Global Family Traditions

BY MICHAEL JOHNSON

The borders of nations contain within them a varying degree of traditions and practices. One can span the globe to get a sense of how truly connected and yet how unique the world truly is. Families across the planet all strive to honor traditions and pass along the generational connective fiber showcasing familial rituals, time-honored practices, rituals and folklore. Let us take a mind’s eye trip around the world to see how people celebrate their individuality.

The Bulgarian Tooth Fairy

While kids here extract their baby teeth and wistfully place them under their pillows for the tooth fairy, the children of Bulgaria have a more elaborate approach. In some parts of Bulgaria, instead of putting your newly pulled tooth under your pillow, it is tradition to throw your tooth onto the roof of the family home. As they do, they shout “Great Raven, I give you my bone tooth. Give me an iron tooth.” They shout for an iron tooth in an exercise to ensure their new tooth will remain strong and without decay.

Naming Day in Greece

Greek families celebrate birthdays as much of the world does, but they also celebrate the day of the saint that bears the birthday celebrant’s name. What a way to double the party in Greece!

Polterabend in Germany

In many countries, wedding couples host a rehearsal dinner the night before the nuptials. It is an occasion to welcome family and friends before the frenzy of the wedding day to have a relaxed dinner and to celebrate the impending marriage. In Germany, Polterabend is a traditional wedding custom where guests travel the bride’s home or to the parents of the bride’s home. There they are encouraged to smash porcelain objects to their hearts’ content. The lesson learned by the wedding couple who is left to clean up is that life can be a series of messes that together they can handle and clean up together with perseverance.

Honoring the Japanese Ancestors

A butsudan in Japan is a small altar in a family’s home to honor those family members who have passed away. Living family members can leave little offerings at the altar such as flowers or a keepsake to show respect and acknowledgement of the particular ancestor. These offerings are laid at the butsudan in remembrance of all who have passed beforehand in a family.

Going Dutch

In the Netherlands, it is common practice for families to exchange gifts during Sinterklaas, the Dutch winter holiday season. Older children and adults also all draw a name of a fellow family member and write a poem about the recipient of the gift. The poems typically contain puns and are often funny. On “gift night,” everyone sits with warm drinks, exchanges the gifts and reads the poems aloud. The poems are written from a place of love and devotion while acknowledging everyone’s unique characteristics.  

India’s Reverence for Animals

To show gratitude for animals, families in southern India feed cows and birds during the annual Hindu harvest festival known as Thai Pongal. By doing this, children learn that species are interconnected and interdependent. The Indian people believe this practice teaches children compassion for all living beings.

Welcoming the New Year in Scotland

Hogmanay is a New Year’s tradition in Scotland. “First-footing” is a practice whereby the first guest across a home’s threshold carries a gift into the home for good luck. Scots also hold bonfire ceremonies where people parade while holding giant fireballs on poles, supposedly symbols of the sun, in order to purify the coming year.

Sunday Dinners 

A tradition here in the United States for families is to gather on Sundays for dinner. A convivial opportunity to enjoy the stories, musings and anecdotes of family members. Often extended family members gather to share homecooked meals and maintain the tradition of fellowship and celebrating each other. Gathering around a table on a Sunday evening is the perfect way to dive headlong into the community of family.  

 

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