While here in South Africa, we generally associate Christmas with long summer days, lots of feasting on Christmas Day & presents under the tree, there are all sorts of weird and wonderful Christmas traditions from around the world. Have a look at some of them… are there any you would like to incorporate in your annual Christmas tradition?
Venezuela: Skating to Mass
From the 16th to the 24th December, the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, are closed off before 8am to any motor traffic to allow locals to skate to mass on roller-skates.
Japan: Eating fried chicken
Unlike the traditional ham or Turkey, many Japanese celebrate the Christmas holidays by eating fried chicken, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is so popular you would have to make a reservation to eat at a KFC on Christmas Day.
Italy: The visit of the Christmas witch
In Italian folklore, an old witch delivers gifts and candy to children. Santa's competitor, La Befana, is usually portrayed as on old lady riding on a broomstick, usually covered in soot as she enters homes through chimneys.
Mexico: Sculptures made from radishes
Radish figures line the central plaza of Oaxaca, Mexico, on the 23rd & 24th December. Nativity scenes, conquistadors, dancers and historical and mythological events are sculpted from radishes by Mexican artisans to add to the holiday celebration.
Liberia: Oil Palm trees
On the west coast of Africa, in Liberia, most homes have an oil palm for a Christmas tree, which is decorated with bells.
Russia & the Ukraine: Celebrating on the 7th January
Christmas is celebrated on the 7th January in Russia and the Ukraine, and not the 25th December like in most other countries. This unusual date is because the Orthodox Church uses the old "Julian" calendar for religious celebration days.
Greenland: Eating decomposed raw auk
In Greenland, the locals eat "Kiviak" - raw flesh of an auk wrapped in seal skin and placed under a rock for several months, until its well into decomposition.
Sweden: Giant straw goat
For over 40 years, the town of Gavle in Sweden has erected a giant goat made of straw to mark the beginning of the holiday season. Every year vandals do everything they can to burn down the goat before Christmas Day. Since 1966, the straw goat has only survived until Christmas Day 10 times. People disguise themselves as Santa Claus or elves to get past the guardians and ignite the straw monument.
Latvia: Mummers in hay costumes
The best-known Latvian Christmas tradition is an odd custom called mumming. "Mummers" wear an assortment of masks, the most traditional bearing the likeness of bears, horses, goats, haystacks, gypsies, and, delightfully, living corpses made out of a haystack.
Czech Republic: Want to know if you’re getting married this year? Toss your shoe out the door
On Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic, single woman try to see if they will get married in the next year by standing outside with their back to their front door, removing one of their shoes and throwing it over their shoulder. If the shoe lands with the toe facing the door, then she will marry in the next year. If not, she will have to wait at least another 12 months.
Holland: Hot chocolate & cake
Dutch children in Holland, or the Netherlands, eagerly await the arrival of Sinterklaas on St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Families celebrate St. Nicholas Eve at home with lots of good food, hot chocolate, and a letterbanket, a "letter cake" made in the shape of the first letter of the family's last name.
China: Red lanterns & paper chains
Some Christian Chinese celebrate Christmas – they call it Sheng Dan Jieh, which means Holy Birth Festival. They decorate their homes with evergreens, posters, and bright paper chains. The family puts up a Christmas tree, called "tree of light," and decorates it with beautiful lanterns, flowers, and red paper chains that symbolize happiness. They cut out red pagodas to paste on the windows, and they light their houses with paper lanterns, too.
England: Plum Pudding
A very traditional English Christmas Dinner involves a feast of turkey with chestnut stuffing, roast goose with currants, or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Brussels sprouts are likely to be the vegetables. Then there is the dessert: plum pudding topped with a sprig of holly. From the Medieval ages, the tradition began of pouring brandy over the plum pudding and set it aflame. Whoever finds the silver charm baked in their serving of plum pudding has good luck the following year.
France: Chocolate Yule Log Cake
A popular French tradition involves making a cake that looks like a traditional Yule log*, known as buche de Noel. Christmas trees never really caught on in the country and while most people don’t have any use for an actual Yule log, the cake is a fun and festive substitute. Some of the buche de Nol can get fairly elaborate and even involve meringue mushrooms and edible flower decorations.
*A Yule log is a large and extremely hard log burned in the hearth as a traditional Christmas celebration.