Try Christmas around the World

trythe worldMy daughter recently joined a food subscription service.  Every two months she gets this neat little box with different foods from a foreign country.  We’ve had food from Tokyo, Paris, Rome…It’s really kind of fun. Here’s a link:

Each box has a culture guide about the featured country. But this month we received the Holiday box with items culture guidefrom multiple countries and a culture guide filled with crazy Christmas traditions.  I supplemented their initial list with other strange Christmas traditions found via the internet.

Gruss_vom_KrampusWe know that St. Nicholas travels around the world dispensing toys to children who’ve been good.  But in Austria, Old St. Nick is accompanied by Krampus, the holiday devil, who punishes children who’ve been bad by beating them with branches.  Okay, I’ll admit that as a kid I would have been terrified to see this guy on Christmas, but in modern day celebrations people dress up as Krampus and stroll the town.

How about adding a crunchy treat to your holiday table?  In South Africa, locals celebrate with deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth.  (Ssh…don’t mention this to the organizers of the state fair or deep-fried caterpillars will be making an appearance for the 4th of July!)

I can get behind this tradition.  In Norway, all brooms are safely hidden away on Christmas Eve in case they are stolen by witches and evil spirits.  Take my broom…please!  (Another country with evil spirits traveling on Christmas.  Hmmm….is this a trend?)

In Finland, families place candles on the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve, making cemetaries the placefinland to be.  Place settings are left empty and family members sleep on the floor so the long-gone loved ones will have a good meal and a nice place to rest during their visit.  Minna – is this true? I saw a similar tradition for Portugal at the Christmas morning feast.

Ukrainian-Christmas-treesIn the Ukraine, Christmas trees are decorated with spider webs and an artificial spider. (It better be artificial!)  The story goes that a poor woman couldn’t afford to decorate her tree with baubles and lights.  Christmas morning the children came down to find the first light of Christmas struck the webs turning them silver and gold.  The family never had to struggle again.  From that day, a spider in the Christmas tree means good luck!  (I think that might depend on the size of the spider.  If it’s big, those hidden brooms will make an appearance in a hurry!)

This one sounds like Jeanne and Cassondra’s food fight!  In Slovakia, the senior man in the household puts some loksa pudding on a spoon and flings it to the ceiling.  The longer the pudding sticks, the luckier the year will be.

Speaking of puddings…when preparing the Christmas pudding in Great Britain, it’s a tradition that the children in the household stir theenglish-christmas-pudding dough clockwise and offer a wish for the New Year.  Sometimes charms will be placed in the dough, somewhat like the King’s cake in New Orleans.

In Japan, only 1% of the population is Christian so Christmas is not widely celebrated.  But those that do…Kentucky Fried Chicken is the yuletide feast.

sweden-goatFinally, In Gavie, Sweden a 13 meter straw statute of a yule goat is raised every year at Christmas time, and almost every year it is burned down.  It’s become something of an unwanted tradition.  Bookmakers even take bets on whether the goat will survive until Christmas. The goat has it’s own twitter page.  When I checked last night it was still standing.

So how about you?  Have you heard of any of these Christmas traditions?  Any strange Christmas traditions in your part of the world?  I don’t mean baking cookies for Santa.  I mean like our tradition that the youngest wears a goofy elf hat that dances and sings songs.  Chat with me as we count down the final days till Christmas.  I have an autographed copy of Victoria Alexander’s The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding to give to someone leaving a comment.


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  • Jane says:

    Hello Donna,
    There are so many subscription services out there that I wish I could afford to join every beauty and food one. I’ve never really looked up all the Christmas traditions from around the world.

    • Hi Jane –

      Merry Christmas! My daughter does this one, which I really like, and some healthy snacks subscription which I really don’t care for.

      But heck with the subscriptions, you got the rooster! He’s a passel of beauty and food all in one. Wait a minute…where did he go? He was just here, but then I said food…

  • Amy Conley says:

    Merry Christmas Donna. Our tradition was always the coin and the cake but it was usually for New Years Eve or New Years Day brought to America by my British Great grandparents to America.

    • Merry Christmas Amy!

