The holiday season celebrates so many wonderful U.S. traditions. From trimming the tree to baking holiday treats, Americans both young and old have much to look forward to as Hanukkah and Christmas approach. But what do the holidays look like around the world?. While much of the Yuletide season looks the same throughout the world, the following activity ideas feature traditions from various countries that may come as a surprise. Bring joy to your group while discovering different global holiday traditions with the activity ides below.
ADVENT CALENDARS FROM SWITZERLAND – Advent calendars aren’t unique to Switzerland. However, Swiss families traditionally make their own advent calendar for the holiday season, instead of purchasing from a store. Create personalized advent calendars with your group at the beginning of the month. Keep it simple by giving members small treat bags that they can label with the days of the month, or try creating one of these. Provide small candies, stickers, or other small objects for participants to place inside.
LANTERN FESTIVAL FROM THE PHILIPPINES – The Philippine city of San Fernando holds Ligligan Parul, or the Giant Lantern Festival, each year. These lanterns consist of thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky, representing the Star of Bethlehem. Host your own Ligligan Parul. Place lanterns around a community room and use twinkle lights or battery-operated candles to illuminate them. Invite members to stroll through the lanterns. Sing carols together and reminisce about going to see holiday lights as a kid.
YULE LADS IN ICELAND – Similar to the 12 days of Christmas in the U.S., Iceland celebrates 13. For each of the 13 nights before Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by the 13 Yule Lads. Before going to bed, children place their shoes by a window. In the morning, they wake up to either candy or rotten potatoes, depending on their behavior. Arrange a visit from the “Yule Lads” for group members who dare to participate. Encourage members to set a pair of shoes by their window. Work with team members to place a small treat near participants’ shoes during the 13 days leading up to Christmas.
BEACH YULETIDE IN NEW ZEALAND – The holidays fall during the summer season in New Zealand, which means that many Kiwis head to the beach during Yuletide. Plan an indoor beach holiday social for your group. Decorate with inflatable palm trees and use pineapples as centerpieces. Use umbrella straws in drinks. Work with your dining team to serve pre-plated appetizers and desserts that are representative of New Zealand. Listen to beach-inspired holiday music, such as Mele Kalikimaka or Christmas in the Caribbean.
LITTLE CHRISTMAS FROM NORWAY – In Norway, many families gather to celebrate Little Christmas on December 23. Invite your group and their family members to a Little Christmas celebration. Provide each group with a gingerbread house kit to make together. Members and their families can decorate their gingerbread houses in their own rooms if necessary. Serve hot chocolate, already poured into individual cups. Alternatively, give each group individually packaged hot chocolate packets and disposable cups to make their own hot chocolate in their rooms.
REMINISCING ABOUT SANTA WITH THE DUTCH – Like the U.S., the Dutch are visited by Saint Nicholas. However, the Dutch refer to Saint Nicholas as Sinterklaas and he has a long white beard, red cape, and red miter. Print photos of Sinterklaas to share with your group. Discuss similarities and differences. Do a quick internet search to learn about other versions of Santa Claus from around the world. Share with your group. Then, reminisce with your group about their Santa traditions from childhood and/or from parenting. End by reading the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore.
KFC IN JAPAN – Thanks to an amazing marketing campaign in 1974 called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” or “Kentucky for Christmas,” many Japanese citizens head to their local Kentucky Fired Chicken to celebrate the Yuletide season. Take your group out to lunch at your local KFC in honor of Japan’s holiday tradition. If you can’t go out, order a catered lunch from KFC for your group.
POINSETTIAS FROM MEXICO – We can thank Mexico for giving us the official plant of Christmas, the poinsettia. The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are thought to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. Create poinsettia ornaments with your group this month. You’ll need red and green felt, yellow tissue paper, ribbon, cardboard, and glue. Head over to firstpalette for complete instructions, including a free template.
