‘TIS THE SEASON—ALL AROUND THE WORLD
As we gather with loved ones, it’s a wonderful time to remember that people across the globe are doing the same. No matter the continent, there are many local traditions that you can add to your own holiday celebrations.
SO MANY WAYS TO CELEBRATE
The winter holidays are a time to celebrate family, friends and community. Old traditions are a beloved part of the season, but sometimes one yearns for something different. From the traditions of other cultures to beloved books, there are many places to look for new ways to celebrate the holidays.
Israel — Sufganiyot: Throughout Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, Hanukkah is a time to enjoy Sufganiyot—pillowy, deep fried doughnuts filled with jelly and sprinkled with sugar. Their history can be traced back centuries to North Africa, but today’s fruit-filled version likely originated in Central Europe. Homemade Sufganiyot may seem daunting, but there are many easy-to-follow online recipes if you want to enjoy them fresh and warm!
South Africa — Day of Goodwill: Celebrated as Boxing Day in other parts of the world, the South African government renamed December 26 as the Day of Goodwill. It’s summer there, and this holiday is a time when friends and family gather to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Many citizens also share their goodwill by donating their time, money and material goods to charities.
Iceland — 13 Yule Lads: With names like Meat Hook and Sausage Swiper, you wouldn’t expect the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads to be all sugar and spice. In 1846, parents were actually banned from tormenting their children with scary stories about these creatures—who take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights before Christmas. Today, well-behaved youngsters in Iceland welcome the Yule Lads’ visits and the candy they leave behind. But naughty children might expect to find a rotten potato when they wake up!
Peru — Fortune Forecasting Potatoes: On December 31, many Peruvians will be putting 3 potatoes under their chair or sofa: one unpeeled, one half-peeled and one peeled. At midnight, one potato is chosen at random to forecast your fortune for the coming year. A peeled potato means little money, a half-peeled spud forecasts a regular year, and an unpeeled potato promises great wealth in the year ahead!
FESTIVE MEALS—BY THE BOOK
From roast goose to Christmas pudding, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seems the obvious choice when looking to literature for mealtime inspiration. But other novel dishes can also bring some literary flair to your holiday table.
In the “Advent” chapter of Amor Towle’s A Gentleman in Moscow, the Count goes to the hotel dining room moved by memories of Christmases past. There he observes a young man struggling with his entrée choice and the impression it might make on his date. His decision, neither unsophisticated nor pretentious, is Latvian Stew, a winter-perfect dish with pork, prunes and apricots.
Among all the decadent desserts available to Hogwarts’ students, Harry Potter’s favorite is Treacle Tart. Also featured in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this British pastry features a buttery shortcrust base and a gooey lemon-infused filling made from treacle, a golden syrup you can purchase or make yourself.
Pumpkin, apple and pecan may be the traditional holiday pies, but the lighter texture and citrusy, sweet tart flavors of Key Lime Pie might be a welcome alternative. Just don’t throw it at your guests as the narrator does to her husband in Heartburn; Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel was later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.
HAVE A MINDFUL NEW YEAR
With the exciting distractions, busy schedules and attendant stress of the holiday season, now is a good time to step back and take a deep breath: Reset yourself and get ready for the New Year by starting or deepening your mindfulness journey.
With the power to help manage anxiety and improve emotional and physical well-being, mindfulness practices may already be a part of your life. For the novice, there are many online sources to get you started including mindful.org and tarabrach.com—founded by Dr. Tara Brach, a leading author in the field. Through meditation and other techniques, mindfulness helps you stay focused on the present moment, with purposeful intent and without judgment.
One way to cultivate mindfulness on a daily basis is to pick an activity you do every day, like drinking your morning coffee, washing dishes, walking the dog, etc. Now, when you do the activity, pay attention to what’s going on with your body—and experience the physical sensations. Notice what thoughts and emotions come up and if your mind wanders, note that without judgment and bring your focus back to the present moment. Done regularly, this exercise is a simple way to develop a more focused, present-centered and non-reactive way of engaging the world.
The Interfaith Calendar lists more than 15 holidays for the month of December. Christmas and Hanukkah are among the most well known. Here are three other celebrations observed during the month:
- Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, not a religious one, so many African-American families observe the traditions of Kwanzaa and also celebrate Christmas.
- Bodhi Day on Dec 8 is a day for Buddhists to remember when Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, and became Buddha, while sitting under the Bodhi Tree.
- Posadas Navideñas is a 9-day Hispanic tradition. Starting on December 16, nightly candlelit processions reenact Mary and Joseph searching for shelter in Bethlehem.