Festive and unique celebrations from around the world
In a special festive article, the Mauve team shares their unusual seasonal traditions celebrated globally
This festive time of year brings traditions and celebrations designed to share and spread the holiday spirit. With a network of more than 150 countries worldwide made up of our colleagues, entities and partners, we asked our Mauve family to share the traditions they love to celebrate so we can learn more about seasonal practices outside of our home countries.
Read on to hear about some unique and unusual Christmas rituals and festivities from around the world.
An old Welsh tradition, Noson Gyflaith, or Toffee Evening, would see families and friends usually gathering for Christmas Eve dinner. Later, they would play games, tell stories, and make toffee.
Many families would stay awake all night, and on Christmas morning would attend a Plygain service, a morning service with carols traditionally sung by unaccompanied male voices, between the hours of 03.00 am and 06.00 am. Today everyone can participate but the Carol y Swper remains the one carol that is often sung only by men in most places.
Mauve’s Head of Research & Solutions Joanna Hart told us of a tradition in her house:
‘A tradition in our house is to have a Xmas Eve box. It always has nightwear (pjs, nightdress, dressing-gown, or onesie/oodie) with unparalleled proportions of Christmassy fluff-i-ness! Plus, a couple of small Xmas gifts to open in advance of Santa ‘arriving’.’
PR and Communications Manager Rosalind Smith spoke of the unusual Christingle service held on Christmas Eve in churches across England.
The Christingle tradition has its origins in Germany and the Moravian Church. Christingle stems from the German word Christkindl, meaning Little Christ Child. A small candle wrapped in a red ribbon was given as a symbolic gift to each child in 1747 by a church minister named John De Waterville during his service. The burning candle stands for Jesus as the Light of the World, while the red ribbon depicts Christ’s lost blood.
Although the original Christingle is still tradition in many Moravian churches, over time, many variations have emerged with more complex creations and symbolisms, such as:
- The round shape of the orange represents the world.
- The orange’s central candle, which is lit, stands for Jesus Christ, who is the world’s light.
- The red ribbon symbolises the blood of Christ.
- Cocktail sticks with dried fruits and/or sweets pushed into the orange represent the four seasons and the fruits of the earth.
Rosalind remembers, ‘We used to get given them at our yearly trip to church on Christmas Eve when I was a child, it was basically the only way my parents could persuade me to go!’.
Over in Switzerland, Client Services’ Irene Hamer also celebrated a variation of Christingle; ‘on Christmas Eve the 24th we celebrate the Christkindl, we eat loads of food, go out in the snow and sing carols, play games and watch movies.”
Marketing and Events Specialist Demetra Tofarides told us ‘In the Orthodox tradition, 6 January is the date of Christ’s baptism, and large-scale celebrations take place at local harbours to honour the water, a traditional symbol of Christening. A bishop throws a cross in the sea and dozens of people dive into the ice-cold January water to find it. The person who finds it is blessed by the church and is said to have a lucky year ahead.
‘For New Year’s every household will bake the traditional New Year’s cake (which is normally a light sponge cake) and inside they will place a coin/euro note. When the cake is cut and the slices given out to the family on New Year’s Day, whoever finds the money in their slice is said to have a wealthy year ahead.
(I won the money at the beginning of this year but I’m still waiting for my million dollars to appear in my bank account – there’s still a couple weeks left in the year so I’m not losing hope just yet!)’
Christia Christodoulou, a Finance Assistant in Mauve’s Cyprus Office expanded on the story of the New Year Cake – in Greek called Vasilopita and translated as ‘St. Basil’s cake’. Legend has it that in one year of famine, the emperor of Caesarea taxed his people so heavily they had to relinquish their few remaining coins and jewellery to avoid imprisonment. When the archbishop of the time, St. Basil the Great, heard of the tax, he confronted the emperor calling him to repentance.
The emperor agreed to hand over the collected coins and jewellery collected to St. Basil, however, since the treasures had all been mixed, it was difficult to know who owned each piece of gold and jewels. So, to make it fair, St. Basil requested his deacons bake small loaves of bread and place a piece of the collection in the centre of each loaf for distribution back to their owners. Miraculously, each owner received back their rightful treasures.
Every year on New Year’s Day, the senior family member usually cuts the cake, and whoever gets the piece of the Vasilopita containing the coin is said to be blessed for the coming year.
Another Cyprus-based Finance Assistant Rafaela Aristotelous tells of an old New Year’s Eve tradition where families gather around the fireplace. Young women usually participate in this tradition by plucking olive leaves or branches from the already-decorated house and throwing them in the coals while reciting a poem asking the Saint to reveal their love destiny. The poem has many versions/adaptations, but the results are the same. If the olive leaf or branch emerges from the fire with a loud sound, the answer is a positive future relationship, but if the leaf or branch burns, the love has no chance of a future relationship.
Canadian Christmas can be a chilly occasion – last Christmas Eve, the mercury in one area of the Northern Territories dropped as low as -45° Celsius.
Thankfully, where Client Services’ Kate Geluk lives in Canada is a little warmer, so they can participate in their own festive tradition: ‘Everyone jumps in the lake on Christmas day! Yes, that’s right, it could be frozen, or it could just be absolutely freezing but they all go in screaming!’
In Italy, children eagerly anticipate the arrival of Befana to their homes instead of Santa Claus.
In Italian folklore, on Epiphany Eve (5th January), an old kind-hearted mythical woman portrayed as an old witch with a pointed hat and flying on a broomstick delivers presents to children who have been good or dark candy if they have been bad.
Traditionally, if they had been naughty, they would receive coal. Poorer families would receive a stick instead of coal in their festive stockings. The feast of Epiphany is celebrated on 6th January and is marked by a public holiday.
A unique phenomenon practiced in Japan is ordering Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chicken ‘party barrels’ as a Christmastime meal.
Although in Japan, Christmas is not an official holiday since only a minor part of the population is Christian, Takeshi Okawara, manager of the country’s first KFC, came up with the concept after hearing some foreigners were missing turkey over Christmas. His idea was to substitute the traditional turkey with fried chicken and market the chicken as Kentucky for Christmas.
The marketing campaign was so successful that festive sales ever since have soared at this time of year, especially on Christmas Eve.
‘In Switzerland, we celebrate St. Nick on the 6th of December and St Nick comes with a sinister guy dressed in black called “Schmutzli.”
He is responsible for the naughty kids …he carries a broom made of twigs and punishes the naughty ones. Meanwhile, St. Nick brings all the goodies like tangerines, nuts, gingerbread, chocolates, etc.’ says Client Services’ Irene Hamer.
As we have seen in Switzerland and Italy, some festive traditions can be a little creepy.
Possibly the most sinister Christmas character of them all, Austria’s Krampus is a half-demon, half-goat who comes around every year in early December to assist Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus. Unlike Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus’ role of giving gifts, Krampus brings punishment to naughty children with birch canes.
Krampus’ origin is not clear, but Krampusnacht celebrated on December 5th is an important and ancient festive tradition across Austria, Germany and the German-speaking Alpine region.
Do you have any festive traditions unique to your country or family? We’d love to hear about them over on our socials! You can learn more about the Mauve team here– or keep an eye out for them in content over on our Youtube channel.
Thanks to our fantastic team members for the round-up of a few of the unique and unusual traditions around the world – all that remains is for all of us at Mauve to wish you a wonderful festive season and New Year – we look forward to seeing you in 2023.
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