For most of us, Christmas is the time when mince pies are left on the fire place, and presents are stashed under the tree. This isn’t necessarily the case all over the world though, with the traditions varying between countries.
To highlight just how Christmas doesn’t always revolve around a plump man dressed in red, here’s the lowdown on some of the weirdest and wonderful traditions around the globe. Ranging from wedding superstitions to scaring children – they’re certainly not what most of us associate Christmas with.
One of the first rituals that most of us embark on is putting up our tree. It tends to be of the fir variety – but if you were to reside in India this would change drastically.
Unsurprisingly, fir trees are incredibly sparse in India. In fact, we’d go as far as saying that they probably never have, and never will, exist. Nevertheless, there happen to be around 25 million Christians in the country which means that the demand for Christmas certainly is there. It’s here where a touch of improvisation occurs and instead of the fir trees, they decorate mango and banana trees instead. Of course, these are not placed in homes and they’ll usually be found dotting the streets. Some families will also decorate the front of their houses with leaves from these trees.
Staying on the subject of trees, the Ukrainians have their own decoration ideas. While spiders might be the nemesis of most of us, over in Ukraine they are part of one of the country’s most traditional Christmas tree decorations.
According to legend, a widow and her family could not afford to decorate a tree that had formed in their garden. Sensing that the children were clearly upset, it’s understood that the spiders in the household came to rescue overnight. They spun countless webs over it; transforming it from a barren tree to a thing of beauty.
The legend lives on and while trees might not be doused in real webs, ones of the artificial variety are commonplace through the country.
Meanwhile, the Italians have their own replacement for Santa Claus. Well, he’s not exactly a direct substitute, but alongside Father Christmas arrives another character. She goes by the name of La Befana, a ‘Christmas witch’ who stops by deserving children’s houses on January 6.
Unlike the stereotypical witch, La Befana flies on her broom and delivers gifts to kids’ homes. This is based on an Italian legend which goes by the tale that she told the three wise men she was too busy to help them with directions to Bethlehem. Regretting her decision, she later tried to find the manger herself – but to no avail. Therefore, she is supposedly still visiting children’s homes, in the hope that she will finally find Baby Jesus.
The witch tradition isn’t just reserved for the Italians though. Over in Norway, the witch stands for something much different, with legend suggesting that witches come out on Christmas eve looking for brooms to ride on.
It means that Norwegians are keen to hide their brooms, mops, brushes and anything else that a witch could hop onto. In fact, in some of the extreme cases, the man of the household will venture outside and fire a shotgun to scare away any nearby witches.
Another example of alternate Christmas characters comes in Austria. Most Christmas characters are loved by children, but the same certainly can’t be said of Austria’s infamous Krampus. A horned beast, Krampus is covered in fur and generally looks terrifying. Legend says that Krampus would beat naughty children, rather than St. Nicholas’ gentler process of leaving them coal in their stocking.
While the above might only be a legend, it’s still not prevented a lot of Austrian’s from mimicking Krampus. The night before St. Nicholas’ Day, when Krampus was renowned for his antics, it’s now not uncommon to see lots of people dressing up and mimicking the great beast. It’s becoming a hugely popular night in Austria, although some organisations have suggested that it should not be celebrated as in today’s age, it's unsuitable for children.
If we return to somewhat familiar tertiary, the French have their own tradition. In England it might be commonplace to leave a glass of milk and a stocking for Santa, but in France it’s polished shoes which sit in front of the chimney.
The objective is the same; the hope is that they will be full of presents the next morning.
On the topic of the ‘real Santa’, the one that arrives in Australia on an annual basis does so on something a little more unconventional than a sleigh. It’s here that the traditional Australian really does shine through in St. Nick, with Santa regularly rocking up on a surf board.
This shouldn’t really be surprising, with Christmas in Australia usually being celebrated in 30 degree heat. Most families take to the beach on the big day, and catch a glimpse of Santa on his board in the process.
Czech Republic Christmas traditions mainly surround marriage. The first one, occurring on December 4, involves an unmarried girl cutting a twig from a cherry tree and putting it in water. If the twig has bloomed by the time Christmas Eve arrives, legend says that the girl will get married at some point in the next year.
That’s not the only way to tell if marriage is on the horizon though. Another tradition involves an unmarried girl throwing a shoe over her shoulder and towards the front door. Legend says that the girl will marry in the next year if the toe points towards the door.
Next door to the Czech Republic lies Slovakia – but their Christmas tradition revolves around throwing food (yes, you heard that right). One of the country’s famous festive dishes, a contraption made from bread, water and poppy seeds which goes by the name of Loksa, is thrown up at the ceiling. The idea is that the more of the blend that sticks up there, the richer the family’s crops will be next year.
Just like most of the traditions, we don’t envisage this one making its way over to the UK.
The final feature on our list is arguably one of the most unusual. Turkey might be the meat of choice for us Brits, but over in Japan this is something which just isn’t available. As such, following a marketing campaign in 1974 by KFC advertising its chicken for the festive season, the country has become hooked on the fast food chain. It’s not uncommon to see queues tailing around streets, while most of the time customers have to order in advance to avoid disappointment. The company even offer a set Christmas meal – something which doesn’t happen in any other nation.