If you ask my kids what’s the worst part of multicultural upbringing, they will probably complain about “funny” food from different countries; it’s not fair when Babcia makes you eat a beetroot soup and Abuelita puts a huge plate of caraotas on the same day! Yuck! Or all those exercise books in three languages when all you want to do is play with your new Lego set!
However, there’s a HUGE bonus to all that suffering: they literally get the best of both worlds when it comes to celebrations and presents. They celebrate their name day (like all Polish kids) with a huge piñata (like all Venezuelan kids). They get visits from Ratoncito Pérez (Perez the Mouse) AND Tooth Fairy….and if they’re lucky, these visits happen when we travel, so the kiddos get their teeth attractive foreign currency.
Living in a multicultural household becomes a highly rewarding and enriching experience in December, when our kids celebrate Christmas FOR THE WHOLE MONTH. Yes, you read that right; they get their first gifts from St. Nicholas on the 6th of December and their last gifts from the Three Wise Men (Los Reyes Magos) on the 6th of January. Did I just say “enriching”? Well, not for the parents’wallets….
Recently there has been a lot of Christmas-related threads in a Facebook group “Raising Bilingual/Multilingual Children”; many parents were concerned how to explain to their children that there are different characters in charge of Christmas in different parts of the world “without losing the magic”. I have to admit that we don’t share these concerns since my boys, with their vast imagination and – ok, let’s admit it – love for presents – would give a warm welcome to all jolly Christmas creatures.
Talk about integration. My boys would happily invite Christkind, Ded Moroz, Los Reyes and all the other folks for an imaginary tea party under our tree, together with their Lego figures and Hot Wheels cars. Doubts if the whole thing is real? Not in this house! No borders! Say it loud and say it clear, all Christmas gift givers are welcome here!
In this post I’m going to give you a little guide on who’s in charge of Christmas around the world. Tired with all these preparations, shopping and cleaning marathns? Sit back with a nice cup of tea, hot chocolate or a glass of wine and enjoy this post!
Credit: the website of a brilliant Czech linguist Jakub Marian. This map was made by Tindo and licensed from fotolia.com https://jakubmarian.com/christmas-gift-bringers-of-europe/
And for my Spanish readers a special Relaxing Cup of Café con Leche in Plaza Mayor! You guys still have two weeks left to sort out the presents! Lucky you!
Poland : Święty Mikołaj (Saint Nicholas ) and Santa Claus (Święty Mikołaj/Gwiazdor)
Let’s start with my home country and two jolly folks who were in charge of my gifts in post-communist Poland of my childhood. Someone who brought you your first ration of oranges and your first Barbie doll (one of very few available in the town) was definitely a very important figure in your life.
Saint Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj) day kicks off the Christmas season in https://hannacheda.com/2014/12/09/a-big-war-over-a-little-chocolate-are-parenting-wars-the-new-sexy/Poland on the 6th of December. On the night before kids all over the country clean and polish their shoes (or at least they’re supposed to) so that Saint Nicholas would fill them with sweets or small gifts. This celebration is also a last call for particularly naughty kids; if you find a piece of coal or a potato in your shoe, that means that St. Nicholas has been watching you and you’d better behave if you want to get nice presents on the big day (24th).
Given Polish Catholic tradition, it probably won’t surprise you that St. Nicholas is not a jolly, chubby folk who hangs out with reindeers, but a dignified figure, a bishop who was attributed many miracles. Many churches celebrate a special St. Nicholas mass; children get small gifts and sweets in schools, too, which is often a cause of mommy wars on the content of sugar, gluten and eco products in goods brought by Saint Nicholas. If by any chance you’re not up to date with the conflict, broadcasted by all mummy groups on Facebook and live on playgrounds, you can learn more here:
On the 24th of December, after traditional Christmas super (Wigilia) kids get gifts from Santa Claus (Święty MIkołaj or – in some regions-Gwiazdor). This figure looks pretty much like elsewhere in the world, which is a good news for global Christmas decorations manufacturers. No matter if you walk in to Lidl in Poland, Germany or France and ask for a cup with Santa, you would probably get the same cup.
In the past it was popular to arrange a visit from Santa on the Christmas Eve; the guest would examine the kids’ knowledge of carols, prayers, and carry around a stick to scare naughty kids of possible consequences of misbehaviour; literally, spanking. However, times have changed and a guy who threatens kids with a stick might be sued by parents for the kiddos’ post-Christmas traumas. As you can guess the stick is not included anymore in the Santa outfit you can get in Auchan.
