Whether its lighting candles, decorating trees, or adorning one’s house with paper lanterns, international holiday traditions are as varied as they are ubiquitous at this time of year. Throughout the world, each celebration is generally accompanied by a number of smaller, yet equally notable holiday rituals. Here are just a few of the many ways to celebrate this year.
In central Europe, on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, rests the Republic of Croatia. Here, winter celebrations begin as early as December 6, on St. Nicholas Day when children get gifts from St. Nicholas. The real holiday season begins on St. Lucy’s day, December 13, as wheat seeds are planted in a shallow bowl of water. By Christmas Eve, the wheat seeds will have sprouted and grown several inches and are tied together in ribbons of red, blue and white, the colors of the Croatian flag. Families decorate trees and enjoy a large meal on Christmas Eve, while dedicating Christmas Day to religious observances. In addition to family gatherings, there are also a number of Christmas markets throughout Croatia. Zagreb, the nation’s capital, is known for its well-decorated Christmas market, displaying lights, ornaments, and a large Christmas tree in the city’s main square.
Moving east to Italy, a land known for its festive traditions, Christmas revelry begins December 24 and lasts right through January 6, Epiphany. Though the presence of Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is gradually being adopted in Italy, the holiday season truly culminates on Epiphany and Italian children are more likely to receive gifts from La Befana on Epiphany, than from Santa on Christmas day. Stemming from Roman folklore, the Legend of La Befana has much deeper roots in Italy than those of Father Christmas. The story begins with the Three Wise Men, wandering in search of baby Jesus. La Befana aids them in their journey, providing the men with shelter for an evening. Grateful for her help, when the Wise men set out the following day to continue their search, they ask La Befana to join them. She initially declines, and the men leave. However, later in the day, she has a change of heart, and sets off to find them. She never managed to reconnect with the men, nor did she find Jesus, but each year, on the evening of January 5, she continues her search, leaving presents, candy and toys for young children along the way.
Rivaling Zagreb’s Christmas market, many regions in Spain have outstanding Christmas bazaars as well as a number of local winter customs. Winter holiday celebrations in Spain can vary by region, but often include bonfires to celebrate the winter solstice, outdoor markets, religious observances, and interesting Epiphany celebrations. The Three Wise Men and their January 6 feast day play a much more prominent role in Spain than Christmas day does. As dusk sets in, on the eve before the Epiphany, a large parade of “Wise Men” begins. The Kings march along the main streets of cities and towns and toss out sweets to children. Depending on the local tradition, the crowd may follow the procession, or the Kings may travel through the town with large, ornate floats in tow. As the parade winds down, families return home. Children leave their shoes and boots outside overnight, and the Wise Men fill their footwear with gifts. Finally, on the day of Epiphany, a large breakfast is held to mark the holiday as families gather to exchange more gifts and enjoy meals together.
Throughout the world, there are countless ways to celebrate the onset of winter, and the holidays that occur in December and January. Do you have a unique way of bringing in the New Year? Share your favorite holiday celebration with us in the comments section.