All families that celebrate Christmas do it in their own unique way, but when a whole country adopts a rather obscure tradition, it can be quite fascinating to the rest of the world! Here are some of our favourites…
Austria and Germany
While Santa traditionally rewards all the good girls and boys each Christmas, in Austria and Germany Santa’s evil counterpart, Krampus, punishes the naughty children (usually by beating them with sticks and taking them away to his lair). On the night before December 6th (known as both ‘Krampusnacht’, Krampus Night and ‘Nikolaustag’, St. Nicholas Day) German and Austrian children leave shoes outside their door in the hope of getting presents from St. Nick. In recent years a more modern tradition of the ‘Krampus run’ or ‘Krampuslauf’ has come about, where locals are chased through the streets by people dressed as Krampus.
On the 6th December many towns have a festival with St. Nicholas, the Devil and Angel. The trio visit Czech homes giving away sweets, fruit and nuts to good children, and potatoes to naughty children.
Carp is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve for the main meal, and keeping a scale in your wallet for the next year is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity.
It’s also common practice to have a Christmas crib in the house with a baby Jesus inside. The baby Jesus is believed to act as Santa does in the UK, and delivers all the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve.
In Iceland just one Father Christmas is far too few – they traditionally have 13! Collectively, they are called ‘Jólasveinarnir’ or ‘Yule Lads’ and are mischievous characters that live in the mountains of Iceland, visiting towns one by one in the 13 days leading up to Christmas. Instead of stockings, children leave shoes out for the Yule Lads to fill with presents if they have been good, or rotten potatoes if they haven’t.
- For Christmas, many Jamaicans paint their houses, hang new curtains and decorate with Christmas lights (also known as Pepper Lights). Their traditional Christmas celebration is called ‘Junkanoo’ or ‘John Canoe’ which includes street dancing and a great parade with people dressed in colourful costumes and masks.
The traditional Christmas breakfast consists of many different types of local fruit, and dinner is often a mixture of chicken, curried goat, stewed oxtail, rice and gungo peas.
KFC is now a popular Christmas treat for many families in Japan and it all started when Takeshi Okawara, who had just opened the first KFC in Japan in 1970, overheard two foreigners talking about how much they missed turkey for Christmas. He decided to offer a KFC “Party Barrel” as a substitute and it took off on a national scale.
Christmas in Japan is acknowledged but not widely celebrated, so it is viewed in a similar way to smaller events like Valentine’s day. Now, much like dinner reservations on Valentine’s day, KFC is in high demand. It is estimated that 3.6 million Japanese families will treat themselves to a “Kentucky Christmas Dinner Package” this December, which ranges from the equivalent of £26 to £40, and can include a ‘premium’ whole roast chicken, sides, wine and cake. Due to such high demand, getting a KFC meal on Christmas day often means booking weeks in advance, or alternatively standing in line for sometimes hours. This popularity is very beneficial to business, of course, with KFC taking around 10 times their usual sales in the month of December – Takeshi’s idea has become one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history.
- While this varies slightly from country to country, one the night before Christmas Eve many Scandinavian children leave out a bowl of porridge for Tomte or Nisse. This is a three-foot tall mythical creature that is very similar in appearance to a garden gnome, in the hope that he will leave them presents to open on the morning of Christmas Eve. Often seen with Tomte is a Julbock (or Yule Goat) that helps Tomte to deliver presents to children. The main festive meal is also eaten on Christmas Eve, which is often a buffet-style feast with ham, pork or fish, and plenty of sweets.
Every year Norway also gives the UK a Christmas tree which stands in Trafalgar Square, as a thank you for helping them during World War II.
One of Spain’s stranger traditions is the ‘Tió de Nadal’ or ‘Poop Log’, which is a hollow log with sticks for legs, a smiley face and red hat. It is filled with sweets and chocolate, then on Christmas Eve children hit the log with sticks, like a piñata, until the sweets pour out!
- In the Ukraine it is common to hide a cobweb ornament (or ‘pavuchky’) on the Christmas tree, and the first person to find it is said to be blessed with good luck for the new year. This tradition comes from an old folk tale in which a hardworking widow and her children were too poor to afford decorations for their Christmas tree, but when they woke on Christmas morning to see the tree covered in intricate cobwebs. When sunlight touched the cobwebs they turned into gold and silver, and the family were poor no longer.
In the States, many families spare no expense when decorating their homes for Christmas. Christmas decorations in some neighbourhoods have become a competitive event each year, with neighbours trying to ‘out-do’ each other with lights and inflatable Christmas characters. This is also known as ‘ridiculous’.
In the capital, Caracas, all the roads are closed on the morning of Christmas Eve so that families can roller-skate to Mass.