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Summit County holidays: From around the globe to our own backyard

Jasmine Listou Bible
Special to the Daily
In 1823, Clement Clark Moore penned the classic poem, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and now nearly 200 years later, many families still read the poem aloud every winter.
Ryan McVay / Special to the Daily | Stockbyte

Family traditions can be a wonderful reminder that the holidays are more than presents and sparkling lights. The memories made and the experiences passed down from generation to generation are a gift in themselves. Some of these traditions have cultural roots or religious meaning, while others are the creation of creative parents or ad agencies.

Here, we take a spin around the globe to find out more about traditions in other parts of world, then come back home to hear about the favorite traditions of several Summit residents.



AROUND THE WORLD

In Ecuador, one of the largest celebrations of the year comes at the end of it on New Year’s Eve. At the stroke of midnight, effigies are lit on fire to cleanse the “ano viejo,” or “old year,” and welcome the new year. The cleansing is said to remove the bad from the previous 12 months, and some choose to jump over the flames of burning effigies 12 times. The effigies were once simple stuffed figures and have evolved to depictions of politicians, pop culture icons and notable people from the previous year.



In Japan, Christmas is not a widely celebrated holiday, but thanks to an incredibly effective marketing campaign by Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1974, Dec. 25 is celebrated for its chicken. In the ’70s the folks at KFC launched their “Christmas Chicken” ad campaign, encouraging the Japanese to enjoy a Christmas meal of chicken and wine. The meal now contains chicken, cake and champagne and is eagerly anticipated.

Christmas occurs during the summer months in Argentina, but that doesn’t stop them from placing cotton balls on their Christmas trees to depict snow. In this predominantly Catholic country, the day is celebrated with both reverence and fun. Christmas Eve dinner consists of barbecue and bread puddings and is followed by fireworks at midnight.

In the Czech Republic, there’s a superstition for single women regarding their relationship status. On Christmas Day, a single woman stands outside, facing away from the house, and throws one shoe over her shoulder, toward the front door. If it lands with the toe pointing toward the door, she will be married within the year.

In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, going to early morning mass between Dec. 16 and 24 is a bit exhilarating, as you’ll be heading to church on roller skates. So many people participate in this tradition that the roads are closed in the mornings for these nine days to keep skaters safe.

In Italy, Christmas celebrations begin on Dec. 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, and continue through Jan. 6, the Epiphany. The nativity crib is an important part of the traditional decor, dating back to 1223 when St. Francis of Assisi was said to have visited Bethlehem and seen the stable in which Christ was born. Today, the city of Naples is famous for its “Presepe Napoletano,” or Neapolitan Cribs.

BACK HOME IN SUMMIT

“The traditions on Christmas Eve in Lithuania are just as, if not more, important than the traditions on Christmas Day,” said Frisco resident Laura Wade, who was born and raised in Lithuania.

On Dec. 24, family members gather at one house, usually that of the family matriarch. Together, they clean the house and prepare for a day of cooking 12 dishes. The meals must be free of meat and dairy, but fish is permitted — herring, eel and karp are commonly prepared. Bite-sized hard biscuits are served with poppy seed milk, which is somewhat similar to eggnog. Cranberry kissel, a thick dessert drink, is another popular dish, as are cold cuts, tangerines and chocolates. Communion wafers with religious scenes depicted on them are served and broken among each family member.

“My mom would always place an empty plate on the table with no fork and knife for those who’ve passed,” Wade said. “It’s believed that their spirits attend the dinner.”

In 1823, Clement Clark Moore penned the classic poem “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and now nearly 200 years later, a Summit County family still reads the poem aloud every winter. On Christmas Eve, the Cunningham family gathers to read the poem, along with Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“It’s very fun because four generations of kids, parents, grandparents and great grandparents (yes, a great grandmother still participates) all have fun taking turns reading Christmas classics,” said David Cunningham, a Summit County native.

The McGann family has continued a tradition that began with Anne McGann in her childhood.

“My family never put presents under the tree until Christmas Eve, so that as kids we would wake up and find all the presents under the tree,” she said.

Anne and her husband, Jeff, have continued this tradition with their two children, Mason and Maya. They even wait to wrap the presents until late at night on Christmas Eve and then watch in delight as their kids come bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning, reacting with the same excitement that Anne remembers as a child.

PERSONAL TRADITION

For my family, growing up in Evergreen, the Christmas season began on Thanksgiving Day. We would begin the morning with a generous slice of my stepmom’s homemade pumpkin chiffon pie. Bellies full of spicy goodness, we’d bundle up in winter gear and hiking boots and trek out our back door — tape measure, saw and twine in hand. We’d trudge over the hills and deep into the woods in search of the perfect tree.

Blue spruce were always off limits, and sparse trees were glanced past. Once the winner was found, we’d take turns with the hacksaw until the beauty fell, wrap her up in twine, heft her onto my father’s shoulder and begin the journey back home. We’d arrive just as the turkey was finished cooking and friends began to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. After one of my father’s perfectly prepared dinners, we’d haul in the Christmas tree, set it up and begin decorating for the Christmas season.


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