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Holiday Rituals and Traditions


Ritual marks keystone moments in our lives. Holiday celebrations are exceptionally notable as a sensory infusion of lights, sounds, and smells. Rituals are valued because they help us reconnect with loved ones and family traditions, provide personal enjoyment, and afford an escape from daily routine. Research shows reciting blessings, raising a glass for a toast, and other such practices act as a buffer against anxiety and make our world a more predictable place.

America is a melting pot of traditions when it comes to Christmas. We’ve come to expect to trim the Christmas tree, open presents, and watch movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” We also have people who celebrate Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, Kwanzaa to honor African heritage in African American culture, and fans of the TV show Seinfeld even celebrate Festivus, a made-up holiday. But merrymakers around the world have traditions that forego Santa, combine ancient lore, and embrace local foods for a whole different type of festive.

Wouldn’t it be fun to experience some of these celebrations?

  • Yule Goat in Sweden. The goat is a Swedish Christmas symbol since Pagan times. Since 1966, a giant straw goat (Gavle Goat) weighing over 3.6 tons is constructed at a site and is viewable online from the first Sunday of Advent until after the New Year.
  • Ligligan Parul, Giant Lantern Festival. The city of San Fernando is known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” It hosts a festival featuring spinning lights and lanterns that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and brighten the night sky annually.
  • Hawaiian Mochi Pounding. Hawaiian families mark the new year and good luck by gathering in neighborhood events. Using mallets and a large mortar, they pound sticky rice into mochi paste, a base for sweet confections.
  • Tio de Nadal, Catalonia. This Christmas log with a jovial face and blanket is "fed" fruits and snacks through the season. By local tradition, it's beat with sticks, and when the sheet is removed, it appears to deposit presents and sweets from its rear-end into the fireplace.
  • Effigy Burning, Ecuador. Celebrants set fire to effigies of cartoon characters to political figures at midnight on New Year’s Eve for purification and renewal.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan. A winning marketing campaign in the 1970s by KFC convinced people in Japan that fried chicken is a traditional Yule feast. Today, special seasonal menus offer up buckets of chicken with extras like cake and pork chops while Colonel Sanders’ statues outside the stores wear Santa outfits.
  • Australian Beach Parties. In Australia, December 25 falls in the middle of summer vacation. People gather to barbecue outdoors, light candles, and sing holiday songs in parks and on beaches.
  • Krampus, an Alpine tradition. Krampus is a mythical beast-like creature that leaves lumps of coal in stockings for naughty kids and carries chains and birch switches to abduct awful kids. At Krampusnacht parties and Krampus runs, rowdy revelers cavort through town in beastly costumes.
  • Yule Lads, Iceland. For 13 nights before Christmas, children leave their shoes by the window. In the morning, good kids find candy, and naughty kids get rotten potatoes.
  • Consoada, Portugal. An empty chair is kept at the Christmas Eve table to honor dead friends and relatives. Leftovers sit out overnight for hungry ghosts who might drop in.
  • Race Around the World. To close out each year, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station conducts a run around the world. It's a two-mile competition that takes about 20 minutes to cross all the longitude lines on the planet.

Holiday rituals strengthen family ties and support family harmony. Even if disagreements occur during a get-together, we remember the best moments and the last moments of the gathering and look forward to the next year. Happy New Year!

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