Surprising Christmas traditions from around the world

Posted by Leila Stein on 3 December 2019

While nativity scenes, decorated Christmas trees, snow and gifts from Santa Claus, make up what is perhaps considered the ‘typical’ Christmas, these countries bring their own unique traditions to this holiday season.



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Iceland’s yule cat, Jólakötturinn, is thought to be bigger than people’s houses and is rumoured to stalk around and pouncing on children who didn’t receive clothes before Christmas as a reward for not doing chores.



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Although most of the Japanese population aren’t Christians, Christmas is celebrated with a well-known fried chicken brand. In 1974, KFC released a marketing campaign called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” or ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ This was so successful that the tradition of ordering KFC boxes for Christmas carries on today, with orders being put in weeks in advance.



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Ukrainians decorate their trees with homemade spider ornaments and artificial webs as part of a tradition based on the story of a poor widow who could not afford to decorate her tree. However, she woke up one morning to find glistening spider webs covering the branches. Spiders are still considered good luck in Ukraine and they usher in good fortune for the new year.



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On Christmas Eve, Julaften, families exchange gifts and hide their brooms. This tradition comes from stories of evil witches and spirits that come out on Christmas eve and terrorise the town. By hiding the brooms, their ability to fly around and wreak havoc is prevented, ensuring a peaceful Christmas Day.



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Carolling is a tradition in many countries, but it could be argued that none are more serious about the festive singing than the Romanians. Children go door to door signing all while followed by a bear. This is usually a person in a costume as a sign of good luck, however, in the past real bears could accompany the singers.



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In Martinique, Christmas is a community affair with neighbours visiting each other during the Advent and on New Year’s Day with yams, boudin créolepâtés salés, and pork stew. They sing carols, all with a creole twist.

The Netherlands


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While Saint Nicholas is the basis of Santa Claus, not everyone pictures the jolly man as the Coca-Cola made grandpa in the red jumpsuit. In the Netherlands Sinterklaas is skinny and has a long white beard, red cape and red miter. Children put a shoe in the chimney for him and wake up to find gingerbread men and marzipan inside.



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Believed to have started in the 16th Century, Germans hide a pickle somewhere in the branches of their Christmas trees. The child who finds it first gets a prize.



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While Santa Claus brings thoughts of presents and joy, Austrians bring the mood down a little with their evil counter to Saint Nick, ‘Krampus’. This ghoul wanders the streets looking for badly behaved children. Vienna even has an annual ‘Krampus’ parade with people dressing up in devil masks.

South Africa


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South Africa, much like other Southern Hemisphere countries, celebrates Christmas in the summer. This makes winter traditions like eggnog and indoor fires a little obsolete. South Africans celebrate Christmas with braai’s outside, swimming in the pool and sipping on cold beers and crisp white wine, with many flocking to the beaches on Boxing Day. Like the British, South Africans refer to Santa Claus as Father Christmas.

Image: Unsplash

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