Christmas is a time of year that never disappoints. As the only holiday season that is universally celebrated around the world, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
At this time of year traditions and family values are respected and although these can differ from family-to-family, different countries have their own traditions and cultural rituals that they take part in to celebrate Christmas time.
Whether it’s eating KFC chicken on Christmas Eve, waiting for the Christmas goat to deliver presents or spending Christmas day on the beach with a traditional BBQ. Christmas is unique to everyone.
Although Christmas is not generally celebrated in Thailand, due to the vast population being made up of Buddhists and Muslims, in fact Christmas day is actually a normal working day. With more expats from around the world deciding to move to this part of South East Asia, here at Samujana, we wanted to celebrate the holiday season, taking a look at the unique Christmas traditions from around the world in time of for the holiday period.
Germany is steeped in the most traditional prototypical Christmas traditions. German markets are world renown in various city centres selling a variety of traditional Christmas gifts, drinks and confectionary items. These markets invoke the feeling of Christmases past, log cabins, live music, with traditional food and mulled wine to celebrate Christmas the right way.
Santa has some help in the mail room in Germany. Children address their annual Christmas letters to ‘das Christking’ or the Christ Child, who is seen as a young girl with Christ-like qualities, in the hope that St. Nick will bring the coveted items.
The Christmas meal in Germany features a fairly traditional menu, most German families eat Goose although some families eat Carp as their festive meal. The Christmas dinner is finished off with the timeless Christmas classic Stollen a very popular fruit cake eaten at this time of year.
Compared to it’s European neighbours, Italy retains a more sombre approach. Move over Rudolph, the ‘precept’ or nativity scene is the most common decoration here; but be sure not to add baby Jesus too early (tradition dictates this should be done on the night of the 24th December). Naples is world famous for it’s nativity craftsmen with “Via San Gregorio Armeno” where tourists and Italians alike can purchase exquisite nativity pieces.
It is not all serious, though. ‘Babe Natale’ or Father Christmas is still around to hand out Christmas presents on Christmas Day. Some families elect to celebrate on the traditional day of Epiphany (the manifestation of Christ) on January 6th instead of Christmas Day.
Christmas in Italy would not be complete without the traditional Panettone, a dry fruity sponge cake that is traditionally eaten at this time of year.
The Christmas meal is a slightly fishy affair. Don’t expect a turkey dinner, custom dictates that the Christmas meal is dairy free and consists of seven types of fish. Buon Natale!
Things get really heated in Finland, locals fire up the sauna to summon the “elf” that is believed to live inside, protecting it from any mischief from the visitors. The elf allows visitors to strip down and have a good long soak without any untoward advances. Fins are cautioned not to linger too long however, as the sauna transforms into the hot spot at night for the spirits of the dead ancestors.
True to their nature, the Fins take a slightly different view on Santa. Jolly old St. Nick has slowly been replaced with the “Christmas Goat”. Never fear, the old grumpy, ‘Joulupukki’, has been rehabilitated and still flies along with the reindeer for the midnight ride.
For dynamic Holiday traditions, Sweden doesn’t disappoint. Reminiscent of the Burning Man, towns across Sweden erect a straw goat every Christmas Eve (no relation to the Fins tradition).
In 1966, candles set the holiday goat aflame sparking a yearly tradition. Today, there is a battle of the town folks versus the vandals and you can never be sure who will come out on top. The goat has successfully been burned to the ground for 25 separate Christmases.
Swedish revellers won’t want to miss the very important “Donald Duck Special” that airs every Christmas Eve precisely at 3:00 p.m. This has been a tradition every year since 1959 and over 40% of the population watch this show each year.
Don’t expect to have turkey either. The Swedish Christmas meals start on Christmas eve, with a massive feast starting with a lunchtime buffet (mostly of cold and cured fish), moving up to the Christmas Ham, accompanied by pickled herring, meatballs and a delicacy called Cabbage Pudding. All this is usually washed down with some “glogg” a traditional Swedish mulled wine.
Christmas traditions in Asia, many of which are newer, take a particularly interesting twist on the festive holiday. In the Philippines, expect to see the classic, brightly coloured ‘parasol’ lanterns in the markets. They are displayed to symbolise the Star of Bethlehem.
Christmas festivities will run long into January here, but don’t expect to see Santa. Instead, children leave their shoes and stockings out on windowsills for the “Three Kings”.
Also, Christmas is generally celebrated on January 6th, or Three Kings day when the Filipinos lay out huge spreads of roast pig, salad, fruit, rice, and an assortment of beverages.
Japan has one of the most unique Christmas traditions on the list. Their traditional Christmas eve meal for many Japanese people is fried chicken, not just any chicken it has to be from the American fast-food chain KFC.
Thanks to an effective marketing campaign in the 1970s, Kentucky Fried Chicken is the meal of choice for Japanese families for over 40 years and KFC sells 500%-1000% more chicken during the month of December, thanks to this Japanese tradition. To this day KFC records its highest numbers of sales each year on Christmas Eve.
The KFC bucket meal is usually topped off with Christmas Cakes, a spongey cake with cream, chocolate, and berries.
There won’t be snow for Australia this Christmas or any year for that matter. The Christmas season for Australians is during the height of summer.
Traditions here will seem very foreign to most seasonal aficionados. The highlight of Christmas is the family picnics and BBQs on the beach. Images of Father Christmas might feature Santa’s sleigh pulled by kangaroos, or the “Jolly Elf” can be found sporting swimming trunks and riding a surfboard in local seasonal folk art.
Although the traditions are changing and a lot of Aussies now prefer to eat a traditional Christmas meal at this time of year, but due to the outdoor heat, BBQs, fresh fish, salads and cold meats are also eaten.
There’s no winter wonderland in South Africa. Seasonally, Africa is in cahoots with the Australians. Though they favour a family BBQ, known as a ‘braai’, over a picnic at the beach. As with their southern hemisphere counterparts a lot of South Africans prefer a more traditional Christmas Day dinner with either a turkey, duck or roast beef dish. A traditional Christmas pudding at this time of year is Malva Pudding (also called Lekker).
Venezuela (along with the KFC and the Christmas goat) may have one of the most unique Christmas traditions. In the city of Caracas many people go to church, but not by car, but by roller skates. The tradition in this city of Venuzauela is to strap on your skates, this is such a popular tradition that even the streets are blocked off every year so church-goers can skate safely to Christmas Mass.
Another strange but true tradition is that in Slovakia their Christmas mealtime involves food being thrown to predict the future. Traditionally once the Christmas pudding is presented to the table, the oldest male member of the household digs his spoon into the pudding and throws the pudding mixture onto the ceiling. If this mixture sticks then the household will have more luck in the coming year. A word of caution just make sure you are not sitting under the mixture as you don’t want it to fall on your head during your Christmas desert.
Not quite a Christmas tradition but still a fun fact. There is a postcode in Canada where Santa receives the majority of his mail. Apparently if you write to him by the 16th December in any language (including brail) he will write back. What is Santa’s postcode? Santa Claus (or regional name), North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0. What an amazing postcode.
Whether you’re waiting the Christmas goat, looking forward to your KFC banquet or having Christmas on the beach, Christmas is a time to be spent with family, friends and loved ones.
From all of us here at Samujana, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, prosperous and Happy New Year.