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11 Holiday Carols from Around the World

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Ready or not, the holidays are here, and from now until New Year's your ears will be filled with the glorious "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Silent Night," and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" tunes. To see how the rest of the world pa-rum-pum-pum-pums, tune into one of these global holiday carols for a toe-tapping, enjoyable change of pace.


This popular Filipino Christmas sing-a-long, translated as "It’s Christmas once again," shares the same sentiment we all have this time of year: How the heck are we already back here?

"It’s Christmas again
How fast time flies
Christmases past
Seem just like yesterday"


The Czech Republic’s holiday anthem—"Půjdem spolu do Betléma"—will have all the children up and dancing right from the beginning. The lyrics start out with a call to visit Bethlehem, before the narrator entirely shifts gears, ordering members of the band to get movin' with their instruments.

"And you Johnny, let your pipe sound,
Dudli, tudli, dudli, da!

Start, oh, Jimmy, on your bagpipe,
Dudaj, dudaj, dudaj, da!

And you Nicol on the violin,
Hudli, tydli, hudli, da!

And you Lawrence, let your bass play,
Rumrum, rumrum, rumrum, da!"


As one of Finland’s most popular holiday songs, "En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa"—translated, "Give me no splendor, gold, or pomp"—reminds listeners that Christmas goes well beyond material desires. The song was composed by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1904, and remains much more of a church-type hymn than lighthearted carol.


This Lithuanian carol will put the party back in your holidays. Translated as "Let’s go girls, let’s go guys," this song is all about living the good life. It tells the age-old tale of strong workers, chasing dogs, drinking booze, and … drinking more booze. We'll toast to that.

"Those of you who are quick to shew away the dogs
Those of you who are strong to carry the sacks
Those of you who are brave to ask for bread
The lassies are drinking sweet mead
The women are drinking beer
The men are drinking spirits."


Translated as "The Star of Bethlehem," this popular Swedish carol is about—you guessed it—that oh-so-famous holiday star. The peaceful song paints a beautiful picture of Christmas night in Bethlehem, with nods to nature and the night sky along the way.

"Night (reigns) over the Land of Juda, and (likewise) over Zion.
At the western horizon, Orion is dying down.
The tired shepherd who sleeps; the peacefully slumbering child:
wake up to a wondrous chorus of voices,
(and) behold a gloriously bright star in the East."


We’ve all heard—and likely sung—"Angels We Have Heard On High," but did you know this holiday playlist staple actually originated in France? There’s something mesmerizing (or shall we say glooorious) about this carol sung in French.


This beautiful African hymn, sung in Kiswahili, celebrates the birth of Jesus with an uplifting, traditional rhythm. While it originated in East Africa, choirs across the world perform this song around the holidays—tribal drum, kangas, and all.

8. "В лесу родилась ёлочка" // RUSSIA

"The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree" is an agnostic, popular Russian carol that explains how the forest helps its fir tree prepare for Christmas. The lyrics, focused entirely on this tree and its surrounding wilderness, will strike a particular chord with nature lovers who spend the majority of their holidays outdoors.

"The forest raised a Christmas tree,
''Twas silent and serene
In winter and in summer
It was slender and so green

Some sleigh bells rang throughout the woods,
The snow was crisp and clean,
A horsey brought a forester
To hew that tree so green."


"O Tannenbaum," which we now associate with "O Christmas Tree," actually got its start in 1824 as a German folk song about the fir tree. As the Christmas tree tradition grew, "O Tannenbaum" became associated with the holiday season, and morphed from a lively tune into the Christmas carol Germans (and the rest of us) know and love today.


Sure, "Feliz Navidad" may have the popular vote when it comes to Spanish-language Christmas carols, but "Mi Burrito Sabanero" gives the classic song a run for its money. While it’s not a Christmas song about a burrito (although we’d be down for that, too), "Mi Burrito Sabanero" wins for cute factor because it’s almost entirely about a donkey. Yes, a donkey—and this little donkey and its owner are on their way to Bethlehem. Can we join?

"With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
If they see me, if they see me
I'm on my way to Bethlehem."


OK, if a donkey didn’t have enough cute factor for you, we’ll do you one better. "Sticky Beak the Kiwi" is a 1960s holiday carol highlighting how—when Santa arrives in New Zealand—this "bird from down under" will take charge of the sleigh. Oh and there’s mention of a platypus. And a kangaroo. And a wallaby. Yeah, Sticky Beak definitely takes the cake for cutest Christmas carol at the children's holiday concert.

"Lots of toys for girls and boys load the Christmas sleigh
He will take the starlight trail along the Milky Way.
Hear the laughing children as they shout aloud with glee:
'Sticky Beak, Sticky Beak, be sure to call on me.'

Now every little kiwi, and every kangaroo, too,
The wallaby, the weka, and the platypus and emu,
Have made themselves a Christmas tree with stars and shining bright,
So Sticky Beak will see the way to guide the sleigh tonight."

