Paper Traditions From Around The World
How Paper Plays A Role In Different Traditions From Around The World
Writing on it, folding it, floating it or burning it… paper is central to some of the world’s oldest traditions that continue to be practiced today. Here, we explore 12 of the most fascinating traditions from around the globe, each of which has paper at its core.
Lantern Festival – China
Usually celebrated in February, this traditional Chinese festival marks the final day of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Its origins can be traced back more than 2,000 years. On the night of the festival, streets are decorated with colourful paper lanterns (almost always red to symbolise good fortune, luck, joy, and happiness). The lighting of the lanterns symbolises letting go of one’s past self and welcoming in a new one.
Paper School Cones – Germany
Dating back to the 18th century, it’s customary in certain regions of Germany to gift a child with a large paper cone (known as Schultüte or ‘school cone’) filled with presents such as sweets, toys, and stationery on their first day of school. Seen as a transitional stage in a child’s life, the idea is to help quell anxiety by making this big day a little sweeter.
Kakizome – Japan
One of the many events in the Japanese new year festivities is called Kakizome; the art of writing your first calligraphy of the year. People write down their aspirations or goals on paper, and it is believed that by burning your Kakizome work in a shrine or temple, your calligraphy skills will improve.
Tanabata – Japan
During the Tanabata festival (or Star Festival) held during July or August, one particular custom is to write one’s wishes on a colourful piece of paper, called tanzaku, and hang them on a bamboo tree. These are then often burned after the festival in the hope that the wishes come true.
Christmas Crackers – United Kingdom
Originating around 1845, crackers are a staple when it comes to the British Christmas dinner table. Consisting of a colourfully paper-wrapped cardboard tube with a small gift or toy inside, they usually include a festive party hat made of tissue paper, along with a cheesy joke or riddle. Designed to be grabbed at each end by two people and pulled apart, there is a tiny explosive inside that goes off with a small bang – hence the name!
Hungry Ghost Festival – East Asia
The Ghost Festival is a special event held in certain East Asian countries, devoted to celebrating and caring for the dead. The festival signifies the opening of the gates of Heaven and Hell, permitting ghosts to visit the living. During this period, family members of the deceased offer prayers and food and drink to appease the ghosts. They also burn joss paper in various forms, such as “hell money”, which is printed to look like bank notes. Joss paper is believed to have value in the afterlife, so this ritual aims to help solve any monetary problems the ghosts may have.
Wag Festival – Egypt
Like many cultures around the world, the Ancient Egyptians also had a holiday to honour the deceased. During the Wag Festival, people made paper boats containing shrines to souls and set them out on the River Nile to float off towards the west. Dedicated to the death and rebirth of Osiris, god of the underworld, it is one of the oldest festivals celebrated by Egyptians.
Aprils Fish Day – France
A traditional French prank for children to play on April Fools’ Day is to try and pin a paper fish on an unsuspecting friend or older relative’s back, often followed by hastily darting away and yelling “poission d’avril!”.
Piñata – Mexico
Despite popular belief, the piñata originated in Asia over 700 years ago, where figures of cows or oxen were covered in coloured paper and filled with seeds which were then burned to bring good luck throughout the New Year. Nowadays the piñata is most strongly identified with Mexico, where it is typically used for a fun activity at celebrations and festivals. Made into various shapes out of cardboard, decorated in coloured paper and filled with sweets, participants are blindfolded, given a wooden stick and then spun around on the spot a number of times, at which point they must try to hit the piñata in an attempt to spill the goodies hidden inside.
Christmas Hearts – Denmark
Woven paper hearts are the most popular Christmas decoration in Denmark and it’s a very typical tradition to gather around the dining table and make paper decorations for the tree together. The heart designs vary in complexity and apparently the more intricate ones require a lot of patience, so it’s highly recommended that you begin with the simplest of them to avoid disappointment, especially if making with children.
Anonymous ‘Fool’s Letters’ – Denmark
A gaekkebrev (or fool’s letter) is a paper note snipped into an elaborate pattern with a witty rhyme or clue written within. The Danish tradition is to send these to a family member or loved one on April Fools’ Day, and the receiver must try and guess who sent it. If they guess correctly then they win a chocolate Easter egg, but if they fail then the receiver must give one to the sender.
Parols – The Philippines
Ornamental lanterns traditionally made of bamboo sticks and Japanese paper called parols are used to decorate streets in the Philippines during the Christmas season. Usually, star shaped but varying in size, they are used to symbolise light and hope. They have become as important to Filipino Christmas as the Christmas tree is to Western cultures.