As they say, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the time where every house gets brighter and ovens are really tested to their limits whilst making some of the most incredible mince pies, Christmas cakes and Christmas logs. Roundabouts get sparkly, hanging Santas start to emerge dangling from the balconies, and our diet is put to a pause. That is when you know that it’s Christmas time in Malta.
However, this cannot be said for other countries (not much of a surprise when it comes to the hanging Santas to be honest). Even a country like Italy, of which we are neighbours, has very different customs to us when it comes to this time of the year. Whereas we normally buy ready made panettones and pandoros, Italians normally bake the delicious goodness themselves. Speaking of food, some Italians (depending on the region) have a custom of eating fish on the 24th of December. On boxing day, or as the Italians call it ‘Santo Stefano’, people have the custom of gathering up with a couple of friends and eat cheese, meat and eggs. Continuing with food all the way up to new year’s eve, they have a tradition where they eat 12 grapes, each representing a month of the upcoming year.
The French get cozy during this time of year by burning Yule Logs in their homes. The log is sprinkled with red wine to make it smell nice when it’s burning. The logs and candles are left burning all night with some food and drinks left just in case Mary and the baby come for a visit during the night.
The children on the islands of Greece, especially the boys, often go out to sing carols in the street. Sometimes they will carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted in gold. The children will be given some money, nuts, sweets and dried figs to eat if their singing is enjoyable.
Instead of Christmas trees, most houses will have a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. Basil is wrapped around a wooden cross and is hanged from the wire. Once a day, the mother of the family dips the cross and basil into some holy water and sprinkles it around the house. This is believed to keep the bad spirits which are alleged to appear during the Christmas period away.
On the other side of the globe, we find Japan where Christmas is known more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas eve there very much resembles Valentine’s day for us in Europe. It is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples exchange presents and go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal. Fried chicken is often eaten on Christmas day followed by a slice of the traditional Christmas cake which is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and cream.
Despite having all these different customs and different ways of celebrating this time of year, Christmas is surely a time of sharing happiness with one another.