Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 15: Denmark Mandelgave

Happy Friday! It’s Day 15 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to Copenhagen to find out why almost every Danish person is on the lookout for almonds on Christmas Eve. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

DENMARK MANDELGAVE

Risalamande, from the French riz à l’amande, is a traditional Danish Christmas dish. It is a rice pudding made with vanilla, chopped almonds and whipped cream, and it is usually served cold with cherry sauce in Danish homes on Christmas Eve. A lovely, sweet – and heavy – dessert, but what really has the Danes excited, is the tradition of mandelgave, ‘the almond prize’ in Danish. The host of the Christmas dinner hides one (or more) whole almonds in the rice pudding, and everyone will try to find it. Traditionally, one must keep on eating until the almond has been found, which can be quite the task after the lavish Danish Christmas dinner. The happy finder of the whole almond will receive a prize and a year’s worth of good luck. Not a bad deal.

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 13: Sweden, St Lucia

It’s Day 13 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to Sweden, where today is the Feast of Saint Lucia. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

SWEDEN, SAINT LUCIA

In Sweden, and other neighbouring Nordic countries, December 13th is the Feast of Saint Lucia, or Sankta Lucia, as she is called in Swedish. Saint Lucia is celebrated as a bringer of light. According to one story, Saint Lucia brought food and supplies to the Christians hiding in catacombs, and to keep her hands free to carry more supplies, she wore candles on a wreath head-piece to light her way. Thus, during the darkest days of the year, the Swedes choose a Saint Lucia of their own, usually a young teenage girl, who will dress in white, with a red sash, and wear a wreath with candles on her head. These Saint Lucias will be accompanied by other young girls and boys, also dressed in white, carrying candles and singing songs. Together they will visit schools, public offices, churches, retirement homes and there is often a public procession as well. At the Globen in Stockholm there is a large Saint Lucia procession every year – so large that it has even made it to the Guinness Book of World Records with over 1,200 participants from Stockholm’s schools.

Part of the celebrations are also the Lussekatter, sweet buns made with saffron and cardamom, traditionally baked specifically for the Feast of Saint Lucia. Nowadays, however, few can wait until halfway-through December to sample these treats and thus they are available in cafes and shops from early November onwards.

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 10: France, Letters from Père Noël

It’s Day 10 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to France to find out why children around the world are sending their letters to the French Father Christmas. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

FRANCE: LETTERS FROM FATHER CHRISTMAS

All around the world people are sending out their Christmas cards, while young children will certainly already have mailed their letters to Father Christmas so that the good old man knows exactly what he should bring for Christmas. But did you know that it was the French who started with the tradition of Father Christmas – or Père Noël as the French call him –  replying to each letter he receives?

Until the 1950s, the fate that awaited most letters sent to Father Christmas, was being destroyed. In France it was against the rules to open the letters but in the beginning of the 1950s, a French postal worker decided to ignore the rules. She opened the letters and started replying to each of them. By 1962, her idea had become so mainstream that the French Ministère des Postes en des Télégraphes set up an official post office dedicated to answering letters on Father Christmas’ behalf.  Nowadays the office receives over a million letters each year, from all over the world.

Do you want to send a letter – or an email – to Père Noël? You can, until December 18, and the good old man will let his helpful French volunteers and postal workers pen in a response, for you. You can visit the French Post’s official website for more information (in French).

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 9: Spain, Caganers

It’s Day 9 of our Advent Calendar and today we are looking into a very peculiar tradition from… Spain! Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

SPAIN: CAGANERS

Originally a Catalonian tradition but now practiced throughout Spain, a caganer is a small figurine of a man in the process of defecating. The caganer literally means the “crapper” and the figurines are featured in the traditional nativity scenes. There are many explanations for this tradition, but the most widely accepted one is that by defecating the caganers are quite literally fertilising the Earth and as such featuring the caganer in the nativity scene brings good luck. The figurine is usually depicted as a man dressed in traditional Catalan attire, though nowadays there are caganers – rather popular ones too – depicting celebrities and political figures, such as President Trump, or even the Pope.

Needless to say, the caganer figurines are well-beloved, especially by children and adolescents. If you want to ensure a few good chuckles at your Christmas party, just bring a caganer figurine home when you next visit Barcelona!

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 8: Germany, Christmas markets

It’s Day 8 of our Advent Calendar, only 16 more days to go until Christmas! Today we are headed to Germany, to check out a holiday tradition that may be quite familiar to many. After all, who has not heard about the German Weihnachtsmarkt? Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

GERMANY: CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Christmas markets are everywhere. From small villages to sprawling metropolises, if there are people who celebrate Christmas, there will be a Christmas market, though most cannot boast to be as lavish as the German ones.  In Germany Weihnachtsmärkte have been held since the Late Middle Ages. Traditionally the markets open in late November and are open until right after Christmas. Stalls feature Christmas decorations, nativity scenes, local products, and of course, traditional German Christmas foods. Candied and roasted almonds, Lebkuchen, Bratwurst, and one cannot skip the Glühwein.

Many German cities boast having the largest, oldest and most traditional Christmas markets of all. Cologne and Dortmund are typical destinations for tourists who wish to experience the tradition, but Berlin also has well over 70 Christmas markets to sample. Wherever you go, you are certain to get in the holiday mood!

