It comes but once a year, and no matter where you are in the world ‘tis the season to be jolly. From Santa’s sleigh being pulled by kangaroos to the terrifying Christmas goat, all four corners of the globe have their unique and colourful ways of celebrating Christmas.
According to one popular children’s song, when Santa arrives on his annual present duty in the land down under, it’s halfway through summer so he has to swaps his reindeers (who can’t take the heat) for six white kangaroos. In fact, it’s so hot that Santa himself has to slip into something a little more lightweight than his usual fur lined robes.
Having the benefit of warm weather around the festive period, Australians often enjoy barbecues on the beach for their Christmas dinner, complete with the traditional prawns, (which doesn’t do much to dispel the stereotypical expression, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.”)
Those who observe Christmas in Egypt celebrate it on January 7th in accordance with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The period leading up to Christmas, known as Kiahk, involves Christians fasting from animal based products for 43 days.
On Christmas Eve, people attend mass, which begins around 10pm and lasts until midnight (or sometimes until the early hours of the morning.) Only then are Copts allowed to go home and feast on all the tasty foods they’ve been purposefully omitting.
Legend has it that Lapland in Finland is where Santa lives. Lapland also houses an address that receives millions of letters every year, from requests for presents from children all around the globe, to Christmas cards wishing St. Nick well. But Santa isn’t the only famous inhabitant of Lapland…
Joulupukki, (or “Yule goat”) is a peculiar figure hailing from pagan mythology, an evil goat headed man who acted like a reverse Santa; he went to people’s houses around Christmas time and demanded they give him presents. At some point Joulupukki had a change of heart and began distributing gifts to kids, and now he even has his own Lapland address, which receives hundreds of thousands of letters every year. As nice as that sounds, we still think it would be pretty disturbing to find a goat-man stuck in your chimney.
Up in the cold climes of Iceland, people enjoy an intellectual Christmas Eve tradition known as Jolabokaflod, which literally translates as “The Yule Book Flood.” The night before Christmas, friends and family give each other books as presents which they then read for the rest of the night while enjoying chocolates.
Being that Japan’s main religions are Buddhism and Shinto, Christmas isn’t a huge thing there, although it has recently become a popular tradition for Japanese people to eat fried chicken for Christmas dinner.
It must take Japanese parents a considerable amount of skill and dexterity to deliver their children’s presents; on Christmas Eve, they place gifts underneath their kid’s pillows while they’re sleeping. (Unfortunately, this pretty much rules out girls getting ponies.)
Portuguese people know how to serve a feast-like meal! The main dish on Christmas Eve is bacalhau (cod fish), traditionally served up with grelos and batatas (turnip greens and potatoes), and a full on turkey dinner is par for the course on Christmas day. For dessert, it’s common to have a Portuguese Christmas favourite called Bolo Rei, or King’s cake; a ring shaped sponge cake covered with sugared fruit.
A nativity scene is often constructed in the homes of everyone who celebrates Christmas in Portugal, which is a significant portion of the (mainly Catholic) population. Instead of petitioning Santa to bring them presents, children write their Christmas requests to baby Jesus, who is also rumoured to have a PO box in Lapland.
Even non-Christians partake in swapping gifts in South Korea at Christmas (known as Sung Tan Jul). Korea has its own version of Santa, called Santa Haraboji (Grandfather Santa) who sometimes appears like the Santa we’re familiar with in the west, but is also known to dress in blue.
Beyond these differences, Korea mostly follows the same Christmas traditions as the US does. Officially a Buddhist country, Korea is the only nation in Southeast Asia that classes Christmas as a public holiday. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all borrow holidays from other countries?
Christmas Eve in Spain is called Nochebuena (good night), where the main Christmas dinner – a huge feast consisting of quality seafood and meat – is enjoyed by families. This is followed by some tasty sweet treats, like marzipan, the nougat based delicacy turrón, and shortbread biscuits called polvorones. After this, presents are opened at midnight and some people go out on the town to celebrate, where they can marvel at the Christmas trees housed in the main squares of all Spanish cities.
Fireworks are popular during the Christmas period in Venezuela, along with plenty of tasty Christmas food, like hallacas – chicken, beef and pork with capers, raisins and olives wrapped up in cornmeal and banana leaves, and jamón – puff pastry filled with savoury treats like bacon, olives and raisins.
A highly unique (and fun) Christmas tradition occurs in the Venezuelan city of Caracas from the 16th of December through to Christmas Eve; every morning locals go to church using an unconventional mode of transport – rollerblades. This tradition results in access to roads throughout the city being closed down to protect the rollerblading Church goers. Well done Venezuela, fitness and Christmas don’t normally mix!