Around the World
In the United States, Christmas is celebrated in ways that are, at least to Americans, fairly banal by now. America and a lot of Western countries with extremely similar traditions (many of which are provide the origin of US traditions) have a Santa Claus figure who brings gifts to the good children, many people go to church, and of course, there’s all the delicious food and time spent with family. However, while these traditions are perfectly enjoyable, many other countries or cultures have Christmas celebrations and traditions that many Americans might find quite zany, but would also likely consider to be a lot of fun.
10. The Japanese Eat KFC On Christmas
In America and many Western countries, Christmas dinner is usually an absolutely ridiculous affair. Aside from a giant turkey being fairly traditional, people will also go to great lengths to make side dish after side dish, sometimes spending the whole day (or even days before) preparing the meal. However, in Japan, things are done a bit differently. Now, people in Japan don’t really celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday (most Japanese people are Shinto), but over the past few decades, they have made up their own Christmas tradition that they are now quite wild for.
It started out in 1970, when the manager of the first KFC in Japan, Takeshi Okawara, heard some Americans talking about how hard it was to get a turkey in Japan for Christmas and how much they missed that, and he had a light bulb moment to bring Americans who had moved to Japan a taste of Christmas. He created what he called, at the time, the KFC Party Barrel, and it took off with the Japanese public — even those who knew little or didn’t care about Christmas. Nowadays, people reserve their KFC Christmas order weeks in advance, and lines on the day of stretch out the door, often reaching 10-times usual sales. These are not your normal KFC boxes, either, as they often contain things like chocolate cake and champagne as well.
9. The American Jewish Tradition Of Eating Chinese And Going To The Movies
In recent years, a meme has been passed around showing a sign written — supposedly by the Chinese Restaurant Association of America — saying they don’t understand why Jewish people eat at Chinese restaurants on Christmas, but that they appreciate the business all the same. While the meme is of dubious veracity, the tradition itself is certainly real. It stretches all the way back to 1899, when Jewish newspapers would criticize Jewish people for eating at Chinese restaurants, for fear of breaking Kosher.
Today, most American Jews do go out for Chinese on Christmas, and often go to see a movie as well. This isn’t because Jewish people have a religious reason that forces them to eat Chinese on Christmas, as the alleged meme suggests, but because it’s the only thing that is ever open. Of course, when it comes to doing something besides eating, you are pretty much just left with going to the movies, which has also become a very common tradition for American Jews. It’s a way for them to not feel entirely left out, or at least stuck inside, on a day where most places shut down.
8. The Catalan Poop Log
Some people may think Mr. Hanky from South Park is bizarre and gross, but oftentimes truth is actually both stranger, and grosser, than fiction. In the Catalan region of Spain, people still celebrate the holidays with a traditional poop log. The log isn’t made out of actual poop — it is made out of wood. However, the log is made up to look kind of like a sentient poop log, and is brought out on the feast of the immaculate conception. Children spend the days up until Christmas Eve ritually “feeding” the log every night, and even go so far as to make sure it’s tucked in with a nice warm blanket.
On Christmas Eve, the children beat the fake poop log with sticks and sing songs about having good bowel movements, before finally removing the blanket to find treats and gifts underneath the log. This is may sound disgusting to most people, but to the people of Catalan, it is a tradition that goes back a long way, and has its roots centered in wishing(s) of good health. Another strange tradition in Catalan is a man named Caganer, who is depicted as a statue of a man squatting and defecating, often by the nativity scene. While some may consider this disrespectful, it is really just a ritual to bring fertility in farming for the next year.
7. The Chinese Sort Of Celebrate Christmas, But In A Very Different Way Than Most Countries
As many people know, China isn’t exactly all that friendly to religious people. While laws restricting religion have relaxed somewhat over the years, it is still not easy to be religious. If you want to join the Communist Party, and have any real power in the country, you have to entirely denounce religion. Christmas is observed by many non-Christians in China, but the observation is much more secular, as China has had a real war on religious celebrations for quite some time.
However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun time; you just cannot expect it to have the religious solemnity or significance you are used to. Chinese people celebrate it more like a holiday where you go out and spend time with friends, instead of staying at home to be with family like many do on Christmas. In China, Santas will show up at the mall — typically in groups — with several of Santa’s “sisters” instead of the usual elves. The sisters are usually good-looking young women dressed vaguely like American “elves.” Giving away apples on Christmas is also a common tradition, often decorated with various well wishes since the word apple sounds close to the greeting for Christmas Eve in Mandarin.
6. In Venezuela, They Roller Skate To Church On Christmas Day
As a country, Venezuela is going through a rough patch right now, but their economy and government were in a much better position not even that long ago — they’ve recently had a dramatic drop in oil production that’s had an enormous impact on the nation. Despite the toll the oil drop has taken on their economy and political stability, the country still has a certain sort of whimsy about it, and there are some Christmas traditions that will likely live on even in the worst of times.
One of the strangest traditions in Venezuela is that they like to roller skate to church on Christmas Day. In fact, the government is so used to this happening that they close the streets until about 8 a.m. on Christmas morning to make the roads safer for the ridiculous amount of people who go to church as a family… on roller skates. Some of the priests are not particularly enthralled, and will attempt to get their congregations to refrain, but it hasn’t seemed to have slowed down the tradition in the least.
While no one knows what the reason behind the tradition is for sure, some suggest it may be an alternate to sledding or other winter sports often enjoyed around that season, as Venezuela does not have the climate. As well as riding around on roller skates, Venezuelans (if they can afford it) like to repaint their houses before Christmas, and firecrackers and other noisemakers and fireworks are a common sounds and sights on Christmas Day.
