Celebrating Christmas around the world

Here in the UK, we have roast dinners and mince pies, boxing days and nativity plays. Festive lights illuminate the streets. Gifts are exchanged. Christmas crackers are pulled. Overall, December is a joyous time of the year, but different countries celebrate differently. Let’s look at some unique Christmas traditions from across the globe!

The Giant Lantern Festival is an annual festival celebrated in San Fernando in the Philippines. On the Saturday before Christmas Eve, gigantic parol lanterns light up this symbolic city, known as the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines”. Since its alleged beginning in 1904, this lantern competition has featured a continuously growing size of giant lanterns: from meager three feet lanterns to astoundingly massive ones, measuring almost sixteen feet today!

The first of this century-old festival was held to honor President Manuel L. Quezon, who had helped the city’s tourism flourish with the opening of the popular Mount Arayat National Park. Today, people craft scintillating designs and mesmerizing colors in hopes of creating the most beautiful giant lantern. Embellished with light bulbs, fiberglass and capiz shells, and synchronized to classic Christmas tunes, it truly is a sight to behold.

Back in the Northern Hemisphere, Iceland boasts a fascinating Christmas folklore. While most kids look forward to gifts from one Father Christmas, Icelandic children are lucky enough to have 13 of them! Known as the 13 Yule Lads, these mischievous visitors take turns leaving presents through the 13 nights before Christmas. Children would put one of their shoes on their windowsill with little snacks and gifts.

From the Sheep-Cote Clod all the way until the Candle Beggar, you can learn more about the distinct personalities of each figure in the poem by by Jóhannes frá Kötlum, “Jólasveinavísur”. Interestingly, these troll creatures weren’t always portrayed as benevolent figures. Before Santa Claus became popular, the Yule Lads were merely troublemakers who wreaked havoc all throughout the Christmas season.

Another bizarre Christmas tradition that might surprise you hails from Japan. Here, Christmas is not as big of a deal as it is in other parts of the world. While Japanese people may partake in a few small traditions, it is still mainly just another holiday. But did you know that around 3.6 million families in Japan indulge in a KFC meal every Christmas?

It started in 1974, when a genius marketing plan titled Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, or Kentucky for Christmas, quickly became a nationwide phenomenon and annual tradition. A special, festive menu will take the country by storm each season. From a standard bucket of scrumptious fried chicken to a premium feast of roast chicken with cake and wine, it sure is a Christmas dinner like no other.

When it comes to superstitions, people back then sure loved their old wives’ tales. And there are a lot revolving around this merry holiday. Many Norwegians still hide their brooms on Christmas Eve, as it was believed that wicked witches and spirits would come and steal their brooms to ride on. Ukrainians believe that finding spider webs on Christmas morning brings good luck, which is why they place (fake) spider webs on Christmas trees.

Yes, Christmas is perhaps the happiest time of the year. Wrought with festivities, warmth, a sense of community and tons of familiar traditions, it’s no surprise that many would start counting down the days to Christmas the moment it’s over. While most of these traditions stem from beliefs that no longer seem convincing, it is the comfort they give us that truly makes the Christmas spirit so special.


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Erica Thajeb

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June 2022
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