It’s Christmas time once again, a time when Christians gather together and celebrate the birth of Jesus and spend time with loved ones. Here in America, we usually attend a church service on Christmas Eve and open presents early the next morning on Christmas Day. The rest of the day is spent enjoying time with family and usually culminates with a large meal.
If the American way is a bit too boring for you, then check out some of the bizarre ways that folks from around the world celebrate Christmas.
The cemeteries in Finland on Christmas Eve are a spectacle to behold – thousands of candles flicker light onto the surrounding headstones leaving a memorable sight for all to see. After a light Christmas Eve lunch, Finnish families head to the sauna for a soothing sweat before starting the evenings celebration. At about 5 or 6pm, families begin to make their way to the cemeteries to light a candle at a loved-ones grave site in remembrance.
Christianity is the third largest religion in India, comprising of only about 2.3% of the population, but in a country of 1 billion this adds up to around 25 million Christians! Much like in America, the midnight mass on Christmas Eve is very important to the Indian Christian. Families will generally walk to their church for the midnight mass celebration, which is then followed by a massive feast containing several different delicacies. Instead of pine trees, the Indians use banana trees to decorate with lights and ornaments, and the tree is left outside their homes, only the banana leaves are brought into the home for decoration.
On Christmas day in Japan, folks head to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken fast-food establishment for a Christmas meal! Sales of KFC chicken spike 5 – 10 times the average on Christmas. This bizarre custom was started over four decades ago as a clever marketing campaign, and today, it’s passed down from generation to generation despite its commercialization. I love KFC, but on Christmas??
In Caracas on Christmas Eve, before going to bed for the night, children tie one end of a string to their big toe and leave the other end hanging out of their bedroom window. Early the next morning, people actually roller skate to the Early Morning Mass at church, tugging on any of the strings they see hanging along the way.
Ukrainian Christmas trees are adorned with artificial cobwebs and spiders. According to local folklore, there once was a very poor family that couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree, so they decorated it with cobwebs instead. It is said, that when the children awoke early on Christmas morning they were greeted with a most amazing spectacle, the morning light shone brightly on the cobwebs covering their tree turning them into silver and gold, changing their luck! So cobwebs on a Christmas tree are supposed to bring good luck.
German parents hide a pickle ornament within the boughs of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, and the first child to find it in the morning receives an extra little gift from St. Nicholas.
Popular folklore says that Befana met with the Three Wise Men a few days before the birth of Jesus. They asked her if she knew where the Son of God was located, but she did not know. She provided them with a meal and shelter for the night, but turned down their offer to join them on their journey. Later she had a change of heart and attempted unsuccessfully to find the baby Jesus. Legend says that to this day, she is still looking for him.
Today, the children of Italy on the Eve of the feast of Epiphany (Jan. 5th) children receive small gifts in their stockings from Befana if they have been good, or a lump of coal if they were bad. Before Befana leaves the house she will sweep the floor clean with her broom, sweeping away all the problems of the year.
Ethiopia still uses the old Julian calendar, so they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, not December 25th. The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna and most people go to Church on Christmas day.
Many people fast on Christmas Eve (January 6th). The next day most people will wear a traditional garment called a shamma, a thin white cotton cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends and worn like a toga to the Christmas celebration (Ganna). Each person is given a candle and the whole procession proceeds to solemnly walk around the church three times. The men and women are then separated and the mass begins.
Catalonia gets my vote for the strangest of the strange award for their “Caganer.” A Caganer is a figurine that is traditionally featured in Catalan nativity scenes squatting with pants down and in the process of defecating!!
Traditionally the Caganer is of a peasant, but more recent examples include those of famous people and people of authority like the one of Obama. By representing them in a most embarrassing way, with their trousers down, the Caganer serves as a leveling device to bring the mighty down.
On December 7th, Guatemalans sweep their homes and property clean of all trash and debris, then they collect it all in a huge heap in the middle of the street. A large effigy of the devil is placed at the top of the heap and the whole thing is set ablaze destroying all that is evil, giving the participators a clean slate for the upcoming Christmas celebration and the new year.
Share any strange Christmas customs or celebrations that you have come across on your travels in the comments below.
GUTTERPUP ADVENTURES WOULD LIKE TO WISH EACH AND EVERYONE OF YOU THE HAPPIEST OF HOLIDAYS AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!
Hi my name is JP Chartier and I write for Gutter Pup Adventures.com where you can expect to read well-written and entertaining articles about the people and places that often get overlooked at many popular vacation destinations around the world.