Homemade Holidays

Reminiscing on the traditions of the Christmas season

4 min read

Cross-Cultural Christmastime

By Tyler Tom on 7 Dec 2023

Two ornaments hanging off a tree

Have you ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated around the world? We asked four of our YWAM Tyler missionaries to share some of their most memorable Christmas traditions from the countries they have lived in or experienced!

When we first moved to Thailand, it was July. Survival was at the top of the list, not contemplating how we would decorate for Christmas. Advent came nonetheless, and it was time for our family to figure out how to decorate our Thai style home for the holidays.

As Southern Americans, we love going all out with Christmas and our traditions, but now living in rural northern Thailand, decking out the house was going to look a bit different.

There was no such thing as a “real Christmas tree” to find, but I was committed to figuring something out to replicate the experience. We found a plant nursery which had some Asian looking palm trees with sprawling branches, and I felt for sure one could hold a few ornaments.

Our family ornaments were packed up in storage back in the States, so we ventured out to the “Night Bizarre” to hunt for items to adorn our makeshift Christmas tree. After scouring for hours, we found some cute, small woven yarn dolls each sorta representing a member of our family. The kids joked that they looked like voodoo dolls, but we proudly hung them on the tree anyway! Funny story: we still have them, and they still get hung on our Christmas tree even though we are back in America now!

⏤Richard Fish 

IMG_4505

The Pohutukawa is a tree which blossoms in December, it has lovely red blossoms and is a symbol of Christmas in New Zealand. Here is a poem for you.

⏤Jeff Howie

THE NEW ZEALAND CHRISTMAS TREE

The skies are grey in England, while ours are blue and clear.

The holly gleams in England, Pohutukawa here.

But the selfsame Christmas spirit, Holds each world in thrall,

As we spread the Christmas message “Peace and goodwill to all."

Pohutukawa a sign of summer - Whanganui Chronicle News - NZ Herald

Christmas preparations in our house began around September with the making of traditional plum puddings. They required a herculean effort, and all the fine tuning of a military operation. Everyone in the household had a task. Dad’s was to retrieve the giant mixing basin and pots of equally impressive proportions from the attic.

Mum and Nana teamed up to prep the exhaustive list of ingredients and to direct operations. My sister and I observed in reverential awe, eventually getting to add the carefully weighed fruit, candied peel, breadcrumbs, spices, and other dry ingredients to the giant basin—all under watchful matriarchal eyes. After adding a selection of liquids, we were allowed to mix them in by hand—literally—up to our little elbows in aromatic stickiness.

The concoction was divided into four pudding bowls which were then placed in huge pots of simmering water for the next five hours. Mum and Nana hovered over them like broody hens, topping up the water and keeping them on the boil. Finally, with rivers of condensation running down the single-paned windows, the place looking more like a sauna than a kitchen.

The bowls were pulled from the bubbling cauldrons, allowed to cool, and lovingly packed away until Christmas. Helping with the puddings was like a rite of passage for us. We were stepping into the hallowed ground of the Irish housewife’s kitchen—a legacy to be continued with families of our own one day.

If we learned well, plum puddings would grace Christmas tables for generations to come. Now my parents and grandmother have gone, and I’m so grateful for this treasured memory—the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger filling the steamy air, all of us working together as a well-oiled machine to produce the decadent Christmas Day dessert without which no Irish festive table is complete.

Make memories. Treasure them. Love each other well.

⏤Colleen O'ConnorChristmas Plum Pudding Recipe | Odlums

Christmas season in Canada was always a memorable time as friends and church members would come together to serenade our neighbors with Christmas carols. The traditional ‘tour of homes’ would occur on Christmas Eve.

Lists were compiled of local acquaintances who were either shut-ins, elderly, disabled or ones who needed a dose of cheer as they struggled through weary circumstances. Unannounced, a band of carolers would trudge through snowy yards to bring the melody of carols to their homes.

I always remember shivering in the cold, moonlit night but being warmed by the smiles of the many lives that were blessed by songs of cheer and hope.

⏤Patty Beck

Enjoy Community Christmas Caroling (and cocoa) at the Common

Every culture has their differences and stories reminded us to cherish the heartfelt moments we share with loved ones. What traditions do you look forward to every year? 

At YWAM Tyler we love celebrating a variety of cultures. Come and join us!

Tyler Tom

Written by Tyler Tom

You can find Tyler Tom roaming the Twin Oaks campus taking in the fresh sunshine, or sipping a hot latte in the Substation. Enamored by God is faithfulness, Tyler Tom gathers stories and interviews to share with you from what God is doing with His children among the nations.

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