24    Dec 20100 comments

Holidays: Family traditions

Santa may look very different in other countries!

Did your ancestors receive treats of whale blubber as a Christmas delicacy?

If they did, they must have come from Greenland.

Learn more about holidaycustoms around the world - which may be quite different from your experiences. It may help you understand your ancestors' traditions.

Santa Claus - who has many names - doesn't always wear his traditional red suit, fly around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, or pop down a chimney.

In Hawaii, he wears a red Hawaiian shirt, and arrives in an outrigger canoe, with elves in aloha shirts.

In some countries where the main religion is not Christianity, there are also interesting traditions.

When we lived in Teheran, I was surprised to see that one could buy Christmas trees, and many stores sold all types of brightly colored lights and decorations. There was a  large Armenian community (both Protestants and Catholics) along with Iranian Nestorian Christians.

In India - in the former Portuguese colony of Goa - there are nine days of fireworks and parties to celebrate the Wise Men's arrival. Christians and Hindus celebrate together on January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings. Young boys from prominent families are chosen to play the kings, wear bright costumes and ride in on white horses.

Some other traditions:

Denmark: In the far-north Scandinavian countries,  it gets dark very early, and that's followed by all-night parties. Hungry? There's roast goose, rice pudding, pickled tongue and Christmas beer.

Finland:  While "we" know Santa lives at the North Pole, the Laplanders above the Arctic Circle believe he's one of them. Well, they do have a lot of reindeer!

Greenland:  According to tradition, Santa spends his vacations here. What's on the most desirable gift list? How about tusks and sealskin mittens? No ties or socks under the tree here. While people in other countries outdo each other with a complete repertoire of yummy cookies and eggnog, the gastronomic delicacy here is whale blubber. According to some reports, it tastes like coconut. If you'd like a recipe for it, just Google "mattak recipe," but be warned, the first step is to catch a whale.

So many people believe  the Santa tale that the country's main post office receives some 50,000 letters a year addressed to him in all his aliases. Oh, and his sleigh is pulled by dogs, not reindeer.

Poland:  People fast for 24 hours and begin their holiday feast only after seeing the first star on Christmas Eve. When they see that first star, they shout "Gwiazdka" (little star) and then it's time to feast.

Caribbean:  How about a day-after street festival - possibly from West Africa -called Junkanoo, on December 26. The Bahamian people parade in costumes, singing and dancing through town.

Puerto Rico:  They celebrate from early December through January 17. On Christmas, there are caroling parties. The groups show up at their friends' homes, where the host provides food (chicken and rice stew) and drink. The host joins the group and off they go to the next home. It continues until dawn.  

For detailed customs around the world, go to Santa.net, where the list of countries includes France, Bulgaria, China, the Netherlands, Wales, Sicily and more.

Would you like to know how to say "Merry Christmas" in many languages? Just click here for a very long list.

See photos of how people in other countries celebrate the holiday in this story, with great pictures.

Happy Holidays to all.

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