When you think of Christmas, the traditions that come to your mind are the familiar ones, your childhood memories, or the traditions that you’ve created with your family, such as decorating the Christmas tree, listening to popular Christmas songs, watching Home Alone, baking cookies, and opening presents around the tree.
But what you might not know, is that Christmas is so much more different around the world. Each country has its own traditions and events. Let’s discover some of the best Christmas traditions around the world.
Christmastide – Russia
The famous East European country loves Christmas and has many traditions during the winter holidays. Not resembling the traditional Christmas we all know in the least, Christmastide (Svyatki in Russian) has pagan origins, related to the time it used to celebrate Belgog, the sky god.
They dance around bonfires, act out funerals, engage in fortune-telling, and play pranks on their loved ones.
Schmutzli – Switzerland
Santa Claus is known and loved by all the children around the world, including the ones in Switzerland, where they call him Samichlaus, and he’s actually the equivalent of Saint Nick. However, Santa has an arch-nemesis from the dark side whose name is Schmutzli. He’s the one that punishes naughty children, walking around with no presents, but with a big whip or a broomstick.
Not every region in Switzerland follows this tradition because nowadays is considered scary. Some places choose to make Schmutzli join Samichlaus when sharing presents, as a loyal sidekick.
Christmas Dances – Romania
Even though Christmas is a Christian holiday, and Romanians are very much involved in the religious aspect of it, some regions and villages have traditions that are more mystical in nature, based on superstitions, and acted through dancing. One of these traditional dances is Capra (The Goat).
One of the actors will dress up in a colorful goat costume, go from home to home, and try to scare the host. This tradition involves singing and dancing. In other parts of the country, people dress as bears and follow a ritual of death and rebirth, representing the new year, by dancing on the sound of drums.
A KFC Christmas – Japan
This Japanese tradition that started in 1970 might sound odd for some, but for the 3.5 million Japanese families that follow it every year, it’s a tradition that Christmas wouldn’t be the same without. It’s the result of a strong marketing campaign that makes sense if you think about one thing: families prefer to spend Christmas Eve together having fun, instead of cooking the Christmas dinner.
This tradition is so widespread that in some regions of Japan the Christmas buckets must be ordered weeks in advance.
Christmas Lottery – Spain
Known as El Gordo, this Christmas tradition is held every year a few days before Christmas, and it’s reflected by the countless lottery booths on the streets, that pop up around mid-November. Even though a full lottery ticket costs around $200, millions of families in Spain come together to pay for a part of the ticket, hoping to win the big prize.
Most of the population of Spain joins in, and sometimes whole towns win the big prize, splitting the money among the families. That’s one special Christmas present for sure.
Spiderweb Decorations – Ukraine
Most of us would squirm uncomfortably when we think of the little eight-legged creatures, but in Ukraine, spiders are part of Christmas. This tradition originated from a folktale about a poor woman who didn’t afford to decorate her Christmas tree. The spiders in the house took pity on her and her children and decorated the tree with their webs during the night.
Today, the people of Ukraine consider spiderwebs as a symbol of good luck, and use artificial ones to decorate their Christmas trees and homes.
Lantern festival – Philippines
San Fernando is known as The Christmas Capital of the Philippines for this beautiful Christmas tradition. Every December, since the early 1900s, Christmas is celebrated with gigantic colorful lanterns, some of them 16 feet in diameter.
The festival keeps getting bigger with every passing year, and so do the lanterns, modern technology allowing them to become more and more intricate and blinding. A competition is held every year for the best Christmas lantern, and the city stays brightly lit up for weeks.
The Mummers – Latvia
Mumming is a tradition with pagan origins that the people of Latvia love to do every Christmas. They dress up in scary costumes, that might resemble the American Halloween more than Christmas, such as corpses, wild animals, witches, etc. Even though they look scary, they go from door to door, singing, dancing, and offering blessings for the hosts, in order to banish the evil spirits. They are rewarded with snacks and drinks.
A Very Disney Christmas – Sweden
Since 1959, Walt Disney and his characters have been customary guests in most Swedish households. On December 24th at 3 PM sharp, the families gather around the TV to watch Kalle Anka, or From All Of Us To All Of You, a vintage Disney special first aired in 1958 in the US. The Swedish broadcasting company has tried in the past to stop this tradition but received backlash from the population, who is very fond of it’s Disney Christmas tradition.
The holidays became so much more than religious celebrations, as proven by these unique Christmas traditions around the world.
What are your special traditions?