Without leaving Grand Rapids, I celebrated Christmas around the globe this past weekend.
You see, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a 125-acre sculpture gallery with indoor and outdoor gardens, has decked its halls for its annual Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibit.
On Sunday afternoon, I explored the exhibit with the boyfriend in tow. He grew up in Iraq. I’m from Michigan. We are from different cultures. Our upbringings were shaped by different religions. We celebrated different holidays.
Yet, it turns out we both had a lot to learn about holidays celebrated around the world. We marveled at the New Year celebrations in Southeast Asian countries. We peeked at nativity scenes from Italy, France, and Mexico. He seemed fascinated with learning the story of Hanukkah and confirmed the accuracy of the Eid al-Fitr description.
Mostly, I was enthralled with the beautifully decorated Christmas trees. As we explored the exhibit, I learned about some truly unique traditions and interesting folklore. I’ve compiled nine of my favorites in this post.
Peruvian Noche Buena
The “Good Night” or Noche Buena celebrations begin December 24. In the Andes, communities celebrate until la Bajada de los Reyes, or the arrival of the three kings, on January 6.
Denmark’s Handmade Hearts
In Denmark, a traditional Christmas tree, or Juletrae, is adorned with handmade ornaments often made by family members during an annual craft day. Woven hearts and baskets filled with treats are especially common. In Danish tradition, the heart represents love, family warmth, and goodwill to all. The heart also is an important symbol for the Danish as nine hearts are depicted on the national coat of arms, and red and white are the national colors.
Ukraine’s Spider Web Folklore
In Ukrainian folklore, a poor family couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. After the family went to sleep, spiders wove intricate webs around the tree. In the morning light, the webs looked like silver and gold.
Iceland’s Yuletide Lads
In Icelandic folklore, the Yuletide Lads are sons of trolls living in mountainside caves. These mischief makers keep quiet until the 13 nights before Christmas Eve, when they leave trinkets in the shoes of kids on the nice list. On the naughty list this year? Looks like you are getting potatoes in your shoes!
This multi-pointed star is a symbol from the Moravian Church, a Protestant denomination from Moravia and Bohemia in modern-day Czech Republic. The star is said to have originated in Saxony, Germany, and is traditionally hung on the first Sunday of the Advent until Epiphany on January 6.
In Finland, Christmas decorations are handcrafted from curled pine or birch wood. Another tradition is to feed the birds on Christmas Eve, and some Finnish families hang a handmade bird over their dinner table.
Poinsettia in Mexican Folklore
According to Mexican folklore, a child wanted to visit the Nativity at the church. Without a gift to give, the child picked some poinsettia branches, and then the branches turned into beautiful, bright red flowers.
Lithuanians’ Feast for Jesus’s Disciples
Lithuanians gather on Christmas Eve for Kucios, a dinner in which 12 dishes representing the 12 Disciples are served. A place is set and a candle lit for any family member who died within the past year, and it is believed the deceased’s spirit also participates in Kucios.
Philippines’ Star of Bethlehem Lanterns
In the Philippines, a beautiful star-shaped lantern — called a parol — representing the Star of Bethlehem symbolizes Christmas. Traditionally, these lanterns were made of bamboo and paper.
Visit the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibit at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Location: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 E Beltline Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Dates: Through January 8, 2017
Special Holiday Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. December 21 -23 and 26-30 | Closed December 25 & January 1
Regular Hours: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday | 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday
Cost: Adults (14-64): $14.50 | Seniors (65+): $11 | Students (with Student ID): $11 | Children (5-13): $7 | Children (3-4): $4 | Children (2 and younger): Free
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What holiday traditions are part of your annual celebrations?
Disclosure: I’d like to thank Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for providing me media passes to explore this exhibit.