Linda Hesthag  Ellwein

Communications, Change, and Photography, Oikonomia, Inc.


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How do you celebrate this season? What are your rituals, traditions and foods? Tell us about yours from around the globe or around the block

Our TED community spans the globe, with a myriad of religions, traditions, rituals, foods and ceremonies. Many of us celebrate holidays this time of year. How do you and your culture celebrate...and what do you most appreciate about your family or community traditions. What is the story behind your culture's traditions?

As online communities deepen, I'm sometimes at a loss for how to meaningfully share the spirit of holidays and other significant events with those I experience connection with here. Perhaps hearing how we celebrate, and what matters, will allow us to see and understand more about each other in our online community.

Or, if you're inclined, share a personal favorite memory or story of the holidays.

Happy Holidays, One and All!

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    Dec 22 2011: Since I live in a moslem country I don't celebrate christmas like the way you do in your country. we usually go to church on christmas day, and go home afterward. You can't find a christmas tree along the street. in other words, nothing special on that special day. But my big family believes that it is the spirit of Christmas that counts!
    • Dec 23 2011: That is a perspective as well. Is there a special mass then during church, or is it like any other visit, if you usually go to church at all?
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        Dec 23 2011: Of course there is a special mass on that day. But we have to try to make it as a regular one.
        • Dec 24 2011: oh okay, I have no idea how that goes in your country. It might have been a silly question, haha! I am not too familiar with religion in general, is there a special reason why you have to turn it into a regular one? I absolutely agree with your families perception of the Christmas spirit, for us that is what makes Christmas as well.
  • Dec 21 2011: Hi Linda - A few years ago Bah humbugging about how Christmas had become one long shopping trip - I decided to start a new family tradition Resolution-Revolution.

    As well as any personal NY resolutions we all now make a resolutions to do something for someone else. This has given our family lots of fun and unexpected experiences and has been taken up by the British Humanist Association who've been promoting the initiative. Open to all the BHA are running a website where you can get more ideas and sign up for reminders to help you stay on track.

    It's certainly helped bring a bit of festive season to our year end celebrations.
  • Dec 20 2011: Hello there fellow celebrators,
    A little something from the Dutch as well. In Holland most people have a front yard and many people put lights up in the trees of their front yard. Very "gezellig" as we like to call it. There is no existing translation of the word but "cosy" comes closest. Most people have big windows at the front of their house. This is something from back in the very very religious days, to show anyone who was passing by that they were not hiding anything. Behind this window must be a massive tree with a lot of lights and decorations to your liking, some people renew it every year to remain trendy and hip. We put treats in the tree that are especially to put in the tree, chocolates or cookies that can be easily put around the branches (picture:

    Since it is not really a dutch tradition, but an american one the way of celebrating differs, this year for instance we will gather parts of both my mom and dad's families and we will go out for dinner in a fancy place where they developed special christmas menu's (all restaurants do) Last year my aunt made a very nice Christmas diner, and the year before me and my mom did. Then we do all the gift giving with saint Nicholas (5th of December, originally dutch celebration with a lot of gifts as well. Santa Clause is kind of stolen from this tradition, but more developed by Coca cola.)

    What we also do around the tim of christmas is sit around the fireplace a lot and crochet. Usually me and my sister are more often at home and my dad is in a better mood than usual. :) It's a time of being together, that is for sure.

    I think I will go for the apples as well this year, they are awesome!

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      Dec 21 2011: Sofia - What a beautiful description you've given us! I love how you told of the sounds like the original statement of transparency. I just love that. I also love that you put treats in the tree...we don't do that in the US, at least not that I'm aware of.

      When you go out to a 'fancy' restaurant, do they serve the same menu as other places, or do they differ in their menus? Also, if you exchange gifts on Dec. 5th, do you also have festivities at the end of December, or is the first week the primary celebration? I love learning what you do in the Netherlands!

      I grew up in the US and Norway, and have many memories of spending my evenings knitting. It was a joke in my teens because I had wild friends in NYC but then I'd travel to Norway and knit. It was quite a disparity!
      The word gazellig reminds me of the word, 'koselig' in Norwegian - which does translate to 'cozy,' I think. Do you use that word regularly to describe many things that feel good? We certainly do in Norway....everything good is koselig! :)
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        Dec 21 2011: "Gezellig" Linda. That says, we really have a good time together.
        Things aren't anymore as they used to be, commerce broke in.

