By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Winter is here and with it comes the wonders of the season and the spirit of worldwide celebrations. No matter what the country or whether it is Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, or Joyous Epiphany, these various holidays all have timeless traditions that revolve around lights, music and feasting. And throughout the year you can sip and savor the culture and cuisine of any of the fantastic ports to which Regent Seven Seas Cruises sails. Enjoy!
SIP: Champagne, Wine, Cocoa or Egg Nog
SAVOR: Local Specialties
WINTER CELEBRATION FACTS:
Why are candles, Yule logs and lights a part of winter celebrations?
Throughout the world, candlelight is a part of each country’s holiday customs. Initially, the flicker of candles or the flames of tree logs were an important part of ancient winter solstice celebrations that lit the dark and represented the light of the coming spring. Christians created the tradition of lighting Advent Candles on the days leading up to Christmas to acknowledge the brightly lit star of Bethlehem. Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights that lasts for eight days honoring the rededication of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Each night a candle is lit with the 9th shammash candle and placed in a menorah candelabrum. Kwanzaa, the African-American celebration of life and lights, lasts for seven days. The seven candles represent important principles about living and working together.
Music always seems to be a part of the festivities. Why?
Songs and dance have always gone hand in hand as a part of festive rituals. They began at the winter solstice with people singing joyfully and dancing around stone circles in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. “Carula” is the Latin word for dance that then became “Carol.” Christians adopted this original pagan ritual and used singing hymns as a way to praise God, the birth of Jesus, angels and saints. With the lighting of Hanukkah candles, a special blessing and hymn are sung. And during Kwanzaa songs honor harvests and unity.
Why are green, red, white, blue, silver and gold the colors of the season?
These colors in different ways represent the winter colors of nature and thus became part of the décor of the various holidays. Green fir and pine trees, holly, ivy and mistletoe grow abundantly and in pre-Christian times were used as colorful decoration in the winter solstice celebrations to ward off evil spirits and promote new growth. Red is for the season’s berries and apples and is also the color of Bishops’ Robes. St. Nicholas was the bishop who started the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings for children and then eventually folklore created iconic Santa Claus and his red suit. Gold and silver are the colors of the sun and the stars that are prominent during Christmas and Hanukkah. White represents peace, purity and snow while blue highlights the sky, the sea and the heavens.
Each celebration includes a feast. What are some traditional components?
The holiday feast is about celebrating with the ingredients that are abundant in the region. For Christmas in the United Kingdom, many European countries and South America, roasted meats and potatoes are served, while in Italy and Croatia pasta and seafood are enjoyed. In Scandinavia and Russia smoked fish and root vegetables are part of the meal, and in the Caribbean spiced rice and beans are served with chicken, fish or pork. In Asia and the South Pacific, noodles, rice, meats and fish play big roles. For Hanukkah, the popular must-have item is the potato latke/pancake.
What about sweets?
Hard candies, nuts, oranges and chocolate are popular everywhere for Christmas and Hanukkah. Donuts complete every Hanukkah meal. For Christmas, Italians serve sweet panettone bread, while in Scandinavia jams and butter cookies complete the meal. England’s mince pies and fruit-cake are delicious treats that rival France’s Bouche de Noel, a layered sponge cake,and South America’s dulce de leche, their renown caramelized sweetened milk.
In what ports are the Regent ships on Christmas Day?
Savor: Biltong (Dried Meat Jerkey) and Malva Pudding, a baked apricot dessert
Sail: Pago Pago, Samoa
Sip: Kava, the national herb drink
Savor: Pork wrapped in taro leaves roasted in an Umu Stone Oven and Fausi (taro dessert with carmelized coconut cream) and tropical fruits
Sail: Cozumel, Mexico
Sip: Rompope (almond based froth drink like eggnog) or Champurrado (hot chocolate)
Savor: Corn Tamales and Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings Bread)