Last Christmas for many of us went different than usual. No big family gathering, no walks or trips around, no meetings with friends. This inspired us to share with you our Christmas experiences from different countries we've been to. It was surprising for us to discover how differently these bunch of days are celebrated in different places. Let's start from Poland and Italy, where we spent most of our Christmas.
In our experience, in Poland the most important day is the 24th of December. The dinner of the Christmas Eve starts with the first star in the sky and, according to tradition, it consists of 12 dishes, like borscht (beetroot soup) with dumplings or mushroom soup with pasta, carp, cooked cabbage with peas, dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, different kinds of sweet. Meat shouldn't appear on the table. Before dinner, we share a special wafer with every member of the family, exchanging wishes. There is always one empty plate on the table, for any stranger who may want to join for dinner, nobody should be alone that night. After dinner, or between salty and sweet parts, we exchange gifts and sing Christmas carols.
In Italy, the 25th it is usually the main celebration. The dinner on Christmas Eve is supposed to be light (nowadays it is not at all) and it consists mainly of fish and seafood. Tradition has it that gifts are exchanged quickly after dinner, before going for the midnight mess. The day after, lunch in the central region of the country starts with cappelletti/tortellini with broth, followed by meat, the so-called “Russian salad” (pickled veggies with mayonnaise), different kinds of side dishes and typical Christmas sweets – panettone or pandoro and torrone are the kings of the table.
During our travels, Christmas time is always a little bit of a challenge. People want to spend time with their dear ones and it's usually more difficult to find a place to stay, so we try to plan it quite carefully. For example, on our way through the Balkans we planned to spend late December in Serbia, where the Christian Orthodox majority celebrates Christmas at the beginning of January, although finally we ended up in a biodynamic farm founded by a German-Dutch couple and celebrated a very spiritual Christmas with them, the 24th. They welcomed us for the period and we had the chance to be part of quite interesting rituals - German and Dutch traditions mixed up with Serbian customs and biodynamic beliefs. Before the Christmas dinner we went to the stables with candles singing Christmas songs to goats, sheep and cows. One goat was invited to the house and offered some food – she was supposed to then come back to her herd and share the experience.
Serbia was the second Christmas in our journey around the world. The first happened in Thailand and it was also the first time we didn't really celebrate it. Being a Buddhist country, they don't commemorate Jesus's birthday. Yet, the commercial carousel is there, which makes it even more weird and brings about a fair portion of nostalgia. Our host, knowing it may be an important day for people coming from a Christian context, took us for a Christmas toast to a reggae bar, which added a touch of surreal. But at the end, 25th and 26th turned out among the beautiful days in our travel: together with several families from the jungle village where we stayed those days we went for a trip to Ratchaprapha dam, a mesmerizing place, and we spent the night at a floating village, having a bath in the lake under the full moon.
We celebrated the following Christmases with grilled meat and vegetables in the hot Brazilian summer and with the local version of panettone in Sri Lanka, getting used to the fact that for so many people Christmas days aren't special at all. They have their own ways to celebrate. At the end, for many of us Christmas became just a good excuse to meet rather than a religious celebration. We keep gathering and exchanging gifts even if we don't define ourselves as Christians. It's a time to slow down, be with those we love, maybe set a little while to reflect before the turn of the year, just a few days after. Celebrations are needed in every community, moments of gathering, connection, joy, and it's less important which excuse at the end brings us together. Hopefully, in 2021 we will have more chances to re-connect, see each other in 3D and all and remind ourselves which bonds are important to keep and why.