Christmas Traditions You Never Knew From Across The World

There's more you can do to get involved than just buying the mistletoe

By Zhen Yin

April 27 2018

"Christmas tree, my christmas tree, lit up like a star-"

This is the song that pops into mind whenever I think about Christmas, particularly because of the inevitable 'Home Alone' marathon that we'd always end up watching on public television, and more so due to the iconic stage scene in the beginning of "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York".

But aside from watching the enjoyable replays of eight year old Kevin sabotaging the con mens' ploy to burglarise the house, here is a list of Christmas traditions that you can use as inspiration to celebrate Christmas differently this year.

Christmas in Guatemala: 'The Burning of the Devil'

In Guatemala, 'La Quema del Diablo' or 'The Burning of the Devil' is a Christmas tradition held with the purpose of allowing people to build huge bonfires outside their homes and burn effigies or images of the Devil. These bonfires are comprised of unwanted items or furniture set on fire - the significance of the bonfire lies in the fact that by burning away all their unwanted items or garbage, it acts as a purifying ritual that cleanses their homes out of any trace of the Devil that may have settled in the nooks of their beds or unused items.

This tradition is held on 7 December and commences at 6 pm. Aside from the growing bonfire and burning effigies, the crowd also sprinkle firecrackers into the mix as well, making this Christmas tradition a memorable one for passerbys and locals alike. 'The Burning of the Devil' also marks the beginning of the Christmas season for Guatemala.

Possible inspiration: Perhaps one can consider doing something alike, albeit not as drastic since you wouldn't want the risk of starting a fire at home. But maybe take a step back and physically de-clutter your living area to purge any negative energies that you might have accumulated over the year of 2017.

Christmas in Peru: 'The Good Night'

'The Good Night' also known as 'La Noche Buena', takes place on December 24, Christmas Eve. The main highlight of Christmas lies on the day before instead of the day itself; many take this opportunity to celebrate by hanging out in the downtown city squares to stroll amongst the traditional market that consists of handcrafted images of nativity and relevant religious interpretations of the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Many also take this time to visit fellow family and friends at their houses, and a grand late night feast termed as 'Cena de Navidad' or 'Christmas Dinner' commences at the stroke of midnight. Churches will also hold what you'd call a 'Rooster Mass' where the more devout will be found in attendance.

Possible inspiration: Drop by and visit some local vendors to get some artisinal or handcrafted gifts for your loved ones. Vendors that are curated specially for Christmas can be found in these events listed right here.

Christmas in Mexico: 'The Night of the Radishes'

In the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, 'The Night of the Radishes' also known as 'Noche de Los Rábanos' is a yearly event held during Christmas where the people carve intricate and amazing scenes of nativity with the use of one organic medium: radishes. In the 1800s, this tradition begun from the simple need of attracting customers' attention whenever they passed the town plaza after they've ended mass.

Now, artisans and amateurs alike compete for a grand cash prize and onlookers can admire the detailed carvings of nativity on these radishes. The carvings are not restricted to just images of nativity. Some participants end up carving impressive images of local wildlife on to the radishes during this yearly event as well.

Possible inspiration: Search up some YouTube tutorials and get some affordable yet sturdy organic materials such as the above mentioned radishes, and try your hand at vegetable carving done with Christmas as the theme in mind.

Christmas in Denmark: 'Now It is Christmas Again' On Repeat

Danish families will actually gather around their Christmas tree lit up by candles (real candles, not fake ones), hold hands and sing Christmas carols and songs together. Aside from the hand-holding, the family will start to circle the tree in one direction, speeding up as they go. The Christmas song used in question is called “Nu det jul igen”, or 'Now It is Christmas Again', which is notably short. Round and round they go, reversing the direction each time the verse is repeated until the entire family ends up running or dancing at high speeds around the tree while still holding hands.

Possible inspiration: Literally attempt to do the same thing with your friends or families, but not necessarily around a Christmas tree if you don't have one. Whoever ends up falling first is subjected to a forfeit at the end of the night!

Christmas in Greenland: Feast Upon Kiviak

In the land where supposedly the wise and cheery Santa Claus lives, Greenland has a peculiar tradition in terms of food when Christmas season rolls around. One of which is the kiviak, a fermented dish that is made out of seal skin, that's smeared with a layer of seal fat and stuffed to the brim with over 300 auk birds. This meal is left to ferment underneath a heap of rocks for as long as 18 months before it's finally taken out and enjoyed during Christmas or other joyous occasions like weddings and birthdays.

