Books and travel are my two favourite things in the world, and so, seeing as it’s Christmas Eve, I thought I’d take a look at some traditions from around the globe on this day. Iceland is definitely my favourite – how about you?
Austria: The tree is decorated and lit for the first time on Christmas Eve and people gather around it to sing carols. On this night, it is also the job of the Christkind, a golden-haired baby with wings, to deliver presents to all the children.
Greece: Children carry gold-painted model boats through the streets as they sing kalanda (carols), accompanied by drums and triangles. In return, money and tasty treats are given as a reward. There is also a special Christmas bread baked on Christmas Eve; it is round, decorated with a cross and cinnamon flavoured.
Hungary: The main Christmas meal is eaten, and typically consists of fish and cabbage, followed by a special poppy seed cake and brightly-wrapped gingerbread. Children listen out for bells ringing, as this let’s them know that their presents have been delivered and are ready to open.
Iceland: Icelanders give books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spend the night reading and eating chocolate! This custom – the Jolabokaflod, or Christmas Book Flood – sees Iceland selling more books per capita than any other country in the world!
Ireland: People put a tall, thick red candle on the windowsill after sunset and the candle is left to burn all night. It represents a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph. (My father-in-law who is 92 years old still does this and I love seeing the glow of the candle after a late night walk).
Jamaica: Christmas Eve is also called Grand Market as every town and city has a combined festival and market, starting at 6pm and continuing all night! There are lots of street stalls for jerk chicken and corn on the cob, and for some, a Midnight Mass. The Christmas day meal is usually prepared on Christmas Eve; chicken, curry goat, stewed oxtail, rice and peas.
Lithuania: Straw is the traditional decoration, to remind people of baby Jesus lying in a manger. There is a superstitious game played with the straw: you pull a single straw from the pile and if it’s long, you will have a long life, if it’s short you will have a short life and a thick straw means you will be rich and happy. An extra place is set at the table for any family member (living or recently deceased) who can’t come to the meal.
Mexico: Children enjoy Posada processions celebrating the story of Joseph and Mary looking for somewhere to stay. Houses are decorated with paper lanterns outside, and children carry candles and a board of Mary and Joseph figurines. They call at houses to sing songs, but are turned away – at the end of the posada, they will be welcomed in for a party and fireworks. This is when the piñata is played; a decorated lantern filled with sweets. Blind-folded, the children hit the piñata with a stick and win the sweets that pour out!
Philippines: A traditional parol decoration is found in every house. It’s a bamboo pole bearing a lighted star lantern that represents the star that guided the Wise Men. After church mass there is a midnight Noche Buena feast with family, friends and neighbours, which lasts until dawn.
Poland: Christmas Eve is when the main Christmas meal is eaten after a fast; no food is eaten on that day until the first star is seen in the sky. So a popular children’s game is to try and spot the first star! Twelve dishes are eaten, for good luck for the next 12 months, and the feast is meat free to remember the animals that took take of baby Jesus in the manger.
Spain: Most families eat their main Christmas meal before Midnight Mass or La Misa Del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster), named after the rooster that crowed when Jesus was born. Afterwards, people walk through the streets carrying torches, playing guitars and beating on tambourines and drums.
I’d love to hear your own traditions, so feel free to share in the comments below. Whatever your traditions over the festive period, I hope you have a lovely time. See you in the New Year!