With Christmas less than two weeks away, you are probably getting into the festive spirit. For those living in the United States, this means seeking out the perfect Christmas tree, decorating the house with lights, playing in the snow, or watching seasonal movies with family and friends. However, not everyone celebrates the holiday in the same way. Here are some fun Christmas traditions from around the world.
Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, but that doesn’t stop residents from donning their coats, gathering their families, and heading off to celebrate — at KFC! Thanks to the wildly successful “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (“Kentucky for Christmas!”) marketing campaign in 1974, an estimated 3.6 million residents now flock to the fried chicken chain for a special Christmas dinner. Many even order the 3,336 yen (USD 40), bucket, which includes cake and champagne, months in advance to avoid having to wait in lines that are sometimes two hours long. Why has KFC become such a holiday craze? Besides being “finger-lickin' good,” experts believe the campaign filled a void. According to Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at the Emlyon Business School in France, "There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.”
In Ukraine, Christmas ornaments are reminiscent of Halloween decorations in the US given that every tree is adorned with at least one or two spiderwebs. The custom stems from an ancient folklore about a widow who could not afford to decorate the Christmas tree for her young children. Upon hearing her prayers, the spiders in her hut came to the rescue by covering her tree with intricately spun webs that magically transformed to precious gold and silver when the sun’s rays shone on them the following morning. Since then, placing webs on a Christmas tree is believed to bring good luck, and many use tinsel to mimic the gold and silver the widow discovered.
In the thirteen days leading up to Christmas, Icelandic children put their best foot forward in anticipation of visits from the thirteen Yule Lads. Children place a shoe in their bedroom window each night and wake up to find either a small gift or a rotting potato, depending on their behavior the previous day. Since each of the troll-like Yule Lads have a unique personality, the present each delivers, differs widely. Residents also have to keep their eyes peeled for the giant black Christmas Cat that roams the country every Christmas Eve and eats anyone not wearing at least one piece of new clothing – sounds like an excellent excuse to go shopping!
Children in Italy don’t get a visit from Santa Claus. Instead, they look forward to the arrival of La Befana, or the Christmas Witch, on the night of January 5. Similar to the jolly fellow in red, La Befana enters houses via the chimney, and fills stockings with presents and candy for “nice” children and coal for those that have misbehaved. According to the legend, when the Three Wise Men were seeking baby Jesus, they met an old woman and asked if she’d like to come along with them. She declined the offer because she wanted to finish cleaning her house. Now, every year, the old lady soars through the skies on her broomstick in the hopes of finding and showering baby Jesus with gifts. The friendly, soot-covered witch is also known to sweep every house she visits. To show their gratitude, families often leave out a glass of wine and a plate of traditional food the night before.
Every December 23, hundreds of professional food artists and amateurs head to the city of Oaxaca to compete in the Noche de Rabanos, or Night of the Radishes. The detailed creations, ranging from the nativity scene to Mayan imagery to depictions of local wildlife, are carved using giant radishes – up to 3 kilograms in weight and 50 cm in length – that are grown primarily for the popular festival. After the winners, who go home with a 12,000-peso (USD 633) cash prize, have been declared, attendees are treated to fun music and a spectacular fireworks show. The century-old tradition was started by local merchants trying to draw shoppers to the town plaza by impressing them with carved radishes. In 1897, the mayor declared it an official celebration, and it remains a revered tradition to this day!
Does your family have a unique holiday custom? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!
Resources: smithsonian.org,iceland.is, wikipedia.org,huffingtonpost.com