The holiday season is a special time of year for many around the world. Even more special are the traditions and customs shared among colleagues, friends and family. Follow along as we explore the holiday traditions from some of our favorite destinations around the world.
When you think of the holidays in Rome, the Roman Catholic Christmas rituals are probably a common first thought, but "the Italian capital is also home to one of the most historic and vibrant Jewish quarters in Europe." Every year during Hanukkah, the streets of Rome echo with laughter, music, and tantalizing smells from holiday dinners. Fried foods like latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and pollo fritto (Italian-style fried chicken), are just a few traditional delicacies. The fondness for fried foods during Hanukkah is commemorative of the miracle of the oil that kept a menorah lit almost 2200 years ago, when for eight days and eights nights the Maccabees defeated the Syrian-Greeks and liberated the Jewish temple.
For a sweet after-dinner treat, fritelle di Chanukah are a popular choice. These fritters, made from a simple batter then fried to fluffy crispy goodness and drenched in warm flavored sugar syrup, are a holiday splurge absolutely worth having!
Germany - Christkindlmarkets
During the Christmas season in Germany, you can experience many unique traditions, including their world-famous Christkindlmarkets. “Today there are over 2,500 Christmas markets across Germany that invite visitors to enter the festive mood.” These markets combine holiday lights, heavenly choirs, and rows of arts and crafts vendors. You can also find an array of mouthwatering foods, like grilled sausages, crepes, roasted almonds and stollen, a traditional and delicious German fruitcake.
German markets are ideal places to experience holiday seasonality, especially for kids. Apart from the delicious food, families can partake in rides, shop handmade crafts and admire as craftsmen create wooden toys. These German markets are the perfect prelude to getting into the holiday spirit before celebrating at home with family and friends.
Spain - Three Kings' Day
Over in Spain, el Dia de los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings’ Day, is the joyous finale to the holiday season. Observed each year on January 6th, Three Kings’ Day commemorates the day on the “Christian calendar when the Magi, also referred to as the Three Kings or Wise Men, brought gifts to the baby Jesus.” The arrival of the Three Kings is celebrated in Spain by the tremendous Fiesta de Los Reyes (Three Kings' Festival). Festivities officially start the evening before and usually feature colorful street parades, elaborate floats and a vibrant display of brightly-illuminated costumes. “The oldest Three Kings parade in Spain has taken place in Alcoy, Alicante since 1885!”
That evening, before bedtime, children leave out their shoes along with treats for the Magi and hay for their camels. When the children awaken the next day, they discover only crumbs from their treats and their shoes filled with presents.
After opening gifts on the morning of 6th, families often enjoy a traditional breakfast spread that includes roscón de reyes. This round cake is decorated with candied fruit as a symbol of the precious gems that adorned the robes of the Wise Men. A porcelain figurine and a dry bean are hidden inside the cake; whoever finds the figurine will have good luck and protection in the New Year, but if you find the bean, you pay for the cake!
Iceland - 13 Yule Lads
In Iceland, Christmastime is an “intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore”. Unique to the Icelandic culture are the 13 Santa Clauses, or Yule Lads, that go house to house leaving gifts in the shoes of well-behaved children. Christmas season starts when the first Yule Lad comes to town on December 12th and ends when the last departs on Christmas Eve. Originally, the Yule Lads were mischievous pranksters each with his own peculiar behavior, which is how they got their names. Similar to leaving cookies for Santa Claus, children might leave little gifts or snacks like laufabrauð ("leaf bread"), a thin, crispy flatbread made especially for the holidays.
If choosing to venture to Iceland during the Christmas holiday season, don't expect much daylight throughout the land, “as this is the season where the Nordic countries stay dark through most of the day”. This lets you better appreciate the Northern Lights and the fireworks on Twelfth Night, when all join in singing, dancing and celebration.
Costa Rica - Nación de color
Winter wonderland may not be a word to describe Costa Rica during the holiday season, but that doesn't stop this nation from getting into the holiday spirit.
Costa Rica is a predominantly Catholic nation, and its citizens celebrate Christmas with spectacular light displays, parades and festivals. El Tope Nacional, Costa Rica’s National Horse Parade, is one of the biggest end-of-year traditions and a favorite of many. On December 26th, thousands of equestrians from all over the country gather at Plaza Víquez to show off their beautiful horses, riding skills and fancy footwork. Tropical colors come to life as horses and riders make their way down the parade route.
Traditional Costa Rican food, like queque navideño and Costa Rican-style tamales, often matches this lively environment during the holiday season. In keeping with the holiday spirit, households generally set up an assembly line to prepare their tamales, a process that can span multiple days!
Costa Rica has no shortage of entertainment all year round, and this is certainly true during the holidays. Everyone, both visitors and locals, comes together to celebrate family, friends and life, and of course, to bask in the exuberant, sandy beaches.