All of us who love Christmas might have our own family or personal traditions around this time of the year. But what happens when people from different cultural backgrounds work in the same team? You get to learn about what a traditional Christmas looks like in Sweden, Romania, Ukraine and Italy.
Originally from Sweden, our Chief Pilot Kenneth Karlstrom has lived for a few good decades now in the UK. He keeps fond memories of Christmas back in his country of origin. When asked, he says, with a smile, it was so long ago, but it is still fresh in his mind.
Our colleague Maria Wilkinson shares customs from two different sides of Europe. Her family has roots both in Italy and Ukraine. So she grew up with Christmas food and family traditions from both countries.
As for myself, collecting our stories for you here on our blog, I love the memories of Christmas in my home country of Romania. Born and raised in Transylvania, the Central and Northern part of my country of origin, I grew up with Victorian style traditions. The fact we lived behind the Iron Curtain did not chip away the charm of my favourite holiday. Carolling, sharing food and drinks, spending the festive season with a focus on community are the few things I highly treasure in my memories of our Christmas in Transylvania.
Now let the three of us share our festive stories with you.
Ken’s Memories Of A Swedish Christmas
“I have left Sweden quite a number of years ago, but one thing sticks to mind. Swedish people love celebrating Christmas. Everything needs to be perfect, from the tree to the food served on the day. But the big day is Christmas Eve, and even now I celebrate on the 24th with my family.
In Sweden, they prefer Christmas ham, pork sausages, and home-made liver pate for the occasion. As we love sea food down there, it can’t be missing from a traditional Christmas dinner either. Herring, in a salad or pickled, is in the menu, but also lutfisk. This is the fish version of a cheese board, and it consists of dried and salted white fish.
The family’s Christmas tree needs to stand up to high standards. Everybody looks for a tall and straight tree to bring to the house. They decorate the trees according to their own family tradition. But they don’t stop at this. The whole house will be filled by Christmas decorations and candles. A warm and brightly illuminated house makes the family proud in the festive season.
I talked a few years ago about how my wife, myself and the family spend Christmas Day. We have a big lasagne which she cooks, and I make the roast potatoes.
Of course our dog Pixie is part of our Christmas celebrations, as she is part of our family.”
Unkrainian-Italian Family Traditions With Maria
“My family has a real mix of traditions, as both my grandmothers were Italian and my grandfathers were Ukrainian.
As a child, we always celebrated a version of Sviatyij Mykolai (St Nicholas Day) in early to mid-December.
All the kids from Halifax Ukrainian Club would put on a celebratory performance of singing and dancing.
My grandfather would dress up as Mykolai and hand out gifts to the children at the end.
It was such a lovely tradition that I have some really wonderful memories of.
The Italian Side
In southern Italy, where my family comes from, they celebrate with the main family Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.
It’s traditionally meat-free – only fish is allowed.
While we don’t have our meal on Christmas Eve, we do follow the ‘no meat’ tradition and as many of the family get together for it as we can.
When I was a kid, this meant heading to my Nonna Maria’s house every Christmas Eve for her amazing tomato and tuna pasta.
It sounds like it shouldn’t work but I promise it was absolutely delicious.
A Very Italian-Ukrainian Christmas Tradition
Then the whole family would get together again on Christmas Day to enjoy a very traditionally British Christmas dinner of turkey with all the trimmings.
At some point late in the evening, a bottle of Wisniowka cherry vodka would always find its way to the table for the grown-ups to toast another enjoyable family gathering.
Christmas is a bit different these days, as three of my four grandparents are no longer with us and several of us now live in various places around the UK.
It means we don’t all manage to get together every year.
Hosting Christmas Dinner
But I’m actually hosting Christmas Day at my house here in Shropshire for the first time ever this year.
My Yorkshire-based family is travelling down for the festivities.
I did consider giving my Nonna’s famous pasta dish a go for Christmas Eve, but know I could never do it justice.
Instead we plan to head out for a (vegetarian) curry at our favourite local Indian restaurant.”
A Very Traditional Christmas In Transylvania
Now it is my turn, the author of this blog, to talk about my favourite holiday ever – Christmas. It might be because I am a winter baby, and we had other celebrations around the same time of the year. It might even have to do with the fact my father was a priest, now retired. We grew up next to the church building, and my father’s winter holidays were always very busy.
Despite this, it was my father and I who decorated the Christmas tree every year. We spent couple of hours on the job. Both of us love decorating in general, so this was the perfect occasion for quality father and daughter time. Our tree always stood proof to our shared love of pretty things!
My mum has always taken pride in cooking, like so many Transylvanian women do. She focuses on getting the best food on the table for the festive period. While brother preferred to admire the tree from a distance and to lick all the bowls and kitchen utensils, I loved helping mum with baking too. We always baked one big cake – usually chocolate or crushed walnuts and caramel – and couple of smaller ones.
Regardless of the region, Romanians prefer roast pork for a traditional Christmas. We also love our freshly smoked sausages served with mashed potatoes and pickled veggies around this time of the year. Another favourite food is sarmale – pickled cabbage rolls filled with pork, rice and condiments.
To the day, Transylvania has retained that aura of a Victorian Christmas. The magic starts spreading on Christmas Eve, when children and young people go carolling from house to house. Their voices, accompanied by dogs barking, resound throughout the village. The carol singers usually visited their extended family members, neighbours, and friends. They would always stop at the priest’s house – our house. I remember listening to the songs in awe. In my mind, baby Jesus was born at that exact time, in a cave, warmed by the breath of the animals sheltered there.
In some parts of Transylvania Christmas is still community-orientated. After Christmas dinner at noon, they visit family and friends for the rest of the day and Boxing Day. People usually agree who is waiting for visitors and who is doing the visiting every year. They spend the time chatting, having a bite, a drink of plum brandy – palinka, watching telly and playing games.
Now, living in the West Midlands, I keep that warmth of the Romanian Christmas in my heart. Four years ago I brought over the one century old traditional woman suit sawn by my dad’s great-grandmother. All the embroidery on the blouse and skirts is hand made. I wear it proudly at church on Christmas Day before we all get together with family living here with me.
We all love sharing our Christmas traditions with each other here at Virgin Balloon Flights.
And we’d love for you to share yours with us in the comments below!
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