Our holidays may feel quieter this year, but that’s all the more reason to try to make them even more special. Both Hannukah and Christmas are a chance to celebrate and be thankful for our loved ones - even if we can’t necessarily see them all this year.
I’m optimistic that soon, we will be able to travel again. In the meantime, I’ve rounded up some of the most interesting holiday traditions from around the world. Perhaps you can work some of these into your own celebrations this year.
Some Jewish communities in Colombia, such as Chavurah Shirat Hayyam, have started introducing patacones to the Hannukkah feast. These fried plantains have replaced the classic latkes.
Unmarried Czech women have adopted a tradition that reveals whether she will marry in the near year. On Christmas Eve, she will throw a shoe over her shoulder. If it lands with its toe pointing towards the door, a proposal is on the horizon. If not - she has another year to wait.
Danes prepare a festive dessert of risalamande - rice pudding with ground almonds whipped into a sharing bowl. One almond remains whole and whoever finds it in their portion receives a prize - as well as good luck for the new year. Oh, and Danish Christmas trees are typically decorated with Danish flags.
Specifically, in the northeastern region of Alsace, Jewish families have space for 16 rather than the conventional eight candles on their Hanukkah menorahs. This means that both the father and his son can each light one together.
In the mountainous country of Georgia, Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar - on 7 January. Instead of the typical festive fir, the Georgians decorate their homes with chichilaki. Made from dried walnut and hazelnut branches that are shaved to create a small coniferous tree, chichilaki symbolizes hope.
In Guatemala, the pre-holiday clean-up is taken to the next level! As Guatemalans believe that evil spirits linger in dirty, messy parts of the home - they spend the entire week before Christmas cleaning up. Once all the waste is heaped up in the yard, they add an effigy of the devil to the top and then set the whole thing alight. Once everything is burned, they can start afresh for the new year.
The custom in Israeli cities such as Jerusalem is to proudly display the family menorah in full view of the entire neighborhood. In fact, many homes in Jerusalem have special platforms in the wall, specifically to host the menorah. It’s a lovely way to unite the community over the holiday.
In place of Santa Claus, reindeers, and chirpy elves, Italian children receive their gifts from a kindly witch named Befana. Those who were good receive sweets and presents; those who were bad receive some pieces of coal. The other difference is that Befana schedules her delivery for the night of Epiphany - 5 January.
In Portugal, the traditional Christmas feast, consoda, bears some similarities to Mexico’s Día de Muertos. Portuguese families will typically set additional places at the table in honor of deceased relatives. By doing so, it is believed that good fortune will bless the current household.
Do you have a favorite holiday tradition? My family likes to make homemade pasta from my Italian heritage. We usually make pappardelle but sometimes will make ravioli and Bolognese sauce from scratch. Even though this year’s holiday celebrations will look different than ever before, I hope you can celebrate and make new memories that will carry on through the years.
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