When you think of Christmas, you likely picture Santa Claus, snowmen, and mince pies. These icons have become part of our festive tradition over the years but if you went overseas, you would see people celebrating Christmas in a very different way.
Each country has developed its own traditions and incorporated different elements of their history and culture into the festive celebration over the centuries. Some of these customs may surprise you.
Here are five of the most unique Christmas traditions from around the world.
1. KFC for Christmas in Japan
Turkey is a staple of Christmas dinner and according to the Museum of English Rural Life, we buy between nine and 10 million of them during the festive period each year in the UK.
However, if you head over to Japan, families are more likely to enjoy chicken, and not the traditional roast you might expect. Instead, many Japanese people eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken at Christmas.
This unique tradition started in the 1970s when the manager of the first Japanese KFC sold the fast food as a western Christmas staple.
After a hugely successful marketing campaign, KFC became a huge part of festive celebrations in Japan and has remained so ever since.
2. Donald Duck’s Christmas address in Sweden
Last year, we saw the first Christmas address from the new King. For years before that, the nation tuned in every year to listen to the Queen’s speech.
In Sweden, families across the country also tune in to listen to a special Christmas address, but not from a monarch.
Since 1959, at the same time every Christmas Eve, the main TV channel in Sweden broadcasts From All of Us to You, a Disney Christmas special featuring Donald Duck and a host of other beloved cartoon characters.
This tradition emerged largely by accident as, in 1959, televisions were an exciting novelty for most households, and they only had the choice of one channel. This Christmas special was the only time that Swedes could watch Disney animations too, so it quickly became a central part of the festive celebrations.
3. Cobwebs in the tree in Ukraine
Typically, we associate spiders and cobwebs with Halloween celebrations rather than Christmas. However, in Ukraine, they are an important part of the festive decorations. Every year, families cover their trees in fake spider’s webs along with all the normal tinsel and baubles you might expect to find.
This tradition has its origins in an old Ukrainian folk tale about a poor widow and her two children. The tale goes that they were desperate to have a Christmas tree but could not afford any decorations. So, in the night, a spider came and covered the tree in webs. When morning came, the sunlight hit the cobwebs and turned them a beautiful gold colour.
It is said that from that day forth, the widow and her family never lived in poverty again. Ukrainians celebrate the story by covering their own trees with cobwebs each year.
4. The Krampus
Santa Claus, sometimes called Father Christmas or Saint Nick, is a jolly character who embodies the spirit of giving during the festive period. He brings joy to children around the world but in certain countries in Europe, such as Germany, Austria, and Hungary, Santa has an evil counterpart.
The “Krampus” is thought to be based on old myths about strange creatures from the forest and since the middle ages, has been linked with the Christmas tradition.
Parents tell their children that if they are good, Saint Nick will bring them a gift. But if they are bad, the fearsome Krampus, a horned beast hailing from the underworld will come for them.
This macabre Christmas tradition has gained popularity in recent years after several films based on the creature. As a result, celebrations are becoming more widespread in the United States and across Europe.
5. Fried caterpillars in South Africa
For many of us, Christmas is about the food. You may be excited to enjoy a traditional turkey dinner or some mince pies. Yet, if you were to celebrate in South Africa, you might be eating fried caterpillars instead.
Deep-fried Emperor Moth caterpillars are considered a delicacy in the country and many families enjoy them as a starter before their Christmas dinner. While they may be an unusual option, they are said to be very healthy and quite delicious.