The best part of the dish is said to be the hearts of the little, Arctic fermented birds stuffed within the seal. It's common for families to enjoy this cuisine in the outdoors as well, because enjoying it indoors will leave the area smelling like it for the weeks to come!

Possible inspiration: Attempt to cook up something you've never tried before to give to your loved ones this Christmas. 

Christmas in Norway: Dress Up with Julebukk

Julebukk is the tradition of children dressing up with masks and costumes who would go door-to-door to their nearby neighbours, who would then attempt to identify them underneath their masked disguises. Once their identity is made clear, the children are given treats to enjoy. But another version of Julebukk involves one without the 'make-believe' elements attached; the children go door-to-door, performing carols or Christmas songs instead. 

Possible inspiration: Create your own masked Christmas themed party and get everyone to dress up accordingly. The catch? No one knows who will be appearing for it. 

Christmas in Austria: The Krampus Run

This event was birthed from a centuries-old tradition that came from an ancient folklore concerning a mythical entity named 'Krampus'. Krampus is a being that serves as an courier of evil for Saint Nicholas (a Christian bishop who helped the needy, and served as the main inspiration behind Santa Claus). While Saint Nicholas goes around blessing good children with their desired gifts, Krampus does the opposite instead by instilling fear and punishment upon the wicked people and children who behaved badly.

During the Krampus Run, the people would dress up as Krampus, which is depicted as a being that's half-goat and half-demon. Get caught in the midst of this parade and you might find yourself surrounded with beings adorned with faux fur, immense head horns and intricate yet initimidating demon masks.

Possible inspiration: Prepare the necessary materials (or make up) and see who can design the most Krampus-like look among your friends as you enjoy your Christmas eve!

Christmas in Japan: KFC and Having the Blessings of Hoteiosho

Even though Christmas is not considered a national holiday in Japan, the Japanese still celebrate the occasion in their own unique way. For example, KFC chicken buckets is the ultimate food anthem for the Japanese when Christmas rolls around. They even have special KFC Christmas dinners designed to celebrate the occasion at hand, which require pre-orders from their customers weeks in advance just to avoid long waiting hours for the fried feast on Christmas day itself.

Unknown to many, there's actually a being that exists in Japan named Hoteiosho that serves the same purpose as Santa Claus. Hoteiosho is actually a monk who  has a cloth sack full of toys meant for children. He also has eyes located at the back of his head, so that he's always able to see children and how well they behave without the supervision from others.

Possible inspiration: Volunteer or donate gifts to the less fortunate and end the day by feasting on a great combination of fried chicken and beer with your friends and loved ones.

Christmas in Lebanon: Celebrating with Dabke

Dabke is a traditional dance that the Labanese perform during Christmas time. This comes in the form of the people holding hands and dancing around in a circle or sometimes, semi-circles. Native tunes and the 'Darbouka', a percussion instrument, are played as friends and families stamp their feet in rhythm with the tunes used in Dabke. Aside from this, this traditional dance is often performed by men and women alike in colorful costumes with an elaborate choreography that translates the festive mood of Christmas in the most wonderful manner possible. Have a glimpse on what Dabke is like by watching this short documentary.

Possible inspiration: Go downtown and let loose by going to the nearest club or bar and engage in an outright 'professional' dance battle with strangers or friends!

Christmas in Ethiopia: Fasting and Games During and Before Genna

Ethiopia is a country that follows the ancient Julian calendar (proposed by Julian Caesar), which means that they celebrate Christmas on January 7 instead. The day that they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is termed as Genna, and it's derived from a word that meant 'imminent'. This was to mark the arrival of Jesus and his power to free mankind from sin. The day before, Ethiopians involved in the celebration will fast and attend church, before breaking fast at home by enjoying local delicacies such as the doro wat (spicy Ethiopian chicken stew) and tej (a form of wine derived from honey).

On the day of Genna itself, children and adults are engaged in a hockey-like game which is also termed as Genna. This sport is popular among the youths and was claimed to be created when shepherds started playing a game involving their sticks and staffs due to how overjoyed they were after hearing about the birth of Christ.

Compared to the other Christmas traditions that place much emphasis on the exchange or giving of gifts, Ethiopia takes a more reflective approach when it comes to celebrating Christmas. But that doesn't mean there aren't presents for the young - it's just not the main focal point for Christmas in Ethiopia.

Possible inspiration: Reflect and give thanks to whatever you are grateful for in the year 2017, by starting a gratitude journal or sending a meaningful text to your loved ones in the spirit of Christmas. 

That's all that I have for now. I hope this has served as some form of inspiration for you to spend your Christmas differently this year!