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 7: Norway hiding all brooms on Christmas Eve

It’s Day 7 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to Norway to find out why it is important to do your Christmas cleaning on time. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

NORWAY HIDING BROOMS ON CHRISTMAS EVE

In Norway you’ll want to do your Christmas cleaning long before the Christmas Eve because on the night of the Christmas every smart  (or superstitious, depending on who you ask) Norwegian will hide all the brooms in the house. December is the darkest time of the year and in Norway it’s a long-held belief that mischievous spirits and witches roam the lands during the period. This is of course bad news for all the broom-owners, because the witches will be lurking about looking to steal a broom for their traditional Christmas night-ride.

Even if you are not in Norway, it may be a good idea to put the cleaning aside for the night, hide the brooms and just enjoy the time of the year with your family and loved ones. After all, Christmas witches exist in other parts of the world as well, remember la Befana?

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 6: Finland Joulupukki

It’s Day 6 of our Advent Calendar and today Finland celebrates its 100th Independence Day. That is why today we are heading up North to meet the Finnish Father Christmas, or Joulupukki as the locals call him. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

FINLAND JOULUPUKKI

Joulupukki, literally translated “Christmas goat” is the Finnish Father Christmas. Though he resembles your average Santa Claus, he first of all, does not live on the North Pole, nor did he originally have anything to do with the good old Saint Nicholas. Joulupukki stems from old pagan tradition of the Yule Goat, and was originally a much scarier figure, often wearing a goat mask. Joulupukki was also dressed in red clothes long before Santa Claus donned the festive colour. In fact, it was a son of Finnish emigrants that gave the American Coca-Cola Santa Claus his red attire.

Joulupukki lives up in the Finnish Lapland with his wife, the Joulumuori and his ever-helpful workers, the tonttus. Every year he travels throughout the world in his sleigh pulled by reindeer, and though magical, his reindeer traditionally don’t fly. Joulupukki leaves for his annual trip on the 23rd of December at 6 pm and his departure is broadcasted on the national television in Finland. Finnish children also receive their presents on the evening of the 24th of December, because that is when Joulupukki makes his rounds in Finland before heading out of the country.

If you visit Finland, you can visit Joulupukki’s workshop right above the arctic circle at Rovaniemi.

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 5: the Netherlands Sinterklaas

It’s Day 5 of our Advent Calendar and today we are headed to the Netherlands to meet with a certain Turkish bishop who is making the rounds around Central Europe today and tomorrow… Sinterklaas! Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here.

 

NETHERLANDS SINTERKLAAS

Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known in the Netherlands, was a Greek bishop in Myra, modern day Turkey, though the Dutch believe that the good old saint now lives in Spain with his loyal servants, the Zwarte Pieten (the Black Petes). Mid-November, Sinterklaas boards a steamboat in Spain and sails to the Netherlands with the Zwarte Pieten. The arrival of Sinterklaas is a cause for big celebration in the Netherlands; crowds will gather and the Zwarte Pieten will hand out candy and traditional Dutch cookies called kruidnoten. While Sinterklaas is in the country, children can set their shoe in front of the fireplace and leave a small treat for the Sinterklaas’ white horse Amerigo and the following morning there may be chocolates and presents left for them.  However, the biggest celebration happens on the night of the 5th of December, right before Sinterklaas leaves the country again. Families and friends will get together, everyone will get presents, usually with an accompanying poem from Sinterklaas that details how the receiver has behaved during the past year.

If you happen to be in the Netherlands during the Sinterklaas period, make sure to try out the kruidnoten and chocolate letter that can be found in abundance in every store!

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 4: Austria Krampus

It’s Day 4 of our Advent calendar and it’s an exciting time for many young children in Austria (and Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary…) these days, which is why we are heading to Vienna to meet the Krampus! Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here.

AUSTRIA KRAMPUS

Krampus is the scary looking companion of the Turkish bishop Saint Nicholas. On the night of 5 December, Krampus visits homes and businesses looking for naughty children, carrying a bunch of birch twigs and a large bag, ready to punish those who have been misbehaving and don’t deserve presents from Saint Nicholas. The tradition is originally Austrian, but spread to many other European regions under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Krampus is believed to represent the devil, chained by the Christian church, and he is often portrayed carrying large chains which he likes to rattle menacingly. Traditionally Krampus has horns, sharp teeth and claws but recently he has also been given a more cuddly appearance. However, appearances can deceive so make sure to behave or Krampus may just stuff you in his bag and carry you away.

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Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 3: Italy La Befana

It’s Day 3 of our Advent Calendar and the first advent Sunday! Today we are travelling to Rome to meet a figure we would be more likely to associate with Halloween rather than Christmas… La Befana! Did you miss our first two posts? Check them out here and here.

la befana vien di notte by Zia deda, on Flickr
la befana vien di notte” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Zia deda

ITALY LA BEFANA

La Befana is the Italian Christmas witch who brings presents to all the good Italian children and lumps of coal to the naughty ones. La Befana is said to ride a broomstick through the air on the eve of the Epiphany, entering houses through the chimney and leaving her presents in the socks left out by the children. Though depicted as dressed in rags and covered in soot, la Befana is actually an excellent housekeeper and if the family leaves her a little token, usually a glass of wine and a local treat, she will even sweep the house with her broomstick.

While la Befana is celebrated throughout Italy, the Christmas witch has a special place in Rome. On Piazza Navona there is a popular market every year, selling candy, toys and sugar charcoal. It is even said that la Befana will appear on the market at the midnight of January 6th, though beware, the legend also says that whoever sees la Befana will get a thwack from her broomstick!

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