      So the coin brings good luck to the recipient? Cool. I like that. I may have to steal that for our family. We used to put a button in the Thanksgiving gravy based on my accidentally knocking a button off the fridge and into the gravy on my husband’s & my first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple. I covered by saying it was an old tradition in my family 🙂 and so it bacame one until I started worrying about someone swallowing it. LOL.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Donna

    Merry Christmas

    Wow some of those traditions are scary LOL

    We make Christmas Pudding and cake wishes while stirring the mixture as well in my house and yes we always used to have money in them when I was young but that was back when we had shillings once we changed to decimal currency we couldn’t put them in any more 🙁

    No odd traditions that I know of in Oz

    Have Fun

    • Merry Christmas Helen –

      The closest I could come to a strange tradition was in New Zealand, which I realize is not Australia 🙂 Anyway, there they use the Pohutukawa tree instead of a conifer for Christmas.

      How neat that you do the wishes in the Christmas pudding. You don’t use money because the coins are too small? I was thinking maybe a quarter or fifty-cent piece (don’t see those much anymore) would be good for the cake. I’d worry that someone would swallow it otherwise.

      Hope you have a wonderful holiday and a fantastic New Year!

      • Helen says:

        Hi Donna

        With the mone it has something to do with what they are made of these days they used to be made with silver now with decimal currency they are not so you can’t put them in and we used to use 6pand 3p coins back then. While I was in New Zealand I saw those beautiful trees that they call Christmas trees they have big red flowers on them and legend has it the ealier they flower in November means a hot summer the later they flower means a not too hot summer 🙂

        Have Fun

        • Those trees looked beautiful from what I could see on the internet. Who could want to decorate such natural beauty? I hope the trees bloomed very late this year 🙂

  • Mary Preston says:

    I am loving the idea of candles on the graves. A wonderful way to remember loved ones no longer with us at Christmas.

    I have heard of the spider web in the tree before & I am off to Google a goat.

    • Merry Christmas Mary!

      LOL on to google a goat. Sounds like it could be a Christmas carol! 🙂

      I was surprised by the number of countries that honor their departed on Christmas. I would have thought these would be traditions around Halloween or All Souls Day, but it’s lovely to use a candle as a remembrance for the dead. Maybe I’ll start something here on Christmas Eve to honor my parents and my husband’s parents over the holiday.

      I’d never heard of the spider web in the tree. See the things you learn hanging out in the lair 🙂

      Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a great New Year!

  • fedora says:

    Donna, this subscription service does sound like a lot of fun! As for funky Christmas traditions, I’ve heard about a couple of those, but think that we’re pretty run-of-the-mill where we are… it might be fun to add some of the more interesting ones to our repertoire!

    • Merry Christmas Fedora!

      It is fun – like a little Christmas present every couple of months :). Plus, I have this thing for boxes, makes no logical sense, but I love the boxes they use with this service. I can’t throw them out because they’re too pretty. This year I’m using some of them to pack gifts.

      I’m thinking of incorporating the candles for the departed on Christmas eve, and the wishes and money in a New Year’s cake. I’d put a festively adored fake spider or spider web on the tree….but haven’t seen too many of those 🙂

      Wishing you a wonderful Holiday and a joyful New Year!

  • blodeuedd says:

    I love traditions :=)

    But the Finnish well certainly not where I love. Maybe they slept on the floor in the olden times.

    The grave thing is true though, though even more candles are lit on All Saints Day

    • Blodeuedd –

      LOL glad to hear you keep to your bed on Christmas. That makes it much easier to actually get up on Christmas morning 🙂

      Yes, I could see the candle tradition being more of an All Saints Day tradition, but it is a lovely way to remember the departed at the holidays. I may do that here.

      We do have a tradition here that I forgot about for the blog. Every Christmas eve, every house in our neighborhood lights candles and places them in white bags to line the sideways. It’s supposed to light the way for Christ – or maybe Santa. I bet the neighborhood looks really cool from the sky 🙂

      Wishing you a fabulous holiday and a fun, happy New Year!

  • Anna Sugden says:

    That sounds like a neat subscription service, Donna. We have the healthy snacks ones over here. Will have to look out for one like that.

