To celebrate this year’s holiday season, we’ve asked the Flint Team to share some of the traditions typical to their country’s culture. With offices on four continents and team members from all around the world, Flint is a real melting pot of cultures, which we are keen on celebrating daily.
A Christmas Feast, Chicken Bones and Mummering – Holiday Season in Canada
Canadian holiday customs are heavily influenced by French and British traditions. Most families celebrate Christmas Day, December 25th, with a dinner feast that usually includes roast turkey, eggnog, and deserts like plum pudding, mincemeat tarts and fruit cake, put up Christmas trees and lights, and hang up stockings along the fireplace mantel.
Chicken bones are a holiday tradition unique to the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Why this holiday treat–a spicy cinnamon candy filled with bittersweet chocolate–is named after animal autonomy is still disputed. Another regional tradition is mummering or janneying. It is celebrated in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Groups of friends and families dress up and visit neighbours’ homes while in disguise. The visitors are poked, prodded and asked questions to guess who they are. There is an annual Mummers Festival and Parade in the province’s capital St John’s.
Christkind, Chrismas Markets and Sausages With Potato Salad – Holiday Season in Germany
Christian traditions heavily influence the holiday season in Germany. Most households start the season by putting up an advent calendar (containing small presents, chocolates or other sweets) and a wreath with four candles representing the four Sundays before Christmas.
Christmas markets have been a staple in Germany since the late Middle Ages. Most markets are made up of booths selling decorations, sweats, regional baked goods (like gingerbread, speculaas, Christmas stollen and printen), gifts, warm drinks, and Christmas trees.
German families celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve with a dinner traditionally made up of sausages and potato salad. The dinner is followed by the Bescherung or gift-giving. In some parts of Germany, presents aren’t brought by Father Christmas, but the Christ child or Christkind. This tradition can be traced back to protestant times but is today also typical for catholic households in some parts of middle and eastern Europe.
The Crib and la Befana – Holiday Season in Italy
In Italy, the heart of Catholicism, holiday traditions are deeply rooted in society. Il Presepe or the crib and la Befana or the Epiphany are amongst the most beloved and observed customs.
Il presepe or the crib is a staple in Italian homes, churches, and Christmas markets. It represents the nativity scene–the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem as it is told in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. The nativity scene was rebuilt for the first time in 1223 by Italian friar and deacon St. Francis of Assisi, who is today considered the “founder” of the crib. Arnolfo di Cambio, an Italian sculptor, created the crib as we know it today–eight statuettes representing the nativity and the Magi (the three wise men). This original crib is still kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.
The holiday character of la Befana or the Epiphany is unique to Italian folklore. The term “Epiphany” comes from ancient Greek and means “manifestation”, “divine apparition”, “coming” and refers to the appearance of the child Jesus to humanity. Italian families celebrate “Brusa la vecia” (burn the old one) during the feast of the Epiphany (the evening of January 5th), with which they bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one. This is also the moment when la Befana brings coal to the bad children and sweets to the good ones. However, coal (sugar) is the most coveted dessert in Befana’s stocking.
Święty Mikołaj, the wigilia with 12 dishes and the pasterka – Holiday Season in Poland
According to Polish holiday traditions, Święty Mikołaj or Santa Claus visits homes on the night of December 6th. In the evening, children leave out a cup of milk and a cookie for Santa and a carrot for his reindeers. A few weeks before December 6th, children write letters to Święty Mikołaj, and the lucky ones will find presents in shoes and under their bed on the morning of December 7th. Usually, gifts include toys, books, sweets, and sometimes rózga–a thin twig that is given to naughty children.
Christmas Eve is celebrated with a big dinner named wigilia. Traditionally 12 dishes are served during the dinner; some of the most popular are barszcz czerwony z uszkami (red borscht and small dumplings with mushrooms), (dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms), smażony karp (fried carp), bigos (hunter’s stew – sauerkraut with dried mushrooms, bulbs and prunes), and kompot z suszonych owoców (dried fruit compote). The table cloth for the Christmas table is laid upon hay, which symbolises the birth of Jesus in poverty, and one seat at the table is left empty for a wanderer who has no shelter. The dinner begins when the first star appears in the night sky. This is also a sign to start unpacking the presents under the Christmas Tree. Depending on the region, gifts are given by Święty Mikołaj or Santa Claus, Śnieżynka or the Snowflake, Aniołek or the Angel, Dzieciątko or Baby Jesus or Gwiazdka or the Star. When exchanging Christmas greetings, friends and family share Opłatek, a special wafer. After dinner, many visit the Pasterka, a midnight mass specific to Poland, where Christmas carols are sung.
