It’s no secret that as a nation, we’re obsessed with Christmas traditions from turkey dinners to a sixpence in the pudding. There’s more than one way to get in the Christmas spirit though, and here are some of our favourite traditions from around the world you may not have heard of!
La Befana in Italy
Rather than a jolly bearded man, La Befana in Italian folklore is an old woman who distributes gifts to children across the country, filling their socks with candy and presents if they have behaved well during the year. If they’ve been naughty however, she drops them a lump of coal, onions or garlic. She’s usually portrayed as an old hag riding a broomstick, much like a witch. To lend some more authenticity to Father Christmas lore, she’s often covered in soot to imply she just climbed down the chimney.
Historically, it is said that Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men (or three kings) a few days before the birth of the infant Jesus, who asked her for directions. There are differing claims of how she responded to them but most say that she provided them shelter for the night, but did not know which way they should be going. When they invited her to follow, she claimed to be too busy with her chores to follow them.
Noche de las Velitas in Colombia
The Night of Little Candles is a public holiday in Colombia and unofficially marks the start of the Christmas season in the country. On this day, people place candles and paper lanterns all over their neighbourhood and on their windowsills and on all properties, for the world to see. The lights are in honour of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. The night usually wraps up with festivities and fireworks that can get quite competitive amongst close neighbours.
Gävle Goat in Sweden
The Gävle goat or the yule goat is erected every year in central Gävle in the area known as Slottstorget (Castle Square) in Sweden. Made mostly of straw, this statue is meant to represent a goat that helps deliver presents, so sometimes Father Christmas would ride a goat instead of his sleigh! One of the more peculiar Swedish traditions associated with the Gävle goat is how many attempts are made to burn it down every year. Despite having guards on standby, fences raised and cameras filming, it generally goes up in flames very soon after it’s erected. Despite this, the people Gävle stubbornly build a new goat every year, and try and top records for its size. Last year, the Gävle goat barely lasted the night!
Krampus in Austria
Christmas isn’t necessarily a wholesome family affair all over the world, and in Austria the tradition of Krampus is in some ways the evil counterpart to Father Christmas. This Bad Santa is represented as a half-goat, half-demon draped with chains and bells that he lashes about, looking for naughty children to drag back into the underworld!
From the German word krampen which means claw, Krampus generally tends to show up around early December, at the Feast for St. Nicholas held on the 6th. Europeans have been exchanging Krampus greeting cards for well over a hundred years, and they’re generally filled with rhymes and poems about Krampus.
A Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan
This wouldn’t be an authentic ‘peculiar tradition’ list without Japan having a say in the matter! While Christmas is itself not a national holiday in Japan, hundreds of people choose to have KFC as their main Christmas feast here. This tradition started in the 1970s when KFC noticed that expats to Japan could not get a hold of turkey and preferred to have chicken instead. And thus, a marketing opportunity was born. The fact that Colonel Sanders does closely resemble St. Nick is an obvious advantage, and KFC has its busiest time of the year in the weeks leading up to Christmas.