        We have "Sinter Klaas" at the 5th of December which isn't from the North with reindeer but a bishop that is said to live in Spain. He is at least 600 years old and is helped by black Peters. He has a gray horse as white as possible and rides at night over the roofs of the houses to put sweets in the chimneys for all children that were good children. Bad children were given the rod by black Peter. (Not really)
        At his birthday, December the 6th, nowadays, 5th he brought every family a sack with presents, a few for every child. Children sang songs for days, every evening near the chimney and put their shoe under it with a carrot for the horse. In return they found some sweets in the morning.
        Sinter Klaas always came by boat over sea and traveled in processions through all places and children got all warmed up from excitement for days until. Some pictures on the link:

        Christmas was something different. Every house had a tree with real candles, decorated with garlands and shining balls and cookies. Catholic families also had a Christmas crib underneath or next to it. If the candles were lit the children sang Christmas carols.
        Christmas night there was mass at church and after it breakfast with candles in the dark because it was on the brink of day.
        The family stayed together all day enjoying games, music and a special dinner at night. The second day was an opportunity to visit grandparents and other family.
      • Dec 23 2011: Yes indeed Frans, I couldn't have explained it any better.

        Since "Sinterklaas" is a Dutch tradition, my family likes to keep it alive and celebrate it the traditional way. Some families, however, prefer to celebrate Sinterklaas with a nicely prepared diner and Christmas like the Americans, with gifts under the tree. We, my family, just have a very lovely evening of being together with Christmas without any presents, but that is solely our preference. I hardly know anyone who celebrates both to the fullest, sort of say.

        The restaurants all serve whatever they want. Of course typical winter dishes are served and greatly enjoyed, popular Dutch restaurants are overall very trend sensitive. (Think of more vegetarian dishes this year, for instance.) The Christmas menu is a nice marketing tool to draw customers to their restaurants. What restaurants tend to do is give they guests the option to chose between 2-3 dishes per course. These dishes are a bit more extravagant than usual and usually come in a slightly more expensive pre-set menu. Lately I read in a trend report that dining out with Christmas is a trend, and you will see as well that it is hard to make a reservation in the good restaurants from now on.

        I would like to say as well that many people enjoy cooking as well, and than they go all out!! (Although, our supermarkets are becoming more handy in making these special Christmas ingredients, that fit conveniently well together) Than it is all about good food, nice wine and a lot of complements to the chef(s) like you mentioned in one of your posts Linda, cooking for your loved ones. A little more culinary expertise is required for a guaranteed successful evening though, even with you tube by your side.

        But there is stress, like last year's Christmas diner: me and my mom started preparing all the dishes days in advance. When the evening came we were constantly busy making sure everyone had a good time, and we forgot to actually eat ourselves. not too koselig!
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    Dec 19 2011: Hi Linda...good question:>)
    My mother used to say..."every day is a holiday" because each day offers the opportunity to love, give, celebrate, spread joy, and enjoy ourselves and each other. I was born into a Christian family, so we celebrated Christmas, and my mom said "Santa, the story of the Baby Jeasus, the caring, loving, giving rituals are all a feeling we can carry with us every day of the year". So I grew up believing that every day is a holiday, in which we can love and give to each other.

    I LOVE the decorations, music, concerts, stories, special foods, and rituals shared by many different people from diverse cultures. I LOVE getting together with friends, sometimes giving gifts and definitely sharing time together, which I, my friends and family do throughout the year:>) Sometimes I decorate...sometimes not...sometimes I go to various services or celebrations...sometimes not...sometimes, I spend time at home with my "self", contemplating/pondering...sometimes not:>)

    When one believes that everyday is a holiday and each day is an opportunity for loving interactions, I don't feel like I have to pack all that loving, caring, giving into one week, or one season:>)

    Happy Holidays...every day:>)
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      Dec 19 2011: So sweet, Colleen. Agreed! This goes for gifts as well. I've never been the best Christmas gift giver...because I love to give them all year long. I can never hold one just for Christmas. :)
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        Dec 19 2011: Hi Linda,
        For me, spending time with friends and family is the most precious gift for everyone involved.

        I just talked with a friend who traditionally offers a New Years Eve sit down, lovely orchestrated, delicious dinner for about 14-16 friends. I usually attend, and if I don't, for some reason, she understands. When I do attend, however, I help her set up the "scene", prepare food, then clean up, etc. Of course, the whole evening is always a beautiful experience, and my friend and I both agree that the most special time, is the two of us first preparing everything, then ending the evening with joy and appreciation while washing dishes:>)
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          Dec 20 2011: It is so special to prepare a special meal with friends...whatever the occasion. It's the thoughtfulness and intention that goes into it I think. A collective intention.

