Christmas is just around the corner and millions of people around the world are preparing to celebrate in weird and wonderful ways.
Walk down any American street in December and you’ll know exactly what to expect: dazzling Christmas trees, strings of lights and statues of Santa and reindeer.
But what’s normal in America will seem unusual elsewhere. Every culture has their own unique traditions, many of which are deeply ingrained in their way of life.
If you’re localizing your marketing during the holiday season, it’s a good idea to learn how your target market will be celebrating Christmas.
We look at some of the biggest (and strangest) Christmas traditions around the world, from eating fried chicken to dragging badly-behaved children into hell…
Germany’s Krampus hunts bad kids
St Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but he has a fearsome counterpart in many European cultures. While St Nicholas is a generous figure who rewards the good, his counterpart exists to punish bad people.
In Germany, this menacing figure is the Krampus. The name Krampus is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw. European folklore describes him as a horned beast that is half goat and half demon.
The Feast of St Nicholas is celebrated in parts of Europe on December 6th, but the night before is known as Krampusnacht. According to folklore, Krampus appears in the night to “steal” wicked children and take them to his lair in hell.
On the morning of December 6th, children will look to see if the shoe they’d left out the night before contains either presents (from St Nicholas) for good behavior or coal or a birch rod (from Krampus) for bad behavior.
Witches steal broomsticks in Norway
A long-held belief in Norway is that witches and mischievous spirits come out on Christmas Eve. If there are broomsticks around, witches will steal these and fly away on them through the skies.
As a result, it’s a unique Christmas tradition to hide broomsticks on Christmas Eve so they can’t be stolen by the witches.
Eating Christmas KFC in Japan
Meat is a popular part of most Christmas meals, but you won’t find turkey or goose on the table in Japan. Unusually, fried chicken is the meat of choice on Christmas Day.
In 1970, the manager of Japan’s first KFC restaurant Takeshi Okawara promoted “party barrels” of fried chicken. Okawara marketed these party barrels as a substitute for the American turkey dinner and a way to celebrate Christmas.
Since Japan didn’t have many set Christmas traditions at the time, the campaign caught on. KFC Japan followed up in 1974 with a “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign which has continued ever since. An estimated 3.6 million families across the country now eat KFC on Christmas Day.
Venezuelans roller skate to Christmas Mass
With a large Catholic population, thousands of Venezuelans attend Christmas Mass from December 16th to 24th every year. But it’s become a tradition to shun normal modes of transport for the service.
Every year, crowds take to the street and roller skate to Christmas Mass. It’s such a popular tradition in the Venezuelan capital Caracas that the government closes the streets to cars at 8am to keep the roller skaters safe.
No one’s quite sure where the tradition started. A popular belief is that it’s an alternative to sledding since Venezuela is too warm for snow.
Deep-fried caterpillars in South Africa
Christmas Day meals vary around the world, but it doesn’t get more unusual than South Africa.
Emperor Moth caterpillars are harvested around Christmas time and preserved so they can be eaten during the winter. At Christmas, many South Africans will eat deep-fried caterpillars as part of the feast – they’re a great source of protein after all.
Spider webs decorate trees in Ukraine
In Ukraine, a folk tale tells the story of a poor family who couldn’t afford to decorate their tree with Christmas ornaments.
On Christmas Eve, the spiders in their hut heard the sad cries of the children and covered the bare tree with beautiful spider webs. When the children woke up on Christmas morning, the sun shone onto the webs and made the Christmas tree sparkle.
This is why you’ll see spider webs on Christmas trees in Ukraine. They’re believed to be symbols of good luck that will bring families fortune in the following year.
Christmas Eve fasting in Poland
It’s common to eat less on Christmas Eve in preparation for a big meal on Christmas Day, but Poland takes this to the extreme.
Polish Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, which is followed by a feast in the evening. The Wigilia feast begins with the appearance of the first star, in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. Children will often watch the sky waiting for the star to appear.
The feast usually consists of 12 traditional Polish dishes to represent the 12 Apostles. No red meat is served, but popular dishes include carp, jellied fish, cabbage, herring in cream and Kutia (a wheat pudding with honey and nuts).
However you’re celebrating the festive season this year, the Locale team wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!