Thursday, December 17, 2009

Miscellany: Lesser-Known Christmas Traditions

All this month, Shangrila Towers will be serving up various Christmas-themed posts. Today we'll toss around some ideas for unusual Christmas celebrations. Don't get me wrong, I like holiday tradition as much as the next guy, but it can be a good idea to step out of your Yuletide comfort zone.

A WWI-style Christmas Truce

What the heck are we doing to each other? That thought must have crossed the minds of British and German soldiers during the famous "Christmas truce" of 1914. For several days, many near the front lines walked into no man's land, exchanging gifts, sharing stories, and singing Christmas songs. It's hard to imagine celebrating the holiday season with someone who was shooting at you a week before, but sometimes people get reminded of how mercilessly short our time on this earth is.

You can celebrate your own "Trench Christmas" by making peace with an enemy or rival, at least for the holiday season (perhaps a friendly game of soccer, like the soldiers played in 1914?). More literally, you can send small gifts, like a knit scarf or balaclava, to the troops serving overseas.

Christmas Crackers

I have no idea why this charming tradition never really caught on here in the States - the other former British colonies, the UK, and even Russia have a strong Christmas craacker market:

You fill a tube with small pieces and candy and perhaps little gifts or writings, than roll it up in bright wrapping paper. Hold one end, have someone else hold the other, and BANG! Instant merriment.

Galette des Rois, the "Twelfth Night Cake"

Technically this isn't a Christmas tradition (since the traditional "king cake" is served during Epiphany), but it's close enough. It's also another custom practiced around the world that is largely absent here in the U.S. (except for some Spanish and French-influenced parts of the country).

You bake a cake, hiding a trinket or toy inside. Whoever gets the trinket is made "king," and so must offer the next cake. I prefer the French versions, with their heady almond fillings. French bakeries even have special lines of collectible figurines for these cakes.


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