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Celebrating Tectonica’s Holiday Traditions

At Tectonica, we’re extremely proud of the diversity of our team, including how international we are. As we approach the holidays, we thought it’d be fun to share the different holiday traditions that are celebrated by our staff. From pooping logs to keeping your dinner alive in the bathtub, there’s something for everyone in these fun and unique traditions from around the world.

Aro, Sales & Executive Assistant

Where I’m from:

Originally from Armenia, but moved to Bulgaria with my family when I was a wee lad. Because of that, moving around the world has become a thing for me. I’ve got a whole bag of traditions to draw from, but the one I picked is very special.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

Survakane. Gist of it is you beat people with a stick and they give you money. Oh, and you also chant a poem to rub it in.

In all seriousness, this is a beautiful tradition that dates back to ancient times. On Christmas Day or January 1st kids from all ages all across Bulgaria engage in the ancient tradition of Survakane. Survachkas are the central point of this tradition.

The process goes like this: a member of the family, family friends or neighbours, typically children, lightly “beats” the back of others with a survachka during Christmas or on the morning of New Year's Day (known in Bulgarian as Vasilovden). They recite a short verse wishing their relative wellbeing for the new year. The children who do the ritual are known as survakarcheta. The rewards from the ritual are candy, or (preferably) small amounts of money.

Poem:

Surva, surva godina,

Vesela godina,

Zelen klas na niva,

Chervena yabŭlka v gradina,

Pŭlna kŭshta s koprina,

Zhivo-zdravo dogodina,

Dogodina, do amina.

The survachka itself is a curled branch of a cornel tree, usually decorated with coins, popcorn, dried fruits, small bagels, ribbons, and threads, although different decorations are used in different regions of Bulgaria. Typically, northern Bulgarian survaknitsas will have fruits, bread, and seeds strung on them, while coins are used in the south. The branches are usually bent so as to resemble the Cyrillic letter "f" (Ф). The selection process for a branch is usually held a few days before New Year's, in order to have time to decorate the stick as the family sees fit.

The branch can be taken from any live fruit tree, although dogwood is preferred because of its long life and early blossoming, which are supposed to represent desirable qualities.

Survachka - Holiday Traditions

Auwlyee, Chief Operations Officer

Where I’m from:

Born and raised in Venezuela, but have lived in amazing places like Bahrain, London, Panama, Argentina, and now Spain. My partner has a long history like mine but we now live in the amazing and lovely Barcelona. 

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

We celebrate some seriously weird and random stuff in Venezuela, but also more traditional things, too. At Christmas we put a nativity scene (“el pesebre”) under the tree. We also usually do a secret present exchange with friends. For New Year’s Eve, the theme is strangely “suitcases”. For example, we sing this song from the group Maracaibo 15:

Que te pasa viejo año?

Que te pasa?

Que ya tienes tus maletas

Preparadas… 

Translation:

What’s wrong old year?

What’s wrong? That you’ve already packed your bags…

We start the night of New Year’s Eve with wine, and when the clock hits midnight, you eat one grape for each strike of the clock (12 in total). After that, you put money in your right pocket and pack some clothes in a suitcase and walk around the block once. This is supposed to bless you with money and good travels. You also wear coloured underwear for different blessings:

Yellow = Luck

Red = Love

Green = Health

For both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, we usually wear new clothes because a new outfit means that the next year you’ll be blessed with lots of new outfits.

Irina, UX/UI Designer

Where I’m from: 

Born and raised in Moscow but live in Barcelona now.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

On the night of December 31st, when the clock of Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin starts to ring, you write down your wish on a piece of paper and burn it. The ashes should be poured into a glass of champagne and drink it in one gulp. You need to do all this before the clock finished ringing 12 times. If you are successful, your wish will come true in the new year.

When I was a child, we practiced a bit of fortune-telling. Fortune-telling among the Slavic peoples which is chronologically associated with the period of winter Christmas time (from Christmas Eve to Epiphany). 

The most favourable time for fortune-telling among the Eastern Slavs was considered Christmas, Vasilyesky and Epiphany evenings, reaching a turning point when the holy evil spirits are especially strong.

