With Halloween, bonfire night, and Christmas fast approaching, we look at six different cultures to see how people from around the world traditionally entertain their guests and host parties. Perhaps you may be inspired to adopt some fresh customs or routines of your own for this festive season?
The best parties are those that offer good company and fine food in a welcoming environment. The most memorable get-togethers, however, can be those that are both personal to the people hosting and unique to the guests attending. Traditions and family rituals play a big part when it comes to gatherings and occasions. It is hardly a coincidence that the more prestigious the event, the more rituals and classic routines it has. Think of a wedding, for example, which is packed with special traditions that have been passed on for generations.
From the act of leaving a mince pie for Father Christmas to blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, it turns out that these shared practices help us to come together in a way that helps our health and wellbeing. According to psychologist Barbara Fiese, author of Family Routines and Rituals, our traditions are emotional connections that come to represent what it means to be a member of a particular family. ‘We’ve also found in our research that when parents have more positive memories of family rituals from when they were growing up, they also tend to interact more positively with their children, which in turn leads to better mental health for the kids.’
You may well have your own routines or rituals that you like to perform every time you entertain. Perhaps your Father-in-law is always ceremoniously handed the carving knife when you serve a Sunday roast, or maybe the children look forward to the sparklers you give them each year on Bonfire Night. Although an event should reflect the hosts and their own sense of style, it’s nice to leave your guests feeling like they have experienced something new. If you think that your dinners and evening gatherings are missing something, perhaps a new tradition or ritual could make them feel special.
If you want to introduce a new tradition that will truly endure for years to come, it requires a combination of elements. The ritual must have a strictly defined time and place, the key features must be repeated each time and should be accompanied by something symbolic or meaningful. We look at some cultures from around the world to draw inspiration from their customs. Who knows, it may well be a real talking point among your guests and help your parties to stand out…
Midsummer Flowers in Sweden
In Sweden, the longest day of the year is the next most important celebration after Christmas. On Midsummer Eve, families pick birch leaves and wildflowers to place on maypoles or to make into floral crowns. The day itself is celebrated with dancing, singing and delicious food as everyone looks forward to the coming of summer.
Going out for a walk as a family the night before an occasion to gather decorations is a simple and easy tradition that you can introduce into your family each year. What’s more, using natural decorations is kinder to the planet than purchasing and using plastic ornaments – but make sure you don’t pick endangered flowers or those grown by the council in parks. If you live by the sea, it might be nice to collect seashells from the beach together to make into table decorations or pick holly from the woods on Christmas Eve.
Scrambled Eggs in Bosnia
What could be better than soft scrambled eggs on buttered toast? The Bosnian Cimburijada Festival translates as the “Festival of Scrambled Eggs” and celebrates the first day of spring. The tradition involves quite an early start, but everyone from the community gathers to see the sunrise, usually by the banks of a river, to share a meal of scrambled eggs while drinking and listening to music together.
While you might not have access to a river, you can adopt this heart-warming tradition and mark family occasions by serving a special early morning breakfast of scrambled eggs or eggs benedict, perhaps al-fresco on the patio or from a garden room or orangery so you can enjoy the morning sunrise. If your neighbours are early risers, you could invite them to join you for breakfast, just as the Bosnians might do.
Umqombothi Beer in South Africa
In South Africa, Umqombothi is a traditional Xhosa beer that is usually drunk from a calabash. The beer is made from maize, maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water and the recipe is passed down through the generations. The drink is made outside the home and is used to celebrate the homecoming of young men or drunk during a ceremony where ancestors are contacted.
If you enjoy making your own homemade produce, this might be a wonderful custom to take inspiration from. Serving home-brewed drinks could add a fun and personal touch to your cocktail parties or evening gatherings. There’s a wide range of drinks you can try making, from Dandelion Wine, Limoncello and the classic Sloe Gin. You never know, the recipe for your own homemade Elderflower Liqueur recipe may well be passed down through the generations!
Birthday Clothesline in Russia
This is a charming Birthday tradition for schoolchildren in Russia. A clothesline is hung with small wrapped gifts at a party, and the children each get to pull one down, taking it as a party favour. It is a simple idea but promises smiles and excitement all round. To adopt something similar, you could use silk ribbons to hang the gifts and include nametags if the presents are personal to each child.
Bento Boxes in Japan
This is a really sweet and creative tradition that forms an integral part of Japanese culture. Bento boxes mean so much more than just the standard lunch box that we take to school or work. The concept originated from separating a packed lunch into several compartments, keeping the different ingredients in place without everything mixing through the day.
The visual aesthetics of a Bento box is what makes them so special, however. Presentation is of the utmost importance, with shapes, designs, patterns and even animal characters carefully crafted from various foods, for someone’s loved one. The effort and preparation that goes into these boxes are phenomenal, making them the perfect way to tell someone that you care. In return, grace and gratitude are given to those who take the time to prepare the boxes, creating a wonderful and meaningful connection.
Get inspired by the Bento Box custom by lovingly preparing a creative spread for your family and friends to honour special occasions. Perhaps making someone’s favourite flowers out of cut fruit on their birthday each year might be a meaningful gesture or making heart-shaped rice balls on Valentine’s Day. There are no limits to what you can design!
Coffee in Turkey
Due to the way it is ground and prepared, Turkish coffee is softer and aromatic than the usual cappuccinos and flat whites we drink in the UK. Gathering with friends and family in a coffee house to talk about poetry, politics and philosophy while enjoying a small cup of this traditional drink has been a part of Turkish culture for hundreds of years.
It is much more than just a drink; the practice of drinking coffee together is about community and connection and the tradition is considered a key representative of the Turkish way of life.
Serving your guests with Turkish coffee in traditional cups might give your dinner parties and evening suppers a unique twist. If you have a fondness for good coffee, it’s an interesting recipe to learn and involves a very fine grind. Serve after your meal in a set of exquisite porcelain cups, like these Villari Butterfly Cups from Harrods, £454.