My family has strong ethnic ties, with our parents immigrating here from Europe. My parents were German and Ukrainian. Ironically, my family did not seem to be that committed to practicing traditions, other than putting up a Christmas tree and a manger set. Besides those things, I remember only a couple of traditions.
Advent Calendar - This is typically a calendar that marks of the 24 days before Christmas. It is usually colorful and has little windows/flaps to open on each day, revealing a Christmas themed picture. We received a calendar shipped from Germany by family still living there. We used it year after year. Now Advent calendars are common in many countries, including the US. They are religious themed and non religious. They even come with little chocolates or candy that are revealed when the window flap is opened. I carried on this tradition and had Advent calendars on my refrigerator for my own children to open.
Christmas Stollen - This is a yeast baked product with dried fruit. (nothing like a fruitcake by the way). It is usually dusted with powdered sugar. I remember having stollen on Christmas. It was usually shipped in a gift package from relatives in Germany.
Christmas Cookies - Baking special cookies was an annual activity at my house growing up. My mom would bake a variety of cookies, usually involving me in the process. I too carried on the Christmas cookie tradition while my children were younger. I started baking after Thanksgiving and stored (or tried to!) the cookies for Christmas. I have since discontinued doing that tradition. Why? It was just too tempting to have all those sweets around, and even with sharing the bounty, we still ended up eating most of them ourselves! Not good for us now with cholesterol and weight considerations.
My dad came from Ukraine. He has roots in the Orthodox church, and their Christmas follows the Julian calendar, placing Christmas on Jan 7. Ironically, my dad never shared memories of Christmas traditions from his childhood. The only thing we did was leave the tree up till Jan 7, if possible, and if not, we would leave the manger set up. He did not have a very easy life as a child, and I can only think that Christmas traditions for him were not deeply rooted.
My spouse is Polish with strong connections to Polish traditions. We practice several Polish Christmas traditions.
Wigilia - Christmas Eve is the most holy and meaningful day for people of Poland. Wigilia comes from the Latin word "vigilare" which means to wait. Wigilia includes a tradition of gathering together on Christmas Eve for a meatless meal. Traditionally, the meal consists of twelve meatless dishes, and includes many kinds of fish, beet or mushroom soup, various dishes made from cabbage, mushrooms, or potatoes, pierogi, followed by dried fruit compote and pastries for dessert. Our Wigilia celebrations have been meatless with fish, shrimp, potatoes, cabbage and pierogi. Another tradition is waiting for sighting of the first star after which the meal can start. My husband remembers as a child, having the responsibility to watch the sky and report when the first star is visible.
Oplatek Chjristmas Wafer - Sharing of the oplatek (pronounced opwatek) is a Polish Christmas tradition with a long history.. Oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water. It has a similar in taste to the hosts that are used for communion during Mass. This tradition dates back many centuries. Originally oplatek was called podplomyk and were bread baked over an open flame. Patterns were cut into the breads. Today's oplatek continue the tradition, with patterns of Nativity scenes on them. Oplatek is shared before beginning the Wigilia meal. Everyone present has a large piece of wafer, and everyone shares a piece with each other. When snapping off a piece, you give wishes for peace and prosperity to each other.
There are so many traditions connected with the Christmas season. These are the ones that are significant to our family. What other traditions are celebrated? What traditions have you or do you continue to practice? Have you initiated new traditions too?
Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas!