Eight Christmas Traditions From Around The World

Eight Christmas Traditions From Around The World December 19, 2016 · 13 min. read

Christmas is approaching, but not everybody celebrates it the same way. Over the years, people have made a wide variety of different Christmas traditions, involving prayer, food or celebrations. As there are so many traditions out there, I decided to put together a short list of some of the ones I found the most interesting. Let me know in the comments if you have heard of any others.

1. Great Britain

During the Victorian Era, Great Britain had a fascination with the macabre. During this time, people enjoyed finding unique and terrifying ways to bring the paranormal into everyday lives. Although many of these traditions were common during Halloween, Christmas was no exception and ghost story telling became a popular pastime. One of the most well-known instances of this can be seen in the novel "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. To many, this terrifying story about a rich businessman being haunted by three spirits seems out of place in modern Christmas traditions. However, this spooky story is only one of the many that came out of the Victorian Era.

While this tradition in Great Britain passed on with Queen Victoria, it has caught on stateside with Christmasy-horror films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins and several Krampus adaptations. These also include slasher flicks such as Black Christmas, Santa Claws and Silent Night, Bloody Night. For some people, Christmas-based horror movies are just as appealing as the ghost stories of Christmas past.

The Muppet's A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

2. Central Europe

While everybody loves Santa Claus and the joy he brings to the boys and girls around the world, he isn't the only one who comes out on Christmas Day. Many Central European cultures also acknowledge Santa's dark companion Krampus.

Krampus is horned, hooved and is often described as half-human and half-goat. With fangs, black fur and a long, rolling tongue, he is about as far away from Santa Claus as one could get. While Santa rewards children who behave, Krampus punished those who misbehave. In some traditions, Santa leaves coal or snakes for misbehaving children, but Krampus instead drags the children back with him into the underworld.

When Fascism rose in Central Europe during the first half of the 20th Century, Krampus or celebrations about Krampus were prohibited. As the century went on, however, he returned in popularity. Today, many cities across Central Europe celebrate Krampus on December 5th by dressing up like demons, carrying torches and running through the streets.

(Are you interested in learning more Christmas demons? Check out Channy Dreadful's 5 Reasons to Fear the Holidays!)

Krampus Krampus

3. Netherlands

Although we now call him Santa Claus, Sinterklaas was the original concept of our jolly, red nosed gift-giving friend. While Santa comes from the North Pole on a sled powered by Christmas Magic, Sinterklaas comes from Spain on a boat powered by coal. With him, he brings with him candy, toys, treats and a big red book with every child's name written in it. Good children are given gifts, while bad children are put back on the boat and taken to Spain, never to return.

Another difference is that, while Santa Claus has green elves to help him disperse gifts and candy, Sinterklaas has Zwarte Pieten. Zwarte Pieten are colourful, dark skinned helpers of Sinterklaas who travel with him to and from Spain. Traditionally, Zwarte Pieten are dark skinned because they represent the Moors – North African Muslims – who once settled in Spain. Nowadays, however, the story has changed and they are dark skinned because they were shoveling coal.

Some find Zwarte Pieten to be racist, as the Netherlands were very much involved in the African slavery during colonization. To some people, slavery and black servants helping a rich white male are eerily similar, but a 2013 survey found that 92% of Dutch people did not perceive Zwarte Pieten negatively or related it to slavery at all.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten

4. Sweden

While not on Christmas Day, Sweden celebrates Saint Lucy's Day on December 13th. Saint Lucy was an early Christian martyr that died for her beliefs in 304 CE.

The story goes that Lucy was at the shrine of Saint Agnes in Sicily when an angel appeared before her. After her encounter, Lucy became a devote Christian and refused to give up her virginity to her soon-to-be husband. Enraged, her husband reported Lucy to the Roman authorities who threated to take her to a brothel if she didn't renounce her faith. Refusing still, the story goes, over 1,000 men and 50 oxen tried to move Lucy from her spot, but were unable. Frustrated and tired, the Roman authorities piled wooden logs around her and lit them on fire in an attempt to kill her. With her faith keeping her alive, she continued to speak about God through the fire. Afraid, one of the soldiers stabbed her in the throat with a spear in an attempt to silence her – yet she still lived.

