I used to think I was crazy for wanting to sing Christmas carols in July. Turns out, carols used to not be just Christmas related; although they weren’t “All I Want for Christmas Is You”, they were originally pagan songs meant to be sung at solstices. Who’d have thought?
Luckily I grew out of that phase, but maybe you haven’t, and that’s okay! This holiday season, you can be whoever you want to be—within reason, of course; there’s no need to cross the line into cultural appropriation. What I’m getting at is that with the internet kindly speeding up the process of globalization, we can connect with other cultures, languages, and traditions faster than ever, meaning we can also celebrate however we choose. So with the spirit of the season surrounding us, here are 5 holiday traditions that you could adopt.
1. Aguinaldo navideño
To start things off on the right foot, we’re heading over to the Dominican Republic. The amazing thing about this Christmas tradition is we’ve inaptly titled it “Aguinaldo.” The word most literally refers to a Christmas bonus (as in the $$ bonus you get at work), but is used colloquially to refer to a caroling procession.
What differentiates the Aguinaldo from your usual carolers is that it’s organized by a church, starts in the wee hours of the morning, and culminates in an organized breakfast at a volunteering house when the sun comes up.
The idea behind the procession is to awaken each neighborhood with Christmas cheer. (Yes, they do this on weekdays.) I’m assuming you can already see the potential pitfalls to this, especially now that my neighborhood has upgraded by getting a bus and a megaphone to scream Christmas cheer at you every morning until you eventually die of a heart attack.
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People used to not know anything about Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), but this Dutch tradition has been under fire since the rest of the world figured out it was kind of racist that, in this version of the Old St. Nick story, Santa’s elves were slaves from Africa and blackface was used to interpret Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Santa’s #1 helper.
Now, to be fair, this is a very old tradition dating back to the third century. Sure, we should always vouch for revisiting and readdressing old traditions (to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves), but ultimately the tale of Sinterklaas is not used in present day to belittle or ridicule a race.
The celebration takes place on the eve of Sint’s birthday on December 5th in The Netherlands, and on the morning of December 6th in Belgium. The idea is for parents to come up with original gift-wrapping techniques and a riddle or poem to help the children guess the contents of the package. Sinterklaas, beyond being a Christmas figure, is the patron saint of Amsterdam and is known as the “Miracle-worker” for saving his native town of Myra from starvation.
3. Roscón de reyes
While most Western countries are obsessed with the Coca-Cola Christmas (AKA Santa Claus and polar bears), Spain pays much more attention to El día de reyes, or “Three Kings’ Day.” The tradition follows the story of the Magi’s visit to baby Jesus. Since they brought over gifts for the newborn child, kids all over Spain and Latin America (although it is celebrated elsewhere), receive a second wave of gifts on January 6th.
The roscón de reyes (king’s ring) is a circular pastry meant to be eaten during Epiphany—
another name for Three Kings’ Day. The pastry holds two hidden items, one is a small figurine, usually of an infant Jesus or a toy for children, and the other is a dry fava bean. Whoever gets the slice with the figurine becomes the “king” or “queen” for the day, while whoever finds the fava bean needs to pay for next year’s roscón.
During the day, massive processions featuring the Wise Men or Magi take place all over Spain. Many can be found on TV or streamed live online, so you can enjoy your homemade roscón de reyes while watching. I mean, it’s cheaper than a flight to Spain.
4. Boxing Day
While we’ve probably all heard of this one, I’m including it because it’s the one we’ll be most reluctant to follow through with. Boxing Day, celebrated on December 26th (AKA the day after Christmas), is a holiday dedicated to helping the poor by setting up donation boxes. It is mostly observed by the UK and its commonwealths, like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Many sporting events also take place during this day, as well as sales before the phenomenon of Black Friday took over. In The Netherlands, pig-shaped pottery was used to collect donations (piggy banks, anyone?). In the UK, Boxing Day meant Christmas Day for servants who could finally take time off to be with their families.
All in all, Boxing Day is a good opportunity to give back after having spent time with family and friends, bathed in holiday cheer. You don’t need literal boxes to be put outside at your local Salvation Armies or churches (although I’m sure they’ll be some), but just donating to any charity or taking your old clothes to any institution close by will do.
5. The Christmas Pickle
To end in a cynical tone—because why not—here is the story of a great marketing scheme: The Christmas Pickle. Many stories exist to justify the existence of a Christmas pickle hanging on your tree. Yet, neither the two Spanish boys being killed and thrown into a pickle barrel just to later be revived by St. Nick, nor the Bavarian prisoner in the U.S. Civil War who’s dying wish of eating a pickle kept him alive seem to ring true.
Instead, the Christmas Pickle seems to have been one more sales trap that worked wonders. Take note: if you want to sell leftover pickle-shaped ornaments, tell the people it’s an old German tradition.
Anyways, if you do want to involve yourself with the Christmas Pickle lore, all you have to do is hide a pickle ornament in your tree. Whoever finds it first gets a gift. Fun, right? And if you feel like a major pickle fan, you can head on over to Berrien Springs, MI in early December to participate in the one-of-a-kind annual pickle festival, one that, of course, could only be hosted at the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World.
(Am I the only one thinking of a “Pickle Rick” Christmas ornament from Rick and Morty?)
And there you have it. Five holiday traditions from wack to hack to give your monotonous holiday schedule a brand new shine.