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WRITE TEAM: The many holiday traditions

Jonathan Freeburg
Jonathan Freeburg

With Christmas now just 11 days away, it’s always a fun time to look back and reflect on some of the holiday columns I’ve written over the years. A Christmas column is as much of a tradition as egg nog, Frango Mints and having to restring lights on a Christmas tree.

Each family has their own Christmas traditions, most are fairly run of the mill. For instance, in our house, both my wife and I come from families that opened gifts on Christmas Eve, so we have continued the tradition with our families. Also, being Swedish, we serve pickled herring and lingonberries at the Christmas Eve feast, which can be anything from prime rib to a huge turkey. One year, we did a goose. Yep, just that one time. There is also a Swedish tradition of hiding an almond in the rice pudding and whoever found it would be married in the following year, but this proved less popular as it also seemed to increase the divorce rate.

Other countries have their own unique ways of celebrating Christmas. Some are tamer than other countries but they all seem to involve food of some kind.

For instance, in Germany, the tradition is for the parents in the house to hide a pickle in the Christmas tree and the first child to find the pickle is the first to receive a gift, which I assume, is something other than the pickle. The Germans also have a tradition of leaving a shoe outside their house at night and if they have been good, awake to find it filled with candy. Not sure about you but I have no interest in eating anything that has been inside one of my shoes.

In Japan, and this speaks volumes to a great advertising campaign in 1974, most Japanese families enjoy Christmas Eve Dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken. They don’t bring a bucket home, mind you. They travel to and eat at the KFC.

In South Africa, there is a tradition to eat breaded and then deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Word on the street is the caterpillars are alive, even through the battering stage, right up until they are dropped into the oil. I think I’ll take a pass on that one.

A far simpler tradition in England is that each family member or resident of a house, takes a turn at stirring the pudding. As they make their pudding rotations, they make a wish and pass on the spoon. I would assume that since they are stirring blood pudding, the wish is not to eat it and instead perhaps it could magically change to Figgie pudding. After all, who does not like Figgie pudding?

Also simpler is the Portuguese tradition of setting places at the Christmas table for loved ones that have passed away. In my research, I could not find out if they actually put food on the plates as well but if they did, the goal would be to sit between two people that have moved on and eat off their plates.

Whatever the tradition may be in your house, being together with family and friends that seem like family is what it’s all about. And also to remember the reason for season — the birth of our savior. Merry Christmas to you all!

  • JONATHAN FREEBURG, of Ottawa, is an attorney, works for Lloyd's of London and can be heard on WCMY-AM 1430 radio. He also blogs for Major League Baseball on He can be reached by emailing

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