Top 5
Favorite holiday traditions

BY Óscar Curros

What if Santa Claus called telling you he can’t visit your house next year? You might have to accept one of two alternatives: letting Santa’s friend, the Apalpador, come home and check your children’s bellies to ensure they’re eating well, or keeping a fire burning all night like the Celts. Do these options sound alien to you? Not to me. Here in Galicia, northwest of Spain, we have many popular traditions like those. Other professionals around the world have their own unique holiday traditions.

Advertisement

Name: Alba Carballal Rodríguez

Position: Student of the BA in Translation and Interpreting

Company: University of Vigo

CHRISTMAS CHARRED STICK (“TIZÓN DE NADAL”)

We all know the mainstream Western Christmas, but now, I will talk about a Galician holiday tradition known as Christmas charred stick (tizón de Nadal). Originating from a Celtic rite, legend suggests you retain some of its warmth if the flame lasts all night, bringing luck.

Celts had the custom of lighting a torch on Winter Solstice Eve made with wood from one of the sacred trees, in honor of Danu (Dana, goddess of the Earth). The wood can be fir, pine, or birch, although the preferred tree for this ceremony is oak.

Several straw torches are lit after dinner to light the kitchen the next day. In this ritual, fire is like a renewal: Old ailments and negative spirits die, while positive forces rise again with the souls of the deceased around the fire.

As a curiosity, there is a similarity between the Christmas charred stick (tizón de Nadal) and Saint John’s Eve. While the first happens on the winter solstice, the second occurs on the summer solstice, where bonfires burn away evil and open new opportunity.

Name: Franca Umasoye Igwe

Position: Co-founder

Company: Afrilingo

CHRISTMAS IN SOUTH NIGERIA

Christmas season in Nigeria, a culturally diverse country with over 400 languages, is celebrated between Christmas and the new year. It’s celebrated with a mix of cultural activities and family visits. Examples are the owu and ogbukele dances of the Ekpeye ethnic nationality and the opobo nwaotam boat regatta of the Opobo people.

In the Ekpeye ethnic nationality the dance is displayed at the community square accompanied with drums and dancers. Different artifacts representing personalities are worn by families after a series of moonlight practices. The sole aim for the owu and ogbukele display is mostly for entertainment, although some can appear scary.

There’s also the Opobo Regatta Festival observed before the new year by the people of Opobo Kingdom. Different cultural groups paddle around the island with drums and music to cleanse the new year.

And yes, I celebrate the owu and ogbukele festivals, although I don’t play an active role in the activities.

Advertisement

Name: Urszula Weska (Ula Węska)

Position: Comms specialist

Company: Transition Technologies Managed Services

CHRISTMAS IN POLAND

In Poland we have a tradition of caroling (kolędowanie, coming from the word “kolęda,” a carol). The tradition involved dressing up (usually as animals), walking from house to house singing carols, and often receiving little gifts or sweets. Caroling with animal masks is popular, often accompanied by playing comic scenes, scaring viewers, and playing pranks.

The most popular animal masks are the wisent, goat, bear, horse, rooster, and stork, all animals symbolizing strength, health, life, energy, and fertility. In some regions, carolers are even accompanied by a live horse.

Walking with a nativity scene delivering performances with the help of puppets is also a form of caroling. The carol-singing celebration is a long-awaited event, and omitting the house was considered a bad sign.

Once, the tradition was widespread in the countryside. Nowadays, it’s celebrated infrequently, especially in cities. I remember it from my early childhood, and even though I do not celebrate Christmas in a religious way, I really like to listen to Christmas carols. Here is my favorite one, performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEiOAVuHNCg

Name: Rivkah Ben-Yisrael

Position: Hewbrew-to-English translator and copywriter

Company: RBY Translations

HANUKKA

Jewish people worldwide celebrate the eight-day festival of Hanukkah in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which generally coincides with November-December. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah 2022 will take place between Dec. 18-26.

Each evening, we light a special candelabra called the hanukkiah for the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greek superpower in the second century BCE. The name Hanukkah, also a celebration of a little oil that lasted eight days, is derived from the Hebrew word meaning “dedication” due to the fact that the Jewish people regained control of Jerusalem and the Temple after defeating the Greeks.

Hanukkah is a time of togetherness. Families and friends gather each night of the festival and light the hanukkiah, eat oily foods to celebrate the miracle of the oil (with favorites being doughnuts and potato pancakes called levivot), sing festive songs about the Hanukkah history, play games using a four-sided top called a sevivon unique to Hanukkah, and celebrate the miracle of Jewish survival throughout the ages. Living in Israel, Hanukkah is a national holiday. Children enjoy time off school, and special events take place all over the country.

Name: Gerardo Piña

Position: Freelance translator

Company: University professor at TEC, UNAM, and CENTRO

CHRISTMAS IN MEXICO

In Mexico, we celebrate the so-called “posadas,” small celebrations before Christmas, from Dec. 16-24. Before the Spanish conquistadores arrived, Aztecs made celebrations to their god Huitzilopochtli in Panquetzaliztli (December). The Spanish introduced Catholic masses called “misas de aguinaldo,” featuring Christmas scripture readings. After Mexican independence, most people stopped attending them in favor of posadas, gathering to sing songs of Christ’s birth. One group sings from inside the house and another from outside. Those outside represent Mary and Joseph, who are looking for lodging (or posada) for the night. Those inside sing songs related to hospitality. At the end, the insiders let the outsiders in.

Once everybody is in the house, people eat tamales and ponche (a sweet, hot drink made with fruits). Then piñatas are broken (not just by kids). People like my family celebrate for fun after drinks, food, and piñatas, but no singing. My wife and I prefer to grab a beer and have a chat with our favorite neighbors while our kids play.

Nowadays posadas seem to me more warming up for end-of-year celebrations (lots of eating, drinking, and gossiping). After all, the word “religion” comes from the Latin verb “religare,” to bind, and posadas bind people in their own way.

Óscar Curros is a journalist, translator, and writer for MultiLingual Media.

Advertisement

RELATED ARTICLES

WEEKLY DIGEST

Subscribe to stay updated between magazine issues.