Christmas is a time to reflect upon family, both those who are still with us, and those from past generations. This season, explore your family history by trying a new recipe or tradition that reflects the ethnicity of your forefathers (and mothers!).
In Mexico, families create farolitos, or lanterns made from brown paper bags, to decorate outside their homes. Although the Mexican versions are made from bags with intricate patterns cut into them — and lit with real candles — you can make a kid-friendly version. Take brown or white paper bags (sack lunch size) and let the kids decorate the sacks. Use punches to create cut-outs in the paper, or just color with markers or crayons. Add glitter, stickers or stick-on jewels if desired. At dusk, set your farolitos outside along the sidewalk, porch or driveway. Put a couple of scoops of sand or gravel into the bottom of each sack to weight them, and then add a battery-operated tea light. More instructions are on the website for Santa Fe's Farolito Walk.
Many Germans celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. St. Nick was a Catholic Bishop born around 245 AD and was known for giving to the poor. He is also the origin of modern-day Santa Claus. The legend says that the saint will come on a white horse on the night of December 5, and leave gifts for good children in their shoes or boots. Sometimes kids even leave out carrots or hay as an offering for his horse. You can adapt this tradition for your kids by asking them to leave their shoes outside on the porch, or outside of their bedroom doors on December 5. Fill the shoes with treats after the children are asleep.
In medieval times, people celebrated the Winter Solstice by burning “yule logs,” logs decorated in holly, pine cones and other greenery. This tradition eventually evolved into a look-alike dessert called a Buche de Noel, or yule log cake. This chocolate cake from Life as a Mom is baked in a jelly-roll pan, filled with butter cream, and then rolled into a log shape. It is then frosted in chocolate and decorated to resemble the traditional yule log. Bakeries in France create realistic log cakes decorated with fondant mushrooms, lichen and moss. You can bake your own simple Buche de Noel. Jessica Fisher of the Life as a Mom blog shares a kid-friendly recipe. Decorate yours with sprigs of rosemary, red hot candies and a dusting of powdered sugar for snow. Jessica added Playmobil characters to hers for a personal touch.
An old Irish tradition is to place a large candle on the windowsill and leave it burning all night on Christmas Eve. The candle is meant to welcome Mary and Joseph as they go looking for a place to stay the night. You can try this fun tradition with your kids without the fire hazard. Let the kids decorate a clear Mason jar as a candle holder. Use paint, glitter glue or glued-on squares of tissue paper in festive colors. Place a battery-operated candle or tea light inside and set your creation on a windowsill on Christmas Eve.
For more decorating ideas, check out the blog Apartment Therapy for 10 ways to decorate holiday candle holders.
In December, Italians enjoy manger scenes, or prescpios, in their homes. You can continue this tradition with your children by adding a Nativity to your home’s Christmas decor. If your children are small, display your breakable Nativity well out of the reach of little hands, and then get your kids their own durable set. There are many kid-friendly versions on the market, such as Fisher Price Little People Nativity, Melissa and Doug Nativity and Playmobil Nativity, to name a few. Let the kids play freely with the characters, arranging and rearranging as they please. You could even hide the baby Jesus and then secretly place him in his manger on Christmas eve for the kids to find in the morning.
Lacy of the Catholic Icing blog created a printable Nativity set for kids. You download and print it out, let the kids color it and then glue or tape the pictures to toilet paper tubes. So cute!
And here are links to a few kid-friendly Nativity sets:
In the Philippines during the Christmas season, parols light up the streets, front porches, and storefronts. These star-shaped 3-D paper lanterns represent the star the wise men followed to find the Christ Child. Traditionally fashioned from bamboo strips and rice paper; Philippine parols range from simple stars to detailed, multicolored designs. You can take part in this fun tradition by making parols with your children. Wendy of the Born in Our Hearts blog has a great tutorial.
Photos from One Perfect Bite.
