It’s hard to believe that anything could make piles of presents, Christmas dinner and drowsily stumbling from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 look cut-rate and unenjoyable. As it turns out, the rest of the world celebrates Christmas in so splendid a manner that your December 25 is bound to pale in comparison. Here’s a round-up of alternative Christmas celebrations around the world – read on for tips on where to celebrate your next Yuletide.
St. Lucia Day
The origins for this Swedish holiday are actually Sicilian: St. Lucy is believed to have been a saint who suffered an untimely death in Syracuse, Sicily, in around 310 AD. Today, her death is celebrated by designating a young woman as that year’s Santa Lucia; she is dressed in white and wears a wreath of candles in her hair. She leads a procession of young women (also dressed in white) but without candles; all sing the Lucia song, an Italian carol of sorts, which describes the view from Santa Lucia in Naples. In addition, the oldest daughter in the procession brings coffee and St. Lucia buns to her parents.
Boxing Day Tea
Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas Day, to the English is what Black Friday is to us: most people hit up the malls and snap up end-of-year deals/return Christmas presents. The wealthier set attend the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse in Surrey, or go fox hunting (despite the activity being banned by the Hunting Act of 2004). The most common tradition for the holiday is Boxing Day Tea - high tea, featuring savory sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, butter, jam, cakes and crumpets are laid out for a family and their guests. Most Commonwealth countries celebrate Boxing Day as well – Canadians even have the day off!
Puerto Rico, Catalonia, Provence, Cyprus, New Orleans, and India
Three Kings’ Day
This festival celebrates the Three Wise Men – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the newborn Jesus. In Puerto Rico, a cake called the rosca is baked for the holiday – similar to an Anglican Christmas pudding, it’s made with fruits, sugar and marmalade – and a small figure of baby Jesus is embedded in each cake. Tradition states that whoever finds the baby Jesus must host, cook and pay for Candlemas (another holiday which marks the end of Christmas celebrities, usually celebrated on February 2).
The holiday has several variations – in Catalonia, the cake is known as tortell; gateau des Rois in Provence; vasilopita in Cyprus. In Gulf Coast states, Three Kings’ Day is linked to Mardi Gras; the simplest King Cake is bread which is twisted, iced, colored (green, purple and gold), and sometimes filled with cream cheese, praline, cinnamon or strawberry. Similar to the rosca tradition, in New Orleans, whoever finds the trinket tucked inside the King’s Cake must host next year’s Mardi Gras.
In other places, the cake is replaced with panettone. In India, Three Kings’ Festival is held at the local church; congregants assemble to cook a sweet rice porridge called Pongal. In the Portuguese colony of Goa, the festival is known at Festa dos Reis; boys dressed as the Three Wise Men, resplendent in red velvet robes and crowns, lead a procession to the Franciscan Chapel of the Magi near the city of Panjim.