Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Customs from Around the World

When you are living onboard a ship filled with nearly 400 crewmembers from up to 40 different nationalities, what "Christmas" looks like to you might not represent what it looks like to ANYONE else, let alone EVERYONE else.  So, we set aside our expectations of Christmas at home and we embrace a Mercy Ships Christmas, one that tries to incorporate a bit of everyone's home culture and traditions.

Here have been a few of the highlights:

Sinterklaas - the Dutch celebrate this, on St. Nicholas' Eve & St. Nicholas Day (Dec 5th & 6th).  The Dutchies on board set out their shoes in the hallway that night and they blessed each other with treats - chocolate covered gingery snap type cookies, spiced cookies, anise flavored cookies and hard salty black licorice candies (definitely an acquired taste!).  They also leave carrots in shoes - not like coal as a punishment, but to feed the horse of St. Nicholas. Dutchies commonly exchange gifts on this day, but not so frequently on Christmas.  As the Dutch community onboard the ship is the THIRD most populous nationality (and maybe the most proud and vocal about their heritage!), we had a big celebration this year - complete with our very own Sinterklaas arriving with his Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) helpers - similar to Santa's elves, that cause a bit of mischief and clowning around - and bringing presents to EACH of the children in grade five and under!  Thank you, Sinterklaas!

Savannah's gift was a knitting doll!

Santa Lucia is a tradition familiar to me, growing up in a Swedish Covenant church that celebrated this every year.  Again, the Swedes have made this holiday quite significant in their culture, even though Santa Lucia was an Italian young lady who was either a martyr, refusing to renounce her Christianity despite being set on fire and stabbed through the throat. Another story says that she was helping the Christians who were hiding in the catacombs for fear of punishment from Roman Emperor Diocletian, and she needed her hands free to carry supplies so she lit candles on her heads. Regardless, as holidays do, the story behind it and the reason it is celebrated has morphed into a celebration in the deepest, darkest parts of northern Scandinavia of light and beauty.

Our community gathered following a Thursday night meeting for the arriving Lucia who came with REAL lit candles on her head, sweetly singing the Santa Lucia song.  The Lucias were followed by many starboys and some tomte who brought Swedish saffron rolls to all.

The first Nigerian starboy I have seen! :)  I love international community living!

Maybe this day falls more along the American traditions - cookie bake!  Thanks to the resources of a big galley and multiple ovens, this event becomes rather simple.  We purchase kilos of cookie dough which the galley prepares for us - we roll, sprinkle, cut and label, and run the trays back to the galley to be cooked.  10 minutes later the trays return ready to be decorated.  This is fun for young and old!

Winter Wonderland is a ship tradition that is celebrated the first Saturday in December.  it is an opportunity for those creative folk on the ship to sell their wares - cards, jewelry, knit puppets, fudge, waffle cones, chai tea, and ornaments flood the common area and people can complete their Christmas shopping at ease.

Carols by Candlelight was the night for the Aussies to shine - this Australian tradition dates back more than 100 years.  Gathering together in a park for a picnic for the day (yes, Australia is in the middle of the summer for Christmas - so sandwiches, strawberries, and crackers and cheese are common Christmas picnic items!), then sing carols together (you guessed it) by candleight when the sun goes down.  We celebrated this tradition yesterday with a barbecue on the dock for dinner, and then when the sun went down had some carols, a visit by the "Wiggles" and even an African Santa!  The real candles were a treat as we don't get to usually light any flame on the ship - and no children were burned, which was even better!  We did stamp out the paper cup that caught on fire in the hands of a 1st grader, and our fire team was standing by with an extinguisher in case things got out of hand! 

The Aussies were in charge, and getting excited!

the junior and senior high were the Advent candle lighters this week

As the sun set, the tone changed outside and we prepared for singing

An Australian, American and two Dutchies made up our group of Wiggles, leading a dancy rendition of Jingle Bells for the kids

And a special visit from a Santa who brought present to all the kids!

Acapella men's choir performed two songs

Tonight we will have a traditional Christmas Eve service to round out the events.  Life goes on as normal outside- patients continue to heal in the hospital downstairs and we remember to reflect on the season no matter what the temperature might be, or where we might find ourselves this year.

1 comment:

  1. Tiffany,
    Thank you so much for sharing this look into life on ship at Christmas time. It is a wonderful thing to be united from all nations and cultures and to celebrate the uniquenesses of each. And it was opportunity for Laura to comment, as we were looking at it together, that this past summer, as you shared in some 'random' church that you met some of my cousins! It is a small world! God Bless the Bergmans this Christmas!