Christmas Traditions around the World are surprisingly varied. For most of us in the Western World, Christmas is all about celebrating Jesus’s birthday with presents and time spent with family.
Stockings hanging on the wall beside a roaring fire and a carrot and mince pie on a plate waiting for Father Christmas and Rudolph. Personally, I was always worried about Santa burning the soles of his feet as he slide down our chimney into the fiery hearth.
Christmas Day started with a flurry of present opening; cheap, shiny paper going up in the air in a swirl of fragments as I tore into the Christmas goodies. Then preparing for the arrival of various aunts, uncles and cousins, prepping the veg; peeling and cutting crosses into the stems of the Brussels sprouts.
Finding as many chairs and benches as possible to put around the table, to accommodate all the tissue paper hat-wearing family members and then sitting quietly at 3pm to watch the Queen (God rest her soul).
This was normally followed by a game of Charades by the younger family members as uncles snoozed in high-backed armchairs. Not much has changed over the decades, except that Charades has been replaced with Who Am I, where we close our eyes and someone puts a mask on us and we have to guess which celebrity we are.
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Christmas Traditions around the World have changed over the years, but there are still some very unusual Christmas Celebrations and Characters from around the world.
Take for instance the legend of Krampus, a horned, long-tongued monster who was half goat and half demon. Originating in Germany, he came in the night to visit naughty children in Alpine countries. He brought with him; chains and a wicker basket to whisk away the wrong-doers.
He is the son of Hel, the Norse God of the Underworld, and was the devilish companion to St Nicholas. On December 5th, while St Nick was rewarding all the good children, Krampus was whipping the bad children with birch canes or branches and stealing them away to Hell to eat them all up.
The next morning, on St Nicholas Day, children would wake to find a wealth of presents, or be nursing their injuries. And we thought it was terrible if we found coal in our stockings!
In Sweden, the story of the Yule Goat is a local tradition that dates back to the 11th Century. The goat was seen as an invisible spirit that would come and ensure that the Yule preparations were done right. Yule itself is the Old Norse festival of Odin, which evolved to become Yuletide and then Christmastide.
The Yule Goat is another Pagan residual, that marks the Sun returning to the house of Capricorn, and the dark days, getting longer again. A kid goat would be sacrificed to the Norse god Thor (or Saturn/Njord) to represent the Horn of Plenty and the coming longer days of harvests and more plentiful food. This goat tradition has survived in parts of Europe from Scandinavia right across to the Slavic countries.
In the 17th Century, young men would dress as goats and pull pranks on people, demanding gifts. By the 19th Century, men would dress as goats to give gifts to their families. Over the years, the tradition has evolved and now people decorate their trees with straw goats wrapped in red ribbons.
Since 1966, Swedes have built a Gävle Goat, a massive straw goat about 42 feet (13 metres) tall and weighing about 3.5 tonnes, decorated with red ribbons.
Here are a few of the other unusual traditions around the world that you might be surprised to hear about:
- Japanese spend Christmas day eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- South Africans Feast on Pine Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars at Christmas for good luck.
- Ukrainians decorate their Christmas trees with spiders’ webs.
- Germans hide pickles in their Christmas trees for children to find.
- In Caracus, Venezuela, everyone goes to mass on Christmas day on rollerskates.
- On Christmas Eve, Finns strip naked and get in the Sauna with the ‘Sauna Elf’. On Christmas morning they hide an almond in the porridge for children to find.
- Dutch children leave carrots for the Christmas horse in their shoes.
- In Italy, Belfana the Christmas witch brings presents on January 5th.
- In Iceland, the gigantic Yule Cat devours poorly performing farm workers and the 13 Yule Lads visit children and fill their shoes with candy or rotten potatoes.
- Norwegians hide their broomsticks on Christmas Eve to stop Witches taking them. They make Gingerbread houses and eat hot rice pudding.
- In New Zealand, the Chrismas tree is the Pohutukawa, with bright red flowers and they have barbecues in the warm summer sunshine.
- In French Martinique, families visit their neighbours and give them gifts of yams and pork stew.
- In Germany, Southern Bavaria, muscular young men dress as Krampus and knock on doors to scare children into good behaviour, dunking naughty teenage children in the snow.
- Irish homes leave a tall red candle lit in the front window to symbolise warmth and shelter.
- Polish families share an unleavened wafer on Christmas Eve and wish each other Christmas wishes. They don’t eat until the first star is visible in the sky.
Let us know your Christmas Traditions around the World in the Comments below.