Unusual holiday celebrations: Your stories


As the Christmas holidays approach, many people around the world will be celebrating a different holiday from the mainstream one where they live, or will be doing anything to keep the traditions from home alive while living in a foreign country.

Here are some of the stories of the people who have spent the last few weeks trying to source rare ingredients for dinner or trying to introduce their family to a different celebration.

Margarita Siblesz in London, UK

Image caption,
The plantain leaves have to be ironed

I am Venezuelan and have been living in the UK for ten years. On Christmas Eve we will be eating hallacas, which is the traditional Venezuelan dish. It reminds us of being at home.

The hallaca is a mixture of beef, pork, chicken, raisin, olives and raisin wrapped in cornmeal dough and then bound with string with plantain leaves.

The leaves are particularly difficult to get. We get them in Chinatown, but we still have to cook them. At first we put them into the oven and baked them, but then we discovered that the best way to cook them was to iron them.

The rest of the ingredients we get from Latin American shops or bring them from Venezuela - as it involves ingredients like a seed called anoto which gives it the colour and parchita or panela (which is obtained from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.)

Image caption,
Hallacas are made from beef, pork, chicken and cornmeal dough

Making them involves a tight operation and you have to set up a real production line. So every year we gather together with many Venezuelan families (and some of their British husbands and wives) to make them.

We start on Friday night by making the stew and eating a meal together. On Saturday we put them together.

This year we made almost 300! Everyone joins in, the children particularly like ironing the leaves.

Each family gets around 30 or 40 hallacas to take home. We don't make any profit from it, we just want to keep the tradition alive.

Jo Kruczynska in London, UK

Image caption,
Jo's mushroom-filled dumplings are part of the Polish traditional Christmas dinner

My father is Polish but was born and bred in England. His parents moved to England after the war and settled in Cambridge.

They taught us a lot about Polish traditions and cooking and we have always celebrated Polish Christmas on Christmas Eve (Wigilia).

Me and my mum now do all of the cooking in preparation as my Polish granny passed away a few years ago.

We try to stick to my granny's recipes as much as possible but we only eat five courses as opposed to the full 12 course Wigilia feast, as we then have a fully traditional English Christmas on Christmas day, so I get the best of both worlds.

We don't have any problems sourcing the ingredients as there are so many Polish supermarkets around nowadays.

We tend to prepare most things from scratch including the beetroot soup (barscz) and mushroom filled dumplings (uszka) so there is no need for us to source anything from Poland.

Some of the dishes are quite time-consuming to prepare, which is why we do them in advance. Amongst other things I'm in charge of the uszka, which we serve in the beetroot soup.

Preparation for these involves making a type of pasta and a mushroom filling using both dried and fresh mushrooms and then folding them into a type of tortellini style dumpling.

My family love them so I have to make plenty... I think I've made about 50 this year!

The only thing that we buy pre-made are the pickled herrings, the shop bought variety are really good.

I am extremely proud of my Polish roots and hope to carry on tradition for years to come.

Lye Ai Leen in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Image caption,
The family finally got the Christmas tree they wanted at their home in Malaysia

I am Malaysian but my husband is from the UK, so we will be celebrating a traditional British Christmas. There's a tree, turkey, sage and onion stuffing and lots of alcohol.

My husband's Christmas tradition while he was in the UK was to drink sherry on Christmas morning and he'll be doing that this year as usual. It looks like we'll be getting up to open presents, then eating a heavy Christmas lunch followed by lazing around and then football at night.

This is our first Christmas together as a family in our own place - we now have a small child, so I insisted on getting our very own tree.

We spent all week hunting for one, never finding anything we liked. Out of sheer frustration, I texted an old friend for help. "Woi. Where did you get your tree from?"

Her answer amused me. "Chinatown." Well of course. It makes perfect sense to get your Christmas tree from Chinatown.

But then all the malls will be selling fake trees and since we had Ikea, you can also buy live Christmas trees if you wish.

We also put up the lights around our front door and hung up the Christmas air balloon light we bought. We'll put up the Christmas stocking over our "fireplace" later. The "fireplace" is actually our TV box, but it's the only place where it makes sense to put the stocking up.

There is a chain of supermarkets called Cold Storage which caters to the expat community so you can easily get turkey, stuffing, Christmas pudding, stollen bread and panettone.

For the British or American Christmas, it's easy to get food here, maybe just more expensive than back home and there is less variety.

My husband is still not used to having a sunny Christmas, even after living eight years in Asia. He says it's a funny feeling to wake up on Christmas Day and have the sun shining. To him, Christmas Day should be cold.

Natasha Scotton in Philadelphia, USA

I usually celebrate Christmas, but this year we will also celebrate Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa takes place from December 26 to January 1. Each day has a set of goals that the family should discuss with one another. The main point is to get our family to feel more connected to each other and our community.

Celebrating it is about connecting the old with the young and also connecting all African American, African, and Diaspora African people.

I am introducing it to my family and I am happy to say my grandmother has been excited about celebrating with me.

It was a little bit scary at first because I was unsure of how the rest of my family would respond to the new tradition, but they are all excited to join in or at least learn about the holiday.

Celebrating Kwanzaa in a country of "Christmas" requires research on my part, because I had to seek out information on this holiday. Compared to Christmas, mainstream media doesn't mention Kwanzaa nearly as much.

Once I complete the reading, I can better explain to my family what the celebration is about.

I wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa because I wanted to finally take part in something that can help my family grow in love, through education, motivation, understanding, and connecting us all.

We can celebrate both holidays, because Christmas is religious and Kwanzaa is cultural.

Image caption,
Trace and her partner, Suzie have a pinic every other year on Christmas day

Every other year, myself and my partner, Suzie Robertson, have a Christmas picnic outside a nuclear power station in the UK (active or decommissioned).

We get kitted out with hard hats, masks, goggles, gloves and a gieger counter, and sit at a picnic table scoffing sandwiches, satsumas and soup.

Last year, 2009, we managed two on Christmas Day.

We started with a very early lunch at Trwsfynydd, in Snowdonia, and then raced to Anglesey and had a late lunch at Wylfa.

2007 was Dounreay, 2005 was Sizewell and 2003 was Dungeness.

Next year we're thinking about going up to Hartlepool.

Bracing fresh air, monstrous architecture and not a radio-active particle in sight (so far) is an excellent way to spend Christmas day.

Image caption,
The Fizazi-Hawkins children read about Mary in the Qur'an

My husband is Christian, and I am Muslim.

We celebrate Christmas with our two children every year.

We put up and decorate a tree, we decorate the house while singing carols, and reading about the birth of Jesus in the Bible.

This year, for the first time, we read Surat Maryam (the chapter on Mary) in the Qur'an.

We wanted to make sure the children understood that Jesus is important in Islam, too.

The children really enjoyed this addition to our Christmas traditions, so we will be doing this again next year!

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