Christmas is a wonderful time of year and here in the states we’ve developed traditions and customs we celebrate together. We are all familiar with Santa and his elves, having a large Christmas feast on December 25th, and exchanging presents. Other countries celebrate Christmas in a similar fashion, while others have quirky, even somewhat dark, Christmas traditions. Expand your horizons and discover how other cultures across the globe celebrate this holiday.
Wales – Mari Lwyd
Meaning “Gray Mare,” Mari Lwyd is a Welsh Christmas tradition that involves carting a real or life-sized figure of a horse (or someone dressed up as a horse) door to door with accompanying singers and dancers. Songs are sung in traditional Welsh language and ends with a petition to enter into the home where the music and merriment will continue. This custom often includes a rhyming contest between the troupe and the residents of the home in a jocular back-and-forth contest.
Australia – Beach Parties
If a cold Christmas is not for you, then head to the land down under where December 25th falls in the middle of the summer. Australians typically celebrate Christmas by going to the beach or lounging by a pool. Santa may even make an appearance via boat bringing treats for the kids while the adult enjoy shrimp on the barbie.
Japan – Kentucky Fried Chicken
What started as a successful marketing campaign from KFC in 1974 has evolved into a tradition eating a bucket of KFC as the main meal on Christmas Day. Most orders need to be placed months in advance or people will have to endure a 3-4 hour wait for a delicious bucket of chicken on this holiday.
Ukraine – Spiderwebs
A tradition that is based on an old tale where spiders spin beautiful webs to decorate a tree for a family who were too poor to decorate it themselves has led the Ukrainians adorning their trees with spider webs. Fake ones, of course. In fact, many of the artificial spider webs used are sparkly and shiny, just like an actual spider’s web looks in the early morning light.
Italy – La Befana
Italian children get their gifts delivered to them by an old witch named Befana instead of St. Nick. Riding on her broom, she drops off gifts and then cleans untidy houses. Some scholars believe Befana is a Medieval figure based on the Roman deity Strenia, the goddess of endurance and strength who delivered New Year’s gifts.
Guatemala – La Quema del Diablo
A ceremonial “burning of the devil” kicks off the Christmas season in Guatemala. Since the devil and other evil spirits are believed to inhabit dark and dirty corners of the home, Guatemala residents sweep up, collect all garbage, and place it in a huge pile outside. Then, an effigy of the devil is placed atop and set on fire. This ensures a pleasant Christmas season free of the devil or evil spirits for those who participate.
Mexico – Radishes
On December 23rd, residents in the region of Oaxaca in Mexico celebrate the Night of the Radishes where oversized radishes are carved into intricate displays of the manger scene and other Christmas stories. This unusual tradition dates back to the colonial period when the Spanish introduced radishes to this area. The Oaxacan region is already well-known for their exceptional wood carvings, so the carved radishes are placed in storefronts to entice people to shop.