Fortune-telling with mirrors is used to evoke the image of one’s future groom. The girl sits in the dark between two mirrors, lights candles, and begins to peer into the “gallery of reflections”, hoping to see her fiance. The best time for this fortune-telling is considered midnight.

We also eavesdrop on our neighbours. You climb up to the window of a neighbour and listen. If they’re arguing, it means you’ll have a “fun” year. If the house is quiet, your year will be harmonious. 

For kids the Russian Santa Claus is a guy named Dyed Moroz (Grandfather Frost). He’s a bachelor and lives with his granddaughter.

Mar, Chief Creative Officer

Where I’m from: 

Argentina, but I live in Barcelona now.  

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

For Christmas in Argentina we kill a cow and throw it into the fire. We also eat the same kind of food people in the Northern Hemisphere eat, just in blazing hot weather. 

Nico, UX/UI Designer

Where I’m from:

Born in the big city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, but raised in a beach city of the same country, four blocks from the deep blue sea.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

Mar del plata is a very quiet city during most of the year; it’s really cold and there aren’t too many people. But in summer, the city transforms--tourists come, the temperature rises, and the city becomes a party. Christmas marks the end of the school year and the beginning of summer. It’s principally a celebration for families, or better said, with the people that are close to you like family. Maybe your everyday friends are there, as are the people you haven’t seen in awhile who travel to see you. It’s characterized as a celebration full of old people and kids. Far from the image of movies from the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is celebrated outdoors, now that the nights have started to become nicer. If possible, far from the city. Dinner usually consists of cold dishes that are made days before so no one feels burdened with putting things together, since the important thing is being together. Also served is turron, dried fruits and nuts, and Mantecol. The celebration begins late, but dinner should finish before midnight. At midnight, we make a toast with an alcoholic beverage and the kids stay up late hoping to see Papa Noel. Sometimes Santa manages to leave the gifts when everyone is distracted, but other times a family member will offer to get in costume to maintain the magic for the kids. After midnight, the party continues. Music is played for dancing and some families light fireworks. Not everyone has money to pay for their own fireworks, but you always have an opportunity to see the ones that a neighbor lights and it’s also a good time to drink a toast with and celebrate with them, even if you haven’t spoken all year. Another place to watch fireworks is the beach. Young people tend to continue partying, dancing until super late in clubs or at beach bars.

Sara, Content Specialist

Where I’m from:

Born and raised in Czech Republic (but also Vietnam for a bit), I’m part Czech, part Polish, and part Vietnamese and lived in the UK for close to 10 years. Now back in Prague and enjoying being back in the land of dumplings, high-cholesterol delicious food, and cheap-yet-excellent beer.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

Czechs are an interesting nation. Amongst the top of the world in terms of drinking beer and atheism, they are quirky and sceptical, with a dark sense of humour, yet when it comes to Christmas they’re oddly superstitious and spiritual.

The traditional Czech Christmas meal consists of fried carp. Many families actually buy this fish alive and keep it in their bathtubs for days or weeks until it’s ready to be cooked. However, often bowing to the pressure of children who do not want to see their pet get slaughtered for dinner, a lot of families have changed the tradition to avoid animal cruelty – they still buy the carp but on Christmas Eve, they release it into a river rather than eating it. Potato salad and soup from fish entrails are also a big part of Christmas celebrations, which mainly happen on the night of the 24th.

The Czechs also don’t have Santa. Instead, presents are delivered by Baby Jesus and the delivery is usually announced by the ringing of a bell at night. It can happen at any time, but it’s often done while the kids are still at the table eating and the first star shines on the horizon.

There’s no “official” image of what Baby Jesus looks like and no real explanation of how he actually delivers the gifts (there’s no magic sled involved) - the physics of the whole thing are highly dubious. And while Baby Jesus doesn’t have a “naughty or nice” list, there’s another celebration earlier in December where you’re at risk of receiving coal, wood, or potaties if you’ve misbehaved. That happens on December 5th, when St. Nicholas, accompanied by an angel and the devil, takes to the streets. On that day, children can expect a visit from the three figures, where they’ll be either rewarded or punished for their behaviour the previous year. If they recite a nice poem or song, they get rewarded with small presents and candy.