    Yes, we used to do that with the Christmas puddings, putting an old sixpence in. Then, when sixpences were replaced with metric money people used silver charms eg a ring (for who would find love), a four leaf clover, a button etc. i seem to remember the boot being the one you didn’t want!

    • Merry Christmas Anna!

      LOL on “getting the boot” for Christmas. 🙂

      Here’s one with shoes for you and Tawny, compliments of the Czech Republic. An unmarried woman stands with her back toward the front door and throws her shoe over her shoulder. If it lands with the toe pointing toward the door, she’ll get married in the next year. 🙂

      Loved the blog on Christmas traditions yesterday. Together, we cover the world!

      Wishing you an awesome holiday and a rocking New Year!

  • Shannon says:

    It’s not entirely a Christmas Day celebration, but my grandmother from Norway talked about celebrating St. Lucia Day in early December, where the girls wore white dresses, and one girl was selected to wear a crown with candles. Everything I’ve read is that this is a Swedish custom.

    My Jewish friends who don’t celebrate Christmas frequently go out for food; sometimes they stay in. They said when they were young, it was always was Chinese, but they’ve diversified to Thai and Indian.

    When I was in Cairo where about 10% of the population was Christian, it tended to be a slow day but still a normal day. For the Copts the big celebration of Christmas is on 7th of January but who doesn’t like two celebrations? We went to the pyramids and rode horses. Somewhere I have a picture of me and three other women riding with sunset like that scene from some Harrison Ford movie. I have on a red hat, another woman a Christmasy scarf.

    • Merry Christmas Shannon!

      I’d forgotten about St. Lucia Day. Love the idea of a crown of candles, but I suppose that could be dangerous unless one uses battery operated candles. That would be pretty.

      I grew up in a Jewish community. I remember going to Hannukah parties where they’d give out chocolate coins. Gotta love any tradition that involves chocolate 🙂 Most of my Jewish friends put up a Christmas tree. I guess some traditions are just too much fun to ignore 🙂

      Riding horses at the pyramids sounds lovely. You’ve lived a rich life, Shannon. Wishing you many, many years to add to it. Merry Christmas!

  • Donna, what a fun post! You know I’m a stick in the mud when it comes to trying new food, but the dh is not. We might enjoy this food club.

    I knew about the krampus because it was on an episode of Grimm (last season, maybe?). Most of these others are new to me. I had to laugh at the spider web one. We had an infestation of daddy long legs this year and have had so many cobwebs to deal with that we could easily have festooned a very big tree with them.

    We used to get a Christmas pudding and brandy butter every year, but the store that carried them closed. We miss our holiday treat.

    • Merry Christmas Nancy!

      I’m not sure how much this food thing costs as my daughter pays for it – but it is fun. In most cases, you get a sampling of different food or spice. Some have been so good, I wished that they would have sent more. Some – like the rice cakes from Japan – ICK! – very salty which I didn’t expect – went right into the trash. I doubt it’s expensive and I love the teal blue boxes :).

      No wonder the Krampus sounded familiar. I probably saw that episode of Grimm but have forgotten the name of the monsters. The Netherlands have a controversial companion to St. Nick as well, though not due to monster qualities. Funny that some cultures celebrate both the good and the bad.

      Hope you have a great holiday, Nancy! Loving forward to seeing you in 2015.

  • Deb says:

    Donna, what a neat way to have a little bit of the world in your own home!
    My family does do something to celebrate Christmas Around The World. As I mentioned to Anna S. yesterday, we choose a country every year and decide on a menu, and prepare a Christmas meal from that country. This year is Sweden. In Sweden and in Denmark, rice pudding is one of the Christmas dinner treats and the person who finds an almond in their pudding will have extra special blessings that year.
    Children in Denmark do not hang stockings; they set out their wooden shoes to be filled with goodies and treats.
    Jul Nissen are Danish Christmas elves and they are very mischievous. They enjoy moving ornaments around on the tree or eating cookies and snacks, and they especially like teasing cats since they are not fond of them. 🙂
    Another Danish tradition is to dance and sing around the Christmas tree. Grandpa Nielsen would pull the tree out into the living room and have the grandchildren sing Christmas carols. There were also heart-shaped baskets on the tree filled with goodies and quarters.
    Merry Christmas! Glædelig Jul! Or, in Swedish, God Jul!

    • Merry Christmas Deb!

      What a cool tradition. You especially might enjoy that food subscription, check it out.

      Here’s a Swedish/Danish tradition that you might not have heard about. My husband used to work for a Swedish company and has traveled there on occasion. While Sweden and Denmark are close geographically, they make the other countries the butt of all jokes. From Sweden – How many Danes does it take to screw in a lightbulb, sort of thing. I assume the same thing occurs on the Danish side of the border. 🙂

      I’d heard about the rice pudding and the almond, but I hadn’t heard about the Yule Goat. Hope the big guy makes it this year.

      Hope you have a wonderful blessed Christmas, Deb. Many wishes for a fantastic New Year.

  • May Pau says:

    We don’t really do anything unusual. .. just cookies and the gifts and a video at home. But i like the candles idea… it is meaningful…

    • Merry Christmas May!

      Yeah – I like that one too. Especially as my husband’s family will be joining us for Christmas. Both my husband and I have lost both of our parents. I’m thinking of placing four candles on the table and lighting them as a symbol of our departed loved ones. That way we can invite their participation.

      Have a wonderful holiday, May! Hope to see you at a signing somewhere in 2015! God Bless –

  • sandyg265 says:

    I’ve heard the story about the spiderwebs.

    • Merry Christmas Sandy!

      So do you put spiders or spider webs on your tree? To be honest – I think I did see a small glittery spider web ornament on year at the store and thought – that’s odd. It seemed more appropriate for the Halloween decorations the stores have taken to hawking. Now that I know the story, I’ll watch out for one.

      Hope you have a great holiday with good weather and good food. Have a fantastic New Year as well.

  • Minna says:

    “In Finland, families place candles on the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve, making cemetaries the placefinland to be.”

    This is true, though considering the fact that usually it’s pretty cold this time of year, we just leave the candles on the graves and go.

    “Place settings are left empty and family members sleep on the floor so the long-gone loved ones will have a good meal and a nice place to rest during their visit.”

    WHAT? Where on earth did you hear this one? That’s not the tradition here.

  • Minna says:

    One tradition we do have is the declaration of Christmas peace in Turku. It’s always the same (in Finnish and Swedish):

    “Tomorrow, God willing, is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour;and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully,because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by any illegal or improper behaviour shall under aggravating circumstances be guiltyand punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offence separately.Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.”

    Those who live in Turku can go see it live, the rest of us watch in on TV. You can find it on Youtube. And I’m not sure, but you might be able to see this year’s declaration here (few more hours to go…):

    • Thanks a lovely tradition. Sounds a bit reminicent of the historic ceasefire on the Western Front during WWI. It’s a lovely reminder that Christmas is meant to be a time of peace on earth.

      Hope you have a peaceful holiday!

  • bn100 says:

    No, I haven’t

    • Merry Christmas bn100!

      And now you have 🙂 Amazing the things you can learn through the internet.

      Have a great holiday bn100. Hope we hear from you, albeit briefly, in the New Year! 🙂

  • Minna says:

    Oh, and we have St. Lucia Day in Finland, too, thanks to our history with Sweden.

    • I think St. Lucia Day is a lovely tradition. I think I read about it first about thirty years ago when I gave my daugther one of those American Girl dolls. I bought her the Swedish immigrant doll and it had a book about celebrating St. Lucia Day. How lovely for the youngest girl to be the star of the celebration with her wreath of candles. Well Done.

      May you have a lovely Christmas, Minna, and a joyous New Year. I look forward to chatting with you in 2015.

  • catslady says:

    Oh fascinating. I haven’t heard of any of them. We were looking at old pictures last night and my husband lived in Japan for a short while (air force brat) and I was asking about Christmas there. Unfortunately, he didn’t really remember much. There was a tiny silver tree on a table with lights but no ornaments on it but on the other hand I have a handful of ornaments made in Japan that were his that I put on my tree. And just eek on that spider tradition. I read a story online of a family that cut down their own tree, decorated it but in the morning the whole tree was covered in webs and spiders!!!! The whole thing, ornaments and all, got thrown out the door. I wouldn’t have been able to go near it again lol.

    • Catslady –

      I’m afraid I’d be with you on the spiders and webs. Our tree is in the North-facing window and no beam of light is going to shine on it there turning webs to silver and gold 🙂 I bet that family didn’t feel “lucky.” 🙂

      I think the KFC thing started due to promotional efforts in the early 70s. Not sure if your husband would have been there then. It’s surprising to think that there are cultures that don’t do a Christmas tree (something most historical writers think of every book as a Chirstmas Tree was not popular until Prince Consort Albert brought the concept to Queen Victoria). It’s difficult for me to imagine Christmas as – just an ordinary day. But in some cultures, it is.

      Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, Catslady, with good food and no spiders :). Hope you join us again in the New Year.

  • EC Spurlock says:

    Donna, that sounds like a really fun subscription service! I’ll have to look into that! Then again, with all the international markets we have in our neck of the woods, I could probably make up my own. 😀

    I come from a Ukranian background and I had never heard about the spider web! We did carry on the Schwate Wecher tradition, though. This is a “holy supper” that is held on Christmas Eve. In the full ceremony, straw is laid on the table to represent the humble stable and then a white cloth laid over it to symbolize the redemptive power of Christ. Candles are lit to symbolize the Light coming into the world. Twelve meatless dishes are served to represent the twelve apostles. An empty place is laid for those relatives who have died during the year and for any unexpected guest (who may be a saint or angel in disguise.) Prayers are said for departed relatives and for blessings on the family in the coming year before we eat. It’s a very elaborate ceremony and I don’t do the full thing anymore since it’s just our family, but I remember gathering around my grandmother’s table with all my cousins every Christmas for this solemn occasion.

    Merry Christmas to you and all the Banditas and Buddies!

    • EC Spurlock says:

      Nearly forgot – our town has a ceremony on the first weekend of December when they place candles on the graves of the founders of the town in the central town cemetary. I’ve always wanted to go and for one reason or another I have never been able to.

      I also started a tradition back when I was in college of baking Greek New Year’s bread every New Year. I bake a quarter into it for good luck. I started this with my parents and back family and we have carried it on ever since.

      • I like this tradition as well. Don’t think I’ve ever had Greek New Years Bread. I’ll get my daughter on it. Love putting money in the bread. It appeals to the CPA in me 🙂

        • EC Spurlock says:

          The name for it is Vasilopita if you want to look it up; I’m sure there are recipes for it on the web. Mine comes from a Greek cookbook by Lou Siebert Pappas. It’s got ornage and lemon peel in it for a lovely citrusy flavor. It’s supposed to be sliced at the stroke of midnight, one piece for each person; we often save it for breakfast the next morning after we find the quarter. It toasts up beautifully!

    • Merry Christmas E C!
      That is so interesting! I love that ceremony for dinner. So full of symbolism. I’ve not heard of placing straw on the table before. Interesting that you never heard of the spider story when so many others have. LOL. Isn’t that the way 🙂 .

      Hope you have a fabulous holiday with your family. And, of course, I hope we see you in 2015! Merry, merry Christmas!

  • Donna, what a fun post. And I love the idea of getting a little bit of exotic yum in the mail on a regular basis. What a great scheme! Our family Christmas tradition has always been to eat ourselves into catatonia and then lie around groaning and swearing we’ll never eat so much again. Which doesn’t last till the next Christmas. One local tradition is that there’s always a big cricket match on Boxing Day (26th December) which nearly the whole country turns in to watch. We particularly like it if it’s England vs. Australia – that’s a very old rivalry, so watch out, Anna S!

    • Merry Christmas Anna!
      I remember my brothers and I rolling around on the floor like slugs after Christmas dinner, moaning and groaning about how stuffed were. We don’t do that now. We probably wouldn’t be able to get off the floor! 🙂 Now, of course, I’m too busy cleaning up after the meal to notice how truly stuffed I am.

      I’m sure a football game will be on the tv. No cricket I’m afraid. My OSU Buckeyes will be playing january 1st so I’ll be watching that

      Hope you have a wonderful holiday and a fabulous New Year

  • Shannon says:

    Sorry to post a second time, but I was looking through the day in pictures at the Washington Post. Lots are sad news stories and very annoying ads, but there’s some incredible Christmas/Winter custom pictures. I love the idea of a chateau lit with 2000 candles, and the one of the Eiffel tower is amazing.

