Christmas here in the UK is a very traditional time of year. Many of our seasonal traditions have their origins in folklore, legend and pastimes that took place many years ago. Traditions such as decorated Christmas trees, Boxing Day, Roast Turkey, Christmas Pudding, Crackers and many more are considered normal activities and behaviour during the festive season.
There are however some unusual and somewhat quirky Christmas traditions that are unique to other countries around the world.
In Japan, Christmas is not even a national holiday and apart from a few traditions such as light displays and gift-giving, Christmas largely remains a novelty. Back in 1974, American fast-food restaurant Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) released a festive marketing campaign. The simple slogan ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ – Kentucky for Christmas! – started a bizarre national tradition that somehow still keeps going today. Many families from all over the country now head to their local KFC restaurant for a special Christmas Day feast. Christmas Day is now the biggest sales day of the year for KFC in Japan.
Norway – Lock up your brooms
Perhaps one of the most unusual Christmas traditions can be found in Norway, where people hide their brooms before they go to bed. It’s a Norwegian tradition that dates back centuries to a time when people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. Even today, to protect themselves, many Norwegian families still hide all their brooms in the safest place in the house to stop them from being stolen.
A mythical beast-like creature covered in hair with hooves and large horns, known as Krampus, roams the streets frightening children and punishing the badly behaved ones throughout December. Krampus, Saint Nicholas’ evil accomplice, has its origins in German-speaking Alpine folklore. In Germany, during the first week of December you might see terrifying masked figures out and about scaring children and adults alike with ghastly, ghoulish pranks.
Ukraine’s strangest festive tradition is not one for sufferers of arachnophobia (those scared of spiders!). The tradition goes back to a folktale about a poor widow who could not afford to decorate a tree for her children. Legend has it that spiders in the house took pity on the family, and set about spinning beautiful, glittering webs all over the tree, which the children found on Christmas morning. Nowadays, Ukrainian families use decorations that look like spiders’ webs shimmering with morning dew-drops. Spiders’ webs are also considered to be lucky in Ukrainian culture.
One of the most unusual festive traditions comes from Iceland, where a giant yuletide cat is said to roam the cold and icy Icelandic countryside at Christmas time. Traditionally, local farmers would use the Yule Cat as an incentive to make sure that their farm workers would work hard and by reward, receive a new set of clothes. The fate for those workers who did not work hard enough was to be taken away by the large cat-like beast. This perhaps is the reason why today it is customary for people in Iceland to receive new clothing at Christmas.
In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, hundreds of city residents make their way to church on roller skates on Christmas morning. This fairly recent tradition has become so well-established that many of the city’s streets are closed to traffic early on Christmas morning, so that the roller-skaters can get to church safely. Rumour has it that children will sleep with one lace from their skates tied around their big toe, with the skate dangling from the window so that their friends can wake them up with a tug on the lace.
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