Maybe Brussels sprouts aren’t so bad after all…
So, you thought Christmas was all mince pies and fairy lights? Well think again. Every country has its own unique traditions for celebrating the festive period, and some of them are, well, a little odd…
In Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, early morning mass is an important part of Christmas Day celebrations. But, more importantly, so is the method of transport to this mass. Streets are closed off to cars until 8am, for the people of the city to rollerskate to church.
What’s more, before they go to sleep on Christmas Eve, children tie a length of string to their big toe, and hang the other end out of the window. As early rollerskaters pass their homes they’ll tug on the string, waking the children for the festive service!
In the UK food has always been one of the biggest parts of Christmas Day, from roast turkey dinners to mince pies and family-sized tins of chocolates. But over in Japan they have a different take on festive foods.
Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, but various customs have made their way to that part of the world and many Japanese people celebrate the festival with a big traditional dinner of…KFC.
The reason for this comes from a hugely successful marketing campaign by the fast food brand in the 1970s, combined with a tendency for foreigners to hit the chains in an attempt to find the closest thing to turkey. This successfully established a lasting association between the company and Christmas, which now causes sales of KFC to increase by up to 10 times during the festive period, with more than 24 000 barrels of chicken being sold.
The Norwegian traditions bare more similarity to Halloween than Christmas, with the same reasoning behind it. Just as evil spirits come out on the night before All Hallows Day, in Norway they say that witches and spirits visit on Christmas Eve.
As part of the celebration then, people will hide all their brooms before they go to bed, to protect themselves from flying witches.
Also bringing a spooky touch to Christmas are the people of Italy, who believe that a witch named Befana comes to visit. Unlike the Norwegian tradition, however, La Befana is said to be a friendly witch who brings sweets and presents to children, making her more like Father Christmas than the Wicked Witch of the West.
One significant difference though – La Befana doesn’t visit on Christmas Day, but instead comes on the 5th of January, to mark the day the 3 wise men appeared with gifts for the baby Jesus.
Germany and Austria
In Germany and Austria being naughty doesn’t just get you a lump of coal in your stocking, it earns you a visit from the Krampus – Father Christmas’s devilish companion. Brought to English speakers attention last year with the release of a horror film based around the tradition, the Krampus is a hairy, horned creature that haunts and punishes bad children.
Christmas celebrations will often find people dressed up as the Krampus running through the streets scaring children.
In the Ukraine, Christmas decorations are a little different than ours. The tradition there is to cover the tree with artificial cobwebs and fake spiders, rather than baubles and tinsel.
The tradition comes from an old folktale about an old woman who couldn’t afford to decorate her Christmas tree, leaving it bare and unfortunate. On Christmas night, spiders came and wove their webs between the branches. As the woman’s children woke up they saw the first light of morning hit the tree and turn the web in to threads of gold and silver, bringing the family a great fortune for the rest of their lives.
From this tale came the belief that spotting a spider web on Christmas morning brings good luck, and so webs became an important part of Ukrainian decorations. We think we’ll stick to our own styles, thanks.
Be thankful for all the delicious treats we enjoy around Christmas, because in places like Greenland they have some much less appetising delicacies.
Mattak (known as ‘muktuk’ traditionally) is a traditional treat that involves raw whale skin with bits of blubber. Or another is Kiviak – a dish made by wrapping a small arctic bird called an auk in seal skin, burying it for several months, and then eating its fermented flesh.
Suddenly sprouts don’t seem so bad…
Back to Germany for another, and much more pleasant, tradition. From December the 5th children leave a shoe outside their bedroom door before they go to bed. If they’ve been good a tree branch covered in sweets will appear in their shoe before morning.
If they’ve been bad, only a bare branch will be in their shoe.
Another shoe based gifting system is traditional in Iceland, whose children leave a shoe on their bedroom windowsills throughout each of the 12 days of Christmas.
Each morning the children will wake to find more presents and sweets filling their shoes. Who says Christmas is just for one day?
It’s not just other countries that have strange Christmas traditions. Different families celebrate Christmas in their own way, and we want to know yours. Let us know in the comments what you do each Christmas that is unique or strange, and share your fun tradition with the world.