Holidays during this time of year, no matter where you are, share a lot of the same symbolism and traditions. A tree, the lights, and good ol’ Saint Nick. Logically, you know that traditions around the world are different than the ones you celebrate at home with your family, but it’s always shocking to hear about some of the things that go one in other corners of the world during the season. Here are ten unique traditions from across the globe.
Gävle: The Yule Goat
Slottstorget, or Castle Square, is home to a massive goat made of straw, erected on the first day of Advent every year. The tradition began in 1966, but the symbol traces all the way back to Germanic paganism. Last year in 2016, there was a huge festival celebrating the 40th anniversary of the massive goat. In a humorous twist, the goat gets burnt down almost every year by vandals, despite extensive security measures that are taken. As of 2016, the goat had been set aflame a shocking 37 out of 40 times.
“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” translates to “Kentucky for Christmas!” and it was a marketing campaign run by KFC in 1974 that has worked with more incredible results than they could have ever predicted. The first KFC opened just four years prior in 1970, and Christmas isn’t even a national holiday in Japan. One family was struggling to track down a turkey for their holiday meal and opted for a bucket of fried chicken instead which inspired the campaign. It was so widespread that Japanese families order their meals months in advance in order to skip lines that can last for several hours the day of.
Czech Republic: Wedding Predictions
Similar to the American tradition of tossing a bouquet at a wedding to predict who will marry next, Czech women do this on Christmas. The single women walk out of their homes and keep their back to the house and slip their shoes off, then toss them back over their shoulder. If the heel of the shoe lands with the heel towards the door, this means that the woman will remain single for the next year ahead. Better luck next year!
Mexico: Night of the Radishes
This tradition is specific to a Mexican city called Oaxaca, and it is a folk art festival. It originated in the colonial period because radishes were introduced by the Spanish in that time. It is an annual event on December 23rd where people will carve oversized radishes into little figurines and sometimes extravagant displays. In 1897, a formal competition was established, which draws hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators every year. Because the radishes wilt, it only lasts a few hours, which makes the size of it that much more astounding.
Venezuela: Roller Skating
Christmas is a big deal in Venezuela more so than any other country in Latin America. Going to midnight mass is something that almost everyone in the country does because of the heavily Catholic tradition as that is the largest religion in Venezuela. But, the week leading up to Christmas, people in the capital city of Caracas attend early morning mass every day. It is unclear when the tradition of roller skating began, but even the main streets in the city are closed to thru traffic around 8 a.m. to make it safer for the en masse crowd of skaters to get to mass.
Norway: The Witches
Yule is the midwinter sabbat celebrated by pagan religions around the world and historically was associated with many witches being out since it is one of their holidays. In Norway, in order to deter the witches from paying a visit to the homes, special precautions are taken. Witches are associated with mischief and bringing bad luck for the new year. All of the brooms are hidden away on Christmas because they’re the main mode of transportation for the witches. This is a much older tradition that hasn’t carried on as strongly, but it is still widely known even if not practiced.
Christmas traditions in Alaska aren’t too much different than the rest of the United States, but there are a few unique twists. Children go caroling, which is a more northern tradition n America, but the take along a pole topped by a brightly colored star. There are also special songs that they sing in the home that often begin with the Aleut words “Gristuusaaq suu’uq,” which means “Christ is born,” and close with the words, “Mnogaya leta,” meaning “God grant you many years.” They also make a fish pie called piruk, which is primarily served in Alaska.
Christmas trees in Ukraine are traditionally decorated with fake spiders and spider webs, despite their usual association with Halloween here in the US. The spiders are a symbol of good luck, tracing back to a commonly known legend over there. A poor widow lived in a shack with her children. One special year, she managed to afford a tree, but she didn’t have the money to decorate it. On Christmas morning, however, spiders had adorned the tree with webs; it looked like it was dressed in gorgeous silver and gold when the kids saw it in the morning.
Nothing says Christmas like pub crawl, and perhaps that is why this has grown into a worldwide annual celebration. It started in San Francisco in 1994 where a gathering of people dressed as Santa Claus did a pub crawl together. But now, it has surpassed its 20th anniversary and has taken place in big cities around the world. The official websites describes it best, saying that it is “a conventions of Santas – groups of men and women dressed as Santa.” Though it is all in good fun, strict guidelines include addressing all participants just as Santa.
Kiviaq is a traditional holiday dish out of Greenland that is made from fermented seabirds. There isn’t really anything else to say. It’s fermented. It’s a seabird. While fermented foods are pretty famous all around the world, this one comes off as very odd if it isn’t something that you have grown up with. How it is made, is that the cook will put as many whole Kiviaqs (Auk birds) as he can fit into a fresh seal skin with fat. It is then sewn shut, and the air removed to repel flies. After this is done, it is buried with rocks underground where it stays for three whole months. I’m sorry that you had to read that, but you can rest assured that it’s quite good! It tastes a lot like gorgonzola cheese. Delicious.