Written by Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles
Christmas is a beautiful season of celebration. I love the comfort of familiar traditions, but I also enjoy discovering new ways to share the delights of the season with my children while learning about the world around us.
We read stories, listen to music, and research online to discover how families in other countries celebrate Christmas. Often, we are inspired to go a little further, such as learning how to fold origami cranes with which to decorate our tree.
While we’ve enjoyed our brief ‘visits’ to other countries, three celebrations in particular have become family traditions that we look forward to every year.
Saint Nicholas Day, December 6th
Saint Nicholas was a Bishop of Myra (in present day Turkey) during the 300s AD. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic when Nicholas was a young boy, leaving him a large inheritance that he used to help the poor and needy.
His feast day is celebrated around the world with various traditions. You can read about many of them at Saint Nicholas Center, where you can also find stories, recipes, and a large number of child-friendly activities.
In our family, we get together with friends each year on St. Nicholas Day to read stories such as The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi, make marzipan treats (a traditional European confection), and find chocolate gold coins in our shoes. This is one of my boys’ favorite Christmas traditions!
Saint Lucia Day, December 13th
Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way,
And still, as darker grows the night
Emits a brighter ray.~Oliver Goldsmith
Saint Lucia was a young Christian girl from ancient Rome who was martyred for her faith. Legend has it that she wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way while bringing food to persecuted Christians hiding in underground tunnels.
Saint Lucia Day is celebrated primarily in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries. The eldest daughter in each family wears a white dress with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head. She carries a tray with saffron rolls, ginger cookies, and coffee. Boys dress up as attendants, or ‘star boys,’ wearing a white shirt or robe, a cone-shaped hat decorated with stars, and a wand with a star on the tip.
Because I have a Swedish heritage, Saint Lucia Day has been a particularly fun celebration to introduce to my children. In past years, we have invited family members to join us for Swedish goodies such as orange cardamom bread and krumkake. I have even tried my hand at making a marzipan pig!
There are a few Swedish Christmas books on our book stack every December:
- Annika’s Secret Wish by Beverly Lewis
- The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren
- Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
- Ollie’s Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow
Las Posadas, December 16th-24th
Las Posadas is a Spanish and Mexican Christmas tradition symbolizing Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging.
Processions of villagers along with a couple acting as Mary and Joseph go from home to home requesting lodging (in the form of a traditional song), where they are turned away until reaching a designated spot. There, Mary and Joseph are welcomed in, everyone is served goodies, and children break open pinatas.
Here are a few more resources for learning about Christmas celebrations in other countries:
- Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story by Bryce Milligan tells a story about Saint Brigid of Ireland.
- Tree of Cranes by Allen Say is a gorgeous picture book about a young boy in Japan whose mother tells him about Christmas in California and decorates a tree with origami cranes and candles.
- Christmas Around the World Coloring Book is a fun way for children to learn about Christmas traditions from other countries, including St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, and pinatas in Mexico. Each detailed coloring pages has a short description of traditions from countries such as China, Australia, France, and Iraq.
- A Classical Kids Christmas is a collection of carols and poems presented in pageant style. It includes traditions and songs from around the world, and is one of my favorite Christmas recordings.
- Christmas Around the World at WhyChristmas.com tells about Christmas traditions of many countries including Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, and South Korea.
Adding stories, sights, sounds, and activities from other countries just might offer a richness to your holiday studies and celebrations that your whole family can enjoy.
Does your family incorporate any cultural traditions into your holiday festivities? Are these traditions part of your own heritage, or ones you have adopted to make your holiday season richer?
Originally published on December 10, 2010