The 10 Most Unique Christmas Traditions from Around the World
Santa prefers Guinness, according to the Irish
While we would never trade our eggnog and neighborhood Christmas light spectaculars for anything, it is super fascinating to learn about other Christmas traditions from around the world. And who couldn’t use an extra dose of holiday cheer? Here, ten of the most unexpected Christmas traditions to get you in the spirit all December long.
Christmas isn’t really a widely celebrated holiday in Japan, but a highly successful KFC marketing campaign from 1974 imparted the country with a delightfully odd tradition. The campaign slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (translation: Kentucky for Christmas), is more than 40 years old, and the Japanese still head to KFC in droves on the 25th for a special Christmas dinner. Yum?
Rather than decorating a Christmas tree, the Lebanese choose to plant seeds of beans, lentils, chickpeas and oats in cotton wool two weeks prior to Christmas. They then decorate nativity scenes with the sprouting seeds to represent the birth of Christ. After midnight Mass, Christmas morning is spent feasting on chicken, rice and kibbe at large family gatherings.
Las Posadas, the largest Christmas-centric event in Mexico, actually takes place nine nights before the 25th to signify the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. To celebrate, people travel from house to house singing Christmas carols. There’s also a Christmas piñata—filled with candy, nuts and tangerines—that children take a swing at on Christmas Day.
Spiders and Christmas: Apparently a match made in holiday heaven. In the Ukraine, people hide a decorative spider inside their Christmas tree and decorate their trees with webs. This is a long-standing tradition derived from a story about a widow who found a spider had spun a web around her tree and it turned to threads of silver and gold. Whoever finds the spider in the tree is said to have good luck.
The Swedes get the party started early on St. Lucia’s Day, a holiday in which the eldest daughter of every household dons a long white dress, red sash and crown of candles on her head while singing songs to St. Lucia, the patron saint of light. The ceremony is followed by coffee, saffron buns and ginger cookies, naturally.
You think Santa likes milk and cookies? Now that we’re mulling it over, it makes more sense that the big guy actually prefers a Guinness. The Irish know this well and instruct their children to leave out a pint and mince pies for the jolly interloper on Christmas Eve.
Love the holiday season but hate the cold? Head over to Estonia, where holiday traditions include a family sauna session. Yep, you read that right. Families typically head down to a sauna or steam bath after prepping the holiday feast to reminisce about the year past and share a drink.
One of 13 Yule Lads, which are mythical trolls that people actually like, descend upon Icelandic children for each of the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. They leave either a small gift or a rotten potato, depending on whether the child was naughty or nice the day before. Immediate rewards for not throwing a tantrum? We’re into it.
Trinidad and Tobago
On these tropical islands, it’s all about home improvement once the holidays roll around. People paint and make repairs to their homes, hanging decorations and new curtains for the season. The Christmas Day meal typically comprises apples, grapes, ginger beer, ham, turkey and ponche-de-crème, a Trinidadian version of eggnog.
Given its position in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand is typically in the dog days of summer when Christmastime hits. Families make use of the sunny weather by spending the holiday at the beach or camping and serving barbecue for holiday lunch. Like the good ol’ US of A, the Kiwis love their carols, though they also sing some unique ones in Maori, the language of the island’s indigenous people.