HANUKKAH IN ISRAEL – To celebrate one of the miracles of Hanukkah, the small pot of oil that lasted for eight days instead of one, Israelis indulge in sufganiyot, or jelly donuts. Partake in this tradition by serving jelly donuts to your group while playing the dreidel game. Check out this website for more on Hanukkah, including traditional blessings, songs, and lighting the Hanukkah candles.
PICKLE FROM GERMANY – Although the origins of the Christmas Pickle are unclear, the tradition is one that many families treat as a fun game. Prior to going to bed, parents hide a pickle ornament deep on their Christmas tree branches. The first kid to find the pickle in the morning gets a special present. Turn this tradition into a game for your group. Use green paper to cut out pickles. Select a day to hide the pickles throughout your facility. Encourage members to find a pickle and bring it to you to redeem for a prize.
CARTOONS IN SWEDEN – Families in Sweden have a unique holiday tradition that involves cartoons. In 1958, a Christmas special called Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas, aired in Sweden. Due to the new commodity of televisions in the country, everything was planned around the television special, and still is today. In honor of this quirky tradition, invite members to watch this television special. You can find the original cartoon on Youtube. Alternatively, feature another cartoon holiday special, such as Rudolph, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or The Grinch. Set the scene by placing Swedish flags around the room. Swing by IKEA to pick up Swedish snacks to serve.
CHRISTMAS LOGS IN SPAIN – A strange, but endearing holiday tradition from Spain involves a log that arrives around December eighth. Children paint a face on the log and are encouraged to “feed” the Caga Tio. Come Christmas Eve, the children beat the log with a stick until the stick gives them small gifts (put out by parents while the children are distracted). Make miniature Caga Tios with your group. You’ll need mini logs or wood slices, found at a craft store, paint brushes, acrylic paint, and red and black felt. Give each participant a log or wood slice. Provide them with red, black, and white paint. Instruct participants to paint a face on the log. Use the red and black felt to make a Santa hat for the Caga Tio to wear. If it’s helpful, look up what a traditional Caga Tio looks like on the internet to share with participants.
PARADING WITH THE GAMBIA – In some countries around the world, the end of Christmas Eve service signals the time to go to bed and wait for Santa. However, in many African nations, it means the party is just getting started. The Gambia holds a joyous parade after Midnight Mass, where locals dance through the towns with large lanterns made from bamboo and paper in the shape of houses or boats. Invite members to parade through your community after an evening meal or religious service. Prior to the parade, create origami boats with your group. Line the halls with the boats and place a battery-operated votive candle inside to illuminate. Decorate the halls with twinkle lights. Play festive music as your group parades, encouraging members to carol through the halls.
JOY TO THE WORLD TRIVIA
- Which country started the Christmas tree tradition? Germany
- What decoration is usually hung by the chimney with care, and originated from the actions of a kind, noble man named Nicholas from modern-day Turkey? Stockings
- Name the most recorded Christmas song of all time, written in 1816 by a priest in Austria. “Silent Night”
- Said to have started in England, which plant demands a kiss if you are caught beneath it with another person? Mistletoe
- How does one say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish? Feliz Navidad
- In Finland, Santa doesn’t ride a sleigh, but a barnyard animal. Which animal does he ride? A goat (named Ukko)
- Instead of stockings, what do children in Holland put out for Santa to leave small gifts inside? Shoes
- What is the day after Christmas Day called in the United Kingdom? Boxing Day
- It’s common to give money at Christmas in which Asian country: Japan, China, or South Korea? South Korea
- Which country is known for children leaving out mince pies and a bottle of Guinness for Santa Claus? Ireland
JOY TO THE WORLD THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“The world has grown weary through the years, but at Christmas it is young.” ~ Phillips Brooks
“Joy to the World” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2021 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprint Policy: To reprint or republish all or portions of this entry, please acquire written permission and agree to link back to the original source. You can contact us at [email protected] to obtain permission.