Star forming Santa's sleigh and reindeer

Christmas Decorating Traditions From Around The World

It’s the night before Christmas, Maidenhead Planning have been,

Talking to Santa about the best decorations he’s seen.

He said as he flies ‘round the world in his sleigh,

There are many traditions to enjoy on the way.

From his suggestions we wrote our own special list,

But please let us know if there’s any we’ve missed:

Christmas cracker

England – Christmas Crackers

Around 1850, Tom Smith – a London-based sweet maker – was inspired to sell French ‘bon bons’ (almonds wrapped in beautiful papers). He made them his own by including a small motto or riddle, but they still didn’t sell very well. 

It is believed that, inspired by his crackling fire, Tom developed his ‘Bangs of Expectation’. In truth, he bought his recipe for the bangers in his crackers from a fireworks company called Brock’s Fireworks. 

Tom’s three sons took over the cracker company when he died. One son, Walter, introduced hats to the crackers, inspired by Epiphany cakes in Europe. He also kept his eyes peeled for gifts to put in the crackers while he travelled the world.

These days, Christmas crackers decorate the dinner table in England. They are pulled and – usually – the person with the bigger half can keep the contents.

Try it yourself:

Crackers can be used as an accent colour on your festive dining table. You can read more about table decor in our last blog, here.

French Yule Log

France – Yule Logs

Yule logs have roots in Pagan rituals and were used to celebrate the Winter Solstice. In times gone by, the search for the best log would be a family affair. Everyone would troop into the woods to find the most robust log to burn in celebration of life and prosperity.  It was good luck for the Yule log to catch fire on the first try. Sometimes its ashes were stored under a bed to protect the house from evil spirits. 

Today, they are often the focal point of French Christmas dinner tables. As decorations, they are often embellished with rosehips and sprays of evergreen. They bring the outside in and are a reminder of ends and new beginnings.

Try it yourself:

If you fancy getting crafty this Christmas, a small Yule Log might be the venture for you. However, most Yule Logs in England are sponge cake replicas; decorative and delicious. My favourite kind of interior design!

Christmas pickle on a German Christmas tree

Germany – The Christmas Pickle

Every now and then, I find a Christmas ornament that doesn’t quite fit my idea of a traditional Christmas. Pickles are one of them. Apparently, though, Christmas Pickles are part of a German tradition. Parents hide a pickle in the Christmas tree and the first child to find it wins an extra gift. Nobody is really sure where the tradition comes from, but rumour has it that retailers fabricated the game to get rid of leftover pickle ornaments.

Try it yourself:

I always associate pickles with being burger toppings. So, if you’re into American culture, or cooking, why not embrace the style and go all out with an American Diner themed tree? 

Greek decorated ships

Greece – Decorated Ships

Fishing is such a huge part of Greek culture, so is it any surprise that they decorate boats for Christmas? The tradition is called ‘Karavakia’. It sees boat owners elaborately adorn their boats with lights and decorations. At home, families decorate smaller boats as centerpieces for the dinner table.

The tradition began long ago when fishermen’s wives welcomed them back to a house decorated with small, wooden boats. The custom has since merged with Christmas celebrations. 

Try it yourself:

Remember, home is where the heart is. Consider which colours, patterns, prints, and trinkets remind you of family and being ‘at home’. 

Julekurver Baskets on a Christmas Tree

Norway – Julekurver Baskets

In Norway children learn how to craft ‘julekurver’ baskets to hang on the tree. The baskets are made from paper and usually woven into heart shapes. Each one is stuffed with Norwegian flags, nuts, and sweets for children to enjoy. It is rumoured that Hans Christian Andersen invented the tradition in the 1860s.

Try it yourself:

If you’re looking for an activity to keep your children entertained in the space between Christmas and New Year, why not try making your own Christmas Pleated Heart?

White and blue Christmas tree in Russia

Russia – Father Frost

Father Christmas. St Nick. Santa Claus. Kris Kringle. Some of the many names that Santa goes by. Another, lesser-known name is Ded Moroz (Father Frost), the Russian Santa. Much like St Nick, Father Frost hands out toys to well-mannered children on Christmas day. In tribute, Russian Christmas trees are often decorated in white and blue, to match his coat, and snowflakes to represent frost. 

Try it yourself:

To replicate this look on your own Christmas trees, try combining bright white lights with white baubles in a variety of sizes and textures. Accent the tree with blue bows, and more intricate blue ornaments. Don’t forget to add a smattering of snowflake or icicle decorations.

Christmas tree covered in spider webs

Ukraine – Cobwebbed Christmas Trees

Hands up if you’ve ever bought a live Christmas tree and a spider came crawling out of the branches? To some, that’s exceptionally good luck. 

While spiders and their webs are normally things you’d expect to see on Halloween, there’s a reason they hold so much value in Ukraine. An old folktale tells of a poor widow and her children, who lived in a small house in the woods. One day, a pinecone fell onto the dirt floor. The children looked after it, wishing for it to grow into a tree by winter, which it did. Christmas time came, but the poor widow could not afford any decorations and the tree was covered in cobwebs. Legend has is that when the family opened the windows, the sunlight turned the webs to gold and silver. The family were never poor again.

Try it yourself:

If you’re a fan of including tinsel in your Christmas décor, it is alleged that the concept came from this story. Try using ‘lametta’ (tinsel strands) to replicate the way that cobwebs gently weave around the needles of a fir tree.

Carved nativity scene

Mexico – Night of the Radishes

Tucked away in Mexico, the city of Oaxaca have a 124 year old Christmas trend. An annual Christmas market, held on 23rd December, saw wood carvers selling their creations. Farmers at the same market grew jealous of their popularity and began carving nativity scenes, Mayan motifs, and local wildlife into radishes. In 1897, the mayor at the time declared the 23rd December to be ‘La Noche de Rabanos’ (Night of the Radishes).

Try it yourself:

Consider rustic wood carvings of the nativity, stars, or other festive-themed shapes to bring a shabby chic or boho feel to your festive décor.

Mango Tree decoration

India – Mango Trees

Our final stop around the globe sees the decorating traditions of India. In warmer climes, firs, spruces, and pines are not easy to come by. Christians in India have learned to adapt by decorating more readily available mango or banana trees instead. 

In addition, strings of banana and mango leaves decorate the house; these are called ‘Toran’. Traditionally, they are made from marigolds and mango leaves.

Try it yourself:

Aside from Poinsettias, holly, and ivy, alternative floral arrangements can be perfectly festive. Consider adding blooms or foliage sprays into your home. Amaryllis, Camellias, Anemones, and Hellebores are usually readily available in winter and offer an exotic aesthetic.

So many decorating styles, all with wonderful meanings and unique beauty. It’s a great reminder that, though trends come and go, your style is part of what makes you special. Maidenhead Planning are ready to help you embrace and express your individuality through architecture and interior designs. If you’d like to get in touch with the team here at Maidenhead, to discuss any upcoming ventures, please drop us a line!

Posted on December 24th 2021

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