Unique and surprising Christmas traditions from around the world.

Unique and surprising Christmas traditions from around the world.

Christmas is probably the most celebrated holiday in the world and we have to admit it’s our favourite time of the year (well of winter at least). While most of us celebrate it on a specific day only, for some it is a month long festival. Whether it’s praying, dancing, singing, feasting, or treating your loved ones, Christmas is always synonym with love, happiness and fun. So get cosy, grab a cup of tea and let us put you in the festive spirit!

Feliz Navidad from Bolivia!

Profile of a white and grey rooster on a black background

Bolivians believe that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. So on Christmas Eve, they celebrate « Misa del Gallo » (« Mass of the Rooster ») by bringing roosters to midnight mass. After the Misa de Gallo, families gather to share a nice meal. The traditional meal is La Picana, a stew made with chicken, beef, lamb or pork and served with potatoes and corn. There might also be different types of salads, roast pork (called lechón) and lots of tropical fruits. Yummy!

Another tradition that remains strong in many workplaces is the giving of a « Canastón de fin de Año » (« End of the year basket »). It’s a large basket full of goodies like grocery items, a bottle of cidra (non alcoholic sparkling cider), cookies, candies and a panetón (sweet fruit bread) given by an employer to its employees.

And like in many South American countries, people in Bolivia love fireworks so on Christmas Eve, the noise of fire-crackers can last all night!

Juullimi Pilluarit from Greenland!

Lantern hanging in a snowy garden

Did you know that Christmas trees have to be imported from Denmark because Greenland is too cold for them? They are therefore quite expensive but still present in Greenlanders’ homes.

Typical Christmas decorations are candles and paper hearts and flowers. Don’t forget that there is no daylight in Greenland in December so Christmas lights are everywhere and shine a beautiful golden glow onto the snow outside which make Christmas on the island even more magical. Candles are also placed in a small hollow dug in the snow on top of the graves. Entire cemeteries are therefore lit up by candles which is a beautiful sight.

Reindeer is a very popular animal eaten for Christmas in Greenland (sorry Rudolph). Fish is also very popular and if you think sauerkraut or Marmite is bad, then you’ve never tried Mattak (raw whale skin with blubber) or Kiviak (auk wrapped in seal skin, buried for several months, and then eaten once decomposed). Bon appétit!

Feliz Navidad from Mexico!

Radish leaves on a black background

« Noche de Rabanos » (« The Night of the Radishes ») is a Christmas tradition in Mexico were professionals and amateurs proudly carve nativity scenes, Mayan imagery or local wildlife such as snakes and alligators into large radishes. These radishes are grown to be larger than normal (some can be as heavy as 3kg and as long as 50cm!) and they are not meant to be eaten. They are harvested a week before Christmas so locals have only a few days to create amazing pieces of art that they are then selling at the Christmas market. The winner is rewarded with a 12,000-peso (£470/€535) grand prize. Not bad.

Food also plays an important part of the Christmas celebrations in Mexico. Mexicans usually have a big family dinner late on Christmas Eve. The most common dishes are Pozole, a slow-simmered hearty pork or chicken soup made with hominy (dried corn kernels soaked in a mineral lime bath) seasoned with chili and garlic. It is served with a side of shredded lettuce or cabbage, sliced radishes (not the ones carved by locals), avocado, oregano, and lime wedges. Vegetarians can taste a typical Christmas salad. Ingredients vary according to the region but can include lettuce, beetroot, apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama (a cross between a potato and a huge turnip), nuts and are topped with pomegranate seeds. And for the ones who would rather eat something sweet, there are Buñuelos (crispy and sweet fried tostada sprinkled with sugar or/and dipped in syrup). Once finished, Mexicans make a wish and throw their ceramic plate on the ground. This tradition is said to spring from an ancient Indian custom of destroying all of your belongings every 52 years.

Buon Natale from Italy!

Broomstick lying on logs

In Italy, kids have to wait until the 6th of January to open their gifts. « La Befana » is known to be the Italian Santa Claus. Sometimes described as a fairy queen or an ugly witch on a broomstick, the legend says that, on the night of the 5th of January, she wanted to offer some gifts to baby Jesus so set off alone on her broomstick to look for him… but never found him! So each year she keeps looking for him (she’s a very persistent woman indeed) and leaves presents at every house with children in case he is there. But the legend also says that naughty children may wake up to a lump of coal…

Although dinner on Christmas Eve is quite light with fish only and vegetables, Christmas Day in Italy is synonym to feast! The menu varies depending on the region but lunch usually begins with a classic antipasto (cured meats, cheese, mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, artichokes). The first course is pasta and the second course is based on meat or fish and served with various types of cheeses, fruits and lots of sweets, all soaked in a good quality wine. The most popular Christmas dessert remains the sweet bread loaf from Milan with its cupola shape. The Panettone’s original recipe has raisins, sugar, candied orange, lemon peel and vanilla extract.

