmas in Ireland is a lot like that in the U.S. Christmas trees are displayed in the center of town with nativity scenes displaying the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Kings at local churches. Before Christmas trees gained popularity, holly and ivy were used to decorate homes. It was said that the more berries on the holly the more luck would come in the new year. Families attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and light blessed holy candles. Celebrations on Christmas Day consist of a large Christmas dinner with turkey, ham, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mince pie. The day after Christmas Day is St. Stephen’s Day, with Saint Stephen being the first Christian martyr. People rest, attend mass, and celebrate with another large meal on this day.
Israel – Hanukkah
Hanukkah or Chanukah (“dedication” in Hebrew) is the Jewish eight-day celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem that occurred in the 2nd century B.C. During this time, Jews rose against their Greek-Syrian oppressors, who forbade Jewish religious practice, in an effort to refuse to worship the Roman Gods. On each night after sundown of Chanukah, a candle is added to a nine-branched menorah. The ninth candle is used to light the other candles and blessings are recited and the menorah is placed in a window as a reminder to others of the holiday. Families make traditional foods such as potato pancakes and jam-filled donuts or “sufganiyot”. Families engage in gift-exchanging and playing with dreidels.
China – New Year
The New Year in China traditionally honors household, heavenly deities and ancestors. The new year is based on the ancient Chinese calendar and each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiacal animals, including the dragon, rooster, dog, horse, pig, snake, rat, sheep, monkey, ox, tiger, and rabbit. It is considered the most important festival of the year and people clean their homes to rid them of “huiqi” or inauspicious breaths that accumulate during the old previous year. This clears them for inspection by the gods from heaven. People set off firecrackers to frighten evil spirits and offer food and paper to the gods. This was all meant to bring good luck and long life to families. On New Year’s Eve families fast and for the first five days of the new year they eat long noodles to celebrate long life. On the 15th and final day of the new year, families make dumplings shaped like the full moon to show unity.
While these holiday traditions are all different, the meanings behind each are the same: unity. Unity brings us together as families and a people. This is the time of the year when ours hearts feel a little less heavy and a lot fuller.