          I spent Thanksgiving this year with the family of a close, old friend. Her daughters are adopted from China, and just now entering their teen years. They said Thanksgiving was their least favorite holiday. I was surprised to learn it was the favorite holiday of all the adults present. It occurred to me, for the first time, that Thanksgiving is a holiday we earn...when we know what we have. For them, it is just a lot of work for one fast meal. For us, it's the opportunity to prepare a meal for people we love, and share in our mutual gratitude of one another and all we have experienced or learned. Years ago, this same friend and I lived in NY's west village as roommates and held an annual Thanksgiving dinner for all those who had nowhere to go. It was always a wonderful day. I enjoyed learning that about Thanksgiving. :)
    • Dec 20 2011: Hi Colleen, (how are you?) I grew up with, Santa Claus. ( I loved it, we were poor) Some how, my mom, managed to pull it off every year? I learned, family and love. (kinda) There are so many, different cultures and beliefs, in this world. As a child, I did not know this. I did not know, that countries, of the world, were fighting over stupid cr--p. Small problem, now I know. :) Ever day is a holiday! Take care you! :)
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        Dec 20 2011: Enjoy the Season!

        Hey god !
        god ?
        ya there ?
        Wake up !

        your Present
        is here...
        now fill
        your Cup !
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        Dec 21 2011: Hi Tishe,
        I'm We were not exactly "poor", and with 8 kids in the family, money was often stretched to the limit. My mom often made things for Christmas gifts, or we got clothes and things we needed.

        I remember fondly, one year, I was going to a school holiday dance right after Christmas, and I asked my mom if she would make me a dress, which I described to her in detail. Christmas morning, I opened a large box (dress size), which was stuffed with paper, and in the middle of all the paper, was a tiny doll size dress exactly like what I had described. My mom said..."you asked for that didn't say what size!!!". The real dress, that actually fit perfectly, and was exactly what I wanted, was hanging in the closet. My mom liked to have fun with gift giving, just like she had fun with many aspects of life that we might percieve to be challenging. I have tears of gratitude in my eyes with remembering this really great gift my mom taught me:>)

        Look around, and we find all kinds of things with which to fill our cups!
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    Dec 31 2011: For me, I meditate on the birth of the Christ who is the light, the truth and the way. This brings me peace. Presents, this year we gave the money we would have used to buy them to charity.
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    Dec 24 2011: Some of you may find this amusing, but my family (which consists of just my father, my little brother, and I) is somewhat "scroogish" in the sense that we do not partake in normal American Christmas traditions. My family for some reason doesn't enjoy the holidays that much and quite frankly we can't wait till they pass every year.

    Though, every Christmas day the 3 of us go to watch a movie. As unspectacular as it may be, it is still the closest thing to tradition that we partake in. However, none the less I am grateful for the 2 people that I spend those 2 hours in the movie theater with every year. I honestly wouldn't have it any other way =)
  • Dec 22 2011: Colleen!! :) 8 kids? Impressive, gratitude! I have a wondermous mom! I take care of her, now. My dad, was not, a dad. It is cool. She has her hubby and he is my pop! My mom did the same things! Your mom, is still with you! ( i promise you that) I loved your story! Thank You! :) I really love your story. I like how it sticks, out in your mind! :) Take care You! :)
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    Dec 19 2011: It's a bit of an odd tradition, but on Christmas Eve (December 24) my family eats waffles by our Christmas tree. (Which has to be a real tree - mom's insistence. No fake trees in our house!) I came up with the idea when I was going through my American Girl Doll phase around age 9 or 10.

    My siblings and I also still abide by the "Santa Rules" I oh-so-wisely created as the older sister around the same age. On Christmas day, we all go downstairs at the same time and check out what 'Santa' left us in our stockings, then move on to the presents under the tree. No one's allowed to look at the tree until after the stockings have been emptied.

    A lot of our traditions are based on having fun and creating an aura of excitement around the holiday. My parents raised us with a lack of religious influences, so even holidays like Christmas are more about family, friends, and fun memories. Some may not approve, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
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      Dec 19 2011: I love it, Cassidy! I have goosebumps running up and down! It made me smile to hear about your American Girl Doll phase and its influence. Sounds to me like you are a very 'oh-so-wise' older sister :D I love that you cannot look at the tree...and I'm laughing imagining you ALL going down the stairs together. How sweet that is!
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    Dec 19 2011: I am a Chinese. (the TED spell_checker indicate the "chinese" should be with the capital "C" like "Chinese", well done). and you may know how Chinese celebrate our holiday. however, actually we celebrate more and more western holidays. now we celebrate the Christmas, the Valentine's Day and so on. i would not call it culture impact or something big, however i wander if our way celebrate the Christmas is the same as yours. we seldom give presents to our children and there are no sockets. the lovers would like to have a dinner on that day and give an apple to his or her lovers. Could you tell me that are you have the tradition of giving apples? i always think the apple things are created by Chinese people.
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      Dec 19 2011: Hi Julius. No, Americans do not have the tradition of giving apples, but perhaps they should! I love that idea :) I wonder what the apple signifies. Do you know?