New Year’s Day, Дед Мороз and a big Christmas dinner – Holiday Season in Russia
Holiday traditions in Russia are, like in many other cultures around the world, a mixture of pagan and Christian customs. The holiday season starts with New Year’s Day, which is celebrated in a big way. New Year’s Day is considered a family holiday and is celebrated with a big dinner on December 31st. Traditional meals include oливье or Olivier salad (a meat and vegetable salad with lots of mayonnaise), селедка под шубой or seledka pod shuboi (a layered salad with pickled herring, eggs, vegetable, onions and mayonnaise) and xолодец or holodets (gelatin made with meat broth). Homes are decorated with lights and a Christmas tree, and children are visited and given presents by Дед Мороз or Grandfather Frost and sometimes also his granddaughter Снегурочка or Snow Maiden. The national holidays span from January 1st until January 7th.
As the prevalent religion in Russia is Russian Orthodoxy, Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian Calendar on January 7th. The celebrations start on Christmas Eve with a big family dinner. Borscht (a sour beetroot soup), solyanka (a spicy and sour soup) and various savoury pies are among the most common dishes served. After dinner, many devout families attend Christmas mass, which can take several hours.
Sv. Miklavž, Dedek Mraz and Potica – Holiday Season in Slovenia
In Slovenia, holiday traditions are shaped by old pagan and Christian influences. Homes are traditionally decorated with Christmas trees and cribs on Christmas eve. Many households bake a special Christmas bread or a cake called potica. Nearly all Slovenian families come together on Christmas eve and celebrate with an abundant dinner, play games, sing traditional Christmas songs and exchange presents.
The mixture of different traditions is also seen in a host of different Christmas characters – St. Nicholas or Sv. Miklavž who brings presents (a bag with citrus fruits, nuts and small presents like socks or woolen gloves and hats) on December 6th and is accompanied by devils or parklji, that “punish” bad children, Father Christmas or božiček who visits homes on Christmas eve (December 24th) and the Slavic character of Grandfather Frost or Dedek Mraz who brings gifts to children in the week before New Year’s Day.
Decorations, a Big Meal, and the Queen – Holiday Season in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, the beginning of the holiday season is marked by purchasing a Christmas tree and dressing the home for celebrations in early December. On the run-up to Christmas, children (and grown-ups) in most UK towns can visit Santa at his grotto, where reindeer can be petted, and Santa’s elves give out presents to children.
On Christmas day, after presents are opened, a large celebratory meal is what’s preferred–usually turkey with all the trimmings which has to include brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets, stuffing and lots of gravy. Traditional desserts include special Christmas pudding and cake. At 3 pm on Christmas Day, families sit down to listen to the royal Christmas message, which just gives them time for a Christmas walk to see neighbours’ decorations before nightfall. December 26th is referred to as Boxing Day as it used to be a day of sporting tournaments. However, the real tournament is to finish up all the food in the fridge!
Cookies for Santa and a Very Special Ornament – Holiday Season in the United States of America
The United States, like Canada, are a real melting pot of cultures; therefore, many American holiday traditions are derived from different cultures from around the world and make Christmas an even more special time. The holiday season in the United States starts with the celebration of Thanksgiving dinner on the fourth Thursday of November. Christmas day is the highlight of the holiday season and is usually celebrated with a family dinner that customarily includes roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and salty meat pies.
A beloved tradition in the States is leaving out milk and cookies for Santa and his reindeers. It is believed that this tradition is rooted in Norse mythology and is meant to teach children the importance of being grateful for everything they receive on Christmas. One of the quirkier American traditions is the Christmas pickle. The Christmas pickle is traditionally the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree, and the first person to find it gets an extra present.