Christmas is celebrated in over 160 countries, but no two countries celebrate the holiday in the same way. From KFC dinners to radish carvings, here is a look at six of the most out-of-the-ordinary Christmas traditions from around the world.
Germany — Krampus Night
According to Alpine folklore, Krampus — a horned goat-like demonic figure — is said to scare and punish misbehaving children on the evening of Dec. 5, also known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night.
Derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, the legend of Krampus is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition that is believed to have originated from pre-Germanic paganism.
Traditions involving Krampus include Krampuslauf, or the Krampus run, in which people dressed as the creature attempt to scare spectators, all in good fun.
Japan — Kentucky Fried Chicken
In 1974, KFC Japan launched their “Kentucky for Christmas” marketing campaign, which promoted fried chicken as the perfect Christmas meal.
The original advertisements presented indulging in KFC as an authentically American way to celebrate, strategically tailored to provide Japan — a country where less than 1% of the population is Christian — with a more secular way to celebrate Christmas that appeals to the country’s demonstrated fascination with Western culture.
Since then, KFC has become extremely popular in Japan during the holiday season, with many families pre-ordering the famous Party Barrel of fried chicken weeks in advance.
Iceland — Yule Cat
Icelandic Christmas folklore depicts many horrifying monsters — similar to Krampus — including Jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat, that are meant to reinforce good behaviour in children.
Described as huge and viscous, the Yule Cat is said to prowl the countryside on Christmas night, eating anyone who isn’t dressed appropriately for the cold Icelandic weather.
The folklore likely dates back to the Dark Ages where individuals were rewarded with new clothes for their hard work. If you didn’t receive clothes on Christmas, it meant that you were at risk of being preyed on by the Yule Cat.
Ukraine — Christmas Spider
While many people might associate spiders with Halloween, ornaments resembling the eight-legged creatures can be found adorning Christmas trees in Ukraine.
According to a popular folktale, watchful spiders began weaving silky webs of silver and gold on a poor family’s Christmas tree after observing how saddened the children of a widowed mother were because they couldn’t afford ornaments.
This tale is often regarded as the origin story of tinsel — a decorative material made of sparkling threads — and many Ukrainians now decorate their trees with spider-shaped ornaments that have come to symbolize good fortune.
Norway — Julebukking
Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, people wearing costumes go door-to-door singing Christmas songs in exchange for candy, known as Julebukking — similar to the Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating.
The visited household then tries to determine the identities of the julebukkers, who often disguise their voices to make it more challenging. Once they have been identified, someone from the visited household must join the julebukkers on their next visit.
Although julebukking became less popular in the 1930s due to less homogenous neighbourhoods and a growing suspicion of strangers, the tradition still lives on in smaller communities to this day.
Mexico — Night of the Radishes
Every Dec. 23, amateurs and skilled artisans of Oaxaca, Mexico compete against one another, carving intricate designs into radishes on Noche de Rabanos, or the Night of the Radishes.
In the mid-18th century, carved radishes were a marketing gimmick used by farmers to lure shoppers into the annual Christmas market held in the city plaza. Eventually, it became commonplace to create centrepieces out of the radishes for Christmas dinners.
In 1897, Dec. 23 was declared an official celebration by the then-mayor and the tradition has grown in popularity since, with a grand prize of 12,000 pesos up for grabs every year for the best carving.
Each country that celebrates Christmas has their own unique traditions, and the most wonderful time of the year isn’t necessarily always about gift-giving or Santa Claus. This Christmas, make room for other ways to celebrate, and try out these six traditions — who knows, maybe KFC will become your family’s new favourite holiday meal!