      You said you seldom give presents to your children on Christmas. Are gifts exchanged at all? This is exactly what I hoped would result from this learn traditions and customs around the world. It's such fun to learn about!
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        Dec 20 2011: Oui, we will exchange gifts. and people will gather together(not the family). As for the apple, i think it is because the pronunciation of apple in chinese is "PingGo" as something familier "PingAn" which means safty.
    • Dec 20 2011: Hi jullus, I think an apple is wonderful! :)
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        Dec 20 2011: maybe you can send your friends apples this year. and tell them it's the idea of Chinese:)
  • Dec 30 2011: Happy almost New Year's Eve!
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    Dec 30 2011: in china,we celebrate the lunar calendar new year also known as spring festival. we have a myriad of religions, traditions,rituals and foods. as to my hometown, there are some special differeces from all of you. firstly, at new year's eve, children get red paper containing money as a gift from their parents. all family members sit tegether watching the spring festival gala, chat with each other about the life and the future. and we wash our feet, which means washing away the misfortune. and before going to bed, we perpare the new clothes for tomorrow. secondly, at the new year's first day, we all believe that who get up earlier can get more fortune. so, everyone get up before the daybreak, and set off firecracks. it is believed that whose firecracks' sound last more long, who will get more fortune. then it is time to pay tribute to our ancestors. most of us eat fish,beacuse in chinese, fish sounds like "yu" , it means abundant. there are so many traditons that i cannot figure it all in details. i love my family, and look forward to the happy time.
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    Dec 30 2011: Wonderful to read everyone's stories! As we moved back to my home country, the Netherlands, a week before Christmas, we had a busy week getting the house ready for all of my family to come over, as we hadn't seen eachother for years! Each sub-family brought their own dish, and we spent the evening chatting, playing games, and eating till we just couldn't move a muscle anymore. The little ones got presents, but I agree with some of you above, that when you have the gift of being surrounded by family, who needs more stuff?

    While in Australia we also celebrated Sinterklaas, but without the presents, or the cold weather outside - I must say it was lovely having a cold, albeit not white, Christmas again! I'll be celebrating New Years drinking champagne with my siblings and cousins, it's so good to be back!

    Happy 2012 everyone :)
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    Dec 30 2011: cheers!
    i am currently in a Muslim country for work and i have observed that they don't really celebrate the holidays like the way we do back home in the Philippines, i miss the decors, the lights the song and everything about Christmas. At home we would attend the 9 early morning mass (Misa de Gallo) starting the 16th up until Christmas eve, the 24th. then we would have "noche buena" or the Christmas dinner then we open our gifts afterwards. then on the 25th itself we would have a family reunion where we get together with our extended families. New year in the Philippines ,means to make some noise to drive bad spirits away and to welcome the year ahead. We also attend mass on new year's eve, would have "media noche" or the new year's eve dinner and would attend mass again on the 1st day of the year itself.
  • Dec 30 2011: im planning to celebrate my new year with my friends..we have new year mass @dec 31st 11:45pm..after that iam planning to take my bike and wandering around our city with my friends by singing songs and making noises...
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    Dec 30 2011: Three things however have not changed a bit through the years: Christmas eve mass, good food, good music, and good friends!

    Best wishes to you, Linda not just this holidays, but throughout the whole year!!!!
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    Dec 30 2011: I barely made it, but I am here! Feel like a school girl, making it just before the bell rings!
    What a great question Linda, I loved reading everybody's input. Here are my holidays:

    We were big in traditions in our early family days, but as we all grew and flew in different directions (both literally and metaphorically) I supposed we slowly and inadvertently learned to extract the essence of the holidays... love, sharing, reflecting, renewing, rejoicing...

