Considered by millions around the world as the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas is a treasured holiday in many countries.
There are the traditions that are known and celebrated widely, like decorating houses and streets with twinkling lights, stuffing stockings with treats and toys, and drinking hot cocoa.
Many regions put their own unique spin on Christmas. Before Christianity spread, winter celebrations were already an important part of different cultures. These traditions, like bringing a fir tree into the home, were adopted by those celebrating Christmas.
Unique Christmas traditions, from the secular to the biblical, offer a glimpse into other cultures. If you are lucky enough to travel or have friends or families in other regions, you may have experienced a vibrant cross-cultural Christmas.
Read on to discover some of the different Christmas traditions from cultures around the world.
Icelandic Yule Lads
Starting every December 12th, thirteen Yule Lads sneak around Icelandic homes causing holiday mischief. Together they make up the Icelandic Santa Clauses.
Icelanders place their shoes on their windowsills every night for 13 days. Each night, a different lad visits and leaves a present in the shoe – but not before helping themselves to something around the house or causing trouble!
With different names like Door Slammer, Spoon Licker, and Sausage Licker, it’s obvious what each Santa Claus enters the house to do. While the Yule Lads are mostly harmless, their scary troll-like mother, Grýla, is known to hunt children who are misbehaving and put them in her stew.
KFC for Christmas Dinner in Japan
Only about 1% of Japan’s population considers themselves Christain. That doesn’t stop the Japanese from wanting to join in on the festivities with their own widespread Christmas tradition!
Every year on Christmas lines snake around local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. The Christmas spirit abounds in households and streets around the nation while families chow down on that distinctly American herbed fried chicken. The famous Colonel Sanders even dons a jolly red Christmas cap and coat to participate in the celebration.
The Spanish Christmas Pooper
When gazing at the beautiful and intricate nativity scenes in the Catalonia region of Spain, you are likely to find an unusual figure. Amongst the rural houses, shepherds with their flocks, merchants selling fish, and Jesus in his manger, a squatting pooping figure can be found hiding behind a house or tree somewhere in this holiday tranquility.
The “caganer”, or pooper, is a frequent and cherished village member in Catalonian Christmas nativity scenes. Traditionally wearing the white shirt and hat of a peasant, he has been a favorite member of nativities since the 18th century.
There are various explanations for the caganer with no clear winner. Whatever the reason, the tradition looks like it’s here to stay. Children often make a game of trying to be the first to spot this mysterious jokester.
Four Months of Christmas – The Philippines
In the Philippines, they celebrate Christmas for as long as possible. Christmas lights are hung as early as September and stay until January. Star-shaped and beautiful Christmas lanterns called “parols” light the streets. Famous for the sheer amount of lights, the streets are extravagantly decorated and full of carolers.
Mass is held every night starting on December 14th. Then a large, communal dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena). With roasted pig and singing, this late-night feast is a family event. This dinner goes on until midnight. Then everyone leaves to go to a special twilight Christmas mass.
Santa’s Evil Sidekick in Austria – the Krampus
Children have an extra reason to be good in Austria. A horned, snarling figure named the Krampus may punish them if they’ve been naughty. The Krampus is an old tale from folklore that may even be older than the Christmas holiday itself. Krampus Day is celebrated on the 5th of December every year.
This figure is sometimes portrayed as a somewhat silly and comical helper to Santa Claus. Other times, the Krampus is more sinister. Either way, children are sure to behave extra well around Christmastime.
Christmas Crackers in the UK
The familiar pops around the dinner table in the UK are thanks to Christmas crackers. One of my favorite Christmas traditions! A bright, metallic tube shaped similarly to a candy wrapper, the cracker is pulled by two people from both ends until it pops.
Inside, there is a colorful paper Christmas crown, a joke or poem, and a small toy/trinket. The rest of the Christmas dinner or party is spent in style with everyone donning their new paper crowns and telling the corniest of jokes.
Las Posadas in Mexico
Christmas is a very important holiday in Mexico and the festival Las Posadas has its roots in the biblical story of Christmas. Over nine days, from December 16th to the 24th, Mexican communities act out the search for shelter that Mary and Joseph experienced.
The word posada means inn or lodgings, referring to what Mary and Joseph were frequently denied. Hospitality, warm food and drinks, music, and general community togetherness are celebrated. Churches, schools, and community members throw parties called posadas and act out the feeling of Christmas.
Children will dress as angels and go house to house, asking for lodging. Most houses will offer some food or drink and then a mass is celebrated every night. Piñatas filled with candy are hung up, traditional punch is served, and a special carol called the “posada litany” is sung.
The Ukrainian Christmas Spider
In Ukraine, Christmas looks a little spooky to outsiders. Ukrainians still string traditional fairy lights and shiny ornaments on their Christmas trees but the most important decoration is a glistening spider with its intricate web.
The tradition comes from a folk tale that explains the origin of Christmas tinsel. A widow living with her children in poverty cares for a fir tree that takes root in their humble hut. Unable to afford Christmas decorations, the family resigns themselves to a bare tree. Overnight, a Christmas spider decorates the tree with its beautiful, glittering web.
Seafood Barbecue on the Beach – Australia
Those living in the Southern Hemisphere are often left out of global Christmas traditions. Australians are content, however, knowing they might have one of the most fun holiday celebrations. After enjoying a cold Christmas lunch, most families head out to the sunny beach to celebrate since December is summer in Australia.
Beach-goers put on festive beach gear and you’ll often see a surfing Santa. Shrimp (prawns) and seafood is cooked on the barbecue and often served with cold beers. Christmas dinner may be eaten while watching the sunset over the waves.
It’s amazing that one holiday is able to bring so many people together across continents. The rich cultural differences transform Christmas into something that can be celebrated in a multitude of different ways.
Does your family have a unique Christmas tradition? Let us know in the comments!