December 2022

Blog | The weird and wonderful traditions of Christmas

By Luca Valetti

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Read time: approx 5 mins

Christmas is close at hand. With family gatherings, Christmas decorations, airborne reindeer and lastly – yet just as important – unopened presents; it’s a time filled with mystery and magic.

I remember when I was a child going to bed on Christmas Eve, eagerly anticipating the next morning to arrive. Too excited to sleep, the exhilaration always got the best of me. I would swaddle in the sheets while I wondered if Santa would bring me gifts or coal. Somehow, with a stroke of luck, the next day turned out to be successful. I was happy.

Now that I know the truth about Santa, his elves and his reindeer, it just doesn’t feel the same. Nevertheless, this isn’t a bad thing. Yes, I miss the days of not knowing, however I value the understanding I have of today. Being older, Christmas is more than just presents and Santa. It’s about warmth, family, tradition, laughter, and much more.

Which is why today, I want to share with you a few of the many weird and wonderful Christmas traditions around the world…

Christmas adverts, UK

Starting with good ol’ Britain, of course, there are mince pies, tree decorations and Christmas crackers, but we can’t overlook the very odd yet very interesting tradition of watching TV adverts. Yes, you read that correctly, TV adverts.

From John Lewis, Aldi and ASDA to Boots, Cadbury and M&S, many people in Great Britain don’t feel like the season has started without these short clips sharing the Christmas joy.

KFC, Japan

Millions of families in Japan celebrate a Kentucky Fried Christmas; an estimated 3.6 million families, in fact. The “Kentucky Christmas package” comes with a whole roasted chicken and a plethora of sides for 5,800 yen (£34).

The tradition supposedly came to life in December 1974 when the first manager of KFC in Japan, Takeshi Okawara, had a dream after overhearing a group of ex-pats longing for their traditional turkey dinner. This dream held the key to Japan’s KFC Christmas coup leading to campaigns, slogans and ‘party barrels’ swooning the nation.

“Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!)

Galette des Rois, France

In France, the Galette des Rois is a cake that celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. Consisting of puff pastry, frangipane, sweet almond cream and a little something extra that separates this cake from others… la fève (trinket). Whoever finds la fève is crowned “King” and is granted special privileges or gifts for the day.

Fèves have also become collectors’ items, dating back to 1875, where they are now being traded as commodities in conventions. Hmm… maybe it’s worth finding one of these fèves

Kutya, Ukraine

In Ukraine, Christmas day is celebrated on 7 January by walking through towns and singing Christmas carols while dressed in traditional garments.

Kutya is one of their national dishes made up of wheat grains, poppy seeds, honey, walnuts, and raisins. This dish is a mark of “unity of generations: past ones and coming ones”, while it also symbolises life over death. The annual custom is to throw the desert up on the roof, and if it sticks, there will be a good harvest in the coming year. Very interesting. 

Krampus, Austria

As someone who loves ghosts and ghouls, this is my personal favourite. The evil accomplice of St. Nicholas, Krampus, is the supposed beast of terror who roams the streets, searching for naughty children.

Amusing adults and scaring children for hundreds of years, Austrians have upheld this tradition by dressing up as Krampus and doing his bidding. There’s even an annual Krampus Parade held in Vienna!

Giant lantern festival, Philippines

Held in San Fernando, the Ligligan Parul, or giant lantern festival, is a sight to behold.

Villages from this region come together to compete and show off their beautiful patterns of up to 10,000 lightbulbs, carefully positioned to illuminate the night sky. With respect to this, the Giant Lantern Festival has made San Fernando the “Christmas capital of the Philippines”.

Hiding brooms, Norway

According to Norwegian legends, Christmas Eve is a time when witches thrive. Everyone knows witches use brooms to travel the skies, so… no broom, no travel.

That’s why the people of Norway make sure to hide their brooms on this day to prevent the catastrophe that could be reckoned upon them. Well, that’s my excuse not to do chores. 

With all these Christmas customs, I’m sure we can all agree, they bring a sense of unity to the communities that maintain them. Having people come together to preserve a tradition is truly something to cherish.

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