Talking about my own Christmas traditions yesterday, got me thinking about other Christmas traditions. So I got researching and gathered some of the most surprising and different Christmas traditions I could find.
Santa Claus is an American concept that has taken over the world. But other cultures sometimes have their own special creature that comes around at Christmastime. In Germany, and also Austria and Hungary there is no friendly Saint Nick to give presents to the good boys and girls. Instead they have Krampus, who punishes the bad children. He is a folklore demon that is described as half goat and half man with horns. In some origins, he delivers coal to the naughty children, whereas in others he puts them in sacks to hurt them or even kidnap them. To fight off Krampus, young men dress up as him and wander the streets after dark, making noise with rusty bells and chains – which is said to ward off the evil spirits that roam about at Midwinter. This does not take place at Christmas itself, but rather early December, specifically on the night of the 5th.
Now in Belgium and the Netherlands, we celebrate Saint Nicholas. He was a Greek bishop during Roman times that performed many miracles and was later sanctified for it. He was said to secretly leave gifts for those who needed it or those who wished him well. This evolved into the “Sinterklaas” celebrations we honour unto this day. His feast day is the 6th of December and on that day, he will come to all the good children and give them presents. He usually has helpers with him, known as Black Petes, who help him in handing out the candy and gifts. And they sometimes put the bad children into the empty gift sacks or give them coal. This is in correlation with Krampus in the surrounding area, where Krampus is seen as the one punishing the bad children and Sinterklaas rewarding the good ones.
The Christmas Stockings are also quite an American tradition. The rest of the world knows it mostly through Hollywood movies and American TV shows. But it doesn’t mean this Christmas tradition doesn’t exist elsewhere, though in a slightly different form. In France, children leave their shoes by the fire, hoping they will be filled with candy and gifts on Christmas morning.
In Belgium and the Netherlands, we do the same. Though we don’t do it for Christmas, we do it earlier in December, for Sinterklaas. For a few nights leading up to the 6th of December, we put out our shoes every night and each morning there will be a piece of candy inside.
Italy doesn’t have Santa Claus, but they do have their own Christmas traditions! Instead of leaving out milk and cookies, they prepare a glass of wine… for the Christmas witch. Because if you’ve been very good and leave out some wine, she will leave you with gifts and candy. If you have been very, very good she might even go the extra mile and sweep your floors!
Norway & Finland & Denmark
When we move more up north, to Scandinavia, we found a whole other array of Christmas traditions. In Norway there is a Christmas tradition that ties back into the old Saturnalia celebrations. During Saturnalia, people would bring in twigs and burn candles to keep the evil spirits out. In Norway, people still believe that witches and evil spirits roam around on Christmas Eve, so they hide their brooms to protect themselves against witch attacks.
In Finland, people go to the graveyard the morning before Christmas to pay respect to the dead. They then have lunch all together, usually porridge. In one of the bowls, an almond will be hidden. This game of “Find the Hidden Almond” ends when someone finds the almond and they sing a song.
In Denmark, people watch out for “Nisse”, a mischievous elf who will play pranks during the Christmas season. And to stay on his good side, they will leave out bowls of rice pudding so they wouldn’t get pranked.
Even though Christmas isn’t a national holiday, they do have their own traditions. In Japan, the traditional Christmas meal is… KFC Chicken. It’s all because of a marketing campaign from the seventies by KFC, called “Christmas equals Kentucky”. The campaign was wildly successful in 1974 and every year they keep reinforcing that message with ads featuring celebrities and a countdown to Christmas on their website. The Japanese order their chicken buckets months in advance to avoid the lines on Christmas Day, which can be up to two hours. Christmastime is the biggest selling period for KFC in Japan because of this. And it all started because Americans couldn’t find turkey to eat for Christmas dinner in Japan and opted for KFC’s chicken instead – which inspired the chain.
In the Ukraine they have a tradition that would personally freak me out. They like to decorate their Christmas trees with spider webs, which is supposed to be good luck. It comes from a legend about a poor widow who wanted to give her children a beautifully decorated tree for Christmas but couldn’t afford it. Apparently, the household spiders heard her and spun webs all through the night to decorate the tree. And when the sun came up and hit the tree, the webs glistened and shined.
In the Czech Republic, Christmas is a time for love and marriage. There are quite a few traditions for single (or rather “unmarried”) women to do, but one of the coolest one involves trees and dogs. So on Christmas, they should find an elder tree and shake it. If a dog barks, while she is shaking the tree, then that means she will get married to a man that lives in the direction from where the bark came.
So what are your Christmas traditions where you are from? Be sure to share them in the comments!
Advent calendar haul