Canada & alphanumeric laughter
Let's face it; writing letters to Santa is probably one of the fondest childhood memories when it comes to Christmas. Some spidery handwriting carrying our burning desires, sort of trading in best behavior for wishful thinking – maybe the first “contract” in our lives. Who could know that the old man actually HAS a designated address??
Thanks to Canada's alphanumeric six digit postal code Santa got his very own postal code H0H 0H0, resembling his distinctive laugh. Thousands of Canada Post volunteers help Santa every year replying to countless letters (and emails) in many different languages (even Braille) from all over the world. Just in case anyone fancies a retroactive complaint or claim…
Hungary & some golden twigs
A bit on the early side are the people in this corner of Europe. Children place a boot on their windowsill waiting for Mikulás. This Hungarian version of Saint Nicholas visits the home of children on the night of December 5th with his two little helpers: a good angel helping with the presents for nice kinds and the mischievous elf Krampusz bringing a bunch of golden colored birch twigs for naughty kids.
There are further celebrations on Christmas Eve (24th) similar to other countries in this part of the world, including a festive meal and singing carols around tree decorated earlier that day.
The largest country in the world seems to be a bit behind when it comes to Christmas, mainly due to their Orthodox roots. January the 6th marks generally the start of the deeply religious celebrations. Families return home after several long services for their traditional Christmas Eve Holy Supper, consisting of 12 meatless dishes in honor to the Twelve Apostles. Devout families will attend the All-night vigil afterwards and further services follow on the 7th. However, the atheist rule in Soviet times strongly discouraged religious celebrations so priorities changed over years.
Still very popular in modern Russia is the fictional character Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”) as the Slavic equivalent to Santa. He and his granddaughter Snegurochka (“Snow Maiden”) became not only the faces of the annual New Year holiday, but also a national icon which developed throughout the times – even playing it’s role in a political issue when dictator Joseph Stalin ordered Ded Morozes to wear only blue coats in order to avoid confusion with its Western counterpart.
Christmas celebrations in the most sparsely populated country in Europe start four weeks before the 24th and end on January the 6th. Icelandic folklore created their native version of Santa with the Yule Lads, told to be the sons of two trolls living in the Icelandic mountains. Each of them represents a different kind of mischief – like stealing milk or food, peeping through windows or slamming doors. During the last 13 nights before Christmas they are coming to town one by one and depart another 13 days after. Occasionally they are depicted as wearing late medieval style wool clothing, but nowadays Santa’s recognizable red and white suit can be seen more often. Depending on the children’s behavior they leave either gifts or rotting potatoes when visiting each child.
Old year day and New Year's Day mark the turn of the year where locals blow the old year away and welcome the new one with fireworks. On the 6th of January elves, Yule Lads and Icelanders dance around bonfires before saying goodbye for the year.
Even though there are regional differences, the celebrations usually stretch over the days between Christmas Eve on the 24th to Epiphany on January the 6th. Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) is usually celebrated with a large family dinner that can be extended into the wee hours of the morning. A special tradition for Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve) includes the consumption of twelve grapes synchronous with the twelve strokes of the clock at midnight, each grape representing a month and managing to eat all grapes is meant to bring luck in the coming year.
The end and probably the core of the festivities marks The festival of the three Magic Kings, the arrival of the Three Wise Men or Kings who are said to have brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Nowadays they are supposed to fill shoes left on windowsills or balconies with presents. Children often leave gifts for the kings in return, namely a class of cognac for each of them, a Satsuma and some walnuts. Sometimes even a bucket of water is left for the camels carrying the kings all the way.
Christmas is not particularly popular in this predominantly Muslim country. However Turkey is a secular state, supporting neither religion and allowing citizens the freedom to practice theirs. In any case, a small village in the South of the transcontinental country put Turkey inevitably on the map when it comes to Christmas… The Mediterranean coastal town called Demre is the home of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a very religious Greek Christian bishop who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor and developed into the figure of Santa Claus in the course of time.
The Christmas season in Mexico runs from December 12th to January 6th, filled with quite a few traditions chiefly celebrated there. The so-called Guadalupe-Reyes Marathon involves a number of interlinked festivities, similar to the holidays in Spain. The most remarkable part seems Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration with history dating back more than 400 years. Starting on the 16th of the month townspeople go from door to door in the neighborhood in search of lodging, intending to resemble the part of the Christmas story where Joseph and Mary looked for a room in an Inn (Posada in Spanish) the night they arrived at Bethlehem. There will be a party every evening until the 24th, always in a different house with festive atmosphere, praying and singing.
Integral part of the Posada parties is generally the so-called Piñata. These traditionally star shaped containers made from papier-mâché are filled with candy and fruit and hung from above on a string. A blindfolded child will be given a stick and then spun a number of times. After that it has one attempt to hit the piñata, which another participant moves in order to make it harder to hit. Once the piñata lands on the ground there will be a sweet feast for the attendant kids.
Australia is no reindeer country at all. Because “they can’t stand the terrible heat” there are replaced by (you probably guessed it by now) kangaroos. At least according to the very popular Christmas song Six White Boomers, while boomer is simply a nickname for kangaroo.
Another heart-warming tradition is called Carols by Candlelight, a huge public gathering of people on Christmas Eve. They usually come together in parks to sing Christmas carols surrounded by an “ocean of light”, candles illuminating the night.
Yet another famous Santa outpost can be found in the Indian Ocean, well kind of. The Christmas Island there may not be as popular as the Canadian version, where the post office year in and year out turns into a transit point for countless postcards from around the world in order to get the special Christmas Island post stamp.
Windows draped are with sparkling cotton wool and tinsel while families usually enjoy the summer sun in the outdoors. Due to its colonial history there are quite a few European traditions maintained during Christmas, including the singing of Christmas carols.
There’s also a creepy legend that made it through the times by word of mouth: the story of Danny, a boy who has been murdered by his cruel granny because he stole the Christmas cookies before Santa’s arrival. His ghost is believed to haunt during that time of the year and scare children in order to restrain them from being greedy.
The Cape of Good Hope marks the end of this wondrous trip around the world. One that was covering six continents and only left out the one where a White Christmas is apparently a pretty good bet: the Antarctica. Christmas Day down there may coincide with the longest day of the year, which means pretty much 24 hours of daylight…
The article is a notional sleigh ride round the world. We visited a fraction and there are for sure plenty of tales that remain untouched and untold. Do you know of any other we should have covered? Is your country on the list? If so, you are in a way part of the 9 letters of …
Oliver is a keen traveller who has seen some chunks of Europe and SE Asia and at present is living in Edinburgh, already looking forward to exploring South America in the near future.
He is the creative mind behind Coffee-Stained Journal, intending to craft a vivid potpourri of words, visuals and tunes in order to dish up a decent dose up inspiration…