Christmas brings to mind festive images of Santa Claus, snowmen, mangers and reindeer and activities such as baking cakes and cookies alongside decorating the Christmas trees. The magical glow of the festival makes people happier as Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Discover how some countries have unusual Christmas traditions and bring diversity to the Christmas festivities.
According to Swedish folklore, Santa Clauses go door to door on the Yule goat and deliver gifts to sleeping children, just like Santa Claus. That is why the Christmas goat has emerged as a Swedish Christmas symbol. Since 1966, Slottstorget in central Gävle, Sweden, annually erects a giant straw statue of a Gävleget that is more than 42 feet high, 23 feet wide and weighs 3.6 tons. It marks the beginning of the holiday season which runs from Advent or four Sundays before Christmas until after New Year when it is taken down.
In Japan, KFC is an integral part of Christmas Day, and the nationwide food tradition is to feast on Kentucky fried chicken. Inspired by the American Christmas dinner, the special family meal size boxes include chicken, cookies and wine. This custom was developed by Takeshi Okawara, the owner of the first KFC restaurant in Japan. In 1974, KFC launched the “Kentucky Christmas” marketing campaign across Japan, which has been a crucial part of the Christmas celebration.
3. The Philippines
Every year, the city of San Fernando – the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines” holds the Ligligan Parul Sampernandu or Giant Lantern Festival, on the Saturday before Christmas. The colorful and dazzling lanterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, which the three kings followed to find the baby Jesus in a manger. The six-meter-high giant lanterns are suspended in the air and illuminated with thousands of spinning lights that illuminate the night sky and sparkle in a kaleidoscope of patterns.
One of Ukraine’s festive traditions is to decorate Christmas trees with ornaments that mimic spider webs and are believed to bring good luck. Folklore says that a poor widow and her children could not afford to decorate their Christmas tree. While the children slept, the spiders in the house took pity on the family, spinning webs of silver around their branches that looked sparkling and beautiful in the sunlight.
5. New Zealand
For the Kiwis, Christmas is not a blanket of snow as the festival falls during the summer season. Instead, Christmas in New Zealand revolves around a bar-b-que grill where friends gather for fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables. The Pohutukawa tree is a coastal species with red flowers and is the iconic Kiwi Christmas tree that blooms a bright red color in December. The tree provides shade as the Kiwis sing carols in English and Maori and is featured in Christmas cards, decorations and carols.
Norway follows one of the most peculiar Christmas Eve traditions, where people hide their brooms. There is a Norwegian belief that witches and evil spirits come out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride. That’s why people still hide their chopsticks so the witches can’t find them.
One of the unique Christmas traditions is practiced by Venezuela’s capital Caracas in South America. On Christmas morning, people go to church on roller skates for their mass. The city’s streets are closed off, and traffic is blocked to ensure the safety of the skating congregation. Because Venezuelans love firecrackers, they wake up to the sound of firecrackers on Christmas Day along with the sound of church bells at dawn. Before bedtime, the children tie one end of a string to their toe and dangle the other end out the window. The next morning, the roller skaters try to wake the kids up early by pulling on a string they see hanging. After the fair, everyone gathers in the street and at each other’s homes to share food, play music and dance.
While most countries have a single Santa Claus and celebrate 12 days of Christmas, 13 Santa Clauses visit Icelandic children and celebrate 13 days of Christmas. They begin their festive celebration on December 12 and for 13 nights the children are visited by the 13 sons of the legends, Grýla and Leppalúði. According to festive Nordic folklore, children place their shoes by the window on Christmas Eve, and if they’ve been good, they get candy from Santa Claus who descends one by one from the mountains. However, they would get rotten potatoes in their shoes if they were naughty.
It is every child’s dream to receive presents and letters from Santa Claus. According to Canadian traditions, millions of children send letters, drawings and artwork to Santa Claus at his address, which is North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada. If these letters reach Santa’s mailbox by December 9 with a return address, children can receive answers before the holidays in nearly 30 languages, including Braille. Santa’s helpers read every letter for the past forty years, helping Santa answer more than one million letters to children in Canada and around the world.
Las Posadas, or a religious march depicting the journey of Mary and Joseph, marks the beginning of the Mexican Christmas season in December. Pastorals are traditional Mexican folk dances performed during Advent that recreate the biblical passage where the shepherds follow the star of Bethlehem to find the newborn Jesus Christ. The shepherds confront the devil, who will do anything to prevent them from completing their mission. Therefore, the main message of these pastoral dramas is that good always overcomes evil.
On Christmas Eve, the Irish put a red single lighted candle in the window big enough to burn all night. This is a beautiful tradition to welcome Christ and is also a symbol of warmth and protection for the holiday season.
In Germany, it is tradition to hide an ornamental cucumber deep in the branches of the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, the child who finds the pickle first is rewarded with an extra gift from Santa Claus. The first adult to pick the pickle gets luck and fortune throughout the year.