This Santa didn’t carry a stick, but he looked scary anyway!
Credit: My Grandma’s album, photo from 1990
However, if you chose a younger Santa wearing an executive suit, maybe the whole spanking Christmas party would appeal to mummies who are Christian Grey’s fans. Who knows, maybe apart from his red outfit Santa also owns a red room?
Italy: La Befana and Babbo Natale (Daddy Christmas)
Ever wondered why Italian mums totally rock when it comes to cooking and housekeeping skills? Their food is so delicious and their houses are so impeccable that many Italian guys live at home with their mammas even in their thirties!
Well, this can be an influence of Befana; an old lady who brings children gifts on the night of 5th December and who, according to a popular legend, was the best housekeeper in all of Italy.
Befana is a witch-like character, who rides a broom and carries presents for children in a bag. Apart from her excellent housekeeping skills, this lady has a good taste in wine and likes to receive a glass of wine on her arrival. She also knows how to protect her privacy; she threatens to whack any kid who may spy on her with a broomstick. Befana’s visit is the Italian kiddos’ main motivation to clean up their rooms in the beginning of December; if she finds mess or, even worse, misbehaviour, she will leave the kids in question a piece of coal.
This Befana looks like she’s already had a few welcome glasses of wine!
Nice role model, isn’t she? Now, how about some Befano guy who could inspire Italian gentlemen? It’s not that cool when you’re a grown-up man and your mamma still irons your socks!
Another advantage of this tradition is that if your daughter wants to dress up as Befana, you can still use her costume from Halloween.
Nowadays Italian children also get presents from Santa – Babbo Natale – on Christmas day. He’ s slimmer than his U.S. cousin (how does he do it with all that delicious pizza, past and lasagne?), but his favourite transport is also a sleigh pulled by reindeers and his colour of choice is red.
What presents would you like from Babbo Natale ? I’d be more than happy if he brought me a huge tray panettone, which is a yummy fruit cake. Obviously together with lovely Italian coffee!
Iceland: Thirteen Yule Lads
Do you like to celebrate big events for several days in a row? Are you a fan of Shrek? Or maybe your favourite holiday is April Fools’ Day? If you answer”yes”to any of these questions, chances are that you would probably enjoy Christmas celebrations in Iceland, where the gifts are brought by Yule Lads (Jólasveinar), little ogres, for thirteen days in a row starting on the 12th of December. Yule Lads are thought to be children of a horrifying ogre couple, Grýla and Leppalúoi, whose main hobby is collecting naughty kids in a sack and eating them for dinner. Despite their infamous parents, Yule Lads are very welcome in Island, as they leave small presents in children’s shoes and they play funny jokes on people.
I won’t write here the Icelandic names of all the thirteen Yule Lads since most of us wouldn’t even pronounce them right without a few glasses of booze first. All thes names have special meaning and describe the creatures’favourite jokes: among the lads, there’s Spoon Licker, Door Slammer and Sausage Swiper.
Mr. Spoon Licker. My kids could identify with this Christmas gift-giver especially when we make brownie.
Credit: @icelandinspired on Twitter
As if thirteen days of presents was not enough, on the 24th of December – Yule Eve – kids get presents from the Yule Man. Finally, an extra treat for busy mums- on the 23rd malls are opened until midnight and there are great sales for all those who still need to do their Christmas shopping!
Russia: Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) and Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden)
While many Mums would enjoy Icelandic celebrations with thirteen days of gifts and a shopping night on the day before Eve, I bet that many Dads would like to spend Christmas in Russia. And not only because of Russian vodka. Russia is the only place on Earth, where the gift giver is accompanied by a beautiful, young assistant. The name of this Russian beauty is Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden) and she wears a pretty white dress accessorized with either a silver crown or a hat with fur. I guess the choice of accessories depends on whether she hangs out inside or outside; 20 degrees below zero can make a difference.
Unfortunately, Snegoruchka does not throw any spanking parties.
