American tradition recognizes Christmas as a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus, though some may not partake in the religious part, most celebrate to some degree. Christmas is a tradition celebrated within a wide variety of cultures all over the world, and each culture celebrates differently. Many cultures also do not celebrate Christmas specifically, but partake in other festivities such as Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. Overall, most cultures have some sort of celebration, but Christmas seems to be the most common around the world. With it being Christmas time as we speak, we all have our traditions, but some take it to a whole other level. We’re often used to the typical turkey dinner and opening gifts on Christmas morning, but what do others do? What may seem normal to us in North America could be crazy to others! Here is a list of the top 10 craziest traditions from other cultures:
In Finland, communities often celebrate the deceased at Christmas time. Similarly to the Mexican tradition, Day of the Dead, families gather in cemeteries to light a candle honoring their loved one. Compared to the American tradition, this may seem dark, but it is anything but scary. It means a lot to the Finnish people, and is really a beautiful and respectful tradition in memory of the ones they’ve lost. Also in Finland, Christmas is celebrated on what is our “Christmas Eve”, on the evening of the 24th of December.
For Estonians, Christmas is a very sacred, however less religious time. In America, Christmas is a celebration of a past event, the birth of baby Jesus. In contrast to this, the Estonian people spend Christmas fortune telling, and attempting to foresee their futures. Before a traditional large meal, families gather in saunas as part of the celebration. Sounds relaxing! Also, Estonians partake in a large meal together as families, and according to legend, around 8 to 11 meals were originally served at Christmas mealtime.
Germany has many fun traditions around Christmas time, and many are really fun for kids. for example, on December 5th, children lay their boots by the door, in hopes that “Nikolaus” (a character similar to Santa), will fill them with chocolates and other small gifts. Also, Germans hang a small pickle ornament on their Christmas trees, and the first child to spot the ornament on the tree receives one more small present. Another traditional ornament is straw stars, which are beautiful star shaped ornaments often handmade, created by soaking the straw to soften it, ironing it flat, and then tying together straw to form shapes. Just before the celebration on the evening of December 24th, children are called into the room by a small bell signaling that the “christkind” has brought the gifts.
The Czech Republic
In the Czech Republic, a quite popular tradition is the shoe toss. In every household girls and unmarried women stand with their backs to the door and throw a shoe over their shoulder and then see which was the toe is pointing. If it’s pointing towards the door it means they will be married within the next year. In countries like the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and many other European countries, in the weeks leading up to christmas a candle is lit every Sunday. This is called advent and represents the coming of Jesus. This is quite common in Europe, as well as wooden and glass ornaments which usually are meaningful to the family. They focus less on what the tree looks like, and more on what the tree means to them.
American culture often associates Christmas with the colors red and green, however in Japan, this is very different. The color red is often associated with funerals and death. This is the reason the Japanese people give each other white Christmas cards instead of red ones, and giving a red card is considered rude and disrespectful. In Japan Christmas is more of a time to spread happiness and spend time with family than a time of religion. However unlike most countries, who close public places in honour of this celebration, Japan does not consider this a national holiday, so everything runs as usual in the communities.
Instead of our usual “Santa Claus”, Italians have what is called “Befana”. Legend has it that Befana is a friendly witch who visits homes on Christmas and brings candy and presents to children. It is said that before she leaves the house, she sweeps the floor, ridding the household of any problems of the past year, providing a clean slate for the year to come. Another important way of celebrating christmas in Italy is crib making. The cribs help show and tell the story of Christmas, many Italian families have a Christmas crib in their homes around this time.
Here, we are used to the usual decorated Christmas tree, but the Ukrainians decorate their trees with spider webs and usually a small spider ornament. According to tradition, there was once a poor family who could not afford to decorate their Christmas tree with fancy and colorful ornaments. When they woke up on Christmas morning, they saw that the tree was covered in spider webs and as the sun came out, the first ray of sunshine turned the spider webs into gold. Also, Ukrainians celebrate on two dates! The first is the average December 25th, however according to the Julian calendar, it is also celebrated on January 7th.
In Guatemala, communities merge to dig and create a large pile of dirt. On this pile of dirt, they place a statue of the devil, and then proceed to burn it. This ritual represents the elimination of evil. This may sound odd, but to them it’s simply tradition. However, there have been many complaints by environmentalists, saying that the statues being burned, as well as trash and other things added to the pile cause health problems due to the toxic fumes.
Norway most definitely has one of the most relaxing traditions! On the day leading up to Christmas, Norwegians skip the cleaning and store away their mops and brooms in hopes of keeping away evil spirits and witches that may want to steal them. Also their “Santa Claus” is called “Julenissen”. Norwegian legend has it that gifts are brought to children by small gnomes called “Nisse”.
The Austrian tradition is probably one of the more frightening, yet more popular traditions in Europe. This tradition is also shared by a number of other countries such as: Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and many more. Legend has it “Krampus” the half man half demon wanders from house to house scaring children in hopes of better behavior among kids everywhere. It is said that the horrible looks of “Krampus” leave children terrified and acting much nicer. In contrast to this scary event, they also have a beautiful Christmas market which attracts people from all around the world. The markets often sell a christmas time specialty, “Gluehwein”. This is a warm drink designed to be enjoyed after coming inside from cold weather to make you feel warm and toasty again. It consists of red wine and spices, and is very delicious!