Military families stationed outside the United States have unique opportunities to discover new holiday traditions in their host countries. Read on to learn about the fun ways our overseas service members and their families get to celebrate around the globe.
Air Force spouse Bekah Young and her husband, Master Sgt. Jason Young, were stationed at RAF Lakenheath for several years. They welcomed the opportunity to learn about and participate in British traditions like Christmas crackers (long decorated tubes containing a small gift that make a popping sound when pulled apart) and pantomime theater (special plays happening only during the holidays with audience involvement). They also made sure to enjoy local holiday fare, including mulled wine and mince pies (a combination of dried fruit and spices).
“We loved England and were very excited to try all the new traditions. It just became natural to us,” Young said. “It was important to us to take part in the traditions in our new country because we wanted to fully embrace what England had to offer.”
If you’re stationed at Volkel Air Base in Holland, listen for Hoornblazen, handcrafted horns blown at the beginning of Advent to announce the birth of Christ. Similar to other European nations, the Dutch also celebrate St. Nicholas Eve, or Sinterklaas Avond. But the celebration actually begins in November, when Sinterklaas (a completely different figure from Santa Claus) arrives on a steamship from Madrid, Spain. Parades, choirs, children’s parties and church bells greet his arrival.
In Deutschland, it’s all about the end-of-the-year shopping! Master Sgt. Patrick Gaudet and his family spent many happy hours perusing the Christkindlesmarkts, outdoor holiday bazaars featuring handmade items and local foods.
“We had the unique opportunity to spend so many years in Europe that it just felt natural to partake in the local customs,” said Natalie Gaudet, Patrick’s wife. Those customs also included St. Nicholas Day, where children set their boots by the front door on Dec. 5 to receive treats in the morning. Gaudet’s children “are anxious to see their boots and hope there are gifts rather than a lump of coal from Krampus!” Natalie said.
How quickly can you eat 12 grapes? If you’re stationed in Spain and are hoping for a lucky year ahead, it had better be by the time the clock finishes chiming at midnight! Spaniards ring in the New Year by eating one grape for every chime of the clock. Perhaps you’ll get incredibly lucky the following year and win “El Gordo,” or the national lottery! Nearly everyone in Spain participates each Christmas season, with the winning numbers being announced on TV by a choir of school children on Dec. 22. The cash prizes total more than two-billion Euros!
In Japan, the U.S. restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken is the Christmas meal of choice. In fact, Dec. 24 is by far the busiest day of the year for KFC locations in Japan. No one is entirely sure why, said Marine Corps spouse Melissa Duncan. Rumor has it that KFC employers overheard Americans looking for a turkey replacement for holiday dinners, and a brilliant marketing plan was born.
“They have special holiday meal sets that you must order in advance — like a month or so in advance. It’s sometime in November!” Duncan said. “But they have special Christmas chicken sets, and the top tier ones usually sell out.”
Last year, Duncan forgot to order in time, meaning that they had to settle for a “mid-tier” KFC party bucket. But she said she’s on top of her game this year, having already pre-ordered the most popular Christmas dinner set that comes with a special cake and even a commemorative plate. Talk about fancy –– KFC in Japan even sells champagne with its holiday dinners.
Seollal, or Lunar New Year’s Day, is an important day on the Korean calendar. Falling on Feb. 1 in 2022, Seollal involves paying respect to elders, performing ancestral rites, enjoying dishes like Tteokguk (soup made with sliced rice cakes), playing a board game called Yut Nori and exchanging friendly greetings.
December is a great excuse to join with friends and neighbors for a cup of hot chocolate, but in Peru, it’s an official social gathering called chocolatada. Most Peruvians attend a Catholic Mass on Christmas Eve called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster. Jesus’ birth often takes center stage in this South American nation, with nativity scenes sometimes taking up entire living rooms. The manger remains empty until midnight on Christmas Eve when a member of the family (often the youngest child) will place the baby Jesus figure in its proper place. It’s not all sweet scenes, however — Dec. 25 also marks the day of Takanakuy (“to hit each other”), when people settle disputes!
So wherever you’re based this holiday season, try something new. Your family may discover a tradition to take with you and continue, long after you’ve left the duty station.Read comments