Christmas takes on a very stereotypical form in India. An opulently decked Christmas tree stands in the corner of the living room, complete with nicely wrapped gifts in red and gold. Then there’s the plum cake and the punch bowl, and, of course, the fascination with Santa and the gift he’s going deliver at midnight.
But did you know that Christmas takes on a vastly different look in various parts of Europe? And some of the traditions are so fascinating, maybe we should import them to India as well.
Sinterklaas Comes Sailing
In the Netherlands and some parts of Belgium, Christmas celebrations begin as an early end of November when Sinterklaas arrives by boat from Spain. This tradition dates back to a 4th-century bishop who would travel by sea to arrive in the Netherlands, and he would go around showering blessings and gifts.
Tradition states that after Sinterklass steps on dry land, he rides around on a white horse named Amerigo. Children sometimes put out their shoes filled with carrots or hay for the horse, and, in return, they may find a small gift or sweets if they’ve been good kids around the year. Bad behavior, on the other hand, is most likely to fetch them a potato or a piece of coal. It’s also believed that naughty kids will be taken back to Spain on the same boat that Sinterklaas arrived in.
St. Lucia Day
Christmas in the Arctic countries of Norway and Sweden is a festival of lights. This symbolizes a promise of soon to come longer days and warmth. Lighting up their houses and streets lends the twilight-like-noons a happy and festive mood.
An important part of this celebration is St. Lucia Day which falls on December 13. Legend has it that St. Lucia was a 4th Century Sicilian saint who helped Christians hiding from persecutors. She would lead them through underground tunnels and the only source of light was candles that were set into a wreath that she wore on her head.
Another version of this origin story talks about a wealthy young woman who would go from farm to homestead, in the bitter cold and dark, passing out baked eatables. Since she carried the food in her arms, she wore a crown of things which held blazing candles to light her way. Today these acts of kindness are recreated in the form of processions of girls dressed in white wearing twig tiaras and led by an older girl whose tiara holds candles.
International Tree Gifting
Beautifully decorated trees are a delight to look upon, be they in someone’s house, in a garden or a town square. But there is one tree that travels internationally to get to its pedestal. Every year tall Norwegian spruce arrives in London and is installed in Trafalgar Square. What is special about this tree is that it is a gift for the United Kingdom from the country of Norway. This is Norway’s way of thanking England for helping them during the Second World War. Every year since 1947, a specially selected tree is felled in Norway and shipped to the UK by sea, where it is installed in Trafalgar Square amid great pomp and caroling.
A Log that Poops Presents
In the Catalonia region of Spain, Santa gets a break from bringing goodies. Here the job belongs to Tió de Nadal or a Christmas Log. Around the first week of December, a specially decorated log is brought into the house. It has a smiley face, googly eyes, and even twigs for legs. Children are supposed to take good care of him by keeping him warm in blankets and looking after his general well-being. The log is stuffed with goodies during the nurturing period by older family members. And, when the time is ripe children beat him with sticks and sing songs while he ‘poops’ out all the sweets and candy. How the beating adds to the Christmas spirit is anybody’s guess, but the kids sure have a great time!
Boxing Day is well known as the day after Christmas when one can find the craziest shopping deals. Everyone in the UK and Ireland are up in arms, literally and figuratively, getting ready to attack departmental stores and come away with great goods at dirt cheap prices. While today this sounds a little aggressive, the origin of this tradition is quite peaceful really.
In the olden days, upper-class families and aristocrats would put together boxes to be given to their servants and traders from the lower classes. These boxes contained small gifts, money, and leftovers from the Christmas dinner, and would be handed as a mark of gratitude for the year of service especially thanking them for working on Christmas Day. Isn’t that a lovely sentiment?
Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, St. Lucia in Norway, and a pooping log in Spain – It’s interesting to see how people adapt one festival in a myriad different way to make it more personal and relatable. These traditions keep the spirit of the festival alive and make them endearing. So, how do you plan to give a unique spin to Christmas this year?
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