Aegean Odyssey is currently sailing to more historical and culturally rich destinations and as she does, her guests and crew are preparing to celebrate Christmas on board. When dinner is served on December 25th, she’ll be cruising the Red Sea, en-route to exciting ports in Oman and India. How Christmas is celebrated is different for us all – although it nearly always involves a feast – so we’re going to look at Christmas traditions from some of our favourite destinations and some of our newest.
Although times are changing, traditionally Christmas was celebrated on January 7th in Russia, in line with Christian Orthodox tradition. In Soviet times, religious holidays were banned, so it wasn’t unusual for New Year celebrations to also include the decorating of fir trees and gift giving.
In Russia, Santa Claus is known as Father Frost (Ded Moroz). Folklore depicts him riding with an evergreen tree in a traditional Russian sleigh drawn by three horses. He is also usually accompanied by his granddaughter ‘Snegurochka’ and they visit with gifts on New Year’s Day.
When it comes to traditional Christmas food there are many options, but the main dish consumed during the holy supper is Sochivo, which is porridge containing poppy seeds, whole grains and delicious honey. Another popular dish is Pagach, which is simply bread dipped in honey and then chopped garlic.
In Norway, Christmas Eve is the main day of celebrations and it’s also when gifts are exchanged. Often those gifts are brought by Julenissen (Santa Claus), but they are also sometimes left by small gnomes called Nisse or even hobgoblins.
One the most famous customs of Norwegian Christmas time in recent years, which many people don’t know about, is the gifting of a large tree to the United Kingdom. This tree takes pride of place every year in Trafalgar Square, and it is given to the country as a ‘thank you’ for the help that the people of the UK gave to Norway during World War II.
The most popular Christmas Eve meal in eastern Norway is pork ribs or pork belly, known as ‘ribbe’. In the west, Pinnekjott is the favoured dish. This is rib of mutton served with potatoes and mashed German turnip. When it comes to dessert, hot rice pudding (Risengrynsgrøt) is the only option. It’s served with sugar, butter and cinnamon, and if you’re lucky enough to find an almond in your portion, you’ll win a marzipan pig.
India is a land filled with people of many different religions and for those that practise Christianity, Christmas is a very important time of the year. In some places, Christmas is known as Bada Din which simply means ‘big day’, and it’s a time when markets are bursting with Christmas trees and festive decorations. Everything is filled with bright and vibrant colours in India and Christmastime is no exception. One of the most traditional decorations is a brightly coloured star and you’ll often find that many families make their own decorations at home.
As with this time of year in any destination, food is a big aspect of the celebrations, especially sweet treats. ‘Kuswar’ is the traditional name for festive sweets and they often include fruit cakes, deep fried dough balls and cardamom and cashew macaroons.
Christmas Day often brings a typical Indian breakfast before families gather their homemade sweets and wish their neighbours a Happy Christmas, regardless of their religion.
As with many other countries, traditions and customs can vary per region, but in Spain, most families enjoy the main feast of the festive period on Christmas Eve (Nochebuena), before attending ‘La Misa Del Gallo’ which translates to The Mass of the Rooster. The most popular meal for Christmas Eve in some regions is now seafood, but traditionally it was a dish called Pavo Trufado de Navidad, which was turkey stuffed with mushroom truffles.
Nativity scenes are also big across Spain and many municipalities will display a public one in the run up to Christmas. Some are very traditional, while others have a more modern-take and some are even shown surrounded by live animals.
One of the most popular, if not oddest traditions to be found in the Catalonia region comes in the shape of a wooden log. Known as Tio de Nadal, the hollow log has 2 legs and a smiley face painted on it. From December 8th, families ‘feed’ the log and then wrap it in a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve, the log is tapped with sticks until its ‘digestion’ allows it to give out small gifts, such as sweets and nuts.
Christmas in South Africa falls during the countries summer season and although the climate may be very different, there are many similarities between Christmas celebrations in South Africa and those in the UK. This stems from the days of colonization. As an example, Boxing Day (the second day of Christmastide) is also a national holiday in South Africa.
The main festive feast is meat (turkey, duck, suckling pig, roast beef) accompanied by vegetables and yellow rice. For dessert, it’s a traditional offering of Lekker (also known as Malva) Pudding. Lekker in Afrikaan translates to ‘good’ and this rich sweet treat is certainly that. It usually has an apricot taste and is served with custard or ice cream.
A traditional fir tree is decorated in the run up to the big day and on Christmas Eve, children will leave out stockings for Sinterklaas (Santa Claus). Boxing Day sees families visit friends or take a trip to the beach to cool off.
Christmas really is a wonderful time of year. If you enjoyed reading this post, you might enjoy some of our previous Christmas blogs: Christmas In Ancient Greece and A Look Back At Some Ancient Festive Traditions. So, where in the world will you be this Christmas?