Christmas is a time for family and friends, and a time to gather together. It’s also full of traditions that have been passed down for generations. In the United States, Christmas looks like presents under the evergreen tree, family meals, and so much more. Some traditions may feel unusual or different from the United States in other countries.
In Austria, the tradition of Santa bringing coal for naughty children is put to the extreme. There is a creature called Krampus, who is the evil assistant of Saint Nick. He is said to wander the streets looking for badly behaved children. This includes terrifying masks worn by adults that enjoy teasing children.
Along the scary lines, Ukraine enjoys decorating their tree with spider webs and shimmer dew. They do this because of a folktale where a woman whose husband had died couldn’t afford to decorate her tree for her children. And when she awoke the next morning, spiders had decorated her tree with beautiful webs. They are also considered lucky in the culture of Ukraine.
Some Americans even practice the art of hiding a pickle in the tree. This tradition started in Germany. When a child finds it, they receive a gift. There have been debates about whether it was completely Germany or Spain who developed this tradition in the 16th century. The story was that two young children became trapped in a pickle barrel, and Saint Nick came and rescued them.
These traditions often come from stories passed from one generation to another. In Iceland, there is said to be a giant cat that roams the countryside called the Yule Cat. Farmers used this tradition to entice their workers to work hard. If they didn’t, the Yule Cat would eat them. If they did, they would receive a new set of clothes.
Clothing is also in the Dutch culture wherein the days before December 25, children leave their shoes by the fire in hopes that Santa Claus will fill them with small treats at night. Traditionally, carrots are left in the shoes for the faithful steed of Sinterklaas, a white horse named America.
No clothes are required for the Finland tradition on Christmas Eve. It is customary to strip naked and stay in a sauna which is considered a sacred space associated with dead ancestors.
Families gather in South Africa to eat. They enjoy fried caterpillars with their children called the Pine Tree Emperor Moth. It has different colors on it and is said to give you extra luck if you swallow it. Children look forward to this tradition every year.
Eating is popular in Japan, wherein the 70’s Kentucky Friend Chicken pushed a marketing campaign to have KFC for Christmas. It is now a national tradition. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but many families have KFC on Christmas Eve.
In New Zealand, the locals do not use evergreens, especially since it’s summer in December. They hold service under the Pohutukawa tree. This tree produces beautiful red flowers that look like decorations.
In Venezuela, church members attend a daily church service the week before Christmas, and they travel to the service on roller skates.
In Guatemala, the family cleans around the house for a week together and piles the trash outside the home. At the end of cleaning, the pile is set on fire with an effigy of the devil placed on top. This ceremony is said to burn the bad from the previous year and start a new year from out of the ashes.
Unmarried Czech women test their future on Christmas Eve and throw a shoe over their shoulder out the back door. If the shoe lands with the toe facing the door, they will be married in the year. If the heel is facing the door, they will have another year of not being married.