In the UK and many other countries that celebrate Christmas, the festive season has become synonymous with mince pies, mulled wine, exchanging presents and cheery characters like Santa Claus, magical reindeer and elves, and snowmen coming to life to discover the true spirit of Christmas. However, there are plenty of other countries where Christmas has taken on a very different spirit, some of which are so amazing that we wanted to share them with you!
So, while you’re nestled into the sofa on Christmas eve, here are some of the most unique ways people will be celebrating Christmas across the world.
The Yule Goat – Sweden
When you think of Christmas animals, you probably imagine reindeer, robins, turkeys, maybe even penguins – but how about goats? In Sweden, it’s not really Christmas without the Yule Goat, a traditional part of the Christmas celebrations dating back to pagan festivals and ancient Scandinavian history. This legend became much more literal in 1966 when the first Gävle Goat was constructed. This ginormous goat figure is built each year out of straw in Slottstorget, Gävle. This magnificent figure stands more than 12 metres high and 7 metres wide, weighing over 3,000 kilograms! You can even keep up to date with the goat on social media to see what they’re up to (not much usually as it can’t move). Photo from Seppo Laine.
KFC Christmas Dinner – Japan
This Christmas, while you’re digging into your roast turkey and stuffing, pigs and blankets and Christmas pudding (yum!), in Japan families will be gathering around the table to dig into a traditional meal of KFC. After the first KFC store opened in Japan in the 1970s, they came up with the idea of a barrel of chicken to eat at Christmas, calling it Kentucky for Christmas.
Christmas was not widely celebrated in Japan at the time, so the idea quickly gained fame, thanks in part to a series of adverts showing happy families digging into KFC as a seasonal tradition. To this day, the fried chicken restaurant has become an essential part of the festive celebrations, with millions of Japanese residents opting to go for the festive KFC meal each year, consisting of fried chicken, lasagne and chocolate cake. However, if you fancy a piece of the action, you’re best off ordering from the comfort of your home, as KFC is so popular at this time of year in Japan that you could be left queueing for hours to get your hands on some of their fried chicken.
Caga Tió (Poop Log) – Spain
Yup, you read that right. A traditional way of celebrating Christmas in Spain involves a Caga Tió, or poop log. This log is often painted with a face and Christmas hat, and it’s quite normal to see these interesting characters in markets everywhere across Catalonia in the run-up to Christmas. Kids are then encouraged to feed the log so that it’ll poop out gifts for them. To get the log to poop, kids will beat it with sticks and sing a traditional song encouraging it to poop nougat (and specifically asking it not to poop salted herring). The log is usually placed on a blanket which the parents hide gifts under that the log has ‘pooped out’ for the kids to discover. While it’s not what you might expect, there’s no denying that it’s definitely more interesting than Santa delivering presents through the chimney!
Spider Webs – Ukraine
The legend of the Christmas Spider is a surprisingly wholesome story told in Ukraine and Eastern Europe at Christmas. This adorable tale tells of a widow living with her children who couldn’t afford to decorate the pine tree outside her home at Christmas time. However, on Christmas Day, they awoke to see the tree covered in spider webs which caught the sunlight and made the tree appear to be draped in silver and gold decorations, to the delight of the widow and her children. As a result, it’s become a tradition in some areas to decorate Christmas trees with spiderweb ornaments, and it’s even said that this story could have started the tradition of using tinsel to decorate trees, representing the spider webs catching the morning light. For an animal with a pretty bad reputation, it’s great to see how this cute Christmas tale paints them in a different light, although whether or not you’d want spiders on your tree this Christmas is up to you!
Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) – Philippines
The Ligligan Parul, or Giant Lantern Festival, is a huge annual festival of light held in San Fernando at Christmas time. This beautiful celebration features giant, carefully decorated lanterns – some of which measure up to an incredible 15 feet in diameter! These lanterns are said to represent the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to baby Jesus in the nativity story. Each year a winner is crowned, and they never fail to impress with some absolutely stunning designs. You can check out some of the previous winners here (and maybe even draw inspiration for some creative homemade bauble decorations!)
13 Yule Lads – Iceland
In Iceland, it’s not Santa Claus that children get excited expecting the arrival of, but the 13 Yule Lads. These mischievous but merry characters visit in the 13 nights leading up to Christmas. Each lad has their own unique personality, dating back to Icelandic folklore. For these 13 nights, children leave their shoes out on the windowsill for the Yule Lads to fill with sweets or small presents. Although traditionally, if the children have been naughty, the Yule Lads would fill the shoes with potatoes (or rotting potatoes!). It’s not all adorable characters and gifts, however. Traditionally, these Yule Lads were much more terrifying than they are today, with my parents using them to scare children into good behaviour. This changed though, when in the 18th century when a royal decree banned parents from telling horror stories of monsters like the Yule Lads to children, causing the legend to take on a much more friendly and playful tone.
What About Countries That Don’t Celebrate Christmas?
While it might be hard to imagine, as Christmas is so prevalent in many countries, many places around the world don’t celebrate Christmas at all or at least it’s much less significant. For example, Christmas isn’t recognised as an official public holiday in Israel, Japan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Turkey or Vietnam, just to name a few. While some of these countries might have traditions associated with the holiday or celebrate in their own unique way (like Japan with KFC dinners!), there’s no official holiday on December 25th.
So, this year while you’re opening your presents or enjoying a mince pie or two on Christmas day, why not show off how smart you are and see how many of these unique holiday traditions your friends and family have heard of? Feel free to let us know which ones were your favourites too!
And if you still haven’t got your Christmas shopping done, don’t worry! You can order a huge range of amazing Christmas presents with quick delivery, perfect for pairing with a festive Funky Pigeon personalised Christmas card.