Outdoor Christmas decorations (Credit: publicdomainpictures.net/CCO Public Domain)

For many of us, Christmas is all about decorating cookies, seeking out the perfect tree, enjoying time with family and friends, and, of course, exchanging gifts. As it turns out, not everyone celebrates the holiday in the same way. Here are some fun Christmas traditions from around the world.

The Philippines

Some of the entries at the 2012 Giant Lantern Festival (Credit: Ramon FVelasquez/ Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Every year on the Saturday before Christmas, the Philippines city of San Fernando hosts the Giant Lantern Festival. Residents from over eleven surrounding villages participate in this fun competition that entails creating elaborate lanterns. Though initially crafted from simple materials such as bamboo, the lanterns have become increasingly larger and more intricate over the years. Many now even incorporate impressive electrical displays. The 110-year-old festival is so popular with both locals and visitors that San Fernando has earned the title, “Christmas Capital” of the country.


Straw Yule goat in Gävle in 2009 (Credit: Tony Nordin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Since 1996, the Swedish town of Gävle [say: yeah-vleh] has been celebrating the Christmas season by building a giant straw figure of a goat. While the animal may seem an odd choice, smaller straw goats are popular across the country. According to local folklore, the Yule goat not only helped deliver presents, but was often Santa’s ride of choice.

Strangely enough, the massive figure, which stands 42 feet tall and takes 1000 man hours to build, has given rise to another Christmas tradition, one the officials had never envisioned – locals placing bets on if it will last till the New Year before someone tries to burn it down. In the past 52 years, the Gävle Yule goat has been destroyed 35 times, just days after it was constructed. However, despite the vandalism, the officials have never considered using anything other than straw to build the revered Christmas symbol.


KFC is a popular Christmas treat in Japan (Credit: Chris Gladis/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan, but that doesn’t stop residents from celebrating the day with a special meal from an unexpected place: Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)! The tradition can be traced back to the fast-food company’s wildly successful 1974 marketing campaign, “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (“Kentucky for Christmas!”). Today, over 3.6 million Japanese residents flock to the fried chicken chain for a special Christmas dinner. Many even order the 3,336 yen ($40), special bucket, which includes cake and champagne, months in advance to avoid having to wait in lines that can often take over two hours. Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at the Emlyon Business School in France, believes KFC became the destination of choice because it helped fill a much-needed void. The expert says, "There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said, this is what you should do on Christmas.” Of course, the fact that it is “finger-lickin’” good doesn’t hurt either.


Italian children look forward to a visit from the La Befana, or the Christmas Witch. (Credit: Eleonora Gianinetto/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

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 the “naughty” ones. 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 her visit.

Merry Christmas!

Resources: Wikipedia.org, cbc.ca, smithsonian.org, momondo.com