Cultural Christmas customs celebrated

Elizabeth Hsieh, Staff Writer

Christmas is celebrated by many different people in many different ways. From holiday volunteering to pickle ornaments, some of the best ways to kick off the Christmas spirit is with family holiday traditions.
Throughout the years, December 25th has become a widespread holiday among a variety of cultures and religions. While the typical, modern day image of colorful wrapping paper and bright decorations comes to mind when people think of Christmas, the holiday is also highly traditional, with customs that run back to the medieval ages and originate from all across the world.
The Food
To many students, the best part of Christmas is the feast. As millions of families gather together for the holiday, the spread of dishes on the dinner table often reflects certain heritages and cultures.
A recent Fielder Survey showed that a very frequently made dish for Christmas is Tamales, which 10% of the 137 surveyed students said they made. Wrapped in a golden corn husk and filled with a meat of choice, Tamales are considered “a culinary requirement” for Christmas in the Hispanic culture, according to New York Times. This old, traditional Mexican dish not only provides a meal to enjoy, but also gives a chance for families to spend time together as they cook and prepare the food.
“My family is Hispanic so we make Tamales for Christmas,” Isabella Garcia, sophomore, said. “It’s something that we do together every year.”
The Yule Log
With roots that began in medieval Europe, the Yule Log is another Christmas tradition that was originally meant to bring good luck for the upcoming year. Families had to gather specific types of wood for the hearth, and light it using remains from last year’s yule log. According to Snopes, a common belief was that the new log had to be lighted with the first try, or else bad luck would follow. People also needed to have clean hands when tending the log as a sign of respect, and keep it burning for twelve hours.
While few people still practice the original tradition, this old family custom has adapted to fit in modern society. Although 32% of students said they didn’t know what a Yule Log was. They may know of the modern day Yule Log whichtakes form as a live, virtual fireplace T.V. program, and is often found on sites such as Netflix or YouTube.
The traditional practice of burning a log had also been replaced by a dessert called the “Bûche de Noël” which is French for “Christmas Log”.
“My mom is a pastry chef so she makes this Yule Log cake with chocolate and oranges,” Andrea Heagney, sophomore, said.
This cultural, Christmas cake is shaped and frosted to look like a log, and is one of the most common Christmas dishes in France.
The Pickle
Another delight unique to Christmas is the decorations. Starting as early as late October, homes are adorned with spirited décor as winter approaches, and one of the first decorations to go up is the Christmas tree.
Lined with dazzling lights and garlands, each family might decorate their tree differently, and one unusual tradition in German culture is to hang up a pickle ornament.
“We have to find the pickle in the tree, and whoever finds it first gets to open the first present,” Amanda Clarke, junior, said.
According to the same survey, 33% of the 137 surveyed students said that they had never heard of this unique ornament custom, making it the most uncommonly known Christmas tradition among the ones listed in the survey.
Santa Clause/Saint Nick
Going down chimneys and walking on rooftops, the long-time figure of Christmas has been Santa Claus. While many people grew up with the story of this old, jolly man who brings gifts and circumnavigates the globe with his reindeer and sleigh, most do not know where the root of this popular childhood figure comes from.
Although the Santa known today may not be real, his origins run back to a man called St. Nicholas who lived around 280 years after Christ, according to National Geographic. Greatly contrasting with the modern-day image of Santa Claus, the original St. Nicholas was a bishop in Turkey who was famous for his fervent, resolute support and passion for Christianity regardless of the persecution that faced many priests such as himself.
At the time, there were many well-known stories connected with St. Nicholas. One famous tale said that St. Nicholas resurrected three boys after they were brutally murdered and kept in barrels, and another story told of a time when he prevented three girls from prostitution. These powerful stories of his righteous acts continued to be passed around long after his death, which was the beginning of how he eventually came to be known as a present bearer for children.
Not to be mistaken with Christmas day, December 6th, commonly known as St. Nick’s day, is a holiday made to commemorate St. Nicholas. There are many different ways that families celebrate St. Nick’s day.
“We put our shoes in the hallway over night and in the morning there is candy and other gifts in them,” Elizabeth Hanson, junior, said.
The Mistletoe
With the exchanging of thoughtful presents and the long, winter breaks, Christmas is an occasion for people to spend time with their loved ones, and the old custom of “kissing under the mistletoe” is an example of this affectionate, holiday spirit. Although the mistletoe is most commonly recognized as a classic, holiday decoration, CBS News reported that this plant is actually a parasite that is both problematic to remove and poisonous.
The cheesy Christmas tradition people know this deadly plant to be today developed from many roots, but a major stem comes from early Norse mythology in Europe. According to the Smithsonian, the story goes that Baldur, the grandson of Thor, developed a great, sudden fear of all plants and animals, with the premonition that they were out to kill him. Hiding away from the outdoors in fear, Baldur’s family tried their best to reason with him, but their endeavors were useless. In a final effort, his wife and mother pleaded that all living things leave him alone, and believed that they got every species to agree.
As Baldur celebrated his newfound freedom, he was ultimately killed by an arrow made from a mistletoe, the one plant his wife and mother had missed. The act of hanging up mistletoes and kissing underneath them is supposedly meant to remind people of the plant Baldur’s family forgot.
Originating from ancient legends, the custom of the mistletoe traveled from Europe and became common among Americans too. While most modern day families don’t hang up mistletoes with the Norse myth in mind, this plant has become a widespread symbol for Christmas, and each year millions of mistletoes are used to decorate homes for the holiday.
“In the first week of December we prepare for Christmas by furnishing our house with holiday décor, like putting up Christmas lights and hanging mistletoes,” Maria Hsieh, junior, said.
The Volunteering
As the Christmas season approaches, a variety of different backgrounds are embraced as families enjoy the holiday in their own ways. For many people, holiday traditions are practiced according to a specific religion or morality.
“Since I’m Christian, we do lots of Christmas traditions. For example, going to church Christmas morning or volunteering for multiple charity events,” Talia McCaskle, sophomore, said.
“I follow volunteering based on my morals, because I think it’s a good way to help your community and yourself,” Maddie Smiles, sophomore, said.
Over the years, Christmas has developed into a multi-cultured, worldwide occasion for people to celebrate in a myriad of ways, regardless of their family roots and beliefs.