By Shannon Scales
When I was a child, I assumed everyone experienced Christmas the same way I did. The world of a child is such a small bubble that grows as they do, but in those early days, I assumed that everyone celebrated the same way.
Every Christmas eve in our home, we’d get together with family, eat delicious food, run and scream and play (the kids more so than the adults on that last one) and then head to our respective homes to open one gift before bed. The next morning, we’d rush into the living room to see what Santa Claus had brought and open our stockings and presents together. After the excitement of the morning settled, we’d head over to my grandparents house for turkey dinner with all the fixings ending with Christmas pudding or pie.
This was the way it was for many years. But even within my own family, things changed. There was separation and growth that formed new traditions. I began to realize that there was more than one way to celebrate this special holiday and that the creation of your own traditions can be as meaningful as those forged over many generations.
With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a peek at how a few other countries/cultures celebrate this festive holiday. Where do our traditions overlap and differ?
In Norwegian culture, the tradition of receiving and opening gifts takes place on Christmas eve. Some of these gifts are brought by “Julenissen” (Santa Claus) and by small gnomes called “Nisse”. Nisse are believed to watch over the animals of the farm and are often left a type of rice pudding. You may be familiar with a Norwegian traditional decoration called “Julekurver” which are weaved paper hearts. I found this tutorial on how to make one here if you’d like to add a little Norwegian tradition to your Christmas tree this year.
In Estonia, Christmas time starts with Advent. Children put their socks on their window ledge and every day until December 24th, an elf comes and puts some sweets in it! On Christmas Eve, Santa visits and asks children to recite poems in exchange for gifts. A traditional Christmas meal for Estonians is blood sausage, which is made from blood, oats and pork. Other staples of the season include sauerkraut, tangerines and gingerbread. Below is a beautiful shot of a traditional Estonian Christmas Market.
Georgians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. This is because the Georgian Orthodox Church (like the Orthodox Churches in Russia, Serbia and other countries) use the old 'Julian' calendar for their festivals. On Christmas Day, many people will go on an 'Alilo,' a parade in the streets. They are dressed in special clothes and costumes to celebrate Christmas. Some people carry Georgian flags and others might be dressed as people from the Christmas story. Children like taking part in the Alilo as they're often given sweets! Presents are exchanged on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) and “Tovlis Papa” (Grandfather Snow) arrives to deliver sweets and treats to the children of Georgia.
Above: Traditional Georgian Alilo
Christmas eve in the Czech Republic starts with a dinner of fish soup and potato salad. Ježíšek, 'Little Jesus' brings presents during the dinner and leaves them under the Christmas tree. When they hear the bell ring, that means that Ježíšek has been and left presents for the children. Once dinner is over, it’s time to see what Ježíšek has brought! The Czech Republic is also known for their beautifully decorated Christmas sweets!
One thing that seems to carry throughout is the act of gathering around a nice meal with family and loved ones. Food brings us together and helps to create those warm, loving memories that we carry throughout our lives.
Now that my husband and I have created our own little family, we have blended our traditions together. I love to see our son getting excited about the holidays and experiencing all of the joy and festivities of the season. We’ve added our own spin on things. We countdown to Christmas with our own Advent calendar that I fill with treats each day. We spend Christmas Eve with family and partake in the German tradition of lighting the Christmas tree and then we settle in at home for a quiet evening before the excitement and bustle of Christmas day. Christmas morning begins with a flurry of present opening and excitement followed by a feast of Christmas morning casserole, fresh fruit, and sticky buns with my husband’s family. And then this pattern of gift giving and eating is repeated until we roll off to bed sufficiently stuffed with holiday eats.
What kind of traditions does your family do for the holidays?
Now I’ll leave you with a special treat. This week I experimented with adding some tea to a much loved dessert. To say it turned out well would be an understatement. You’ve got to try our divine Vienna Eggnog Cheesecake this holiday season! Recipe below!
May you all have a very Merry Christmas!
Lady Baker’s Vienna Eggnog Cheesecake
FOR THE CRUST
- 1 + ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
- ½ cup gingersnap cookie crumbs
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
FOR THE CHEESECAKE
- 4 packages (250g each) cream cheese, softened
- 1 + ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp Lady Baker’s Vienna Eggnog Tea
- ¼ cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
FOR THE TOPPING
- 1 cup whipping cream
- ¼ cup confectioners' sugar
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ground nutmeg, for garnish
- Move the oven rack to the lower third position and heat the oven to 350°F.
- Line bottom of spring-form pan with a round of parchment fitting the bottom only.
- Combine the graham crumbs, gingersnap crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press crumb mixture into the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the filling.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF and set a small pan (8x8 or so) with 1-2 inches of water on the lowest rack of your oven. Move the above rack so that it is as close to the pan as possible.
- In a large mixing bowl beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
- Add the sugar, cream and steeped tea (removing leaves prior), beat until well combined. Add the vanilla and nutmeg, beat on low speed until smooth.
- On lowest setting of your mixer, gently add in the eggs one at a time until just combined. Pour the batter over the prepared crust.
- Bake for 1 hour, OR until the edges are set and the center is slightly jiggly. Turn the oven off, leave the cheesecake in the oven for another hour. (This should yield a perfect cheesecake!)
- Remove the cheesecake from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Run a small knife around the outer edge of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan and set it on a wire rack to cool completely.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- Mix together the cream, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until whipped to your desired thickness.
- Transfer to a piping bag and pipe desired quantity on top of your cheesecake
If you give this decadent dessert a try, let us know in the comments below!