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.
For many Christians around the world, Christmas begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas and brings everyone’s focus and anticipation to the birth of Christ and His eventual second coming. Advent wreaths mark the coming holiday with symbolic candle lighting and biblical references. In Eastern Orthodox countries, Christians participate in a Nativity Fast in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Many Chinese Christians hang colorful paper lanterns in their homes to celebrate Advent. However you celebrate, Advent can be a meaningful way to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.
Christmas isn’t the only Christian holiday in December. Saints’ days that fall around the same time often take on a Christmas flair by association. On Saint Nicholas Day, for example, many Europeans look forward to receiving gifts from the famously generous saint. In Scandinavia, Santa Lucia day celebrates light in the darkest season of the year.
Trees, Logs, Straw Goats, Etc.
You can also distinguish the Christmas season by bringing symbolic pieces of the natural world into your home. Evergreen trees are an unmistakable symbol of Christmas. Festive yule logs warm homes across Europe. In Sweden, people craft small goats out of straw (julbocken). In Gävle, Sweden, the town builds a giant julbock at the beginning of Advent and then spends the season trying to keep neighboring towns from burning it down.
Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Piñata
This tradition isn’t international yet for two very important reasons:
- We only invented it a few years ago
- We haven’t convinced anyone in another country to do it yet. But I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
The turkey piñata started as a joke and has now become a beloved family Christmas tradition. It is a great(?) way to give Thanksgiving its due and formalize the beginning of Christmas (when my mom can finally play her Roger Whitaker Christmas CD without complaint of it being “too early for Christmas music”).
First, find a piñata that you can turn into a turkey to represent Thanksgiving. Someday, when this tradition really goes mainstream, you may be able to find actual turkey piñatas. Until then, it’s amazing what some construction paper tail feathers and a wattle can do. Once you’ve turned your piñata into a turkey, it’s time to stuff that thing with some Christmas cheer (in our case, usually Christmas candy and dollar store ornaments and bells.
After Thanksgiving dinner (pre- or post-turkey coma we leave up to you), gather the family around a tree branch to formally destroy Thanksgiving and usher in an explosion of Christmas. Make sure someone has a camera to catch the action shots of children turned frighteningly violent with the promise of candy. You can donate the ornaments from the piñata to your Poor College Student siblings to hang on the perfectly good Christmas tree they found in a dumpster.
Twelve Days of Imported Christmas
- The First Day: Christmas-Stuffed Turkey Piñata and Other Season-Starting Traditions
- The Second Day: Mari Lwyd—Wales’ Rhyming Horse Skull Puppet
- The Third Day: Christingle—England’s Citrus Candlestick
- The Fourth Day: Spanish Christmas Tapas
- The Fifth Day: Jólakötturinn—The Icelandic Christmas Cat
- The Sixth Day: Churchkhela—Georgia’s Christmas Candle Treat
- The Seventh Day: Christkindlmarkt—Germany’s Christmas Markets