You think you know everything about Christmas? Think again!
This magical, wonderful time of year is celebrated across the globe, in dozens of different countries, languages, and cultures. Everywhere you go, people celebrate Christmas a little bit differently, and for different reasons.
Traditions New and Old
In Slovakia, the head of the household fills up his spoon with a traditional kind of pudding called Ioka and slings it at the ceiling. The more of the pudding sticks, the better the harvest will be.
In the Ukraine, Christmas is touched with the creepy-crawlies, as holiday spiders are considered a sign of good luck for the new year. Ukranians decorate their trees and homes with festive spiderwebs and plastic spiders. A local legend tells of a spider that decorated a tree with its webs, and blessed a family by turning the webs into silver and gold.
In Jamaica, the day after Christmas is cause for a party! Jamaicans wear colorful and complex costumes and takes to the streets for lively musical parades in the style of African dance.
In the Unites States – and beyond – the Virtual Yule Log has become a tradition. Even without the roasting chestnuts, a roaring fire is something most people associate with Christmas even if they’ve never had a fireplace. Since 1966, no one has needed the fireplace to kindle that Christmas feeling. That was the year local tv stations started broadcasting a burning fireplace. These days, the Christmas fireplace video is available on DVD, Blu Ray, and is streaming on Netflix.
In India, Christmas trees are hard to come by. The climate isn’t right for pines and evergreens. Instead, celebrants decorate banana and mango trees.
One Person’s “Ewwww” is another persons “Yummmm”
In Oaxaca, Mexico, December 23 is the Night of the Radishes. Stalls and storefronts are decorated with radishes carved and sculpted into objects and figures to represent the Nativity.
In Southern Africa, the day is celebrated with a delicacy a far cry from a candy cane – the fuzzy Gonimbrasia belina, also known as the wriggling caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Deep fried in oil, naturally.
In Greenland, Christmas is the day to tear open the grease-sealed seal skin (yes, you read that right) and remove the fermented bird carcasses within for a sumptuous treat. 500 local birds called auks are caught and stuffed into a seal skin (feather included) and left to sit for a few months.
In America, a Christmas meal traditionally consists of turkey or ham. In Japan, the meal of choice for the holiday season is KFC. Call it the 11 herbs and spices of Christmas.
The Many Faces of Santa
In Italy, Santa and his reindeer need to steer clear of another local legend. La Befana is a witch who rides a flying broomstick delivering sweets.
In the Netherlands, Santa rides a stallion.
In the Czech Republic, Santa descends from Heaven on a golden rope.
In Hawaii, Santa trades in his sleigh for a canoe.
In Australia, the reindeer are replaced and Santa rides a magnificent kangaroo.
In Switzerland, a mountainous nation, he rides a sure-footed donkey.
In Iceland, there is no Santa, there are the 13 “Yuletide Lads”, bearded gnome-like men who deliver a series of presents to good children. They are accompanied by the Yuletide Cat, who gobbles up the kids who don’t pass muster.
Many different cultures include a demonic counterpart to Santa, a beast who whips, kidnaps, or otherwise punishes the naughty children. The most widely known version of this creature is called the Krampus. You didn’t think naughty children just got a lump of coal, did you?