With Christmas less than a week away, many people worldwide are getting into the festive spirit. For those living in the United States, this means baking and decorating Christmas cookies, buying gifts for loved ones, and binge-watching holiday classics like Elf and Home Alone.
But not everyone celebrates the holiday in the same way. Here are some unique Christmas customs from around the world.
Every Christmas, the town of Santo Tomás in Southern Peru hosts a fist-fighting festival. The series of organized arm battles allow locals to settle disagreements outside the courts, which are hard to access from the rural town. The five to 10-minute-long fights are carefully monitored by a neutral referee. Whoever loses has to apologize in public. The two opponents then embrace each other and promise that the dispute is over. Following the event, locals get together for a Christmas feast.
A meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) may seem like a strange choice for Christmas. But in Japan, a bucket of the fast-food giant's world-famous fried chicken is a beloved holiday tradition. The custom can be traced back to a brilliant 1974 marketing campaign called Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas! Today, as many as 3.6 million Japanese residents enjoy a KFC dinner on Christmas every year. Many pre-order the 4,000 yen ($28) bucket — which includes cake and champagne — weeks in advance to avoid the two-hour long lines.
Joonas Rokka, an associate professor at the Emlyon Business School in France, has a theory on why the KFC campaign was so successful. "It filled a void," he says. "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 tree decorations include at least one or two spider webs. The unusual custom is credited to a folktale about a widow who could not afford to buy ornaments for her Christmas tree.The spiders in her hut heard her prayers. They covered the tree with beautiful webs that magically turned into precious gold and silver when the sun's rays hit them. Today, placing tinsel spider webs on a Christmas tree is thought to bring good luck.
Kids in Iceland look forward to a visit from one of 13 Yule Lads during Christmas. The gnome-like creatures take turns sneaking into the children's rooms on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. They leave small gifts for "good" kids and rotten potatoes for "naughty" ones. The most popular Yule Lad, Kertasnýkir (Candle Stealer), comes on Christmas Eve. He "steals" candles but leaves behind generous gifts.
Italian children look forward to a visit from a witch called La Befana every year on January 5th. Like Santa, La Befana enters homes through the chimney. She brings presents and candy for "good" children and coal for the "bad" ones. According to the legend, when the Three Wise Men were seeking baby Jesus, they met an older woman and asked if she wanted to accompany them. She declined the offer because she wanted to finish cleaning her house.
Since realizing her mistake, the old lady has been flying around on her broomstick in search of baby Jesus. The friendly, soot-covered witch is also known to sweep every house she visits. Families often leave a glass of wine and a plate of traditional food for La Befana to enjoy.
Does your family have a special holiday tradition? Be sure to share it in the comments below.
Resources: History.com, Wikipedia.org, cbc.ca, smithsonian.org, momondo.com