Christmas Around the World: 5 Facts
It’s finally Christmas! I hope you are having a wonderful time with family and friends and eating the most delicious cakes and cookies. This Christmas feels a little bit weird, since it’s been abnormally warm in the Netherlands. Certainly no sign of snow this year. Of course, it’s still a Friday, which means it’s time for another 5 facts feature on my blog. Without further ado, here are 5 facts about Christmas around the world.
1. Ukraine: Spider Decorations
A peculiar Christmas tree decoration in eastern Europe are little spiders and spiderwebs. These decorations are mostly used in Ukraine, where the tradition is believed to have originated from a legend. The legend tells about a poor but hardworking widow that lives with her children. On a summer’s day, a pine cone falls onto the floor and takes root in the hut. the widow’s children care for the tree, hoping to see it turn into a Christmas tree by winter. When Christmas arrives, they don’t have any money to buy decorations for the tree. The sad children went to sleep and woke up the next morning to see the tree covered in spiderwebs. The first sunlight turned the webs into gold and silver and the family never lived in poverty again.
2. Europe & Americas: Poinsettias
Poinsettias or ‘Christmas Stars’ are Central American plants that flower during the winter, especially in southern Mexico. These plants have an international backstory and symbol of Christmas around the world. The Poinsettia is a very popular plant to display during Christmas time in Europe and North America. Ancient Aztecs used the flowers to make medicine and purple dye for clothing and cosmetics. The plant’s association with Christmas originates from 16th-century Mexico. There is a legend about a poor girl named Pepita. She didn’t have enough money to buy a gift to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. An angel inspired her to gather weeds from the roadside and put them in front of an altar. The weeds eventually sprouted into beautiful red poinsettias. The star-shaped leaf pattern symbolises the Star of Bethlehem and the red colour represents the blood of Christ.
3. Mexico: Night of the Radishes
The Night of the Radishes is an annual event in the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. The night is dedicated to the carving of oversized radishes into beautiful sculptures and scenes. These artworks then compete for prizes in various categories. The event can be traced back to the colonial period when radishes were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish. Oaxaca already had a long tradition of skillful wood carving. During the Christmas market, the wood carvers tried to attract the attention of customers by carving radishes into interesting figures. The city created a formal competition in 1897.
4. Japan: Christmas Sponge Cake
Celebrating Christmas is not a very old tradition in Japan, mostly because Christianity is not a native religion. Hence, Christmas is more of a commercial event than a religious one. Recently, it has become customary to eat a particular type of Christmas Cake on Christmas Eve. Usually, this Christmas Cake is a strawberry sponge cake, frosted with whipped cream and topped with chocolates (and Santa Claus decorations). The first cakes of this kind were released by Fujiya stores in 1910. They quickly became popular and were sold throughout Ginza, the central commercial district in Tokyo. This all happened during strong waves of Westernization and the Japanese elite took a liking to delicacies like the sponge cake. Sponge Cakes are an example of how food has also spread Christmas around the world.
5. Europe: Christingles
Christingles are lighted candles symbolizing Christ as the “Light of the World”. They are held by children at a special Advent service. A christingle usually consists of an orange that represents the world and a red ribbon that represents the blood of Christ. Most also have a few cocktail sticks with fruit or sweets pushed into the orange, representing the seasonal fruits of the earth. The orange also holds a candle, representing Christ. Finally, aluminum foil represents the star that showed people the way to Bethlehem. The custom originates from the Moravian Church in 18th-century Germany, but is also a popular tradition in England.