5. The Night Of The Radishes Is Celebrated The Day Before Christmas Eve In Oaxaca, Mexico
In Oaxaca, Mexico, every year on December 23 the town celebrates the Night of the Radishes, or Noche de Rabanos. This tradition sounds particularly bizarre, but it has roots (er, no pun intended) in practicality. Merchants back in 1897 were trying to find a way to attract shoppers going to and from church services, and started carving their radishes into crazy shapes, or making radish people or other ornaments. The mayor at the time was so pleased that he decided to make it an official celebration from then on.
People sometimes queue up for very long lines just to see and buy all the various radish sculptures and carvings that people have made. As the years have gone by, the radishes have become increasingly elaborate and large, but it isn’t size that really gets you the prize. The radishes are carved into figurines, or have scenes from the nativity or traditional Mexican culture carved in, and the very best artistic design gets a 12,000 peso prize. Now, these radishes aren’t really meant to be eaten, and go bad pretty quickly since they’ve been carved (you wouldn’t eat a Jack-o-Lantern, after all, right?, but the tradition has now become more about a celebration of art and culture than actual food.
4. La Befana — The Italian Christmas Witch
While some in the United States and other countries celebrate St. Nicholas Day or the Epiphany, only certain countries display particular reverence to them, and very few actually place more importance on either than Christmas. To most countries, these are sort of auxiliary holidays that are part of the “extended Christmas.” However, some countries don’t believe Christmas really ends until the Epiphany, and Italy in particular actually treats more Epiphany with more importance than Christmas itself, at least in terms of gift-giving traditions.
They do have a Santa figure named is Babbo Natale that is starting to catch on a bit more, and he’s pretty similar to most versions of Santa. However, their Christmas Witch, known as “La Befana” and the Epiphany Holiday she holds sway over is still much more popular. Her legend goes that the Three Kings were heading to the infant baby Jesus to give their gifts, and getting others nearby to go with them when she gave an excuse of being busy cleaning up her house. She realized her mistake the next day and rushed, still holding her broom to bring the baby a gift. But alas, it was too late. In order to make up for missing out on giving the newly born savior a gift, she has roamed the Earth ever since on her broom, giving toys to all the good little boys and girls, and coal to all the bad ones.
3. The Story Of “The Boy Who Ate Santa’s Cookies” Is Of Completely Unverifiable Veracity
Another tale that has been passed around is one the internet claims to originate from South Africa, and it tells the story of a boy named Danny who mischievously ate the cookies that were left out for Santa Claus. In the morning, his grandmother was so angry that she beat him to death. Seems a little harsh, but hey, she worked hard on those cookies. Anyway, now parents in South Africa tell this as a cautionary tale to their children so they won’t eat Santa’s cookies. In some versions of the tale, the boy comes back as some kind of ghost in order to haunt children who eat Santa’s cookies.
Now, while it’s an interesting (if horrific) story and definitely something that could be told by parents as a morality tale to their children, we were unable to find any verification online that the story is actually a real South African fable, or if it was made up whole cloth on the internet in order to troll people, or simply to amuse. Regardless, it is an interesting legend, and even if South African parents are not telling this story to their children, it does bring up some amusing questions. If Santa were real, what would he do if he found out you ate his cookies? Would you immediately make the naughty list? And just how naughty would Santa find you to be for your crime? And if you’re from South Africa, please let us now… is this a genuine fable? And do your grandmothers really get that made about cookies?
2. The Tradition In Spain Of Eating 12 Lucky Grapes And Wearing Red Underwear
While Spain has many normal Christmas traditions that, like many Western countries, place a great emphasis on the holiday, they also have some rather strange ones. Now, the strangest, and some of the oldest traditions in Spain technically occur during the New Year’s celebration, shortly after Christmas — but still during the days of Christmas. On Old Night, the day before the New Year, everyone gathers around their TVs or in Puerto De Sol in Madrid, and prepares for the clock tower to count down for the New Year. First, the bell rings four times, and then people wait for another twelve chimes that signal each month of the year. Fair enough, that’s pretty close to what Americans do on New Year’s Eve.
The quirky difference, though, is that on each chime people attempt to eat a grape, and the goal is to eat twelve grapes — seeds and all — before the last chime ends. If you can manage this feat, you will have good luck for the coming year. Another strange part of the tradition involves wearing red underwear under your clothes for luck, and it is said that if you got the underwear from someone else as a gift, it will make you even luckier. And we say if you’re getting red underwear from someone else, chances are you’ve already gotten quite lucky. High five.
While this tradition may seem strange, it’s completely harmless (well, unless you choke on the grapes), and helps everyone ring in the New Year, and enjoy the Christmas Season, in a festive and silly way.
1. The Ukrainian Story Of The Spiderwebs And The Christmas Tree
Ukraine and many of the surrounding areas of Eastern Europe have traditionally had less wealth and prosperity than their neighbors to the west (though that’s been changing a bit in certain countries). In fact, for most people living in Eastern Europe, much of their existence has been marked by a long and unending struggle. For this reason, it probably does not surprise many that the type of Christmas legends to come out of countries like Ukraine are often rather grim. One of the most famous stories from Ukraine tells the story of a spider, and how it saved one family’s Christmas.
In some stories the mother of the family is a widow, and in others there is still a father, but the family — which includes a boy and a girl — is always desperately poor. They are so poor that they cannot afford anything to decorate their Christmas Tree, and they lament it the night before. In order to give them a good Christmas and boost their spirits, a spider in the house hears their plea and overnight, spins webs on the tree in order to beautifully decorate it for the family. When the family wakes up, they go to the tree and it is decorated beyond their dreams. To make things even better, when the sun shines on the tree, the webs turn to silver and gold, and they never need to worry about money again. In some versions the webs turn to precious metals because of the spider, and in other versions because of divine intervention. But in every story, the spider is a benevolent figure trying to help a poor family have at least one good day.