Christmas Around the World

By: Shivani Handa and Shreya Senthilkumar

Christmas is celebrated by people all over the world, but everyone has their own unique way of celebrating. Some celebrate it as a religious holiday, while others use it as time to relax and spend time with family. Here are five countries around the world with unique Christmas traditions. 

Japan: KFC for Christmas Dinner

It may come as a surprise to know that people in Japan celebrate Christmas. Since only 1% of Japan’s population is Christian, most people see it as a holiday to relax and have fun. It is considered a holiday for couples, but many still celebrate with their families. Couples give each other gifts, but family members do not. A popular Christmas activity is going to see Christmas illuminations and visiting Christmas markets. However, the most popular Christmas tradition in Japan is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) for Christmas dinner. There are several stories of the origin of this tradition. One of the most well-known is that in 1974, Takeshi Okawara, the manager of Japan’s first KFC, falsely marketed KFC as a traditional American Christmas dinner. He sold “party barrels” with fried chicken, shrimp gratin and cake inside. As a result of clever marketing and the slogan, “kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!”, which means “Kentucky for Christmas”, eating KFC on Christmas Eve became extremely popular in Japan. People order their Christmas party barrels several months in advance in order to avoid standing in long lines on Christmas Eve. This makes for a unique Christmas tradition unlike any other. 

Norway: Hiding the brooms 

In Norway, Christmas is celebrated in a more traditional way. People treat the Christmas holiday as a time to relax and spend time with their families. The majority of the celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. People go to church in the daytime and come home in the evening for dinner. Norwegians have ribbe, which is pork ribs or belly, as well as a lamb dish called pinnekjøtt for their Christmas dinner. For dessert, they have rice pudding with whipped cream. After dinner, families open their Christmas presents together. The period of time from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve is called romjulen, and it is a time for families to spend time together and make gingerbread houses, as well as prepare for the new year. However, Norwegian Christmas has an interesting quirk: People hide their brooms on Christmas Eve. In the past, it was thought that evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve, looking for brooms to ride on. Hiding brooms prevents the evil spirits from going out and terrorizing citizens. Even today, people in Norway follow this tradition. 

Philippines: Giant Lantern Festival

The Giant Lantern Festival, also known as “Ligligan Parul,” takes place in San Fernando, Philippines, which is considered the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines.” The festival generally lasts from mid-December to New Year’s Day, and it is centered around large, colorful “parols” which are star-shaped lanterns modeled after the Star of Bethlehem. The festival originated from a smaller lantern festival in 1904, but after electricity was introduced to the Philippines in 1931, the lanterns were able to transform from simple paper creations into twenty foot tall machines with thousands of small, spinning lights. The lanterns are created by teams of designers and engineers from neighboring villages, and they are pitted against one another in a contest for the “Best Lantern” title before being displayed to the public. Aside from being a fun event filled with music and cheer, the festival highlights the religious symbolism of light that many Filipinos place importance on.

Venezuela: Roller-Skating and Nochebuena

In Caracas, Venezuela, many people use a unique mode of transportation during the holiday season: roller skates! Both children and adults lace up their roller skates and skate to Christmas mass, usually on Christmas Eve. Some children even tie a string to their big toe and let the string dangle out the window so that skaters can tug on the string as they pass by. The purpose of this is to let the children know that Christmas has arrived. The origins of this unusual tradition are relatively unknown, but some believe skating was meant to be an alternative to sledding, since Venezuela’s climate doesn’t allow for much snow. Nevertheless, the tradition is so popular that the Venezuelan government closes down the roads from December 16th to the 24th so that families can skate safely. Aside from skating, Venezuelan families also come together for a Christmas meal known as Nochebuena, and a common dish that is served is hallacas. Hallacas are similar to tamales, which contain meat, olives, peppers, and other items wrapped within a plantain leaf. However, unlike traditional tamales, hallacas are boiled in hot water instead of steamed.

Ethiopia: Ganna Celebrations

In Ethiopia, Christmas is referred to as “Ganna” (or Genna) and it is celebrated in a completely different month. Since the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church follows a different calendar, Christmas falls on January 7th instead of December 25th. Ethiopians attend Christmas mass on Christmas Eve (January 6th), with the service finishing in the early morning on Christmas Day. For Christmas, Ethiopians generally wear white clothing. One specific piece of clothing that they wear is called the Netala. The Netala is a white cotton cloth with colored stripes on the end, and it is worn like a shawl. Some Ethiopians also participate in the Advent fast, which starts 43 days before Christmas (November 25th). This fast is referred to as the “fast of the prophets” (Tsome Nebiyat), and it requires each person to eat only one vegan meal a day. Unlike many other cultures, gift-giving is less common during Christmas in Ethiopia. While some small presents are given, more importance is placed on going to church, eating and playing games with others!

Even though different people celebrate Christmas differently, all the celebrations have common themes of coming together and spreading holiday cheer. No matter how you celebrate, we hope you have a happy holiday season and a fantastic New Year!

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