In Sweden, and many other countries in Scandinavia, December 13 is Santa Lucia Day. This celebration honors a Catholic martyr, Saint Lucy, who brought food to Christians hiding in the catacombs during the persecution of Christians in Rome in 300 AD. She wore a wreath of lit candles on her head to light her way in the dark, while leaving her hands free to carry the provisions. In Sweden, a St. Lucy Day tradition is for the oldest daughter in the home to rise early and serve the rest of the family a breakfast of St. Lucy buns. The daughter dresses in a white robe with a red sash, and wears a wreath made of evergreen branches topped by lit candles on her head. While not many of us are willing to let our kids walk around wearing a crown of fire, you can celebrate this fun tradition by making St. Lucy Buns to eat on December 13.
Find a recipe and other fun musings on St. Lucy Day at the blog One Perfect Bite.
Photo by Kristi-Anna Eldridge
According to many travel writers, the busiest place on Christmas Eve in Finland is the local cemetery! On the night before Christmas, families often visit the gravesites of their ancestors. This may sound more like Halloween than Christmas to us Americans, but it is the Finns’ way of honoring those family members who are no longer able to join in the holiday celebration. Finns remember their departed loved ones by placing lit candles next to the headstones of family members. Although you might not want to visit graves this Christmas, you could certainly honor your own ancestors by lighting a candle and talking about those family members who have passed on.
Photo from Awake at the Whisk.
In Norway, many celebrate what they call “little Christmas Eve” on December 23. Families gather and celebrate by decorating the Christmas tree or building gingerbread houses. In many homes, a traditional rice pudding is served called risengrynsgrøt. This is a hot dish topped with cinnamon, sugar and butter. An almond is hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds the nut will have good luck in the coming year. Other traditions involving the almond are that the finder must sing a song, or they might receive a prize, traditionally a marzipan pig. Your family could enjoy rice pudding on little Christmas Eve, and choose a fun activity for the finder of the almond. Try this recipe from My Recipes.
Photo from Gingerbread and Snowflakes.
Danes enjoy a fun family tradition during the holiday season called “cut and paste day.” On this day, the whole family sits down together and creates Christmas crafts and decorations. One common craft is the Danish woven heart basket. These are heart-shaped paper baskets with handles for hanging on the tree. The hearts are made of woven paper strips, usually in red and white to resemble the colors of the Danish flag. You can celebrate with the whole family by holding your own cut and paste day. Pam Harris of the Gingerbread and Snowflakes blog has this great tutorial on making woven paper hearts.
Photo by Craig M. Groshek (released to public domain).
England is the birthplace of Christmas crackers. These festive favors aren’t named for edibles, but for the sound the tubes make when they are opened. Christmas crackers are made of cardboard tubes wrapped in colorful paper. When the ends are pulled apart, it “pops” or “cracks” when the cracker inside is activated. Hidden inside is a small toy or trinket, a paper crown (representing the three kings), and a joke. Christmas crackers are great fun for kids and adults alike. They add pizzazz to your holiday table when you put one on each plate, and can also function as unique place cards. Here is a great tutorial on making your own from Oh Happy Day. Or you could also purchase Christmas Crackers.
Photo by Yuri Samoilov Photo.
Christmas in China is called Shang Dan Jieh which means Holy Birth Festival. Not all Chinese celebrate Christmas, but those who do often decorate their homes with red paper chains and red paper flowers to symbolize happiness. Red paper lanterns also light the home. Christmas trees or “trees of light” are seen in shopping centers in large cities, but are rare in homes. You can add a Chinese touch to your Christmas decor by making paper chains of red paper or red tissue paper flowers. Here’s a great tissue paper flower tutorial on the Sew Sweet Stitches Blog. If you have older kids you might want to try this slightly more complicated project, making paper lanterns, from Lantern-Festival.com.
Looking for more holiday fun? Visit our holiday page for ideas on crafts, food, activities, and more!