Christmas around the world

Did you know that people overseas believe that once Santa’s sleigh hits Australian skies, the jolly red man changes into warm-weather clothes and exchanges his reindeer for six kangaroos called ‘boomers’? No? Me neither.

Once I read that little snippet, it got me to pondering, if that’s what they think happens here, then what other sort of Christmas traditions or myths are out there in the big, wide world?

Here’s what I found …

Ireland

It’s traditional for the Irish to leave Guinness and mince pies outside their houses as a snack for Santa. They also prepare some sort of pudding made out of Guinness or whiskey (Irish whiskey, if you must know) and, after sunset on Christmas Eve, Irish Catholics traditionally burn a candle in their windows as a welcoming light for Mary and Joseph.

Russia / Ukraine

The traditional Orthodox Russian Christmas is celebrated on 7 January. On Christmas Eve (6 January) they celebrate by breaking a fast that can last for up to 39 days. On this night, they eat a 12-course meal to represent each of the 12 apostles. The celebrations continue until the New Year, which is when Father Frost (or Ded Moroz in Russian) gives presents to all.

Spain, Portugal and Italy

This one is a little strange and, judging by this display, it’s difficult to tell whether some Spanish, Portuguese or Italians actually like Christmas. Villagers in parts of these countries set up a model version of Bethlehem (basically a nativity scene) showing Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus, along with a strange visitor known as a Caganer (or ‘shitter’ in English) who bends over with his pants around his ankles over a pile of, yep, you guessed it.

Czech Republic

Each year on Christmas Eve, all the single ladies in the Czech Republic perform a peculiar ritual. They stand with their backs to their front door and throw a shoe over their shoulder. If the shoe lands with the heel facing the door, it is said that she’ll stay single for another year. But if the front of the shoe faces the door it means she should start making wedding preparations.

Venezuela

On Christmas Eve, the capital city of Venezuela closes down all its streets entirely so that people can roller skate to church. In some parts of the city they close the roads from 8am onwards every day from 16–24 December so people can wheel their way to daily services. It’s also traditional for Venezuelans to paint their houses about a month before Christmas, and many people will buy new clothes for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The ones that wear yellow believe they will have good luck for the next year.

Norway

Good luck finding a broom in Norway over the Christmas period. According to ancient Norwegian beliefs, witches and other evil spirts steal brooms to ride around in the sky and terrorise the locals. As a defence, villagers hide all brooms and cleaning implements and fire shotguns outside to scare them away. Sounds like a messy Christmas to me.

Netherlands

The Dutch celebrate Christmas on 6 December, when they await Sinterklass and his sooty sidekick Black Pete to leave all the good kiddies candy and nuts – but only if the kids have filled their shoes with hay and sweets for Sinterklass’ horses.

Japan

The traditional Christmas meal in Japan nowadays, believe it or not, is Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Yep, you’ll have to book a table if you want to eat at KFC on Christmas Day in Japan.

Greenland

And if you think KFC is a strange repast, just wait until your hear about Greenland’s grub. The traditional Christmas cuisine of Greenland is called kiviak, which is the raw flesh of auk (a penguin-like bird) that’s been wrapped in seal skin and left under a rock for several months. And if that doesn’t sound appealing, you could always try mattak, which is whale skin with a strip of blubber inside. KFC is sounding pretty good right now, yes?

Read about more Christmas traditions

Does your cultural background mean that you celebrate Christmas a little differently? Do you know of any other ways in which Christmas is celebrated?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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