As Christmas looms closer, have you ever found yourself in the “pre-wrapped, generic gift baskets” section of the store desperately looking for something to give the hard-to-shop-for friend or neighbor on your list? Maybe an exotic jerky assortment or wine bottle-shaped cutting board really is the perfect, most thoughtful gift for them. And maybe being in that big chain retail store makes you feel extra connected to the Christmas season. But if not, you may want to look for your nearest European-style Christmas market.
On the Seventh Day of Imported Christmas, we went to a local Christkindlmarkt (literally translates to Christ child market) to find unique gifts for loved ones, try delicious food, and experience the moments of awe and connection to Christ that make the season so special.
If you ever go to a street market in Tbilisi, Georgia in the fall or winter, you will see bundles of lumpy purple candles hanging in the stalls. Thought they may look waxy, those hanging candles are actually churchkhela, a delicious Georgian candy made of nuts and fruit juice.
On the Sixth Day of Imported Christmas, we tried churchkhela. Because this treat has spread to other countries in the region, we were able to find some at our local Middle Eastern market. But if you have some time on your hands, you can also make your own.
Christmas is a time for family, gratitude, traditional food, and, in most cases, threats and/or bribes to elicit good behavior. Children spend the weeks leading up to Christmas knowing that if they don’t do as they’re told, the mythical being responsible for bringing them presents (or his/her cronies) will leave a disappointing or even terrifying surprise instead.
But what if the children receive perfectly lovely, practical gifts like socks and new school clothes, but they hate them? Iceland has the answer. Simply explain to the children that anyone who doesn’t receive clothing for Christmas will be hunted down and eaten by the bloodthirsty Jólakötturinn (Yule Cat). Suddenly those socks are the greatest present they’ve ever received. So on the Fifth Day of Imported Christmas, we gave each other clothes to appease the Icelandic Yule Cat.
The next time you meet someone who has lived in or visited Spain, ask them what they enjoyed the most about their Spanish experience. If they are anything like the people I know, food is going to make their top three greatest Spanish hits. Especially around the holidays, Spanish meals are an event. Friends and family make and linger over elaborate spreads with multiple courses.
On the Fourth Day of Imported Christmas, Gordon made some festive tapas favorites so we could get a taste of Spain during the holidays.
No one is really surprised to see candles in most Christian churches, especially in Europe. If, however, those candles are stuffed into oranges and speared with candy and ribbons, you may wonder what kind of ceremony you’ve stumbled into.
On the Third Day of Imported Christmas, we’re making our way to England, where these citrus-scented candlesticks, Christingles, are a beloved part of Christmas for children across the country.
Imagine that you are sitting in front of a fire on a frosty night sometime in the twelve days after Christmas when you hear a knock at the door. It could be neighbors with treats, or perhaps carolers looking for a pot of hot wassail. Or, if you’re in Wales, it may be a horse skull with glowing eyes and a long white cloak hoping to challenge you to a rhyming contest so it can come inside to raid your pantry and wine cellar.
On the Second Day of Imported Christmas, we made a Mari Lwyd to celebrate midwinter like our Welsh ancestors. Turns out it’s harder than you might think to find an actual horse skull in Utah. Fortunately, Gordon found Trac Cymru, a Welsh folk development organization that has created a flatpack cardboard version with international shipping.
How do you mark the beginning of the Christmas season? For some, it’s finally playing Christmas music outside of the privacy of their car. For others, it’s cleaning up from the last major non-December holiday (Thanksgiving may or may not count) and putting out their favorite festive decor. At Hobby Lobby, Christmas comes in May, after the spring line is relegated to the discount shelves to make room for technicolor Santas and enough garland to circle the earth.
On this year’s first day of imported Christmas, we’re looking at how people around the world usher in the Christmas season as an excuse to introduce you to a festive tradition of our own.
We were watching the Rick Steves Christmas special (again) last week with the 12 days of Christmas on the brain. So when Rick mentioned that an English family was baking mince pies so they could eat one for each of the 12 days, we took notice.
On the Sixth Day of Imported Christmas, we baked tiny mince pies. We were too excited to make them from scratch, so we cheated, using canned mince and frozen pie dough. We also only managed to get nine pies out of the ingredients, so we’ll have to make more to finish out our 12 days.
Christmas is for eating your favorite food with the people you love. Unfortunately, sometimes the people you love can’t agree on what that favorite food should be. Rather than risk hurt feelings and grouchy faces at the table by choosing the wrong dish, follow Sweden’s lead: don’t choose. Have them all. You can’t have a true Swedish Christmas without a buffet of all the Scandinavian classics with a few modern favorites thrown in for good measure. So on the Fifth Day of Imported Christmas, we are having a julbord.
The standard julbord spread includes pickled herring (three kinds), smoked salmon, preserved cod, eggs, ham, roast meat, pate, salads, meatballs, smoked sausages, glazed ribs, red cabbage, rice pudding, saffron buns, chocolate fondant, tarts, truffles, flatbreads, crackers, and anything else the family wants.
Advent countdowns come in all shapes and sizes, from paper chains and wall hangings to boxes of chocolate or 12 pairs of socks. Every year, we visit World Market to see what exciting Advent calendars they have in stock, buy far too many of them, and spend each of the 12-24 nights before Christmas eating candy, cookies, jams, and marzipan.
This year, Gordon decided to add a less delicious but much more meaningful Advent countdown to the mix. On the Fourth Day of Imported Christmas, we are celebrating with an Advent wreath.