From ‘poop logs’ to menacing goat-demon parades, here are some of the ways people celebrate Christmas across the globe
Some are fairly modern, while others date back centuries. Whatever the case, different countries have their own traditions to usher in Christmas. Here is our top five list.
Christmas comes in the middle of the summer holidays in New Zealand, so traditional notions of a ‘white Christmas’ (snow, holly bushes and robins) are set aside in favour of balmy weather, lush tropical vegetation and sandy beaches. Instead of firs and pines, a Kiwi-style Christmas features a native tree – the Pohutukawa – which has striking crimson flowers laced with the green leaves. Since the weather is warm, there is an emphasis on the outdoors and a general air of cheer. At parades, ‘Santa’ is often seen swapping his thick red coat for ‘jandals’ (rubber sandals) or an All Blacks rugby shirt.
Christmas decorations go up as early as September in the Philippines, Asia’s largest Catholic nation. An iconic fixture of the Filipino Christmas is parol, an ornamental, star-shaped lantern. Traditionally made of bamboo sticks covered by colourful pieces of origami paper and lit up by candles, parols were used by people to light up their paths as they headed for Christmas Day Mass at dawn. Modern variants are made of various materials, ranging from plastic and beads to wood and even metal, illuminated by electric lights.The town of San Fernando, also known as the ‘Christmas Capital of the Philippines’, has a Giant Lantern Festival where residents compete for the best lantern design, with some parols measuring up to six feet wide.
The Grinch might be out to ruin Christmas, but his antics are child’s play when compared to the Krampus – a menacing half-goat, half-demon creature of Eastern European folklore. The antithesis of Saint Nicholas (the basis for Santa Claus), who rewards good children, the Krampus punishes naughty children by swatting them with birch branches, or in darker versions, carts off bad children to hell in a sack on his back. If the story itself is not enough to scare the little ones into behaving, there are the annual parades in villages and towns all over the Alps, from Austria to the Czech Republic, where men dressed up as Krampus terrify onlookers with their ghastly, elaborate costumes.
Welcome to the only country in the world with a Christmas ‘tradition’ like no other – eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve. The fast food giant launched a hugely successful advertising campaign in the 1970s, touting KFC as the go-to meal for families during the festive season. Since Christmas is not an official holiday (Christians in Japan account for less than one percent of the population), the chicken bucket became a convenient alternative over traditional Christmas dishes like turkey and pudding. In recent years, the company has included sides such as cake and wine in its packages. The company’s mascot, Colonel Sanders, is often decked out in Santa’s costume to welcome guests to restaurants.
Perhaps one of the most peculiar yuletide traditions yet, Catalonians celebrate Christmas with Tio de Nadal, a log with a smiling face that ‘poops’ presents. Beginning December 8, which coincides with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the log is ‘fed’ a little food each night and bundled in blankets. Children are told to pamper the log well until Christmas Day, after which they will beat it with sticks to make it ‘defecate’ presents. Since the children are often told to leave the room before the ceremony, it gives the adults plenty of time to slip presents under the blanket.