Unusual Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Though out human history people of come together during the cold and dark of winter to celebrate with light, warmth, food, drink and gifts. Here are some of the winter and Christmas traditions people celebrate around the world.

While Christmas isn’t celebrated in Japan, the holiday inspired a rather unusual winter tradition. In 1974, KFC unveiled a special Christmas family meal intended for visiting foreigners who wanted a more traditional holiday dinner. The locals also feel in love with this dinner and over 40 years many Japanese families eat The Colonel’s special recipe every 25th of December. The tradition is so popular, in fact, that customers are told to place their holiday order up to two months in advance!

Austria’s Christmas folklore has a bit of a dark side to it, which has recently crept into American pop culture: Krampus. In Austria, Saint Nick makes his gift-giving rounds with more than a sleigh and eight tinny reindeer. He also brings the impish Krampus along with him. According to legend while it is Saint Nicholas’s job to reward the good children, it is Krampus’ job to punish the bad children. Especially bad children are put into a sack and taken away (presumably for a midnight snack). Krampus’ new found favor in America has even lead to his own Hollywood film.

Icelandic children put their best foot forward at Christmas. From December 12th to the 23rd, Icelandic kids leave a shoe on their windowsill. While they sleep each night, 13 magical Yule Lads climb down from the mountains to leave gifts in the shoes of well-behaved children. Naughty kids end up with a potato instead! Originally, the Yule Lad tradition had a more sinister tone and many parents used their mysterious nighttime visits to scare their children into behaving. There seems to be a trend in parents around the world of using folklore to keep the little ones in line during the holidays.

However, in some folklore children become the main characters in a different fashion. According to Mexican legend, a poverty-stricken brother and sister left a bouquet of weedy branches as a gift to the Christ Child at their church. While other children laughed at their meager offering, a miracle began to unfold. A cluster of red star-shaped flowers began to bloom on each stem. The flowers became known as Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night) and so began the Christmas link. The beautiful plant was re-named Poinsettia after the United States’ Mexican ambassador, Joel Roberts Poinsett, brought cuttings back to America.

A somewhat similar story, if a bit more creepy crawly, exists in the Ukraine, which comes with its own unusual tradition: Christmas trees in the Ukraine are often covered in spider webs. An ancient legend tells of a poor family who grew a Christmas tree from a pinecone. The children, so thrilled by the idea of their very own tree, spent months dreaming up ways to decorate it for the holiday. But the family was penniless, so the children’s tree would remain unadorned. Upon waking, the children discovered that spiders had spun webs of glistening silk around the tree’s branches. Each thread magically turned into silver and gold as the morning’s sun danced upon the tree’s bows. Today, Ukrainians dress up their trees with spider webs to welcome good luck into the coming year.