There’s also a lot of fortune telling - both in general and in relation to marriage. Common foods and items are used on Christmas Eve day to foretell your fortune for the coming year. One way to foretell whether your coming year will be lucky or unlucky is to cut an apple in half. If the core has four pointy corners, bad luck is on its way to you; five corners indicate health and happiness. There’s also the pouring of the lead: A piece of lead is melted over fire and then poured into a container of water. The resulting shape will tell the pourer’s destiny.

If you’re an unmarried girl, you’re in for a treat during Czech Christmas. 

The Throwing of the Shoe is a very popular custom.An unmarried girl is supposed to throw a shoe over her shoulder and towards the door. If the shoe lands with the toe pointing towards the door, the girl will marry within a year. Similarly, the Shaking of the Elder Tree is a tradition still very much alive, particularly in rural areas. An unmarried girl is supposed to shake an elder tree and if a dog barks, she will marry a man who lives in the direction from which the dog bark came.

Although Czech Christmas has traditionally been focused on spirituality and family rather than on material possessions, there are a few customs relating to money and wealth. The main one involved fish scales. Fish scales should be placed under Christmas dinner plates or under the tablecloth to bring wealth to the house. Carrying a fish scale in a wallet all year will ensure that money will not run out.

Since Baby Jesus usually delivers gifts while you’re still eating dinner, part of the fun on the 24th is trying to keep the kids from leaving the table too soon! Once the gifts are delivered, everybody gathers around the Christmas tree to open presents. In most homes, Christmas Eve dinner means dressing up in your finest clothes.

Stella, Organising Network & Partnerships Manager

Where I’m from:

Born and raised in California, but I’ve lived in Korea, Russia, and now Spain. My partner’s from Spain and we now live in Barcelona with our two little kids.

What holiday traditions do you celebrate?

We celebrate Christmas, New Years, and Reis (Reyes in Spanish). Plus, both the kids have their birthdays between Christmas and New Years, so it’s really a nonstop winter fest for the Ripoll Kang family.

We live in Catalonia where there’s the very unique Christmas tradition of Caga Tió, or the “Poop Uncle”. The Tió is a wooden log with a painted face and red wool hat, and you cover him with a blanket and feed him mandarin peels or other vegan foods to (we told our kids he’s vegan after one of them insisted on giving him jamón) every night from around the beginning of December until Christmas day. On Christmas Eve or Christmas day (we usually do it on Christmas day), the kids beat him with a stick and sing him a song in order to get him to poop presents. Here’s an excerpt of the song:

Caga Tió, Tió de Nadal

No caguis arengades que són massa salades

Caga torrons que són més bons!

Translation:

Poop Uncle, Uncle of Christmas

Don’t poop herring because they are much too salty

Poop nougats because they’re better!

Then we tell the kids to go to another room to ask that the Uncle bring lots of gifts and we use the moment to hide little gifts under the blanket. It’s a very weird but fun tradition.

For New Years we celebrate the Korean way, which means preparing a table with traditional foods to offer to our ancestors, placing their framed photos in front of the table and deep bowing to them. Koreans are all about bowing to our dead, which might be why I was goth for a long time. Some Korean families wear hanbok (Korean traditional clothing), but we usually don’t. We then bow to our living elders and they give you money if you're from a younger generation, which is pretty awesome. Then we eat a traditional rice cake soup, tteokguk, which is supposed to give you good luck and another year in age. We normally return to Barcelona on January 3rd and celebrate Els Reis Mags (the Three Wise Men) by going to the neighborhood Cabalgata which is a parade with biblical characters on floats (thankfully we are seeing less Baltasars in blackface these days) who throw candy and other treats as they pass by. Reis is very similar to U.S. Christmas, in that you leave treats out for them on the eve and hope they’ll bring you presents in the morning.