Weird & wonderful
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Weird & wonderful

Beyond the Christmas tree and tinsel is a world of lanterns, boats and radishes, says Christine Cassar.

Glistening Christmas lights, shiny ornaments, tinsel – the decorating stage of the festive season truly knows no bounds. What about eccentric decorations, like radishes perhaps? Even though we’re not used to seeing decorations that would seem weird to us, they are equally alluring. Here are some of the most unusually magnificent decorations from around the world.

The Greek Christmas Boat.The Greek Christmas Boat.

Greece

The Karvaki – the Christmas Boat – is a tradition that has been part of the Greek culture for many years. Being a nation of sailors, husbands used to spend long periods of time away from home. When they finally returned, their wives would mark their safe return by decorating little boats. It is also thought that families wanted to honour St Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos), the patron saint of sailors, for bringing their husbands back safely. This tradition eventually spread across the country and boats were placed near doors with the bow pointing inwards, symbolising the return towards the mainland.

Nowadays, children on the Greek Islands go out carol singing on Christmas Eve, with drums, triangles and harmonicas, along with a small, wooden boat. This is lit up and decorated with gold paint, nuts and other fruits. There is also enough space left in the boat for the children to collect sweets given to them by the residents they sing for.

The Philippines

Celebrations in the Philippines can start in September and go on for as long as possible. Traditions and customs differ since they have a mixture of western and native Filipino traditions. Some of these include ones like the parol, featuring a star lantern on a bamboo pole or frame. Traditionally, these were made from bamboo strips and Japanese origami paper, to represent the star that guided the Wise Men.

Nowadays, the star lantern is considered to be the most popular Christmas decoration. In fact, on Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando is transformed into the Christmas capital to host the Ligligan Parul Sampernandu (the Giant Lantern Festival). Locals and tourists flock to the city to witness the most elaborate designs 11 villages have created, as part of a competition to build a giant lantern.

When the competition was first held, designs were quite small and made from Japanese origami paper, but nowadays the lanterns are made from different materials and are some six metres in size. Those who attend the festival are able to experience a kaleidoscope of beautiful patterns, illuminated by the electric lights coming from the lanterns.

In Oaxaca, December 23 belongs to the radishes.In Oaxaca, December 23 belongs to the radishes.

Mexico

The city of Oaxaca is home to one of the most popular holiday traditions in Mexico. La Noche de Rábanos (the Night of the Radishes), is a custom that dates back to 1897. Every year on December 23, Oaxaca held a Christmas market where wood carvers would sell their designs. Noting that this proved to be a huge success, a group of farmers decided to do something similar, by carving out little people into their radishes. Sometimes, they also decorated the intricate figurines by adding other vegetables. The farmers attracted the attention of many, as locals flocked to buy these designs to use them as Christmas centrepieces.

Nowadays, the Night of the Radishes remains a huge success as it is an event that attracts both locals and tourists from around the world.

This article first appeared in Christmas Times magazine.

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