7 One-of-a-Kind Christmas Traditions from Around the World
In Iceland, books are a treasured gift.
1. Hanging mistletoe
In many parts of the United Kingdom and throughout England, it is a Christmas tradition to hang evergreens like holly and mistletoe in doorways and arches. Mstletoe learned how to survive against all odds by growing on the branches of other trees. In Medieval England, people would place some mistletoe at the threshold of their front door as a way to welcome visitors. Kissing under the "holy bough" perhaps evolved into the tradition we have today of kissing beneath the mistletoe. The Christmas tradition of hanging holly came from various pagan groups. The Church adopted the practice once they realized that the tradition would continue no matter its origins and imbued it with more Christian meaning, such that the holly came to symbolize Christ with its prickly leaves as a "crown of thorns." Together, mistletoe and holly add a beautiful tradition to your holdiay decorating.
2. Christmas crackers
Another English tradition is the Christmas cracker, a delightful party favor of treats wrapped in a paper roll that resembles a firecracker. You can fill it with peppermints and small toys, and it makes a great addition to your table place settings. In 1847, a confectionery baker named Tom Smith set out to replicate the French bonbon of a wrapped treat but wanted to add an exciting twist to it. The result was the Christmas cracker which popped when opening to reveal the goodies inside. Thus, an English tradition was born.
The "bread of Christ" graces the tables of Greeks during Christmas time as a remembrance of Christ's birth and sacrifice for humankind. The sweetened loaves will sometimes be marked with an "X", which is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ and had been used as an early abbreviation for Christmas. The bread gets its sweet holiday flavor from sugar, anise seeds and orange zest.
4. Advent calendars
The advent symbolizes the anticipation of Christ's birth in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In Germany, families will add advent calendars that have little surprises, such as treats or words of encouragement, behind flaps or little doors beneath the days on the calendar. An advent wreath also counts down to Christmas. Place a wreath on a table and add candles to represent the four weeks of advent. One candle is rose while the other three are purple. Light one candle every Sunday to build anticipation for the first and second comings of Christ, according to Catholic tradition.
In Italy, this cake filled with candied fruit and nuts is a traditional Christmas favorite. During the Middle Ages, Italian families enjoyed a sweeter, more festive bread around the Christmas season than what they ate majority of the time. Its origin can also be traced to the Milan tradition of allowing bakeries to bake wheat bread for Christmas as a gift to customers. Panettone's sweetness comes from sugar, vanilla beans, candied orange peel, raisins and almonds.
6. Gifting books
Book lovers may want to adopt this annual custom. In Iceland, families give books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the evening quietly reading. This gift-giving practice is so important that it gave rise to the Jolabokaflod also known as "Christmas Book Flood," a time of year when the majority of books are sold between the months of September and December in preparation for the holiday season.
7. Gingerbread houses
Gingerbread houses sweeten the Christmas season, and you can thank the Germans. Historians claim that they originated in Germany during the 16th century and their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which two small children stumble upon a house made entirely of treats. Molasses, dark brown sugar, and ginger make for delicious cookies with the right amount of holiday spice. Your favorite candies make it a house of your own.
Feeling inspired? Watch how to decorate a Nutcracker-inspired Land of Sweets Christmas tree: