I love Christmas. I mean, what's not to love? Delicious food shared with family and friends all while being serenaded by Michael Buble. The Christmas spirit is contagious and brings people from all walks of life together.
In New Zealand, we have some unique traditions, like packing into the car at night to spend three hours driving around and looking at Christmas lights. Ranging from the mediocre houses that threw up a few icicle lights on the balcony and called it a day, to the bloke that synchronises his Christmas light display to a dedicated radio station, this activity is the perfect way to evoke some Christmas spirit.
What about on Christmas eve, where the nation tunes in to the Christmas Carols sung by some homegrown celebs. Not to mention dressing up in your best outfit on Christmas day only to sit under the aircon in the living room with your fam questioning if you should have eaten that extra slice of pudding.
From an outsider's perspective, these traditions may seem strange; but they are uniquely ours and, alongside many other family traditions, weaving together the tapestry that is an Kiwi Christmas.Simple yet beautiful. No match for Frank down the street that has three blow up Santas and Baby Jesus in his front yard though.
With Christmas around the corner, we wanted to take a peek at some of the weird and wonderful Christmas traditions that happen around the world.
Yule Goat, Sweden
In 1966 a 13m tall Christmas Goat made out of straw was built in the middle of Gävle's Castle Square. He looked mighty fine and people, naturally, wanted to set him on fire. Since then the Yule Goat has burned down 29 times. Keen to see how he's coping this year? You can see a live stream on the Gävle's website. Better yet, the Goat is a big fan of social media and loves tweeting and blogging about his life.
In Austrian tradition, St Nicholas (aka Santa) rewards the good kids. What about the naughty ones, though? Well, instead of getting a lump of coal, naughty kids in Austria get a visit from Krumpis, a demon creature that roams the streets at night. Supposedly, he captures the naughty kids and takes them away in his sack. Honestly, this sounds horrifying, especially considering that young men dress up as Krumpis during the first week of December and scare the kids with chains and bells.
Krumpis is kramping my Christmas spirit.
The Yule Cat, Iceland
Supposedly there is a super fat, giant cat that lives in the snowy Icelandic countryside. Seems cute right? Wrong. Farmers told their workers that the slackers would be eaten by the fat yule cat, and the hard workers would be given some new threads. Today it is tradition to get new clothes on Christmas to avoid becoming a fancy feast for the fat kitty.
Kentucky Fried Christmas, Japan
I love this one. Christmas isn't a big tradition in Japan; however, there is enough Western influence for locals to know it is happening. In 1974 KFC pinned a whole campaign with the slogan "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!), encouraging locals to indulge in a big old bucket of fried chicken for Christmas. This was a huge success, with families across Japan now flocking to KFC on Christmas Eve for their chicken-filled feast. It's not cheap though, with a meal costing about 3,336 yen, or almost $60 Kiwi dollars.
Fried Caterpillars, South Africa
On the topic of festive food traditions, at Christmas time, South African children are bursting with excitement at the prospect of fried caterpillars. Don't think they are your average, run of the mill garden worms either. These Christmas delights are Pine Tree Emperor Moths - delish. I think it's safe to assume they don't wash it down with a glass of eggnog.
Lantern Festival, The Philippines
Just like Western households compete to have the most ostentatious Christmas light display, Philippino villages around San Fernando build elaborate Christmas lanterns. Made from a variety of materials and reaching over six metres in size, these beauties are a sight to behold as their bulbs light up like a kaleidoscope of Christmas spirit.
Hiding brooms, Norway
My boyfriend hides the broom all year round so he doesn't have to sweep. In Norway, people hide their brooms on Christmas Eve to stop them being stolen as a getaway car for evil spirits and witches.
Spider web decorations, Ukraine
Far from the tinsel filled trees we are accustomed to at home, in Ukraine, they decorate their trees with fake spider webs. This tradition is said to bring good luck and originates from the tale of a poor woman that couldn't afford to decorate her tree, only to wake on Christmas morning to find a spider had spun a glittering web around it. Imagine walking into your local Westfield and seeing a 10metre tree covered in a spider web.
Pickle decoration, Germany
If you love pickles and ridiculous Christmas decorations, this one is right up your alley. Apparently in Germany, a pickle decoration will be added to the tree and the first child that finds it on Christmas morning is rewarded with an extra present (I hope it's a massive jar of real pickles).
Poop log, Spain
A hollow log with stick legs, smile and red hat. Every night between December 8th and Christmas Eve kids feed the log water and treats before tucking him under a warm blanket. Sounds normal enough. Then, on Christmas Eve, things turn nasty, and kids grab some sticks, beat the log (poor Tio) and sing songs with lyrics like "Poop log, poop nougats and hazelnuts if you don't poop I'll hit you with a stick!".
Tio doesn't mess about and eventually poops out presents and treats before being thrown in the fire. A short and treacherous life if you ask me. Alas, it would be cool to poop nougat.
Christmas book flood, Iceland
Perhaps the most wholesome tradition of them all, on Christmas Eve in Iceland families will exchange brand new books and spend the night reading. Fresh book smell + cosy nights in + a sneaky nightcap + family and friends? Sign me up, I'm moving to Iceland for Christmas. Fingers crossed the fat cat doesn't eat me before I can get my books though.
Tie up your Mother, Bosnia and Serbia
Two weeks before Christmas, kids in Bosnia, Serbia and the surrounding countries will sneak up on their mums before tying her feet to a chair and chanting "Mother's Day, Mother's Day, what will you pay to get away?". Mum then hands over the pressies and gets untied. Dad doesn't get left out either, as the same thing happens to him two weeks later.
This one raises a lot of red flags for me. All I know is if I tied up my Mum, I probably wouldn't be getting presents.
Mall Santa, every Western Country
This is something we are all accustomed to, but if you really think about it, the whole thing is kinda creepy. We dress our kids up and force them to sit on a strange man's lap. The man is dressed as Santa so we never really know what he looks like. Then, even if the kid is screaming, Santa poses for a picture and gives the little cherub some candy. Every other day of the year we warn our kids of strange men with free candy, but on that one day in the mall this advice flies out the window.
Christmas encourages people around the world to do some pretty weird and wonderful things. As odd as some of these traditions may be, all are cherished and have no doubt created some incredible memories that fuel the Christmas spirit for generations to come.
If you've been inspired to spend Christmas abroad and take part in a tradition unlike our own, be sure to pop into your local Travel Money NZ to stock up on foreign currency. Some of our stores are in shopping centres, so you can snap a pic and grab a lollipop from Santa. Who knows, maybe he'll give you an overseas holiday for Christmas.
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