Mele Kalikimaka from Hawaii!

Colourful surfboards displayed on the side of the road

Hawaiians get very creative for Christmas. When they don’t have a typical Christmas pine tree, many of them decorate a palm tree. Reindeers are replaced by dolphins. Elves are very fashionable and wear aloha shirts while Santa arrives on a canoe, wears Hawaiian clothes and walks around barefoot. Exotic!

Hawaian food for Christmas includes Lomi Lomi salmon (a fresh tomato and salmon salad), Opihi (a type of freshwater snails), Lumpia (a sort of spring roll filled with meat, minced onion, carrots, and spices with the mixture held together by beaten egg), alongside turkey and roasted pork. Families usually celebrate on the beach or in their gardens and go swimming or surfing after the meal.

And because Hawaiians love a good show, they decorate their cars with thousands of lights and parade them through the streets. These celebrations are never without singing with guitars and ukuleles (somewhere over the rainbow…).

Feliz Navidad from Guatemala!

Blue and yellow flammes on a black background

In Guatemala, it all starts with « La Quema del Diablo » (« Burning of the devil »). This tradition comes from the ancient belief that fire cleans everything that is bad so the idea is to burn all of the bad from the previous year in order to start a fresh new year. People usually pile stuff they no longer need around the house and set fire to it to get rid of negative energies and clean their soul. They also burn Piñatas shaped as little devils and then party all night long in the streets!

Food is also important when it comes to having a traditional Guatemalan Christmas. Everyone is let in and the hosts serve food and drinks to their guests. For an entire day before Christmas, mothers and their eldest children cook enough Tamales (a corn dough filled with meat, wrapped in a banana leaf and dipped in tomato and chili sauce) for their extended families. If you fancy something warm to drink, try the traditional drink called Ponche de Frutas: a drink made of apple, pear, pineapple and papaya with a bit of sugar, raisins and cinnamon. Delicious!

Meri Kurisumasu from Japan!

Gift with kiss me, love and be mine tags on a table

In a country where only one per cent of its population is Christian, you wouldn’t expect Christmas to be celebrated. However, after years of supplying other countries with Christmas decorations, toys and trinkets, Japanese started to celebrate Christmas as well.

The decorations they use are typical Christmas ones: the nativity scene has its own corner in every home, gifts are waiting under the Christmas tree and Santa is present too… but looks slightly different. His name is Hoteiosho and he is completely bold. Hoteiosho is a jolly, happy Buddhist monk with eyes at the back of his head to check whether children behave well or not. He’s the one bringing gifts to children (only if they’ve been nice!).

But Christmas in Japan is mainly what Valentine’s day is for us. It’s a time to spend quality hours with your special one in a romantic setting. Booking a table in a restaurant is a real challenge on that day! Gifts offered are mainly Teddy Bears, flowers and jewellery and many couples head to Disney for that special day (is that romantic?).

Regarding food, KFC became very famous in Japan after an advertising campaign by KFC in 1974 called « Kentucky for Christmas! » so fast-food fried chicken is a typical Christmas food in Japan (it’s sad we know). For dessert, the typical cake is a sponge cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream (basically the « shortcake » emoji your use when texting). You better not be on a diet!

Bon Nadal from Catalonia!

Close up view of Mary and Jesus in the nativity scene

When it comes to weird traditions, Catalonia is definitely winning the contest! Catalans love decorating their homes for Christmas and the nativity is one of the most important feature of the decorations. Families go for a walk in the forest and pick moss to cover the floor of the nativity to make it look as authentic as possible. An important porcelain figure of the nativity is « the Caganer »: a Catalan man wearing traditional clothes and… pooing! Yes, you heard that right. Strange? Maybe, yes. This is a custom dating from the 18th century. Having a statue of that man doing his bathroom business is a must as it’s seen as a sign of good luck. Indeed, it’s a brillant fertiliser so it ensures a good harvest for the coming year and brings hope and prosperity.

As this wasn’t enough, the Catalans also have « Caga tió » (« Defecating log »). It’s a wooden log with eyes and a huge smile wearing the Catalan barretina hat. Caga tio visits people’s homes at the beginning of December and it’s the tradition to take care of him. Kids are therefore on their best behaviour. They cover him with a blanked to keep him warm, feed him every day with fruits, nuts, and sweets and sing songs until Christmas Eve. Wait, the story only gets stranger from here. All that nice caring behaviour is suddenly thrown out the window as they start hitting Caga Tió with sticks until he fulfils his part of the deal and literally poops out the gifts and sweets. Interesting…

This is followed by a nice family dinner (soup and tapas dishes accompanied by Cava and nougat for dessert) and a visit to friends and other family members.

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Thanks to Christmas, the world takes on a magic glow in December. The date, traditions and ways it is celebrated might change depending on where you live, but the spirit remains the same. A wonderful reminder that diversity is beautiful and should be embraced all year round.

Until next adventure.

Marie x

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