    Again if you hate ads or bad news with your holiday images, don’t click.

    • Shannon – That was fun. Yes, Love the pic of the castle and the giant snow globes. But I also couldn’t resist looking at the animal photos. The two that really impressed me were the two of the monkey trying to save the second monkey that had be shocked and was unconscious. The first monkey bit the second monkey and shook him. He brought him around. Amazing! And people don’t think those animals think.

      Thanks for the link!

  • Mozette says:

    I’ve only just heard about Krampus in the last few years through the hit paranormal show ‘Supernatural’… and this year, it’s hit the internet in a big way!

    And… well, one of the other sites I frequent asked us to write a horror Christmas flash fiction… so I did… thought you girls would like it. 😀

    This blog is my own flash fiction blog… it’s the weird side of me. So, feel free to join it and peruse it too. 😛

    • Well – That’s interesting, Mozette. Congratulations on hearing about something as simple as Krampus and turning it into a piece of fiction. Very cool. Flash fiction, I think, is harder than it looks. You need a beginning, middle and end – all within a very short word count. Congratulations on a different kind of Christmas story. 🙂

    • Forgot to say Merry Christmas, Mozette! Hope you have a wonderful holiday and an exciting New Year!

  • Cassondra Murray says:

    Donna, what a fun blog!

    I love learning about the traditions in other parts of the world, and I’m the type who can geek out on “how did this start and why?”

    Gosh, I’d love to do that food subscription service. What a fun thing, to have exotic food coming to your door!

    Thanks for this fun look at other cultures!

    • Merry Christmas Cassondra –

      The subscription has been fun. Some food good, some I can pass on – but it’s exciting every time that teal box arrives.

      Exploring some of the world’s Christmas traditions has been fun and educational as well.

      Hope you have a great Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you in 2015

  • Barbara Elness says:

    My sister and I have a tradition that we hop in the car after Christmas dinner and drive all over town looking at all the lights and decorations. We’ve done it for years. Then we go home and have pie. That’s about the only tradition besides the normal ones that we do.

    • Merry Christmas Barbara! –

      We do the same thing on Christmas eve. I love looking at the lights. There’s one house in my neighborhood that we called the Gingerbread house. They had lights everywhere. Friends in the neighborhood called it the “marquee” house. I guess both descriptions were accurate. They did this every year. Then they decided to change the roof. The roofers discovered that all the lights on the room had been stapled – and then the staples removed. I guess there was considerable damage. The house went dark for several years. This year, though, the lights are back! Not as many lights as before, but I was pleased to see the colors.

      Wishing you and your season a very happy holiday and a fantastic New Year1

  • What a neat subscription service! I knew the one about Krampus. Saw him several times when I lived in Germany and went to school right across the border in Salzburg. Scary.

    And I knew about stirring the Christmas pudding and making a wish. When we lived in England the person who found the sixpence in the pudding was supposed to be lucky all year.

    I love the one about the candles in the cemetery. I have a similar tradition here. My deaf Great Dane, Glory, loved to lie in front of the Christmas tree and watch the lights. She was completely fascinated by them. She passed away several years ago and in her memory I put white and blue (she had the prettiest blue eyes) lights on the cedar tree outside my kitchen window. (She is buried under the tree.) When I look outside the window on December nights I see Glory’s lights and I remember her and her love of Christmas tree lights.

    • Awww…

      That’s so sweet Louisa. My cat is similarly mesmerized by the Christmas tree. She lies on her back and just watches the lights and the ornaments. My daughter wants to put a little lighted tree on the back porch just for the cat.

      Hugs to you on Gary’s passing. Hugs to you as well on the Krampus sightings – those are some scary looking dudes! I hope you have a wonderful Merry Christmas! I hope you continue to visit us in 2015. Now that you’re published and all…. 🙂

  • Teresa Hughes says:

    I have not heard of these traditions. My family has what some feel is a weird tradition. We eat oyster stew and chili com carnie for Christmas instead of a turkey or ham.