Christmas in Bethlehem
When talking about Christmas traditions around the world, many people tend to forget the traditions and culture of the place where Christmas comes from; that is of course Bethlehem, the actual birth place of Jesus. Bethlehem is a city in Palestine, located south of Jerusalem. The word Bethlehem originates from the Hebrew word meaning 'house of bread.' In Arabic it means 'house of meat.' So no wonder food is a big deal all year around and specifically during the festive season.
Christmas food traditions and festivities usually start on the 4th of December with the celebration of the feast of St. Barbara; where Palestinians and most people in the middle east celebrate by making a dessert known as Burbara, named after St. Barbara, which is primarily made from whole spelt grain, water, sugar and spices like fennel, aniseeds, cinnamon and nutmeg cooked together until it has a custard/pudding like consistency. It could be served hot or cold and garnished with nuts, dried fruits and fresh pomegranate seeds.
On to the main event, Palestinians start prepping for the Christmas feast days in advance. Usually we start with a number of different mezzes; these include the world famous hummus, mutabbal (aubergine with tahini), tabbouleh salad, some pickles and a selection of local cheeses. Then we move to the pièce de résistance, which can be stuffed lamb leg and neck, or sometimes stuffed chicken. There are a variety of different stuffings we can use; most commonly we do a spiced rice with mincemeat and nuts or sometimes we stuff the lamb with stuffed vine leaves aka dolma. For drinks, yes wine is always on the list, however a traditional drink native to the region is Arak which is an unsweetened spirit made from anise. Finally for desserts we often have kunafeh, a sweet cheesy delight with a crispy shredded kataifi pastry on top.
Christmas in Slovakia
In Slovakia, the most important day of the holiday is Christmas Eve and the main meal is dinner, as there’s a superstition saying that you shouldn’t eat anything until you see a star in the sky.
The dinner starts with an appetizer which consists of Christmas wafer with honey and garlic, and fruits. According to another superstition, you’ll be healthy the following year if you cut an apple in such a way that there’s a star in the middle.
The next dish is soup; which type mostly depends on the region of the country. There are many different variations, the most popular ones being mushroom, cabbage or lentil soup. As for the main dish, the Slovak people traditionally eat carp that they buy alive and keep in their bathtub until Christmas Eve. It’s served with mayonnaise potato salad, so-called Russian salad.
As far as I know, there’s no dessert at the end of dinner, as it’s already filling. However, you can grab various biscuits, such as gingerbread or Linzer cookies anytime.
Christmas in Tanzania
Christmas in Tanzania is a strange cultural phenomenon. It’s a tradition transplanted, culture without context. Christmas came to Tanzania as a primarily religious tradition, free from the winter traditions and yuletide that it has acquired in Europe. Tanzanians never had German trees or a Greek saint, so our traditions are a little different: great big church services, new clothes, singing, sermons, and food.
Churches gather together, Pastors commute for hours, and people are brought together, across the country. With any celebration in Tanzania, food is key, and Christmas is time for the best food. What constitutes the ‘best food’ varies, as Tanzania stretches from coast to savannah to mountain to lake. It’s often delicious, fluffy pilau, beef, slaughtered for the occasion, and crates of sodas. Sometimes fish, sometimes salad. There are meter-wide pots full of rice stirred over fires, kitchens full of laughter and smoke, young men washing hands and handing out plates heaped with food.
Christmas in Tanzania is a time when people come together.. Come together and eat... A lot.