Christmas traditions around the world
From decorative spider webs to turkey barbeques, we take a look at some special Christmas traditions around the world.
Lots of people celebrate Christmas with family, giving gifts, eating a feast, and enjoying carols. However, some countries have Christmas traditions which are unique to them.
The hot weather in Australia means that people often enjoy the sunshine rather than watching Christmas specials on television or wilting over a cooker. In fact it’s becoming increasingly common for people to barbeque their Christmas turkey or ham, or head to the beach for a family picnic.
Many Czech families purchase a carp for their traditional Christmas Eve feast, and keep it alive in their bath until the big day.
Christmas time in the Czech Republic is also an auspicious one if you are looking for love. There is a tradition for unmarried women to throw their shoe over their shoulder, towards their front door. If the toe of the shoe lands pointing towards the house, she will marry before next Christmas.
Christmas isn’t traditionally celebrated as a holiday in Japan, although more and more people hang decorations, exchange gifts, and feast with families.
A very unique tradition is Japan is that on Christmas Day families flock to KFC fast food restaurants to purchase a special ‘Christmas Chicken’ dinner, which features champagne, wine, cake and chicken. The tradition started back in 1974 with an advertising campaign, and has become so popular that you need to book a table in advance and reserve your food.
Christmas Eve is the big celebration day in Norway as families attend church services in the evening when the festive bells toll. After church, families gather together for their feast meal, the main dish of which is often fish, lamb or pork.
Excitement mounts for children as the evening goes on, as after dinner on Christmas Eve it’s time for gift giving. If they have been well behaved they will be able to open their presents a day early, or maybe even meet Santa Claus (Julenisse) himself. It’s said that some families in Norway even hide their brooms in case witches or evil spirits feel the urge to steal them.
In Portugal people celebrate Christmas with ‘consada’, a traditional Christmas feast. Sometimes extra places are set at the table for deceased loved ones, which is thought to bring good fortune.
Another central tradition to Christmas in Portugal is the burning of a log of wood, the ‘Cepo de Natal’. The Christmas log is kept burning on the hearth during consada, and then the ashes are gathered up. If there are any thunder storms during the year, the ashes are sprinkled in the fireplace to ward away lightening.
On Christmas Eve in Poland people fast during the day. As anticipation builds and stomachs start to rumble, children will stare out at the sky. When the first star is visible above, the family sit down together to break their fast and enjoy the special Wigilia feast.
The Wigilia feast starts with the sharing of a religious Christmas wafer, the opłatek, and normally features fried carp and other local delicacies. After the meal, children are given small gifts from the ‘Star Man’, and then the family gather together to tell stories and sing songs. The day ends when people attend midnight mass at their local church, known as Pasterka.
An old folk tale in Ukraine has spawned a special Christmas tradition in the country. There is a story that a poor widow was struggling to make ends meet one Christmas. Her children grew a seedling into a Christmas tree, but were sad they had no decorations for it. When the family awoke on Christmas morning, they found the tree decorated with spider webs, which turned into real gold and silver.
Ukrainian families now decorate their trees with artificial webs to bring good luck to the house, and for their own chance at such good fortune.
Traditions closer to home
In the UK, the most common Christmas traditions are likely already very familiar; playing games with family after dinner, eating mince pies, enjoying a sherry, and dressing the tree are all popular activities over the festive period.
Each family has their own special way of doing things, and in many families it’s the grandparents who help carry traditions forward and teach them to the next generation. A survey by Newmarket Holidays also uncovered a few of the more unusual traditions around Christmas time. Answers were as varied as a sing-along by the piano, to a skinny dip in the local river!
So tell us: what’s your favourite Christmas tradition?