Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but even among the billions who do, this time of year can look very, very different indeed. So, in the interests of “peace on earth and goodwill to all men” (and everyone else, of course), we’ve put together a handy primer to make sure our well-traveled readers aren’t taken by surprise when joining in the festivities away from home.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the more out-there ways to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus.
As a company founded in Berlin, Babbel would like to apologize to any Germans who object to appearing on this list. It’s just that your version of Christmas looks, well… a little unusual to outsiders.
Here’s the issue: Sankt Nikolaus is like Santa Claus, but not. Santa Claus is der Weihnachtsmann (the Christmas man), and he brings presents later in the month. It’d be easier to tell the two apart if they didn’t both dress in red and have huge white beards, but that’s okay. Nikolaus’ helper Knecht Ruprecht, however, is a cause for concern. He dishes out treats to good children and – in southern regions of Germany, at least – allows his horrifying goat-man companion the Krampus to beat the bad ones with sticks. How festive.
In the interests of fairness though, we ought to at least debunk the pickle thing. See, in the US, there’s a widely held belief that German families hang a glass pickle on the tree, saving this most precious of ornaments for last. Although that would be a lovely tradition, it really isn’t one. Germans’ Christmas trees are disappointingly normal, which makes total sense – they invented them.
An all-American corporation has a firm grip on Japanese Christmas, but it’s not Coca-Cola. No, this jolly bearded man goes by the name of Colonel Sanders. A smart ad campaign that began in the 70s has seen Kentucky Fried Chicken become the Christmas dinner of choice for Japanese homes. So successful was this push, that many chicken fans now order their meals months in advance to avoid the inevitable in-store lines on the big day itself.
Despite the fact that Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan (the country has relatively few Christians), the Japanese seem to have a pretty solid grasp of the Christmas spirit: this time of year is seen as a time to spread happiness among friends and family and for romance between couples.
For the strangest of Spanish traditions, we need look no further than the northeastern region of Catalonia. Here, you’ll find ornaments that make the mythical German pickle seem positively humdrum.
El caganer is a small figure that’s depicted squatting down, trousers dropped, and ahem… doing it’s business. It’s a frequent feature of nativity scenes across the region and further afield. Along the same lines, but even more spectacular is the Tió de Nadal (Christmas Log), more affectionately known as the caga tió (sh*tting log). To cut a strange story short, children lovingly look after the log and “feed it” throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. Once the magical day arrives, they place it in the fire, beat it with sticks and order it to defecate. The children then exit the room, before returning to find that the log has miraculously produced presents from its rear end.
Who needs Santa Claus?
Christmas in Australia is a lot like Christmas in other English-speaking countries, just upside-down. Owing to the magic of Christmas, or perhaps basic geography, Christmas in Australia occurs at the height of summer. The traditional dinner is therefore served flame-grilled and on the beach, and Santa’s reindeer really are replaced by kangaroos (the six white boomers).
Also owing to the magic of geography, Christmas comes nearly a full day earlier in Australia than it does the US West Coast and about a half day earlier than in Western Europe.
Every December, the sleepy Swedish town of Gävle sacrifices a giant straw goat to the spirit of Christmas. Kinda.
What actually happens is that, in accordance with tradition, the town erects a huge goat in its central square each year. A short while later, also in accordance with tradition, arsonists and vandals try to destroy it. To date, competition is fierce, with approximately an equal number of goats perishing as surviving the holidays.
If you, like us, are concerned for the goat’s welfare, you can keep an eye on it 24-7 via the town’s webcam.