    For example, as a matter of principles, we never focused on presents at Christmas time. It was a birthday indeed, but not ours! So from the starters we only did one gift for each member of the family, and it had to be meaningful. Anything that was just a “need” or a “want” could be purchased any other day of the year, mom and dad made sure kids were well cared for, so that was out of the question. No shopping lists, no asking for what we wanted or just saw at the store or a friend's house. The challenge was in caring enough to learn what others would love without asking them, and often making it ourselves.
    This intentional disregard for the material aspect of Christmas has taken us to a point that mostly what we give is each other! It may sound spartan to some, I know, but it is magical and precious when loved ones travel from across the country (or the world) to just sit cozily side by side, sing carols, play games, cook, and give you the gift of their time and exclusive attention.

    Because we all love reading, lately we gave books. Not bestsellers, but books with few words and lots of content. Last year I gave my oldest, who is in book illustration, “The Gift Of Nothing” ( What a treasure for all ages!
    This year I gave Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet and received Kandinsky's Concerning The Spiritual In Art. We sat next to each other and read -sometimes aloud, marking our favorite passages, and letting the authors stir and stretch us. Fired up discussions and big decisions followed.
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    Dec 30 2011: Being an Aboriginal person in Australia, I practice Christmas the conventional way but in the new year, I return to my Mother's country and practice my culture. We have 13 seasons during the year and at this time the storms [Kudede Season] come and cleanse the rivers and waterways so that the land can re-generate with new plant and animal life. There is always sunshine after rain and telling our stories about the our country keeps us strong...
  • Dec 27 2011: I usually go skiing with my family and we have so much fun ! then, when the 24th of December night comes, we wait until 12 o'clock for Santa Claus to come and bring us the presents that we asked for in a letter that we sent him! It's so amazing :)
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    Dec 27 2011: Hi Linda,
    Firstly let me congratulate you for bringing in such a topic which would inspire the readers to post their views. I am from India which has got the highest number of festivals, languages, cultural diversities etc. in the world. The beauty is in diversity and all different cultures getting together to celebrate each others festivals.

    You can commonly see many Hindus, Muslims and Christians celebrating and participating actively in each others festivals. You would see almost equal number of Hindus in Churches during mid-night mass.
  • Dec 25 2011: Happy Holidays! Happy Holidays!
    Have a great one, everyone!
  • Dec 23 2011: The holidays are here bringing joy to the world. In respective of your celebration, what is your favorite food or drink?
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    Dec 22 2011: I celebrate winter by drinking my morning coffee with a little splash of baileys!
    • Dec 22 2011: Cinnamon in coffee is the way to celebrate the holidays.
  • Dec 20 2011: Cultural meaning of Christmas in my country:

    I was born and raised in Brazil, more specific, in the city of São Paulo. In my city and most of the southeastern and south cities all cristimas are intensely celebrated. And there are here the habit of telling about Santa - as if was real - to children and give them gifts as if it was done by Santa Claus.Also is spread to the people, thru media, that is is a time of consumism. People spend a lot on christmas with decorations, gifts, clothes and so on. Buildings, shopping centers, stores of any kind, even dentists offices, beauty salons are full of decorations, Christmas trees and Santa Claus toys. The aspect of the cities change in december, there are fireworks, Santas in shoppings to attend children requests and so on. In the rest of the country - the poorest part - christmas is a Catolic celebration, but still with all the western aspects I have quoted.

    My meanig of Christmas:

    I don't have the habit to spen a lot in chistymas and I am a non religious person, but my family - the old part of it - is moderatedlly catolic. However, we always celebrate christmas without any religious way, and if happens otherwise is an exception. What i love in christmas is that it is the only date in the year that I can see almost my entire family - if not, all my entire family, I go to my aunt's mansion (she is rich, so we eat a great food, we gather abd talk a lot). In her place, never there is a christmas tree or a santa's toy or even lights and any kind of decoration. The only tradicion we do is to eat a very delicious turkey (I don't know if this tradition is a brazilian one or if is western). The christmas for me is a family celebration.
  • Dec 18 2011: I am a non-religious Jewish guy interested in behavioral psychology and movies, so I will be watching the subtle direct advertising concepts in holiday movies which are basically Christmas movies that try to promote themselves as culturally and/or religiously open. Also, I will probably celebrate Hanukkah with my family for one day, so it would be like a mini-Christmas for me.
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      Dec 18 2011: That's an interesting response, Zared :) Hanukkah with your family is like a mini-Christmas? Because it's one day, or because it's celebrated similarly?
      • Dec 18 2011: It is because it is celebrated in one day, but in the end all holidays revolve around celebrating family and the respective culture for they are nothing more than mirrored images of each other.
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          Dec 19 2011: I heard Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks summarize all Jewish Bible stories like this: "They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat."
          My kind of people. ;)
      • Dec 20 2011: I wonder so deeply on how Jon celebrates his probable, complicated holidays.