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Holiday Traditions Around the World

This time of year brings to mind warm memories of spending time with family and loved ones. Unfortunately, many families are realizing that their holidays this year may look a little different than usual due to the restrictions on travel and large gatherings. Participating in family traditions is one way that loved ones can stay connected, even when they are apart. We interviewed some APW staff members and students to find out more about some of their favorite holiday traditions from around the world.


Birgit S, APW Program Coordinator

My mom was born in Stockholm, Sweden and passed along some of her Christmas traditions. When I got older we highlighted December 13th, St. Lucia Day, a day to celebrate light. The oldest would wake the others in the home while wearing a wreath of candles. (Mine was electric. Phew!) My mother also taught me how to make the most amazing Swedish pepparkakor, a thin, crisp gingerbread cookie, and the recipe came from an authentic Swedish cookbook. I make these every Christmas. The tradition was that while holding the cookie in the palm of your hand, you would make a wish while giving the cookie a whack. If it broke in 3 pieces you didn't speak until you finished eating it and then your wish would come true. I've included a photo of the pepparkakor. We always made them heart-shaped and sometimes made them into tree ornaments.


Christa G, au pair from Germany

My family celebrates Advent and then Christmas and this is my favorite time of year back home! I love the foods we eat to celebrate. My favorites are glühwein, which is a special mulled wine with cinnamon and spices; lebkuchen, which is sort of a soft gingerbread cookie; and stollen, which is a bread with nuts and fruits. Another tradition is that we use real candles instead of electric lights on our Christmas tree. We usually cut down a tree just a few days before December 25 so that it does not dry out and become flammable. When it is still fresh, the lit candles smoke the leaves just a little bit and it smells amazing. And of course, who can forget the famous Christmas markets? (Weihnachtsmarkt or also Christkindlmarkt) So many delicious things to eat and treats to buy! (Below are two pictures from the Christmas markets. The first is our market in Hannover and you can see a gluhwein shop on the right. The second is a cup of gluhwein at the market in Nürnberg, which has the very famous Christkindlesmarkt).


Raven M, au pair from South Africa

December in South Africa is a time for celebration! There are many reasons why people celebrate; end of the working year, family time, children progressing to next grade in the upcoming year or what the song of the year will be. However, it’s not a real December celebration and tradition without a cultural wedding. Known for being the rainbow nation, each and every tribe in South Africa always looks forward to celebrating a wedding, traditional sweet 16, or 21st. These are cultural celebrations that complete one’s December and allows families and friends to kick off the month of festivities with a traditional and cultural bang💥🔥!

Monica P, au pair from Colombia

In Colombia, we celebrate "Candles Day" or in Spanish, "Dia de las Velitas." They symbolize the beginning of Christmas and you usually light candles with family in front of your house. For every candle that you light, you make a wish and you say what are you grateful for. This is celebrated on December 7th. I did it yesterday with my host family and also because my birthday is on December 7th, too! They really enjoyed it. We went outside together to light the candles and to spend some time together, to make wishes and say what we were grateful for.


Kelli D, APW Marketing Coordinator

My family’s holiday traditions feature a hodgepodge assortment of cultures and foods. My mom is Finnish, and although she was raised in the U.S., she would often make Finnish pulla bread for our Christmas morning breakfast. (I tried my hand at making it myself recently...it turned out delicious even if it didn’t look very pretty! You can see my attempt below in the picture.) I was born and grew up in Texas, where many of our friends made tamales as part of their Christmas Eve traditions. My mom loved that tradition, and so our family adopted it into our Christmas Eve festivities as well! Almost every year that I was growing up, my mom would spend hours on Christmas Eve making homemade tamales and we’d usually get to help fold them. In Texas, there is a famous bakery that is known for its fruitcake and we’d usually get one at Christmastime. Although it’s been a long time since my family lived in Texas, and even though my dad is the only person in our family who will even eat fruitcake, we still have to order him one from the Collin Street Bakery every year. My brother recently got married and I now have a French sister-in-law who is an incredible chef. They will be joining us for Christmas and I am excited about the food she has promised to make for the holiday and the opportunity to start incorporating some new traditions!




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