By Travis Vatland
What are the first things that come to mind when you think of a traditional American Christmas? For me I tend to think about large dinners filled with many different foods surrounded by family. I think about a large Christmas tree filled with lights, garland, and all of those old sentimental ornaments that you put on the tree every year. These are just a few things that may come to mind when thinking about a traditional American Christmas, which led me to wonder about how other cultures celebrate Christmas.
Iceland has a very unique way of celebrating Christmas. Christmas in Iceland begins 13 days before Christmas and ends 13 days after Christmas. Iceland has 13 fathers of Christmas that descend from the mountains each day during the Christmas season. An example of this is on the first day, the first father of Christmas comes down from the mountains, while the children are sleeping and puts treats (such as fruit and chocolate) in good children’s shoes, while bad children will only receive a potato. These different fathers of Christmas keep visiting until January 6, which marks the end of Christmas in Iceland. Apart from this tradition, native Icelanders also take part in eating fermented skate (fish) on December 23. The fermented skate is believed to help heal the body and clear sickness away. I also learned that Greece has some distinct ways of celebrating Christmas. Many of the children in urban areas will go around house to house singing traditional carols, but many of them carry model boats with them, usually painted white and gold. In return for their singing, children are usually given money or treats (such as chocolate or fruit). The traditional meal on Christmas day is usually served with lamb, spinach, and cheese pie. Christopsomo meaning Christmas bread, is also served. Christopsomo is bread flavored with cinnamon and cloves, decorated with a cross on top. Presents are usually given to children on January 1, in celebration of Saint Basil.
Russia also has a unique relationship with Christmas. During the period of the Soviet Union, Christmas was banned and Christmas trees were not allowed anywhere throughout the country. Any celebrations of Christmas had to be done in private. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Christmas was able to be celebrated again. However, Christmas still was not a very popular holiday and instead most Christmas traditions were celebrated on New Year’s Day. On Christmas Eve the Russian people have large feasts that consist of 12 meals that represent the 12 disciples. The Russian Orthodox religion follows the Julian calendar, which means most Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7. Many countries throughout Europe celebrate Christmas on January 7 because they also follow the Julian calendar.
The last country I learned about was Spain. Christmas is mostly celebrated on January 6 during what is called Epiphany, which is a celebration of the three wise men. During this many cities throughout Spain host parades with big floats representing one of the three wise men. Also, children are allowed to open presents after the great celebration. A large meal follows, but perhaps the most exotic foods at the meal are the desserts. “Roscon,” which translates to a ring shaped roll, is a cake that is fairly doughy filled with cream and chocolate. Some “Roscons” are even filled with small gifts.
In conclusion, many of the Christmas traditions vary greatly all throughout Europe. Foods, folktales, and the way people celebrate Christmas differ from country to country. But even though they are very different, Christmas traditions still seem to all have one thing in common, Christmas is one of the few days that bring family, friends, neighbors, and communities together.
Travis Vatland is a student at Mabel-Canton High School. He is one of seven area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 19th year.