Today, young women in Sweden wear white dresses, place candles on their heads and sing during church on December 13th to remember the faith and strength Saint Lucy had.

Another tradition is that of the Gävle Goat – one with recent 1966 origins. Every year a massive goat is built out of straw in Gävle, Sweden and almost annually it is the victim of arson, vehicle collision or a kidnapping via helicopter. From 1966 to 2016, the goat has been damaged or burnt down 36 times. For anybody wondering, yes, it was destroyed this year as well.

Yule Goats are also hung on Christmas trees in Sweden, which draw inspiration from the Gävle Goat and Thor's flying goats.

Gävle Goat in Sweden

5. Norway & Italy

If you've ever wondered what witches do during Christmas, the answer is the same thing they do every day of the year: cause trouble and play pranks. To stop witches from terrorizing people on Christmas, households in Norway hide their brooms. With brooms being a witch's most common form of travel, hiding the brooms should, theoretically, keep the witches away. 

I can't find too much more about this online so if any of my readers know more about this tradition, I'd love to hear it!

Interestingly enough, Italy also has their own Christmas witch called the "Befana". Befana replaces Santa Claus in some parts of Italy and brings children toys and sweets. She also travels by broomstick and enters houses via the chimney. Identical to the Norwegian Christmas witch, I imagine she'd bring Norwegian kids candies too, if they'd stop hiding her brooms.

6. Ukraine

I can handle spooks and demons and goats and witches, but I can't handle spiders. Unfortunately for me, hanging spiders and spider webs on Christmas trees are a popular Ukrainian tradition.

The story goes that once upon a time, a poor widow lived in a sod hut with her children. One day a pine cone fell from the roof of their hut and landed on the floor, only to take root. The children cared for the tree while their mother was away working and hoped it would become their Christmas tree – since they could never afford one. The tree grew and was the perfect size for Christmas, but was left bare because the family could not afford decorations either. When the children awoke on Christmas Day, the tree was glistening in spider webs. When they opened the window's curtain, the sun's light touched the webbing and the webs were transformed into silver. From that Christmas on the family was never poor again.

It is because of this tradition that it is considered good luck to hang spiders on your Christmas tree.

(For anybody wondering what Easter is like in Ukraine, I had the pleasure of experiencing it while in Kyiv this past spring.)

Spiders on Christmas Tree - Yuck!

7. Japan

Most families have turkey, buns, stuffing, corn, potatoes and other delicious foodstuff during the holidays, but like everything else, Japan has to be different. Instead of eating turkey or ham for a Christmas Meal, the Japanese eat buckets of chicken – and not just any chicken, but Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Thanks to a well received advertising campaign in 1974, KFC has become a part of almost every family's Christmas meal in Japan. From wings to thighs to popcorn chicken, KFC has plenty of delicious food for a Christmas meal. For the holidays they even have a "Christmas set" which costs around $40, and even includes wine!

Have you ever eaten KFC for Christmas?

8. Australia

Christmas in Australia is unique because of their climate. Unlike Europe and North America, Christmas in Australia takes place during the summer. For many people in Australia, they associate sunshine, the beach and going outside with Christmas – not darkness, snow and staying inside.

Gifts in Australia during Christmas are also very different, with beach towels, beach toys and swim suits being common gifts.

One of the most unique things about Christmas in Australia is their variation of Santa Claus. An Australian Santa wears an outback hat, light clothes and sandals (called "thongs" there, but that has a different meaning and different image here in Canada). His traditional Christmas sled is also replaced by a two-door coupe or Sedan called a "ute". The 12 Christmas reindeer are also replaced by six, white kangaroos called "boomers", as per the classic Rolf Harris song, Six White Boomers:

Trust the Aussies to make Christmas even more fun!

 

Does your family have any unique Christmas traditions? I'd love to hear about them. Tell me about them in the comments below!

Images are borrowed from The New York Times, Flickr by Michell Zappa and The Independant.

Don't forget to pin it!

Eight Christmas Traditions From Around The World

And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.

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