Christmas traditions: How do countries celebrate Christmas?

A man wearing a Santa hat surfs on Sydney’s Bondi Beach as thousands flock to the ocean to celebrate Christmas.

A man wearing a Santa hat surfs on Sydney’s Bondi Beach as thousands flock to the ocean to celebrate Christmas Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008.

Rick Rycroft, Associated Press

Many Americans celebrate Christmas with a new pair of pajamas, a stocking hung on the mantel, a candy-covered gingerbread house and presents from Santa Claus.

But nations around the world celebrate Christmas in their own way. Many people in Japan prefer Kentucky Fried Chicken for their holiday dinner and in Austria, Santa has a terrifying sidekick.

Check out 10 unique Christmas traditions from around the world.

1. Japan eats KFC for Christmas

Every Christmas season in Japan, an estimated 3.6 million families celebrate with KFC, a meal that has become a nationwide holiday tradition, reports the BBC. In fact, KFC is so popular during Christmastime in Japan that getting the KFC special Christmas dinner requires ordering it weeks in advance — and those who don’t sometimes must wait in line for hours to get a holiday bucket of fried chicken.

The tradition took off in 1974, when KFC’s global marketing campaign “Kentucky for Christmas” reached Japan.

“It filled a void,” Joonas Rokka told the BBC. “There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”

2. Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads fill kids’ shoes with candy

In Iceland, children reap the benefits of not just one Father Christmas, but 13 Yule Lads. For the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, these mischievous holiday lads take turns visiting children. Each night, Icelandic kids leave a pair of shoes on the windowsill — if the Yule Lad that night believes that they are nice, he fills their shoes with candy, but if he believes they are naughty, he fills their shoes with rotting potatoes, reports the Smithsonian Magazine.

But the Yule Lads have not always been so merry. According to the Smithsonian, the Christmas characters have a creepy history. Each Yule Lad had his own personality. For example: Door Slammer storms around slamming doors to keep people awake, Window Peeper likes to take peeks into windows and snatch things he sees inside and Stubby is a short Yule Lad who steals food out of frying pans.

3. Norwegians hide their broomsticks

On Christmas Eve in Norway, it is traditional to hide all of the broomsticks before going to bed, reports CNN. This is because a long time ago, Norwegians believe that on the night before Christmas, wicked witches and evil spirits would go through homes and steal any broomstick in sight to fly off on.

A more light-hearted Norwegian tradition is serving “riskrem” — a rice porridge — for dessert during Christmas. Families hide a single almond within the porridge, and whoever finds it in their bowl earns a prize, and some good luck, per CNN.

4. Spider webs are hidden in Ukrainian Christmas trees

A spider web ornament is hidden in Ukrainian Christmas trees each year. There’s an old legend in Ukraine that, one summer, a poor widow found a Christmas tree growing in her yard. Her children had never gotten a Christmas tree before, and she wanted to decorate it, but she couldn’t afford any decorations, according to Insider.

The next morning, the window and her children found that a generous spider had spun a web around the tree, decorating it for the family. On Christmas, the youngest child opened the window to look at their tree, the light hit the webs just right and they turned silver and gold.

Now, people in Ukraine hide a spider web decoration in their tree each year, and whoever finds the web on Christmas will receive good luck in the upcoming year.

5. Germany’s pickle ornament

In Germany, pickles represent more than just a salty snack. On Christmas day, parents hide a pickle ornament within their Christmas tree’s branches — the green pickle camouflages itself within the tree, making it difficult to find. Whichever child finds it first earns a prize. Some families give the winner a special gift, others let them open the first present, but everyone believes good luck is bestowed on whoever finds the pickle, reports USA Today.

6. Las Pastorelas

In Mexico, Christmas is celebrated with piñatas, a Christmas Eve feast and Mexican hot chocolate (ponche).

One interesting tradition in Mexico is its version of the Nativity reenactment, which is called Las Pastorelas. It’s a play about a group of shepherds, who, after a visit from an angel, begin a journey to Bethlehem to see the birth of Christ.

As the shepherds travel, the Devil does everything he can to prevent them from getting to Bethlehem. With the help of an angel, they eventually make it to the manger where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus peacefully await, per NBC News.

7. Sweden’s large Yule Goat

The straw Yule Goat has been a Swedish symbol of Christmas since Pagan festivals, according to Country Living. And in 1966, the Swedish city of Gävle took the tradition to new heights. In Gävle, the traditional straw goat was built over 42 feet high, 23 feet wide and weighs more than 3.5 tons.

The exaggerated version of the Yule Goat earned a Guinness World Record in 1985, reports VisitGavle. The goat was re-built and placed in Castle Square each Christmas season.

8. Saint Nicholas’s menacing sidekick

Children in Austria prepare for Father Christmas beginning in early December, per History. Kids who filled their year with good deeds receive gifts from Saint Nicholas. If they have not behaved themselves during the year, they get a visit from Krampus — the half-human, half-goat who comes to punish children each year around Dec. 5 or 6.

The origins of Krampus date back to pagan traditions of the Winter Solstice. Now, the legend is associated with Christmas, and during early December, Saint Nicholas’s intimidating sidekick comes to frighten children.

Krampus sightings are often men dressed up as Krampus participating in the Krampus run each December during Krampuslauf — when Krampus imitators go running through the streets.

9. Filipinos start celebrating in September

Christmas spirit in the Philippines is unmatched. The country is known for pulling all the stops when it comes to celebrating Christmas. Celebrations begin as early as September and carry on until January, reports CNN.

Some of the ways Filipinos celebrate Christmas is with extravagant light displays, Catholic masses and large, festive meals.

“I cannot help myself from smiling whenever I pass by that street and think of how devoted Filipinos are in celebrating Christmas” said Stephanie Masalta, per CNN.

10. Surfing Santa in Australia

In Australia, Christmas is a summer holiday, and it is not unusual to see Father Christmas catching a wave. In 2015, hundreds of Santas gathered Sydney’s Bondi Beach for the world’s largest surf lesson. Roughly 320 red and white-clad surfers participated in the event, which brought awareness to mental health struggles, reports the BBC.

Older Post Newer Post