Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year but the Christmas traditions around the world can vary widely throughout other countries. In the USA the familiarity with our traditions of Christmas trees, indoor and outside lights are very common as are also advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is also a well celebrated figure for the tradition of bringing gifts to children, but is tied more to the commercial aspect of the holiday. Christmas greetings in the form of cards is also a common practice but has declined some in recent years with the more common use of email and the cost of postage increasing. Good wishes can also now be sent digitally very quickly and less expensive.
In Japan, Christmas is popular because it is encourage by commerce. Gifts are sometimes exchanged, but it is not a national holiday.
Malaysia does celebrate Christmas as national holiday, but it is not overly religious and mostly commercial in nature. In the Philippines, which is one of two predominately Catholic countries in southeast Asia, Christmas is widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Their celebration is known for being the longest Christmas season which begins September 1 with Christmas carols.
In Lebanon, Christmas is an official holiday and is celebrated on December 25, except for the Armenian Lebanese which celebrate it as an official holiday on January 6, the Epiphany. Santa Claus is known by the French and gifts are usually dropped off at church by Papa Noel or by a personal appearance to the home.
The Czech republic and Slovakia celebrate on Christmas eve, Dec. 24 and it is known as “Generous Day” because presents are given in the evening. Traditional holiday foods consist of fish soup, breaded roasted carp, and potato salad. Holiday greetings are shared after sharing a piece of Christmas wafer made with honey and walnuts.
In Russia as in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On January 6, Christmas Eve there are several long services and then families return home for the traditional Holy Supper for Christmas Eve. This consists of 12 different dishes which are to symbolize one for each of the Twelve Apostles. Sometimes devout families return to church that night and again the next morning on Christmas Day. Christmas became a national holiday in Russia in 1992 and remains as a ten day holiday celebration at the start of every new year.
In my past two blogs, I have discussed the history of St. Patrick’s Day and of the leprechaun, but how about the St. Patrick’s Day customs of food, and wearing green? I have also wondered if the way we celebrate here in the USA is the same in other countries and especially in Ireland.
My mother would prepare corn beef and cabbage when I was a child and so I was familiar with that as part of the traditional foods. I discovered however that a different version of the dish is to cook the corn beef, cabbage and some new potatoes together. It is considered to be a more traditional meal than cooking it separately as my mother did. In researching this, I found that the corned beef and cabbage is more of and an Irish American tradition. In Ireland it is usually pink bacon and cabbage. A friend reminded me that shepherd’s pie is also a traditional Irish dish. It is a baked casserole made with lamb meat, seasonings, gravy and mashed potatoes. Sometimes beef is substituted for the lamb meat. On a search for other traditional Irish food, I found an interesting dish, colcannon.. This dish is a combination of mashed potatoes, onion, and either cabbage or kale. It is associated with the harvest and is traditionally eaten on Halloween. Symbols of good fortune, such as a golden ring predicting marriage within a year, a sixpence for wealth, a thimble for spinsterhood or a button for bachelorhood are often hidden as a surprise inside the dish. Other traditional foods such as Irish soda bread, cabbage soup, Irish stew, mint punch and Irish coffee are other options for serving authentic dishes for St. Patrick’s day. Recipes for these dishes can be found on the internet.
One of the more popular traditions of St. Patrick’s Day is wearing green. What is the history behind this and why the color green? One answer is because the Catholic side of Ireland is identified with green. St. Patrick is a Catholic Saint that is credited with converting Ireland to Christianity. Protestants are identified with orange and are often called, “Orangemen”, as in King William the Orange. according to Wikipedia, “The clashes in Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants are often clashes of the green and the orange. The irony is that the Irish flag, is supposed to represent the unity of the two with the white between the two colors representing unity. The traditional pinching of a person who wears orange on St. Patrick’s Day is a mild form of the violence that has so often occurred in the past as both factions have had St. Patrick’s Day marches/parades. In Ireland, you only wear green if you are Catholic. Protestants all wear orange. The US does not observe this tradition. The day is celebrated with parades, green beer and lots of shamrock decorations. On St. Paddy’s day, everyone is Irish.” Another theory on why the color green is such a tradition is the practice of wearing green during the Vernal Equinox to celebrate the rebirth of the Earth. When Christianity invaded Ireland many of the former pagan practices were kept as traditions. St. Patrick included using bonfires.This became the symbol of the sun onto the cross, which became known as the Celtic Cross.
It is evident that both traditional food and wearing green are important traditions for St. Patrick’s Day and add enjoyment to this traditional holiday rich in history.