THE MOST INTERESTING CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS OUTSIDE EUROPE
The period of Christmas and New Year is almost everywhere characterized by unique atmosphere. But there are places which at that time of year may seem particularly unusual to guests from the Old Continent.
Perhaps the biggest bewilderment may be caused by various "alternatives" to a traditional Christmas tree. For example, in India – rather than on pine trees – ornaments and sweets are hung on... mango trees. In Burundi, it is customary to decorate banana plants. They can be found in almost every nativity scene in this country. As emphasized by the locals, banana plants represent the respect paid to the newborn Jesus. In fact, the banana plant has long been regarded as a symbol of welcoming guests in this East African country of eight million inhabitants – which is why each time its president embarks on a visit to another city, it is customary to decorate the route he travels with young bananas. New Zealanders also have their special Christmas tree – it is the pohutukawa tree, otherwise known as Metrosideros excelsa. This species from the myrtle family blooms right in time for Christmas with beautiful crimson flowers. Its sight is very memorable – especially since the plant is characterized by a large crown and gnarled, twisted branches (reaching even up to 20 meters high).
Many surprises – mostly culinary, but not only – also wait for those who book a late-December flight to South America. Suffice it to mention that in Peru, one valued festive delicacy is meat from... guinea pigs. It has very little fat and a relatively low price, which is why it is treated as a great alternative to pork. Besides, tradition of eating guinea pig in Andean countries is in fact very rich. Suffice it to say that in the Cathedral of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, the painting depicting the last supper shows Jesus and his disciples consuming none other than a guinea pig. A grimace of surprise can also be induced by the fact that almost in all of Latin America, the Christmas Eve meal must include ... cocoa with milk. Another common delicacy is a cake with raisins, known as panetón.
All those who book a Christmas stay in the capital of Venezuela may, in turn, be slightly confused by a lack of cars in the city on Christmas Eve. However, the elimination of Caracas car traffic on that day in no way implies a state of emergency or anything like that. It is simply customary for the local population to commute to the church on... roller skates or blades, and the empty streets are to facilitate that task. Another city that certainly stands out on the Christmas map is Canoabo in the state of Carabobo, where local population has a habit of setting nativity scenes in their private homes. As might be easily guessed, the tradition leads to increased pedestrian traffic as everyone rushes outside to see how others adorned their households.
In Mexico, slight bewilderment may be caused upon first seeing piñatas, i.e. paper-mâché balls suspended from the ceiling and filled with sweets. According to the custom acquired from the local Indians, all the fun lies in the skillful smashing of the container and releasing the treats hidden inside. The country with the capital Mexico City is also famous for its Christmas processions called Las Posadas. They begin on 16 December and last for another nine days – until and including Christmas Eve – drawing crowds of the faithful to the streets of towns and villages. During those solemn marches with statues of Jesus and Mary people celebrate by singing carols, praying and reading Scripture passages. Whoever wishes to try the ceremonial Christmas dinner must, however, wait until the first day of Christmas, when the tables groan under a variety of dishes prepared on the basis of fish, fruits, beans, and of course spicy chili.
It is also an interesting experience to spend this festive period in The United States – if only because kitchens at most households feature... a washing line. Its presence, however, has no connection with catching up on dirty laundry. The cord is used for hanging the tones of received Christmas cards with wishes. Americans appreciate this kind of Christmas communication to such an extent that they usually quickly run out of space on the line and have to resort to stick taping the rest of the incoming correspondence to kitchen cabinets, backs of chairs or even the ceiling. It looks at least phenomenal – especially in the era of rapidly advancing total digitization. Some Americans – rich enough or gifted with a sense of engineering – also like to decorate the fronts of their houses with nativity scenes similar to those that in many other countries can usually only be found in churches. In terms of holiday cooking, as in the case of Thanksgiving celebrated in late November, tables are dominated by turkey.
Despite the fact that its dominant religion is Buddhism and the number of declared Christians oscillates somewhere around the value of statistical error, pervasive globalization has brought Christmas atmosphere also to Japan. Interestingly, for a while now the holiday season in Tokyo and other cities in the Land of the Rising Sun has been marked by... increased consumption of chicken in various forms. The descendants of the samurai are not, however, in the habit of preparing these foods and rather rely on the numerous food outlets – at the forefront with international food chains – which work at full speed throughout the whole festive period. However, in many of them in order to peacefully savor legs or wings it is necessary to book a table well in advance. The only question is: what about the seat for the stray wanderer, which in many other countries traditionally remains empty throughout the whole Christmas Eve?