7 Christmas Traditions Around the World
1. Germany: St. Nicholas Day
Ever wondered where Santa’s origins lie? Well, he was originally created by THAT soft drink brand to promote their fizzy drink, but he was modelled after the patron saint of children, also known as St Nicholas. Wearing a long red robe and a pointy hat, along with a golden cane, St Nicholas visits children on the 6th of December – and those who’ve been good will be surprised to find their shoes filled with sweets and little presents. The naughty ones however… let’s better not talk about that. St Nicholas has a variety of companions that assist him, such as Knecht Ruprecht (Germany), Krampus (Austria, see below), Zwarte Piet (The Netherlands) or angels (southern and eastern Belgium).
Fun fact: In Germany, the ‘main day’ of Christmas is Christmas Eve instead if December 25th, so German families come together for their Christmas dinner and exchange presents a day before their British counterparts!
2. Iceland: The Yule Lads
This Icelandic tradition also involves shoes! Instead of St Nicholas, the Yule Lads – sometimes known as jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar, bring sweets and little presents to good children in the 13 days leading up to Christmas. For naughty kids, those 13 mischievous lads – all bearing different names, depending on the type of mischief they like to cause – will leave rotten potatoes in their shoes… Yum.
In addition to the Yule Lads, Icelandic Christmas traditions also include the Yule Cat – a giant, terrible cat that roams the snowy countryside and will eat anyone who hasn’t received new clothes before Christmas.
3. Austria: Krampus
Think rotten potatoes are bad? Well, good you didn’t grow up in Austria, where terrifying horned creatures haunt the streets of villages, St Nicholas will reward the good ones with sweets and presents… and the bad ones will be caught by Krampus and stowed away in his sack, never to be seen again. Traditionally, Krampusnacht (Krampus Night) takes place on the eve of St Nicholas Day, where young men dress up as Krampus and roam the streets.
4. Colombia: Día de lasVelitas- Day of Little Candles
Colombians mark the start of the Christmas season by placing little candles in their windows. Usually made from paper, they are meant to represent Virgin Mary and the immaculate conception of Jesus. Día de las Velitas traditionally begins on December 7th. Some Columbian cities also hold lantern festivals in honour of the day.
5. Venezuela: Roller Blading
While most people lazily roll around from one sofa to the next, stuffed with stuffing, the people in Venezuela – especially in Caracas – get sporty: every Christmas Eve, Venezuelans will head to church – in roller blades! The city even closes off important streets in the early hours of the day to make safe passage for the mass of roller skaters.
6. Philippines: Giant Lanterns
Known as the ‘Christmas Capital of the Philippines’, San Fernando holds a colourful lantern festival every year on the Saturday before Christmas. The name of the fest, Ligligan Parul Sampernandu, can be translated to The Giant Lantern Festival (Duh), where the villages surrounding San Fernando compete with their biggest and most complicated lanterns.
7. Japan – Fried Chicken
Japan is a country that doesn’t really do Christmas. It’s more of a fest for couples instead of families, but one distinct tradition has made its way into the Japanese December calendar to commemorate Christmas: A Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner.
That’s right! Japanese people will come together – either as a couple or as a family – and have a good ol’ KFC bucket or two.
Additionally, many Japanese choirs will sing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony around Christmas time, also known as ‘Ode to Joy’ – completely in German! Legends have it that the song was first sung by German prisoners of war in Japan after World War I, and it caught on.
Do you have a special Christmas tradition? Let us know in the comments!