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing


1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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The Origins of 10 Thanksgiving Traditions
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There's a lot more to Thanksgiving than just the turkey and the Pilgrims. And though most celebrations will break out the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, there are a number of other customs that you might be less aware of (and some that are becoming too ubiquitous to miss).


Many towns host brisk morning runs to lessen the guilt about the impending feast (distances and times vary from race to race, but the feel-good endorphins are universal). The oldest known Turkey Trot footrace took place in Buffalo, New York, and has been happening every year since 1896. Nearly 13,000 runners participated in the 4.97 mile race last year.


During their annual TurkeyFest in November, they gather a bunch of turkeys and have the "Great Gobbler Gallop," a turkey race. It started in 1908 when a turkey dressing house opened in town. Early in November, farmers would herd their turkeys down the road toward the dressing house so the birds could be prepared for Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, this was quite a spectacle—as many as 20,000 turkeys have been part of this "march". People gathered to watch, and eventually the first official festival was formed around the event in 1912. The final event of the celebration is the Great Gobbler Gallop, a race between the Cuero turkey champ and the champ from Worthington, Minnesota (they have a TurkeyFest as well). Each town holds a heat and the best time between the towns wins. The prize is a four-foot trophy called "The Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph."


From 1939 to 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up by a week. In '39, Thanksgiving, traditionally held on the last Thursday of November, fell on the 30th. Since enough people would wait until after Thanksgiving to start their Christmas shopping, Roosevelt was concerned that having the holiday so late in the month would mess up retail sales at a time when he was trying hard to pull Americans out of the Great Depression. It didn't entirely go over well though—some states observed FDR's change, and others celebrated what was being called the "Republican" Thanksgiving on the traditional, last-Thursday date. Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas all considered both Thanksgivings to be holidays. Today, we've basically split the difference—Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday of November, regardless of whether that's the last Thursday of the month or not.


TIM SLOAN / AFP / Getty Images

The story goes that since at least Harry Truman, it has been tradition for the President of the U.S. to save a couple of birds from becoming someone's feast. Records only go back to George H.W. Bush doing it, though some say the tradition goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln pardoning his son's pet turkey. (Lincoln is also the President who originally declared that the holiday be held on the last Thursday of November.) In recent years, the public has gotten to name the turkeys in online polls; the paired turkeys (the one you see in pictures and a backup) have gotten creative names such as Stars and Stripes, Biscuit and Gravy, Marshmallow and Yam, Flyer and Fryer, Apple and Cider, and Honest and Abe last year.



Everyone knows about the Macy's Parade, but for a more historically accurate parade, check out America's Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in Plymouth. The parade starts with a military flyover and continues with floats and costumed people taking the parade-goers from the 17th century to the present time. There are nationally recognized Drum and Bugle Corps, re-enactment units from every period of American history, and military marching units. And military bands play music honoring the men and women who serve in each branch: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard.


Black Friday, of course, is the day-after sales extravaganza that major (and minor) retailers participate in. Most people think that the term comes from the day of the year when retail stores make their profits go from red to black, but other sources have it originating from police officers in Philadelphia. They referred to the day as Black Friday because of the heavy traffic and higher propensity for accidents. Also, just because you hear that it's "the busiest shopping day of the season" on the news, don't believe it. It's one of the busiest days, but typically, it's hardly ever the busiest, though it typically ranks somewhere in the top 10. The busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas.


Black Friday is quickly being rivaled in popularity by Cyber Monday. It's a fairly recent phenomenon—it didn't even have a name until 2005. But there's truth to it—77 percent of online retailers at the time reported an increase in sales on that particular day, and as online shopping has continued to grow and become more convenient, retailers have scheduled their promotions to follow suit.


And in retaliation for Black Friday, there's Buy Nothing Day. To protest consumerism, many people informally celebrate BND. It was first "celebrated" in 1992, but didn't settle on its day-after-Thanksgiving date until 1997, where it has been ever since. It's also observed internationally, but outside of North America the day of observance is the Saturday after our Thanksgiving.



It's a common sight across the U.S.: parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles passed out on the couch watching football after dinner. Well, we have the first Detroit Lions owner, G.A. Richards, to thank for the tradition of Thanksgiving football. He saw it as a way to get people to his games. CBS was the first on the bandwagon when they televised their first Thanksgiving game in 1956. The first color broadcast was in 1965—the Lions vs. the Baltimore Colts. Since the 1960s, the Dallas Cowboys have joined the Lions in hosting Thanksgiving Day games, and the NFL Network now airs a third game on that night.


Of course, if football isn't your thing, there's always the National Dog Show. It's aired after the Macy's Parade on NBC every year. Good luck telling your dad that he'll be enjoying Springer Spaniels instead of the Lions or Cowboys, though.

A version of this story originally published in 2008.


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