Winter Customs Around the World
By Patti Wigington, About.com
Winter Around the World:
Whether you observe Yule, Christmas, Sol Invictus, or Hogmanay, the winter season is typically a time of celebration around the world. Traditions vary widely from one country to the next, but one thing they all have in common is the observance of customs around the time of the winter solstice. Here are some ways that residents of different countries observe the season.
Althought Australia is huge geographically, the population sits at under 20 million people. Many of them come from a blend of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, and celebration in December is often a mix of many different elements. Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, December is part of the warm season. Residents still hhave Christmas trees, Father Christmas, Christmas Carols and gifts which are a familiar Christmas and gifts, as well as being visited by Father Christmas. Because it coincides with school holidays, it’s not uncommon for Australians to celebrate the season on vacation away from home.
In China, only about two percent of the population observes Christmas as a religious holiday, although it is gaining in popularity as a commercial event. However, the main winter festival in China is New Year celebration that occurs at the end of January. Recently, it’s become known as the Spring Festival, and is a time of gift-giving and feasting. A key aspect of the Chinese New Year is , and painings and portraits are brought out and honored in the family’s home.
In Denmark, Christmas Eve dinner is a big cause for celebration. The most anticipated part of the meal is the traditional rice pudding, baked with a single almond inside. Whichever guest gets the almond in his pudding is guaranteed good luck for the coming year. Children leave out glasses of milk for the Juulnisse, which are elves that live in peoples’ homes, and for Julemanden, the Danish version of Santa Claus.
The Finns have a tradition of resting and relaxing on Christmas Day. The night before, on Christmas Eve, is really the time of the big feast — and leftovers are consumed the next day. On December 26, the day of St. Stephen the Martyr, everyone goes out and visits friends and relatives, weather permitting. One fun custom is that of Glogg parties, which involve the drinking of Glogg, a mulled wine made from Madeira, and the eating of lots of baked treats.
Christmas was typically not a huge holiday in Greece, as it is in North America. However, the recognition of St. Nicholas has always been important, because he was the patron saint of sailors, among other things. Hearth fires burn for several days between December 25 and January 6, and a sprig of basil is wrapped around a wooden cross to protect the home from the Killantzaroi, which are negative spirits that only appear during the twelve days after Christmas. Gifts are exchanged on January 1, which is St. Basil’s day.
India’s Hindu population typically observes this time of year by placing clay oil lamps on the roof in honor of the return of the sun. The country’s Christians celebrate by decorating mango and banana trees, and adorning homes with red flowers, such as the poinsettia. Gifts are exchanged with family and friends, and baksheesh, or , is given to the poor and needy.
In Italy, there is the legend of La Befana, a kind old witch who travels the earth giving gifts to children. It is said that the three Magi stopped on their way to Bethlehem and asked her for shelter for a night. She rejected them, but later realized she’d been quite rude. However, when she went to call them back, they had gone. Now she travels the world, searching, and delivering gifts to all the children.
In Romania, people still observe an old fertility ritual which probably pre-dates Christianity. A woman bakes a confection called a turta, made of pastry dough and filled with melted sugar and honey. Before baking the cake, as the wife is kneading the dough, she follows her husband outdoors. The man goes from one barren tree to another, threatening to cut each down. Each time, the wife begs him to spare the tree, saying, “Oh no, I am sure this tree will be as heavy with fruit next spring as my fingers are with dough today.” The man relents, the wife bakes the turta, and the trees are spared for another year.
In Scotland, the big holiday is that of . On Hogmanay, which is observed on December 31, festivities typically spill over into the first couple of days of January. There’s a tradition known as “first-footing”, in which the first person to cross a home’s threshold brings the residents good luck for the coming year — as long as the guest is dark-haired and male. The tradition stems from back when a red- or blonde-haired stranger was probably an invading Norseman.