No plans for New Year’s Eve? How about getting yourself this particular Snegoruchka outfit? Maybe your hubby would be happy 😉
You can buy it on eBay- link HERE:
Snegoruchka is as worshipped by little Russian girls as princess Elsa and is an outfit of choice at Christmas dress up parties at schools. It must be a pain for Russian mums to clean white outfits after their little Snegoruchkas had betroot soup for Christmas dinner.
A beautiful blond girl who helps animals; it’s definitely a positive role model!
Although Ded Moroz and Snegoruchka could easily hire some reindeers from the local tundra for transport purposes, their vehicle of choice is a sleigh pulled by horses. Well, they say that the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe that explains why Poles even in the hardest times did the impossible to import oranges for Christmas and Venezuelans use snow spray in their gardens.
Ded Moroz and Snegoruchka bring gifts on the New Year. It’s very convenient for parents who had a jolly New Year’s Eve with Russian vodka and want to keep the kids busy the next morning.
Spain: Los Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men).
One of the most common stereotypes about the Spanish (which is often true!) is how they are always late. If you throw a fiesta at 8pm, do not expect any guests before 8.30. If you arrive to a meeting a few minutes late, no worries; you can still get yourself a coffee and chances are that you will arrive first.
So, in a country where things are done for not very clearly defined “mañana”, people have decided not to rush with Christmas presents, either. While they relax and enjoy fiesta, presents are prepared for the 6th of January by Los Reyes Magos (Three Wise Man), those famous guys who couldn’t find the way to the crib and, thus,were late for the Baby Jesus’s birth.
Well, their only GPS was a star. However, if there were Three Wise Women instead, they would have asked for directions and the whole thing would have turned out in a slightly different way …
Like Italian Befana, los Reyes Magos are true Mediterraneans who appreciate good food and beverages. If you want to get nice presents from los Reyes, you need to prepare some walnuts and a glass of cognac for each gentleman. Fortunately, there’s no risk of drunken sleigh riding as los Reyes travel around by camels, which only get water on their arrival in Spanish households.
Visually los Reyes, like the Charlie’s Angels, are a diverse bunch. There’s a gentleman with brown hair, an elderly gentleman with white hair and a black gentleman. Beards are optional, which is a good news for Spanish ladies whose husbands suddenly decide to grow a beard because they want to become El Rey for one day during a Three Wise Men parade.
Many Spanish towns and cities organize Three Wise Men parades (Cabalgatas), where colourful characters throw candies at the crowd. The parades are the main source of Christmas entertainment both for candy lovers of all ages and for Spanish teenagers who play a particular game aimed at throwing the candy back at the parade characters. A shot at a Rey’s head is particularly appreciated and can make a very popular YouTube video. Sorry, Reyes.
At the end of my guide, a few strategies to explain to multicultural kids that there’s more than one Santa:
– “We live in (x), but Mummy comes from (y) and you speak the (y)) language, so you’re going to get presents from (y) Christmas character. AND you’ll get a smaller present from (x) like your friends. That’s what you get for speaking (y) language, sweetie! ”
Strategy benefits: motivation to speak minority language, the kid doesn’t feel left out among friends.
– “We live in (x), but Mummy and Daddy come from (y), so you’re only going to get presents from (y)”.
Strategy benefits: budget friendly.
– “We live in (x), but Mummy comes from (y), Daddy comes from (z), your school friend comes from (b), Dora comes from Mexico and Kevin Home Alone comes from the U.S., so let’s mix it all up! Hooray for our global family, the more the merrier!”
Strategy benefits: Well, well. Don’t look into your wallet. I said DON’T. You raise a truly multicultural citizen! Yay!
No matter if you’re expecting a visit from Spoon Licker, a beautiful Snegoruchka or a spanking party with Befana, I wish you all a Happy Christmas! Enjoy family time, celebrate your favourite traditions and create new ones! May your Christmas be full of smells and tastes that are close to your heart, new words that your children will pronounce in your heritage language and above all lots of hugs and love! Merry Christmas to all the fellow Multicultural Kid Blog members and your families, I’m truly grateful to become a part of your community! Merry Christmas to all expat families who miss their loved ones and for whom a trip to their home country is the best present. Merry Christmas to all the readers, thanks for reading this blog; hope that in those busy days, somewhere between another baking marathon and another trip to Carrefour/Tesco/Target, this article let you relax and smile for a while! Happy holidays!
Credit: STYKÓWKA. KATARZYNA SKOTNICKA-NOWAK. http://www.stykowka.pl/